I love interviewing debut novelists and authors on the GLA Blog. There is nothing like a first novel from an up-and-coming author. Read below to see the story of how debut novelist Elizabeth LaBan got published.
Elizabeth LaBan's debut novel, THE TRAGEDY PAPER (young adult) was published by Knopf on January 8, 2013. In a starred review, Booklist said, “Debut novelist LaBan takes us into the private school culture as well as the heads of two charming yet very different teenage boys and their parallel love stories… Nonexistent parents, well-intentioned, likeable faculty on the periphery, elaborate dorm rooms with overstuffed closets, even the romantic, snow-covered campus all contribute to a setting that adds to the story’s heft and intrigue.” Best-selling author Jennifer Weiner called the story "a beguiling and beautifully written tale of first love and heartbreak."
Elizabeth LaBan is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Newsday and The Times-Picayune, among other publications. She is the author of The Grandparents Handbook, which was published by Quirk Books. She has a master's in journalism from Columbia University, and a bachelor's in English from Trinity College in Hartford. Elizabeth worked at NBC News in New York, taught journalism at a community college in New Orleans, and was a reporter at a number of small to mid-sized newspapers before her first child was born.
What is the book’s genre/category?
Young adult. THE TRAGEDY PAPER is my first novel.
Please describe what the story/book is about.
It is about students at a prep school in New York who study Greek and Shakespearean tragedy as their own tragedy unfolds.
Where do you write from?
I live in Center City Philadelphia. I work at the dining room table in our row home.
Briefly, what led up to this book?
Years of writing led up to this book. I have been writing since I was a kid. I majored in literary writing in college, and went on to earn my master’s at Columbia Journalism School. I worked at small newspapers for years until my daughter was born 13 years ago. Since then I have written three women’s fiction novels that have not yet been published, though I got close a few times, and four picture books which I have not yet tried to sell. THE TRAGEDY PAPER is my first young adult novel. My agent felt it was a great market to try to break out in, and encouraged me to write in this genre. It was always something I was drawn to so I was very happy to try. And, as he tends to be, my agent was right.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
I’m afraid my experience was probably pretty typical. It took almost a full year to get a solid draft in place, though I definitely wrote in fits and spurts – sometimes I could barely drag myself to the computer and other times I couldn’t drag myself away from it. Toward the end of that year my family and I took a trip to the New Jersey shore and I probably wrote the last third of the book while we were there. I don’t know if it was the sea air or just being more relaxed, but while we were there the story flowed and didn’t stop until the book was finished.
How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?
My agent is Dr. Uwe Stender with TriadaUS Literary Agency. That was in 2006 and I was trying, at the time, to sell my first women’s fiction novel. In addition to the fact that he represented the type of writing I do, I was drawn to him because he promised to respond to queries whether he was interested or not. Also, we are both based in Pennsylvania, which I hoped might help me stand out a little to him. Before I connected with Uwe, I had made contact with an agent in New York whom I found through a book about literary agents. At first she was very responsive and, after reading the first three chapters of that novel asked to see the rest of the book. Weeks later I got a letter from her saying she was going to pass. I was heartbroken. I was positive I had seen my writing career come and go in the time I had first talked to her and the time I got the letter. That was a Saturday. On Sunday I spent time online and found Uwe. I haven’t looked back since!
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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
I had no idea it took so long from the time the publisher bought the book to the time it becomes available in stores. My book hits stores on January 8, 2013 and it will be two solid years after my editor Erin Clarke at Knopf made the offer. During that time there is more editing – both for content and copy editing – than I ever would have imagined. I loved the book when Uwe sent it out, but it is a much, much better book now thanks to the work that has gone into it these last two years.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
Two things – the first is that I was lucky enough to find the right agent. He never, ever gave up on me, even when it was hard to sell the women’s fiction novels. He never made me feel like I was only as good as whatever book he was trying to sell. Instead, he has been more supportive of me as a writer than I ever could have asked him to be. Because of that, he has worked with me and guided me to this point. The other thing I did – and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to many times – was that I never gave up. You get that first book finished and, no matter what happens, it is a big accomplishment. But then it might not sell for whatever reason. It would be very easy to stop writing at that point. Instead, I wrote another and another and...another! I still love my other novels and do hope they will be out there someday. But if I had stopped after that first one, I never would have written the story of THE TRAGEDY PAPER.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I want to say I wouldn’t have taken the rejections so hard – or maybe that I wouldn’t have seen each one as the termination of my possible career – but that is very hard to do. It is easy to say in hindsight – now that I know I am being published, why didn’t I relax more? It doesn’t work that way. Even so, I wish I hadn’t seen every rejection as the end.
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I am on Twitter at @elizabethlaban and I’m on Facebook. I hope to have my website – elizabethlaban.com – up and running very soon. I love the young adult literary community, and have started to get to know and communicate with other authors.
That is a hard one – there are many. But I am going to go with Prelude to a Kiss with Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin – I’ve been thinking about that one a lot lately.
Something personal about you readers may be surprised to know?
I am married to a restaurant critic.
I am working on my second young adult book. I had a few false starts but I am starting to love the book I have settled on. I am getting to know the characters and I’m building their world. Now I just have to go to the beach so I can get the story to really flow!
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Why Your Work May Be Getting Rejected by Agents.
- NEW Literary Agent Seeking Writers: Linda Glaz of Hartline Literary.
- What Are Beta Readers? (And Do You Need Them?)
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Write Now, Edit Later.
- 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.
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