Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pub Story: Lisa Schroeder

Author guest blogs + publication paths = Pub Stories. It's a Tuesday thing. Click here for more info (esp. if you're an author wanting to participate). Click here for a list of all participants.

* Noteworthy: Lisa gave a bit of insight on the production of novels in verse: snagging an agent, selling, word count, editing, etc. I've never found this sort of info easily, which is why I think this is a particularly informative Pub Story.


About Lisa: Lisa is the author of two young adult novels, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and FAR FROM YOU, both published by Simon Pulse. She works as a Compensation Analyst by day at a local hospital and squeezes writing in during the early morning hours and on the weekends. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two sons. In 2010, she’s excited to have two new novels coming out -- a mid-grade novel called IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES and another YA novel-in-verse, CHASING BROOKLYN. Visit her online at http://lisaschroederbooks.com/.

The Story
I had been writing for a long time. A. Freaking. Long. Time. Like years and years. And all around me people were getting big deals with their exciting books for kids and teens and skipping through the field of publishing daisies, and holy crap did I want to SKIP through those daisies too!

Although I had published a picture book with a small house, my dream was to publish a novel. I’d written three mid-grade novels that didn’t go anywhere. The third one I’d come close to getting an agent a couple of times, but I still wasn’t skipping. So, in 2006 I read about an on-line YA class an author was offering and I signed up. 2005/2006 was when the young adult world really started to take off. YA novels were selling like crazy. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to go where it was hot, it just made sense to learn more about writing for this age group in case I ever had a story idea that would fit.

I read a LOT of YA during that time and discovered Laurie Halse Anderson, Sonya Sones, Sarah Mlynowski, Ellen Hopkins, Sarah Dessen, and many others. So, I started writing a YA novel, and while in the middle of that story, I had a dream about a girl whose boyfriend died and he loved her so much, he couldn’t leave her. I got up the next morning and started writing about Ava and Jackson – the story that eventually became I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME.

The weird thing was that the story came out in a different format from anything I’d ever written. I wrote ten pages before I sat back and thought, Lisa, what in the ^&*% are you doing? As if it isn’t hard enough to get a book published, now I was writing in this sparse, poetic style that would probably make it even harder.

Still, I liked what I had, so I kept going. The story poured out of me like nothing else I’d ever written. I found it fun and challenging at the same time to tell the story in this unique way. Still, I worried that calling it “verse” when I wasn’t nearly as poetic as other verse authors would mean I would be stuck on the boring old sidewalk forever while others around me continued to skip through those daisies.

I finished the book and had a few people give me critiques, including Sonya Sones, who was incredibly helpful in getting my book polished and ready to submit. Finally, in August of 2006, I was ready to start querying agents. I put the word count in the letter, and at that time, the book came in at a whopping 13,600 words. Verse novels are just shorter. (It did grow by about 2,000 words, though, during the revision process with my editor). One agent told me (after reading only the query letter) – this is too short to be a novel, it’s probably more of a novella. Another agent told me – I wouldn’t know a good verse novel from a bad one, so I’m definitely not the agent for you. It wasn’t long before I was frustrated and feeling like it would be back to the Idea Store again to find a new idea and start over on a new project.

Finally, I had an agent request to read the manuscript, because she had a client who had been talking about writing a novel-in-verse, and she was “curious.” This, by the way, proves my point that so much of what happens in publishing is luck, i.e. right place, right time. A couple of weeks later, she e-mailed me and said she loved the book and thought the verse created a unique atmosphere that she didn’t think I would have achieved had I written in traditional prose.

We had to submit to quite a few editors before we found one who fell in love with it. I mean, let’s face it. I had this paranormal story going on combined with what is traditionally a very literary style. I think most editors read it and just weren’t sure what to do with it. Is it literary? Is it commercial? What IS it?

Anyway, Simon Pulse took me on and although I’m still very much a struggling author with a day job trying to break out, I’ve finally gotten to skip through the field of publishing daisies. I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME came out in January, 2008 and is in its seventh printing. Simon Pulse bought my second novel in verse, called FAR FROM YOU, out now, which is another book about love and loss, healing and hope. I just finished revisions on my third one, coming out in 2010, called CHASING BROOKLYN, another ghost story, this time with two ghosts, one who is tormenting Brooklyn and another who is trying to protect her.

Steph asked – how is writing, submitting, and revising a verse novel different from a traditional novel?

I think some houses view verse novels as risky. Editors wonder if teens will open up the book and be turned off by the format. Certainly Ellen Hopkins, a NYT best-selling author, has proven teens will read verse. On the other hand, not everyone is going to like it. I know that. I get that. And it’s okay! Just like not everyone likes fantasy, not everyone likes historical fiction, etc. etc. Ultimately, just like any book, I think it comes down to telling a good story. That has to be the number one goal each and every time. The format in which I choose to tell the story isn’t as important as telling a good story.

As far as revising a verse novel, it’s really tricky because with my editor’s help, I go in knowing what needs work to make the story better and to make the characters more developed. But at the same time, I’m constantly asking myself, is it poetic enough? There are times when lots of dialogue is needed, and let’s face it, realistic dialogue is not going to be poetic. So I do the best I can, and hope people know it’s a fine line, and hope they might try to appreciate the challenges writing a novel-in-verse comes with.

-

Thanks, Lisa!

14 comments:

Thao said...

Love the pub story. I never knew Lisa got critiques from other authors who also inspired her. I think verse novel is really cool, it makes me read with more concentration and analysis to understand everything completely.

Reader Rabbit said...

I love Lisa's style and this is a great pub story :)

BookChic said...

What a great pub story! I love Lisa's books so it was fun to read about her path to publication. Like Thao, I didn't know that she had asked other published authors for critiques and that's cool to know.

I love reading these- keep them coming! :)

Steph Su said...

Hooray for Lisa bending genre lines!

Amee said...

I Heart You, You Haunt Me was the first verse novel I read and enjoyed! I'd previously given Ellen Hopkins a try but she was way too dark and disturbing for me. I'm glad I tried again with verse novels. Great pub story. :)

Iryna said...

I've unfortunately never heard of Lisa, but her books look really cool! I think I'll try them out.

Lenore said...

Agree that so much about publishing is about luck and being in the right place at the right time!

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Great interview! I enjoyed reading it.

Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of HOPE..
http://courageinpatience.blogspot.com
Ch. 1 is online!

Heather Zundel said...

Oooh, this is a really good pub story. I am really going to look into her now. I actually had never heard of her before this.

Cheryl Renee Herbsman said...

Great pub story!

Beth F said...

Great post. Thanks so much to Lisa for sharing her story with us and thanks Steph for offering the space.

Beth Kephart said...

Love this. When I chaired the National Book Awards Young People's Literature jury in 2001 I was deeply moved by the number of novels in verse, and by the quality. It's an important, alluring genre unto itself.

Christina Farley said...

This is such a fabulous story Lisa has. I'm glad I came across this interview. Thank you!

Book Spot said...

I'd always wondered about the word counts for verse novels because obviously they're shorter (well come that are lots and lots of pages might be the same as the shorter novels...) but I'd never seen an actual number.

And I just *love* the titles of her 2010 books!

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