I think one of the most important things to learn from Anne Blankman’s writing odyssey today is the need to step back from your manuscript for a while. This may sound contrary to the writing process, but as Anne points out, sometimes it teaches you how much you love writing. For many of us, writing is a passion that we can’t live without. But sometimes, we get so caught up in our stories, we forget what needs to be done to make them better (serious edits and revisions). Anne’s story proves that if you take a break from your work, even if it’s just for a short time, it can refuel your passion and help you create something extraordinary.
Here is Anne’s journey…
Amy: What drew you to write a Young Adult manuscript?
Anne: After getting a master’s in information science, I began working as a youth services librarian, so YA literature feels like a natural fit for me. There’s so much to love about YA books — they’re usually high stakes and their characters are grappling with big issues and figuring out who they are.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
Anne: I wrote a terrible picture book a few years ago that, thankfully, was rejected. PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG is my first YA manuscript, and I was incredibly lucky that it received so much interest right away.
Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?
Anne: I was fortunate enough to land an agent and book deal with my first ms (Sorry! Ducking furious glares right now!). What happened to me is atypical. I think if my ms had gotten tons of rejections, with criticisms that I couldn’t fix, I would know I had to set it aside.
Amy: Did your query for PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG come easily or did it go through many drafts?
Anne: Ugh. Many, many drafts. This wasn’t easy for me at all. I’d never written a query, and I started off composing a business letter of sorts. Yup, it was as boring as it sounds. Once I researched what a query letter is, and read examples of good, agent-garnering ones, I had to learn how to trim all the unnecessary details and boil the essence of my ms into a tight paragraph, all while maintaining a “voice.” This isn’t a painless process, but a well-crafted query can pull your ms out of the slush pile, so the hard work is worth it.
Amy: Did you have critique partners for PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG? If you did, how critical were they to your writing process?
Anne: I worked with a critique group while writing PRISONER. My mom, who’s an MG author, is my alpha reader, and her comments were incredibly helpful. Since PRISONER takes place in 1930s Munich, I sometimes let myself get carried away with historical details — stuff I found fascinating but would bore most of my readers. My mom helped me trim the fat, so I only included information that readers absolutely had to know.
Amy: How many agents did you query for PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?
Anne: My experience was very unusual. I had signed up for a fifteen-minute critique session at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference. I could hardly believe my luck when I was matched with my top-choice agent. At that point, I had finished PRISONER about two weeks earlier, and I hadn’t sent it out because I wanted to meet with Tracey Adams first. If she didn’t offer me representation (and I knew the odds were, she probably wouldn’t–I mean, how many authors get offers of rep on their first time out?), I would get some great editorial comments.
Meeting Tracey felt like meeting a new friend. Not only did we click immediately, but she loved my ms and wanted me to send her an exclusive full! About a week later, she called to offer representation.
Amy: What can you tell me about “the call” with your agent, Tracey Adams?
Anne: Amazing! It was a Friday afternoon, and I was playing with my three-year-old when my phone beeped. Tracey had sent me an email, saying she would love to talk to me as soon as possible and when was a convenient time? Once I picked myself off the floor, I replied, “Now is great!” (yup, I know how to play hard to get, right?), plunked my daughter in front of the TV, and raced to answer the phone.
I have no idea how long we talked. The whole conversation is a happy blur. What I remember best is Tracey going on about how much she loved my book before she interrupted herself, saying “What I want to say is I one hundred percent want to offer you representation.” I didn’t need to consider it. I’d done plenty of research, and she was my dream choice. I signed with her that night, and it’s been one of the best decisions I ever made.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Anne: Of course. I was about halfway through PRISONER’S second draft when I put it down for a few months, not sure if I could pick it up again. A very dear relative had just been diagnosed with cancer, and I wanted to be available to help out. I had a very active toddler; I loved my job at the library branch ten minutes from my house. I wasn’t sure if I could handle more, and PRISONER was an ambitious book to write. The amount of research alone was enormous.
But I wasn’t happy. Sure, I had more free time and I was getting more sleep, but I felt unfulfilled. I decided I was letting myself down by not giving my writing career a decent shot. Three months later, I met Tracey, and three weeks after signing with her, we had a three-book deal at auction. So I would say to all aspiring writers: Keep trying! Your first break could be right around the corner!
Anne Blankman grew up in a small town in upstate New York, where she spent all of her time reading, writing, and doing sports. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her husband and daughter. She’s lucky enough to be an author and a librarian. You can visit her online at http://www.anneblankman.com/ or follow her on Twitter.