Debut Author Interview: Miriam Forster, Author of the Young Adult Novel, CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS

Meet author Miriam Forster. Miriam's debut novel is young adult story, CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS (Feb. 2012, HarperTeen). Miriam sat down with Guide to Literary Agents to discuss how she came to sign with her agent, Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary, and how DOLLS came to be published. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said of the book: “Set in a magically isolated Empire, Forster’s well-crafted story and confident prose are rich, packed with small details that immerse readers in her sumptuously imagined world.” Author Miriam Forster wrote her first story at seven and has been playing with words ever since. She is obsessed with anthropology, British television, and stories of all kinds. GIVEAWAY: Miriam is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: CC Dowling won.)
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Meet author Miriam Forster. Miriam's debut novel is young adult story, CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS (Feb. 2012, HarperTeen). Miriam sat down with Guide to Literary Agents to discuss how she came to sign with her agent, Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary, and how DOLLS came to be published.

(See a guest column where agent Jennifer Laughran discusses tips on writing kids books.)

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said of the book: “Set in a magically isolated Empire, Forster’s well-crafted story and confident prose are rich, packed with small details that immerse readers in her sumptuously imagined world.” Author Miriam Forster wrote her first story at seven and has been playing with words ever since. She is obsessed with anthropology, British television, and stories of all kinds. You can find Miriam on Twitter.

GIVEAWAY: Miriam is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: CC Dowling won.)

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What is the book's genre/category?

Young adult fantasy.

(Review a list of literary agents for fantasy novels.)

Please describe what the story/book is about.

A low-caste girl in a magically cut off Empire must solve a series of murders or risk being sold as a slave.

Where do you write from?

Currently I live in Portland, but I recently moved here from Idaho.

(Why writers who don't have a basic website are hurting their chances of success.)

Briefly, what led up to this book?

City of A Thousand Dolls is my first published novel, but before I wrote it, I wrote another fantasy, one much more sword-and-sorcery, with dragons and elves and unicorns. I also wrote short stories and nonfiction. While I got very close several times to selling my short pieces, I never quite got that magic acceptance letter. Eventually I shifted my focus to just working on young adult and middle grade novels. That's when I wrote City of a Thousand Dolls and revised it, as well as writing several other books.

What was the time frame for writing this book?

The most interesting thing about writing City of a Thousand Dolls was that I drafted it entirely in longhand. In order to focus on the book and not get distracted, I had to leave the house. But I didn't have a laptop. So I wrote the book out by hand, on legal pads and notebooks and sometimes blank sheets of paper. And then I revised as I typed it in. A little more than a year after I'd first started, I wrote the last sentence. Six months of revision later, I started querying agents.

How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?

Right around the time I was revising City of a Thousand Dolls, I learned about agents, and decided that was where I wanted to start. I queried the book for about two years, revising it several times, but no luck. Finally I tore it apart and rewrote it entirely. I'd started querying another young adult book while I was trying to fix City of a Thousand Dolls, but it became apparent very quickly that this other book wasn't working either. I hadn't queried very many agents with the completely rewritten version of City, but I decided to send it to Jennifer Laughran, at the Andrea Brown Agency, because I thought she was fantastic and I wanted to keep my momentum up. To my surprise and delight, she loved the book. After some rewrites, she offered representation.

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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

I think I was surprised the most by how normal I still felt. When you're writing and querying and chasing that elusive publishing contract, it's this huge thing in your head. A life-changing thing. And it is in many ways, but in other ways, things stay the same. I still had to go to work and take out the trash and feed the cat. And because you don't feel different, it can be weird to tell people. It took me about a year to even start to get comfortable telling strangers about my book. I'm still not there yet. I'd rather talk about TV shows or other people's books than my own.

The biggest learning experience for me was the edits. I'm a people pleaser and I don't like conflict, but editing is a collaborative process and the writer and editor aren't always going to agree. I had to learn to own my book, to take the advice that worked and put my foot down (gently) on the advice that didn't. Communication was key, and fortunately I had a great editor and agent to shepherd me through the process.

(Is it better to sign with a new literary agent or an experienced one?)

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

I think the biggest things I did right were I kept writing new books and I didn't give up. I wrote three or four books in between rewriting City of a Thousand Dolls and every book I wrote gave me new tools that I could take back to the older books and use to make them better. And I kept querying, even when I was discouraged. I didn't just plunge blindly forward--I kept tweaking the book and listening to the feedback I was getting--but I never stopped trying.

The other big thing was that I made sure that I learned about publishing. I read agent and writer blogs and visited writer forums and gathered as much information from different sides as I could. I made mistakes at the beginning; it's very easy to do that when you're still figuring things out. But the more I learned, the better equipped i was to figure out where I needed to go and what I needed to do to get there.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

I would have been more patient, and taken the time to learn more about publishing before I jumped in. It's easy to think you'll pick it up as you go, but publishing is such a counter-intuitive business and it doesn't work at all how you think it will. Especially now, with the industry in such flux. There are so many options out there, it's important to know the all the facts. There is no right way to break in, but each path has different challenges and each will get you to a different place. And there are a lot of dangers out there too, scammers and bad agents and inexperienced/badly run publishers that go under in a year or two and take the author's book with them. Being educated is really the best defense.

Did you have an author platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?

The funniest thing to me about my platform is that people say "You're really good at social media, tell me your secrets!" And then I have to laugh, because I spend most of my time online reblogging hobbit pictures and agonizing over BBC shows with other fans.

But I think that's one of the secrets. People who talk only about themselves are boring and annoying. The point of the Internet (to me) is to share what you love and to participate in the conversation. Support other artists and writers. Talk about movies and televisions shows and books with other people who love them. Share things: funny things, sad things, important things and adorable things. Share your interests and passions.

For me, I've been blogging since about 2008, and I post about two to three times a week normally. Not enough to burn me out, but enough to build up a nice backlist of posts. I try to keep it a mix between writing tips, book promo, contests, and cute animal pictures. I'm also active on Twitter and Tumblr, though Tumblr is mostly for my own amusement. (See above comment about hobbit pictures.) My Facebook page is less of an interactive thing for me, though I make sure to keep it updated. Basically, I focus on the things I enjoy and can do easily, without interfering with my writing. After all, the most important thing you can do to build readership is write the next book.

Website(s)?

Blog: msforster.blogspot.com

Facebook: facebook.com/Miriam.Forster.author

Twitter: twitter.com/MiriamForster

Tumblr: miriamforster.tumblr.com

What's next?

I'm working on a companion novel to City of a Thousand Dolls. It should be released sometime in 2014.

GIVEAWAY: Miriam is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: CC Dowling won.)

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