My friend Rebecca is pretty awesome. She’s a writer and recently published her first YA novel — The Similars. I was curious about her writing process, role of social media in book promotion and consumer fandom, so thrilled Rebecca let me ask her Five Questions.
Hunter Walk: Earlier this year your first book, The Similars, was published. What’s more difficult — writing a book or promoting a book? My understanding is that, like many content industries, book publishing has become more open/inclusive, but also more difficult to breakthrough to find an audience?
Rebecca Hanover: That’s an easy one. There’s no contest; writing the book was the hardest part, because a first novel is a mysterious, stubborn beast of a project, and there’s nothing else you’ll ever do that’ll be quite like it. This book was like my third child — it had to be conceived, birthed, reared, loved, nurtured and disciplined. But it was more like a first child in that I had no idea how to do any of those things and was completely making it up as I went along! That’s not to say that promoting a book isn’t challenging — it absolutely is. And you’re right, though social media and sites like Goodreads have enabled authors to reach their potential readers in a truly revolutionary way, there are a lot of fantastic books out there, in every genre, and so it’s hard to stand out. Still, in book promotion there’s so much that’s out of your control.
Most authors I know do the best they can — guided and supported by their publishers (and my publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, has been an incredible partner) — but then they try to focus, first and foremost, on the work itself. The best thing an author can do while waiting for her book to launch is to write another book. And the best thing an author can do while promoting her new book is… to write another book.
Of course, it’s vital you connect with readers and fans and the author community. But my advice — and I’m completely borrowing this from other, much more seasoned authors — is to set aside time each day for promotion and outreach, and then close the tabs so you can focus on that next writing project. You can control how strong your next book is; you can’t control how many Goodreads reviews you get, or how many followers on twitter.
HW: How have the different tech platforms played a roll in your outreach? Did you start with a social media gameplan or is it more organic?
RH: Some of both. I knew I’d need to up my social media game and that I wanted to connect with the author community in a way I hadn’t been able to before, simply because of life and time constraints. So I chose to focus on Instagram and twitter, specifically, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic engagement I’ve found on both platforms.
My publisher also sent out some special SIMILARS swag boxes to bookstagrammers and influencers, and the bookstagrams that resulted have been truly exceptional — and they’ve helped spread the word about THE SIMILARS (you can check out some of these here). The boxes even included a Darkwood Academy scarf.
HW: Does YA have fan conventions — like, ComicCon type stuff where you go and do book signings, panels, etc? Are you ready for The Similars cos play? It would blow my mind if I saw kids dressing up as characters I created.
RH: YES! There are so many dynamic conferences for booksellers, book bloggers, educators, librarians, publishers, and — of course — fans. I’ve been lucky enough to attend BookExpo at the Javits Center in New York City, ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter in Seattle, and several other regional events where I’ve had the chance to meet all the champions of young adult literature and sign my book for them. Librarians and bookstore owners are the most generous and thoughtful people, and it’s always a treat to talk to them about their favorite books in the genre and hear about their strategies for engaging teen readers.
I got a small taste of SIMILARS cos play at my book launch party. When I suggested folks dress up in “boarding school chic” (because the book is set at a New England boarding school), I had no idea how seriously some of my guests would approach the assignment. Seeing the iron-on Darkwood Academy crests on blazers, and the knee-socks, suspenders and ties was such a trip. It was so thrilling to watch the world of the book come to life in that way! (You can get a taste of the Darkwood Academy vibe here, in THE SIMILARS book trailer.)
HW: What was your writing ritual — did you try to block out time each day and hit a certain number of words, or pages? Or more organic? Listen to music or silence? What software?
RH: Writing THE SIMILARS was an incredibly non-consistent process. A little like riding a ski lift that keeps stopping, leaving you hanging in mid-air (and even going backwards, if that were a thing). From what I hear from author friends, this is quite typical for a first book. No matter how much writing you’ve done in your life, there’s nothing like outlining, structuring, drafting, and revising your first novel. It’s bound to be full of fits and starts and moments when you think you’ll never finish it. For first-time authors, novels are only sold once they’re completely written, so at that point you’re your only boss — and toughest critic. It’s easy to set aside your work, question it, and throw half of it out the window when no one’s waiting for it on the other side. Personally, I had a lot going on during those years that made the process all the more complicated. The baby and toddler years are tough for literally everyone, and it took me a while and find the right balance in my life of motherhood and writing.
Luckily, drafting the sequel to THE SIMILARS, which publishes next January, 2020, was a completely different experience. After spending a few months solidifying the outline (which was forty pages by the time I was done), I set a daily word count for myself that I tracked in a Google spreadsheet. Once I saw I could pretty easily hit my target of 1500 words per day, I increased it. By the end, I was writing five to seven thousand words a day. (That’s not healthy or sustainable; I needed a week-long nap and a caffeine infusion when I was done). It’s worth noting that it’s a lot easier to write swiftly and efficiently towards a deadline when your editor is expecting a draft. Fear is a great motivator!
I’m afraid I’m a very practical writer. I sit at my laptop in my sweats (or, let’s be honest, pajama pants) in total silence — I find music with lyrics distracting, so I don’t have any writing playlists to share, except for the hum of my clothes dryer, which I find soothing and non-disruptive. As for software, for Book 1 I used Scrivener, but for my second book I used good, old-fashioned Microsoft Word.
HW: You are an Emmy winner, for your work on the daytime drama Guiding Light. If I had an Emmy it would be in the background of every photo I took. Have you ever used it in an argument with your husband Ethan, or your kids? Like, “look, just do what I say. Have YOU won an Emmy?”
RH: Ha. I don’t think my kids really get what it is, though I did once overhear my seven-year-old showing it to a classmate who was at our house for a playdate. That classmate proceeded to argue that another friend’s mom’s very successful start-up also won a (presumably, better) award. The whole interaction made me laugh out loud. Honestly, the Emmy’s mostly a book-end at this point.
Someone once suggested I bring it to a drinks meeting, but I think/hope they were kidding. In all seriousness: the award serves as a wonderful reminder that I got to do one of the most exhilarating jobs on the planet — write stories and dialogue with some of the most talented writers out there — so it mostly just gives me warm fuzzies about that time in my life, where I learned nearly everything I know about storytelling. I’ll be forever grateful to my Guiding Light family for that.
Thanks Rebecca! Everyone please buy one or more copies of The Similars now!