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In our Interview With An Author series, Writer’s Relief asks professional writers to share their tried-and-true secrets for publishing success.
Today’s guest is Lisa Van Allen, author of The Wishing Thread (Random House/Ballantine, 2013). Lisa holds an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a BA from McDaniel College. She has been published in many literary journals and magazines and was nominated for The Pushcart Prize.
Every writer has to learn how the publishing business works. How did you do it?
I backed into my publishing education when I was about 22 or 23 years old. I had written a historical romance novel—it was awful—but I managed to get literary agency representation for it. No surprise, the agent did not sell that novel. Or the next one.
But in the meantime, I decided that I wanted to be a literary agent instead of a writer. And so I spent a few years interning and working at a literary agency. Talk about a crash course in publishing! I had a wonderful mentor, and I learned a lot very quickly.
But within a few years, I had totally burned out. Agenting isn’t what I’m cut out for. I knew it would be a huge risk, but I had to return to my first love: writing novels. Since then, my path has been extremely challenging. But I’ve never looked back.
What role does social media play in staying connected to readers and/or building an audience?
My Facebook page has been a great way to reach new readers. However, it does take a bit of effort. It’s easy to get distracted during the workday: Why would I want to work on my novel when I can look at pictures of cute cats? So I try not to let it get out of hand.
I don’t like to look at social media as a way to promote my books. Instead I just look at it as a way of connecting with other readers. That way, there’s not quite so much pressure. Plus, I think it’s a more authentic way of approaching my interactions: It’s not about selling something, it’s about enjoying the company of other people online.
What was the biggest stumbling block or frustration for you so far, and how did you overcome it?
For me, the most difficult thing was finding my own voice as a writer. It took me years of experimenting to finally “hear” what I really sound like.
There can be a lot of noise—so to speak—when you start going to lots and lots of publishing-related events. The noise is about what people are reading, what agents and editors are looking for, what kinds of things readers do and do not like to see in particular genres, which writers are succeeding and which ones are not… It can really do a number on a person’s self-confidence.
Once I found the courage to tell the story that I really wanted to tell—and once I was sure that my technique could do it justice—then things finally came together. But I had to learn to leave the noise behind.
What patterns, habits, or motivational techniques have best served you on your journey to success?
Along the way I’ve learned to take a more holistic approach to being a better writer. Yes, I’m always reading, always studying, always improving my craft.
But these days, I also consider taking care of my brain and my body to be part of my writing regimen. I work out, meditate, eat right, sleep enough (usually), and regularly challenge my brain in new ways—all in the name of writing better books. I think it’s made a difference because I’m more balanced and less stressed. Also I have more energy.
Has a particular rejection ever been helpful to you? What were the details?
When I was working on a previous book, I was having reservations about my ending. But I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong or figure out how to fix it.
Because I couldn’t figure it out, I decided there must be nothing really wrong with it—because if it really was broken, then I would know how to correct it, right? It was passable; that was enough.
I asked a number of beta readers what they thought of the ending; they confirmed that it was fine. When I was ready, I sent the book to an agent who was really eager to see the book. It should’ve been a shoo-in. But sure enough, when she got back to me she said: I really like this book, but I can’t offer to represent it because I don’t like the ending.
This taught me two lessons: First, an experienced professional reader in the publishing industry is going to give you a much different read than a semi-professional reader or writer. Second, I should have listened to that little voice in my head instead. Now, I always do.
We’re happy to promote Lisa’s latest book, The Wishing Thread (Random House/Ballantine, 2013). Three quirky sisters in the storied village of Tarrytown are said to knit magic spells. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. When the sisters’ relationships—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test, will the threads hold?
A rich metaphor for the power of women, of the disenfranchised, of the desperate. Steeped in the spirit of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” this bewitching tale will delight fans of magical realism. —Kirkus Review
Purchase The Wishing Thread on Amazon!