Not all writers take the same path to publication. Some go the traditional route (agent to publisher). Others self-publish. And then there are those like today’s featured author, Erica Cameron, who work directly with a publisher and then connect with an agent. But no matter the path, one thing links all writers: the determination to tell a great story and get it in the hands of readers. Erica’s story proves that belief in your work, and connecting with the right people, can make your publishing dream come true.
Here is Erica’s journey…
Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Erica: I didn’t decide to give writing a real shot as a career until I was almost out of college, but I should have known a lot earlier than that. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t addicted to books and in eighth grade our English teacher asked us to get into groups and write and illustrate a picture book. I worked alone and wrote a forty-page mystery novel (I spent a lot of time reading my dad’s Grisham and Patterson books in those days). After that I tried writing an epic fantasy novel in high school… and I had no idea what I was doing, so that died pretty fast. I may not have consciously decided I wanted to be a writer until college, but when I look back at my life it was always pretty obvious.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
Erica: Short answer, two. SING was my second attempt at querying. The long version is I finished my first novel in 2008 and began querying. It got some interest from agents—a couple of full requests and an almost-offer—and even a publication offer from a small press. Around the time I received the offer from the press, I realized there were so many problems with the story that the book needed to be rewritten completely. The first book was okay, but I’d created so many dead ends and impossibilities with the mythology of the world I’d built that trying to finish out the series was like trying to walk through a brick wall. The second novel I wrote is still only two-thirds finished, a contemporary twist on the “boy next door” story. Before I could finish it and start querying, I began working on SING. Once I wrote the novel version during NaNoWriMo in 2011, everything happened rather quickly. I had an offer from Spencer Hill before I could really begin querying. The few queries I did send out all garnered very polite rejections. Over the past year I’ve learned that conferences and writing events work a whole lot better for me than queries.
Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?
Erica: It depends on the project and the rejections. If I go through several versions of the query and no one even wants to take a look at the pages, there may be something wrong with the concept. If I’m getting interest, but the rejections are citing things like market trends and genre difficulties, I’ll keep querying until I run out of places to send the story. Like people say, this business is subjective and all it takes is one person willing to take a chance on you.
Amy: I love the fact that you talk about working in psychology labs during college. How did that help form the premise for SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE?
Erica: One of the labs I worked for worked with preschoolers and kindergarteners to gauge their reading level and linguistic development while the other was attempting to develop an early diagnosis and testing criteria for childhood psychopathy. The lab work didn’t directly impact SING, but the knowledge I picked up over the course of my degree definitely helped. I used some of the theories and speculations I learned and twisted them to suit my needs.
Amy: Did your query for SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE come easily or did it go through many drafts?
Erica: Summarizing is not my strong suit. My queries always get tweaked and rewritten a handful of times before I dare send them out to anyone. The query for SING, though, didn’t get used that often. I sent out about a dozen of them in total, I think. I pitched Spencer Hill in person, so no query necessary! It’s an interesting story and one I wrote about on my blog here: http://www.byericacameron.com/2012/07/party-crashing-changes-lives.html
Amy: Did you have critique partners for SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?
Erica: My long-time critique partner and co-author is Lani Woodland and she is instrumental to everything I do. The number of times I’ve kept her on Skype for hours just so I can bounce plot ideas off her… well, I’ve stopped counting how often that’s happened. Lani, my sister, and my mother are always my first readers. Only after a book has passed through that gauntlet do I hand it over to my agent or pass it to my editors.
Amy: How many agents did you query for SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?
Erica: Once I had interest from Spencer Hill, I sent out a handful of queries—maybe six or so. I got a few rejections in very good time. A few never responded. The book sold within a month of Spencer Hill requesting the manuscript, so I stopped querying SING after that. I didn’t start querying again until I was getting ready to submit the second book in The Dream War Saga to my editors. I connected with Michael Stearns from Upstart Crow at an SCBWI conference around this time and he’s the one who passed my book to Danielle Chiotti. Like the story of how I sold SING, the story of the roundabout way of how I found my agent is kind of involved. The whole thing is up on my blog here: http://www.byericacameron.com/2013/03/i-have-agent-part-2.html
Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Danielle Chiotti? How did you know she was a good fit for you?
