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Interview With An Author: Lisa Verge Higgins

In our Interview With An Author series, Writer’s Relief asks professional writers to share their tried-and-true secrets for publishing success.

Lisa Verge Higgins

Lisa Verge Higgins is the author of sixteen novels published worldwide and translated into as many languages. Her books were nominated for a RITA, won the Golden Leaf, and twice she has cracked B&N’s General Fiction Forum’s top twenty books of the year. Her latest, Random Acts Of Kindness, hit the shelves in March of 2014.

CONTEST: Leave a comment or a question for Lisa below by May 14, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of her book, Random Acts Of Kindness! U.S. residents only.This contest is now closed. Congratulations to our winner! Thank you to all who participated!

Every writer has to learn how the publishing business works. How did you do it?

I’ve been in this business since the days when people tapped out their stories on typewriters, copied their manuscripts, and then shipped them off to New York. (It really wasn’t that long ago!) Clearly this was before the advent of the Internet, so I learned about publishing mostly by networking with other writers and published authors. Local chapters of genre organizations as well as writer’s conferences were vibrant hubs for hearing news, meeting editors and agents, and connecting with other professionals.

I still learn about the fast-changing publishing business by networking with other writers and published authors. My lifeline is Novelists, Inc., a national organization of multipublished commercial fiction writers, and the conversations happen mostly on Yahoo Groups. I also gather a lot of information online, mostly by focusing on the musings of a few influential bloggers like J.A. Konrath, John Scalzi, and Kathryn Rusch.

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What role does social media play in staying connected to readers and/or building an audience?

Social media is such a powerful way to connect with readers, but developing a presence is a slow-building, brick-by-brick process. It’s less a matter of selling books than a matter of growing relationships. You’ll only see success over time.

It’s important to narrow down the venues. Keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Tumblr, Reddit, YouTube, Google+, blogging, etc. can leave you little time to write novels. Personally, I have found my readers mostly on Facebook, so that’s where I hang out. Every writer should be on Goodreads, because that’s where the serious readers congregate, and just setting up a profile can help in discoverability. Recently I’ve started working with Twitter. The 140-character limit forces you to be short and witty, which is a lot of fun. Tumblr is a young audience, great for sci-fi, YA and New Adult writers. But if you try to do it all, you’ll never write another book.

What was the biggest stumbling block or frustration for you so far, and how did you overcome it?

I took a ten-year hiatus from publishing after the birth of my third daughter. My biggest stumbling block was trying to sell again when I returned to the business. I’d written a dozen novels prior to the hiatus, but many of my contacts had left publishing, and my previous résumé held little weight with a fresh crop of editors and agents. Like many women coming back into the workforce after taking family leave, I had to start over again.

It was very frustrating to spend two years trying to sell a novel, but I did what I always do in such situations—I went ahead and started writing something else, while still sending out queries for the first. I had several nibbles for the book, including an editor who had me doing revisions on spec—an editor who then left the company, orphaning me before I was officially sold. But at a speed-pitching event held by a local writer’s group, I gave my well-honed pitch to an editor at Hachette. She asked for the book, read it, and bought it within the week. I’m still writing for that house now. My latest was just released, Random Acts Of Kindness.

How did you get your first literary agent?

Well, I’ve had three, and how I got the first one is a boring story, so I’m going to tell you the sexier one about how I got my latest.

Remember how, after being on hiatus, I had such a difficult time selling my next novel?  Well, I first tried to get an agent. My previous agent and I had amicably parted ways because I intended to write in a genre that she didn’t represent. So I searched for a new agent and, having no luck, I went directly to editors.

The problem with being unagented is that many of the editors at the Big 5 Publishers won’t even look at your submission. So when I noticed that a local writer’s group was holding a speed-pitching session including an editor at a house that specifically didn’t take unagented submissions, I leapt at the chance to meet her face-to-face.  When she bought my novel, I was the only unagented writer in her stable of authors.

Later, having landed a contract on my own—and then another—I considered getting an agent again. Oh, what a different experience when you negotiate from an advantageous position!  I “dated” my potential new agent for months, getting to know her and her clients and the books she represented, until I felt sure that we’d be a good fit for the long term.

I tell you, this was the best way to choose an agent ever.

Many times, I hear of new authors who’ve done the grinding work of finding an editor willing to buy their books—after spending years querying—and then, under time pressure, they seek an agent—any agent—to represent them for the contract they themselves landed. My advice would be to hire a literary attorney to look over that contract, at a flat fee, to ensure that the terms are fair. Then, once you’re a writer contracted for publication, take your time finding the perfect agent, one who knows your market and, most importantly, loves your work.

What patterns, habits, or motivational techniques have best served you on your journey to success?

You can probably tell from these stories that I believe patience and persistence are the two things a writer needs to be successful in publishing. This is true both in traditional publishing—when you have to wait months to hear back from agents and editors, and years to see a book on the shelves—and in indie publishing, which has shorter wait times, but requires more of a marketing effort to grow an audience.

But what’s most important for long-term success is the willingness to develop your craft as a writer. A successful writer seeks constructive criticism, uses it to improve her work, attends workshops on technique, experiments with story, and makes the work her priority, no matter how many books she’s got under her belt.

In the end, it really is the story that sells the book.   

About Random Acts Of Kindnessby Lisa Verge Higgins

In Random Acts Of Kindness, three women on an impulsive, cross-country road trip discover that a single act of kindness can ripple out into the world like a stone dropped into a pond, surging back to transform them in ways they never expected.

