It's time for another debut author interview. I love profiling debut authors because I think their stories to publication are excellent roadmaps for other writers trying to get published. This interview is with YA memoir writer Aaron Hartzler.
Aaron Hartzler is a writer and actor who has been seen on stages across the country, and a couple of times on TV. RAPTURE PRACTICE (2013, Little, Brown) is his first book, and received a starred review from Kirkus. His writing can also be found online at BigThink, Salon, Fresh Yarn, and The Huffington Post. He lives in southern California with his boyfriend Nate and their two dogs, Charlie and Brahms.
What is the book’s genre/category?
Please describe what the story/book is about in one sentence.
Rapture Practice is a memoir about growing up in an fundamentalist Christian home, and getting kicked out of my Baptist high school two weeks before graduation.
Where do you write from?
Palm Springs, CA
Briefly, what led up to this book?
I'd been writing and performing one-man shows and personal essays. This is the first book I've published.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
I started some of the writing that would become Rapture Practice back in 2000. I'd been writing and performing autobiographical one-man shows in L.A., New York, and San Francisco since 1999. After pitching a couple of television shows based on this writing that failed to make it to pilot in 2006, a TV development executive I was working with told me I should write book. I put acting on the back burner and started by writing a non-fiction book proposal that a talent manager friend had gotten from a literary agent he was working with in New York. That agent gave me a round of notes on my first proposal before telling me that my writing "just wasn't there yet." Looking back, he was right. I got into a critique group and kept writing for another two years before I met my current agent. He worked on the proposal with me for a full year before we sent it out and I got a contract in 2009, then delivered the manuscript in 2010. The acquiring editor sat on the manuscript for a year, then left the company, so I didn't get notes until 2011, and the manuscript finally went to copyedits in 2012.
How did you find your agent?
I got a job as close to the publishing industry as I could in Los Angeles. I worked for a children's book organization that hosted events for writings and illustrators to meet agents and editors. I met my agent at one of these writers conferences.
Writing books for kids? There are hundreds of
publishers, agents and other markets listed in the
latest Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market.
Buy it online at a discount.
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
1. It's all about relationships. You hear that all the time about Hollywood—"it's who you know"—but for me this was true in publishing as well.
2. It takes even longer than you think it will—even after you have a contract in place—mainly due to circumstances beyond your control.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
I got a day job very close to the industry that put me in contact with publishing professionals. Planning conferences and events where writers and illustrators could meet industry professionals allowed me to get to know the decision-makers, find out what was working, learn about the industry, and narrow down a short list of who I wanted to work with. Of course, my writing also had to be up to par so that once I had relationships in place, and people started asking "When are you going to write your book?" I had solid work to show them.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
Honestly, nothing. I feel that everyone finds his or her own way to those benchmarks of an agent, a contract, publication, etc. The way it happened for me will probably not be the way it happens for you, but you'll find your own way through the process. However it happens, the most important thing is to keep writing. Publication can't be the only goal. Write because you must; because you have a story to tell, and want to hone it into the best book you can possibly write at this moment.
Did you have an author platform in place?
The job I had allowed me to meet lots of writers interested in what I was working on (potential readers), as well as build a platform of industry professionals who became friends, and eventually started asking to see my work. Currently, I use social media to interact with authors, editors, agents, bloggers, and journalists in my specific genre. I'm also writing lots of essays and op-eds for placement on sites like HuffPo and Salon to extend my reach. Just writing a book doesn't mean that you're done. I'm writing all kinds of things now to try to get placement to support the book, and get my writing in front of new eyes.
(Find some memoir literary agents.)
Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?
Go to conferences. You must meet the decision makers. You must hear feedback on your work. You must listen to the advice you get. You must be willing to change your writing. Be your authentic self—both in person with publishing professionals and on the page. Do not write to the trend. Above all, write the books you love to read—the characters you love to read. Don't stop writing to pursue publication. Do both. Also, do something besides write and try to get published. Have something else to talk about when you find yourself at a conference sitting at the bar next to an agent.
(Here are more tips on how to write a memoir.)
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
The pinnacle of my acting career was a five-line co-star on the pilot of episode of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia." I played a gay guy hitting on a straight bartender. It was a stretch, but luckily I had an MFA to fall back on. (And yes, that dripping sound you hear is sarcasm.)
I could never pick just one favorite movie. A recent indie film I love is Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture which inspired her HBO show "Girls." I'm also a big fan of classic musicals—especially Guys & Dolls.
I have a YA novel in the works, and am bouncing around ideas for a second memoir with my agent and editor. It remains to be seen if it will fall into the YA category or the adult category. Also, I have a couple of screenwriting projects going.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Writer's Block is a State of Mind.
- Why Writers Shouldn't Google Themselves.
- How Deadlines Can Help Your Writing.
- NEW Agent Seeking Clients: Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Making Sense of a Rejection Letter.
- 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 how to write a query letter.
Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more. Order the book from WD at a discount.
I Will Speak At These Great Writing Events in 2012-2013:
- June 22-24, 2012: Crested Butte Writers Conference (Crested Butte, CO)
- July 26-28, 2012: Midwest Writers Workshop (Muncie, IN)
- Aug. 2-8, 2012: Homeric Writers Retreat & Workshop (Isle of Ithaca, Greece)
- Sept. 13-14, 2013: Chicago Writers Conference (Chicago, IL)
- Feb. 14-17, 2013: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- April 5-7. 2013: Writer's Digest Conference East (New York, NY)
- April 19-20, 2013: Kentucky Writers Conference (Bowling Green, KY)
- May 17-19, 2013: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- May 23-26, 2013: Writers Guild of Alberta "Words in 3D" Event (Edmonton, Canada)
- June 6-7, 2013: Clarksville Writers Conference (Clarksville, TN)
- June 7-8, 2013: Carnegie Literary Center "Books-in-Progress" Conference (Lexington, KY)
- June 21-23, 2013: Agents & Editors Conference / Writers League of Texas (Austin, TX)
- July 5-6, 2013: Hunt Country Writers Retreat (Middleburg, VA)
- Fall 2013: Writer's Digest West Conference (Los Angeles, CA)