Erica: My call with Danielle was more than an hour a half of wonderfully fun, meandering conversation about my book, my series, my other ideas, publishing in general, and everything else. There was no awkwardness at all and we talked like we’d known each other for years. She loved SING, loved the ideas I had for other books, and officially offered representation during the call. I knew Danielle would be a good fit for me because she not only loved my work, she saw past the strange situation I was in (since I sold SING on my own, she doesn’t have the subright sales on that book yet), and looked at the career I want to have. That’s one of the most important things in an agent, I think: someone who believes not only in your current work, but in what you can do for each other over the course of a career.
Amy: What was one piece of advice you got during your early writing stages that has stuck with you to this day?
Erica: There are two pieces of advice I always try to follow or remember: First drafts are allowed to suck and make writing a daily habit. They go hand in hand very well, as far as advice goes. It was especially useful to remember while writing the first draft of the sequel to SING. That book dragged every bit of energy and life out of my brain and, while I was writing, I was convinced it sucked. I thought it was an awful piece of awfulness and no one would ever want to read it. At the same time, if I didn’t finish the draft there’s no way it would ever get any better. You can’t fix something that doesn’t exist and it’s easier to push through those sucky first drafts if you make it a habit to write every day. A hundred words, a thousand words, five thousand words—whatever it is, if you write a little bit every day you’ll hit “The End” eventually.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Erica: Never. Over the past fifteen years of jumping from job to job, I’ve learned something: I suck at being employed. I’m not a leader or a follower, so I don’t do well as a boss or an employee. I also get fantastically bored with a job that I don’t find interesting or challenging and end up quitting as soon as I find something new. Writing is the only job that I’ve stuck with for more than two and a half years and the only one I’ve never gotten bored with or tired of. Despite the dead ends and the frustrations and the rejections and the hurry up and wait of life in publishing, it’s not something I would ever give up on completely. My passion for stories and how much fun I have playing with the ideas that pop into my head keep me pushing forward even though I have to pull extra time out of nowhere to make it work sometimes. To be honest, though, I can’t wait until the day I can live off my writing.
Mariella Teagen hasn’t spoken a word in four years.
She pledged her voice to Orane, the man she loves—someone she only sees in her dreams. Each night, she escapes to Paradise, the world Orane created for her, and she sings for him. Mariella never believed she could stay in Paradise longer than a night, but two weeks before her eighteenth birthday, Orane hints that she may be able to stay forever.
Hudson Vincent made a pledge to never fight again.
Celease, the creature who created his dream world, swore that giving up violence would protect Hudson. But when his vow caused the death of his little brother, Hudson turned his grief on Celease and destroyed the dream world. The battle left him with new abilities and disturbing visions of a silent girl in grave danger—Mariella.
Now, Hudson is fighting to save Mariella’s life while she fights to give it away. And he must find a way to show her Orane’s true intentions before she is lost to Paradise forever.
Erica is many things but most notably the following: writer, reader, editor, dancer, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, Florida resident, and quasi-recluse. She loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvadore Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.
On the more practical side, Erica graduated from Florida State University in 2007 with a double major in psychology and creative writing. Having worked in psychology labs during her college years, she realized true passion lay in telling stories. She began pursuing publication in earnest after graduation and, so far, her novels run the genre gamut, but all fall within the young adult spectrum. Erica’s first novel, Sing Sweet Nightingale is due out March 2014 from Spencer Hill Press. Check out her website or connect to her through Twitter: @byericacameron, Facebook: /byericacameron, Pinterest: /byericacameron or Tumblr: themysticaldemystified.com.