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Interview With An Author: Lisa Van Allen

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

Lisa Van AllenToday’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.

CONTEST: Leave a comment or a question for Lisa below and you’ll be entered to win a copy of her latest book, The Wishing Thread! U.S. residents only. This contest is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Sharon Salituro! Sharon, please email us at info@wrelief.com with your mailing address so that Lisa Van Allen can send your free copy of The Wishing Thread. Thank you to all who participated!

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.

Submit to Review Board

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.

The Wishing ThreadWe’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!

CONTEST: Remember to leave a comment below to enter to win a copy of The Wishing Thread! Winners will be selected on October 10. U.S. residents only. This contest is now closed.

23 Responses to Interview With An Author: Lisa Van Allen

  1. Candace: Yes, it was certainly diving in head first! Judging contests can be so hard–-thank goodness people like you are willing to do it!

    Leslie: You are so kind. :-) Thanks for making my day!

  2. Carol–you bet! It’s trial by fire, all the way. :-)

    Kathy–thanks for asking. I’m a knitter, and I am a new crocheter. At the moment, I’m crocheting a hat pattern that I’m testing out for a charity thing I’m planning to run for needy babies. I figure if I can handle this pattern, anyone can!

  3. Becoming an agent is a unique approach to learning the publishing business! I do so admire them, but I don’t want to be one. I’ve been
    asked to “judge” short story contests and found it terribly difficult to rank them. With few exceptions, I liked something about them all. Thanks
    for your insights in your interview.

  4. Thanks to everyone for your comments!

    MaryC: Yes, absolutely. Publishers like to see writers who are on social media. The key, I think, is to pick on site that you excel at, and really make it work.

    Patty Abel: I hope you’ll enjoy the books! If I could go back and tell my young self what to do to be a writer, I would say “read more.” The publishing industry is doing a much better job than when I was young of catering to young adult markets. So read read read!

    Tiffany: Early on, I started looking at rejection letters as signs that I was heading in the right direction. NOT getting rejection letters is way scarier than getting them, because if you’re getting rejected, it means you’re trying. That’s how I look at it anyway!

    Marie Ann: Yes, I’m a knitter! Thanks for asking! And thanks for your kind words.

    Jori: I think finding your voice as a writer takes two things: 1) time, 2) experimentation. Lots of both is what finally led me to where I am.

    Trevor C: Congrats to you for finding Writer’s Relief. You are already ahead of the game!

    James: Can you be more specific? Usually having a book published is something agents like to see in a query letter.

    Thanks again, all!

  5. Wow, this interview was very helpful. The struggles you went through are the struggles every writer goes through. You getting through it gives me hope that I can too! And I really like the fact that you don’t look at social media as a way to promote your books. Connecting with other readers is the best.

  6. Great interview. I am an author and it is always encouraging to hear about other writers that struggle with finding their voice. It is something I have struggled with a lot.
    Any advice for finding an agent when you already have a book published? I have had a few rejections that are for that exact reason.

  7. Knitting spells interests me but rather than buying, I am hoping to win the contest. I am just beginning in my writing life but many people have recommended I read magical realism as they see similarities in my approach.
    Thankyou for your honesty in answering the questions. I am unsure as yet, how to query an agent and am perhaps not at that stage yet but am very grateful for people like yourself who are leaving multiple resources that will guide me when I am ready.
    I wish you every success in your writing and if you take the time to respond, I am currently looking for an undergraduate program to study creative writing that I will transfer into as a junior in fall 2014, if you knew of somewhere particularly spectacular.
    Thanks,
    Trev C

  8. I enjoyed reading about your journey as a writer. Very interesting for us that are working toward more success. I hope to ready your book soon. Thanks for sharing
    Lisa

  9. One way or another, I hope to read your book soon. This was a wonderful interview and you have such an interesting mix of experience. The other thing that impressed me was your honesty.
    Thank you,
    Patti

  10. It is interesting to me that you had difficulty finding your voice. I am having the same struggle, and I’m wondering if you had any particular techniques that you used to work through this problem. Thank you!

  11. I love your comment, “But I had to learn to leave the noise behind.” I think that is one of my biggest problems, and a problem for many other fledging writers. We are distracted by the noise of what readers want to read, what agents want to read, what publishers want to sell. I have to expend extra effort to write what I want to write, not what the “market” seems to be asking for.
    This was a great interview. In particular, I enjoy hearing about writer’s efforts to move forward without drowning in social media, without sacrificing their sanity :)
    And, Lisa, do you knit?

  12. My grandmother just suggested I read your books. I have a son that is writing a series. He is 14 and on book three. Do you have an suggestions for a young writer and getting his books published?
    Thank you
    Patty

  13. Lisa F: Middle school is such a great time to explore writing, and your students are lucky to have such a caring teacher as you! I think that the most important thing for kids is to just have fun with it. You know–write the story you want to read. In writing, you can imagine anything you want! No limits! Good luck to you and your class.

    Sharon: In short, everywhere! But The Wishing Thread had a particular moment of “ah ha!” You can find it out more:

    Kyle: Thanks for spreading the word! Word of mouth is really the only way a book can take off these days.

    Diane: Thanks for your comment. And also for your kind words!

  14. it was interesting to learn that you were working in a literary agency and had a great mentor. Your writing has evolved and is something to be proud of and perseverance and finding your writer’s voice as you mentioned is important. A very interesting interview. Best wishes.

  15. I’ll have to have my girlfriend check out your stuff. The Wishing Thread sounds right up her alley!

  16. Hi!
    I’m a middle school English teacher. The most rewarding facet of my role is watching my students grow as writers. There are a few students whose writing wraps around the readers with its earnest expressions of life and passion. My hope for these students is that they continue to practice this skill outside of the classroom. Do you have any words of wisdom for these young, skilled or struggling writers? My successful and gifted authors need to be inspired to grow, and my writers who need confidence boosts could benefit from your perseverance.

    Thank you!

    Lisa

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