It's time for another debut author interview! I love interviewing debut authors because they give writers the opportunity to see what successful authors did write in order. This interview is with Amanda Linsmeier, author of the women's fiction novel DITCH FLOWERS (September, 2015, Penner Publishing).
Amanda Linsmeier’s work has appeared on Brain, Child Magazine, WOW! Women on Writing, and Portage Magazine. She works part-time at her local library and brings home more books than she has time to read. Amanda lives in the countryside with her husband and children, two dogs, and half-wild cat.
What is the book’s genre/category? (For example, mainstream, literary, fantasy, YA…)
It’s Women’s Fiction.
Please describe what the story/book is about in one sentence.
A woman struggling with recurrent pregnancy loss meets a little boy who looks suspiciously like her husband, and begins to question whether it’s a case of infidelity, or just her imagination.
Where do you write from? (Where do you live?)
I live in a teeny house in the Midwestern country and I generally write there. We’re surrounded by cows, and lots of trees, and I tend to write at the dining room table, looking right out a window. Sometimes I prefer to write in a coffee shop or something, but only when I can devote at least two hours to it. I love the hustle of a public place, and the slight noise of conversation. I always write with music when I’m at home. If it’s too quiet, I find it difficult to get going.
Briefly, what led up to this book? What were you writing (and getting published, if applicable) before breaking out with this book?
I hadn't gotten anything published before writing it, but I had already written my terrible first novel, which is stored safely and privately away, and will hopefully never be read by anyone other than me. I knew I wanted to write, but I didn't know what. I was working at a daycare and met a little boy who looked like my husband. I went home and told him about it, and we had a good laugh. But it got me thinking. And that’s where the idea for Ditch Flowers came from. It hit me and I went for it.
What was the time frame for writing this book? Tell us an interesting detail or two, if applicable. For example, did you finish first draft after one week? Or did you pick it up after 20 years and finally rewrite it?
It took an embarrassingly long time. I started it in 2007, but I was not disciplined, and I took breaks from writing. Really big breaks, I mean. Probably even up to a year at a time. I sent my first query in February 2012.
How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)? (If you do not have an agent, tell us how the deal came about sans agent.)
I knew querying would potentially be a harrowing process, and I set out to get 100 rejections. I knew getting that many meant I was sending Ditch Flowers “out there.” I passed 100, and eventually 200, within a span of three years, with three sets of breaks to revise.
My first query ever resulted in a full request. And I had dozens of fulls and partials during the three years, and would revise in between. Near the beginning of querying, I got positive feedback on the concept, on the writing itself, but there were several issues with the pacing and structure. And the majority of rejections were generic. At the end of the querying process, the rejections were near misses and more often than not, were personalized and helpful. I had agents saying they really loved this or that, but just didn’t feel passionately enough to represent. Or that there was nothing they could pinpoint that didn’t work for them, it just didn’t strike them as “the one.” I had to re-assess at that point. I could make another list of agents and hope someone fell in love, or I could move in another direction. I still felt strongly about trade publishing for this manuscript, and wanted to see if perhaps I’d have better luck with a small press. I loved the idea of a small press for many reasons, and thoughtfully ended my agent search at that point. I queried two small publishing houses out of a list of maybe a dozen, one of them being Penner Publishing. They requested my manuscript, and very quickly made me an offer. And I happily accepted.
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
The first: I made that newbie mistake of querying too soon. Of course, I didn’t think so at the time. And I didn’t think so in year two of querying. But my manuscript was not ready. When I think of what I sent initially, I’m actually embarrassed. After completing all my edits with Penner, I can see clearly now, that even after all my previous revisions, it still wasn’t the best it could be when I queried the last round of agents, and publishers. If I could go back I would write faster, and edit slower. I had critique groups read chapters here or there, but nobody read the manuscript in full for the first two years I queried, and I think it was the poorer for it. Feedback is so crucial. And secondly, I learned that though I’m not a plotter, full-on pantsing is too laidback for me. Writing took me so much longer than I expected because I didn’t know where I was going. For current (and future) work, I am at least having a slight idea of what comes after that initial spark of an idea.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
I didn’t give up. Also I took the time to make lists of agents that I believed would be a good fit for my novel. I had a solid query. I was organized with spreadsheets and Querytracker, and also lists on Word. That way if one of my lists was wrong, I had two others to compare it to. I was so anxious about querying the same agent twice by accident!
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
Again, send a more polished manuscript And I’d not waste so much time, either querying something before it’s ready, or by lagging on the actual writing.
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I have a Facebook page I’m fairly active on, a Twitter account I’m still trying to get comfortable with, and a website as well as Pinterest. I even have a Pinterest board for Ditch Flowers, which I think is fun because I’m such a visual person. As far as marketing and building a platform, I believe it’s important to be out there, but not in everyone’s faces with BUY MY BOOK all the time, or even every day, or even every week. There’s a fine line between being visible and being spammy. And I never want to be spammy.
Ah, it’s a tie between Somethings Gotta Give and Lost in Austen. Add in Return to Oz for a three-way tie.
Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?
I’ve heard so many, but one that really resonates this year is ‘Write the book you want to read.’ I read books like Ditch Flowers, and I wrote it because I couldn’t not write it, but my current work-in-progress is something I’d pick up lately for fun, to lose myself in. And the words are pouring out of me. It’s lighter and yet darker in ways. It’s been easier writing in more ways than one.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I’m really shy. And being shy and trying to market your work is often contradictory! Also, I love thrift shopping. Probably 90% of the things in my house (including my closet!) are second-hand. I'd love to do a non-fiction book on thrifting someday.
The aforementioned WIP is a paranormal women’s fiction, dealing with a great-grandmother and her great-grandaughter who both have magical powers, in two different story lines—one set slightly in the future, and one set in the early 1970's. It is witchy, sexy, fun, yet there are serious subjects intertwined—religion, post-partum depression, murder, and betrayal.
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- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)
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- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.
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