“Higgins writes with grace and humor, reminding us to hold tight to the ones we love.”—Luanne Rice

Connect with Lisa on Facebook and Twitter!

CONTEST: Leave a comment or a question for Lisa below by May 14, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of her book, Random Acts Of Kindness! U.S. residents only. This contest is now closed.

25 Responses to Interview With An Author: Lisa Verge Higgins

  1. To Jane Brewer

    It sounds to me like you have a moving story to tell — and one that needs telling. Hold onto that passion and keep writing that book! In publishing, age is not a major issue like it is in some of the other arts (music, for example)– although in the extremes (extreme youth or advanced age) it can be a great marketing perk. All that really matters is the power and the quality of the book you’re submitting.

    My advice would be to read widely in your genre. In this case, it sounds like you want to write a narrative non-fiction about international adoption. See what’s out in the market and then try to bring something fresh to your telling. It sounds to me like the four point-of-views is a wonderful way to show the profound effect such adoptions have on all the parties involved. Best of luck!

  2. Lisa, thank you for sharing. I’m trying to get as much information possible, so I can get published.

  3. I just finished this book a couple days ago and loved it! What a journey of self-discovery, the depth of friendship, and the admission that although we all have struggles in life, they’re a lot easier to get through with long-time friends!

  4. Carey — Not only is hiring a literary lawyer to vet your publishing contract a smart career move, it’s also (usually) a *cheaper* one in the long run. A lawyer will charge you a flat or hourly fee for his work, whereas an agent will take 15% of all proceeds from the book(s) for the life of the contract.

    Also, these days it’s wise to have a literary lawyer look over your AGENT contract, as well. With the rise of indie-publishing, you want to make sure you have the option of taking a book back (if an agent is unable to sell it to NY) and indie-publish it yourself w/o having to pay 15% to the agent.

    This business is changing so very very fast!

  5. Rosie — I do outline! My outlines can run to forty pages or more. I also write up a file on each major character, and multiple files on relevant research. But I don’t always stick to what I’ve outlined once I start the first draft. That’s the time to play with the story and see where it leads me, to find voice as well as theme and purpose. Only in the second draft to I buckle down to a serious structure. The third draft is for adjustments, nuance, polish. As you can see, my process is a messy, inefficient one, but it works. Everyone’s process is different, and oh how I envy those who work much more efficiently!

  6. I am a 69 year old newbie. Is there any chance for me? I am writing a book about a topic that is near and dear to my heart. A fictional biography of an Ukrainian adoption . It is from four different points of view. My life has been torn apart and also blessed by our Ukrainian grandchild. And his life also has been very rough. I am looking for an audience who has or is contemplating international adoption. The numbers are high for international adoptions. Many of the stories are tragic. We need the kind of support group that can come from learning about others experiences which look at the problem from all sides of the equation. The child, the birth parents, the adoptive parents and the families affected by the behaviors of the adopted child. They can tear a family apart. Sometimes these children are not really orphans, but children stolen from parents who would like to reclaim them. I’d love to get some support in putting my experience and research out there for those who are experiencing this situation.

  7. I especially love the advice about hiring an attorney to check over contracts so that you aren’t rushed into committing to an agent you don’t know well. I wouldn’t have thought of it. Thank you!

  8. Thanks very much for these insightful comments, Lisa. While I’m a “literary” writer (broad and ambiguous as that term may be), what you say here is relevant to any serious writer, regardless of genre. I was happy to see a couple of my own thoughts on writing reinforced by such a well-published author as you, while I gained new perspectives on the publishing business, using social media, and choosing an agent. I will keep this valuable advice in my mind and pass it along to my students. So again, thank you!

  9. Jeryl — I have so *many* favorite authors! I read across genres, so I’m a huge fan of Stefanie Pintoff’s historical mysteries, Michael Chabon’s literary novels, George R. R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES series, and a lot of women’s fiction writers like Lisa Van Allen, Shelley Freydont, Nancy Herkness, Luanne Rice, Barbara Samuel, Wendy Wax …. So many books, so little time!

  10. Deb — Social media is a wonder. If it weren’t for Facebook, I’d have never re-connected with my high school friends, who live all over the country. Nor would I have connected with you! It’s an amazing way to find folks with similar passions . . . thank you Mark Zuckerberg!

  11. I’m not a writer–just a reader, but learned quite a bit from this interview. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Lisa, what interesting stuff you know pretty soon I can write a book about you :)
    Honestly it’s very touching that you never gave up after your hiatus and look how it all turned out.
    And it’s so true about building an on-line/blogging/Facebook/Twitter/Goodreads presence it’s all about perseverance.
    It’s been my great pleasure to get to know you and without social media that never would have happened.
    Great post

  13. Pam —
    I’ve been lucky–I’ve never had writer’s block–but I know enough people who have had it that I’m aware of its corrosive effects. I make efforts to avoid it by 1) scheduling reasonable deadlines (doesn’t always happen!); 2)Making the work my priority (and trusting that a good book will grow a large following); and 3)Giving the muse time to ‘play,’ either by tinkering with works on spec or taking time off from writing to refill the well.

    As for deciding what to write about . . . the ideas are always jostling in line, aren’t they? Among the ideas that compel me the most, I pick the one that fits what my editor wants. If only I could write faster ….

  14. Your interview comments are similar to those I intend to share with my writer’s group next week. Building a customer base is complicated and requires slow, steady, consistent effort. But before you can have customers, you must have a product, so writing well, is our very first and most important job.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

    Bonnie Costas

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