With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Marcia Wells
A New Hampshire native, Marcia received her master’s degree in Spanish literature from Middlebury College. After living in Spain and Colorado, she returned to New England with her husband and two children. She first became interested in writing books for kids while teaching math and Spanish at a middle school. “Mystery on Museum Mile” is the first in her Eddie Red Undercover series. Find Marcia on Facebook, Twitter-@WellsMarcia, or on her website www.marciawellsauthor.com.
With a Master’s degree in Spanish literature, how do you feel your educational background influences your writing?
My degree taught me how to analyze plot, voice, themes, etc, and I try to use that critical eye when it comes to my own work. Literature from the Spanish-speaking world has been a key component in writing Eddie’s detective stories. The idea of Eddie came to me while teaching a high school AP Spanish literature class. We were studying the crime stories of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, one in particular involving geometric patterns on a map. Very inspirational! And in Eddie’s next adventure, he travels to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico.
As a teacher, how do you encourage your students to be better readers and writers? What can parents do to foster a love of reading in their own children?
At home I read to my children, and they read to me. The key is having fun with it and not making it a chore. Discovering the joy of reading- whether it’s a Garfield comic strip, a joke on the back of a cereal box, or an inspiring book such as “Wonder”- is what’s most important. In the classroom, I like talking to kids about books that matter to THEM. I love reading MG and YA books, and always ask for recommendations from the students. Kids feed off enthusiasm, and love an adult who listens and respects their opinions. The best is whole-classroom book debates, things like arguing about which fantasy series is better, Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.
What inspires you to write middle grade books? What are some of your techniques for relating to younger readers?
My seventh and eighth grade students have been the biggest inspiration! When I left teaching a couple of years ago to become a full-time writer, I worried that my muses might dry up. But now my son is 10, and I’m right back in the tween-zone. It’s a fun and complicated age, one that lends fabulous stories and characters. My techniques for relating to readers are the same as my teaching: have fun learning, be silly, and explore with an insatiable quest for knowledge. I read a ton of books for kids to see what’s out there, and examine what other authors are doing to connect with younger readers.
Eddie Red Undercover was released quite recently. Can you tell us a little bit about the process you went through to get it published? How do you feel about the finished product?
I worked on it for three years before signing with my ninja agent Kristin Nelson. Those three years were filled with writing classes, kid lit conferences, contests, critiques from agents and editors, and revisions, revisions, revisions…I never gave up. After I worked on revisions with my agent, we sent it to ten major publishers. Houghton Mifflin said yes- a miracle! The final product is amazing! It’s a far better book than I could ever have created on my own. The art, the graphics and design…not to mention all I learned from my editor about pacing and cleaner, tighter writing. It has truly been a team effort and I’ve learned so much.
How did working with a professional editor help you shape the book and get it published?
My editor Ann Rider is amazing. Not only does she know exactly how to smooth my words and cut unnecessary stuff, but she makes suggestions to flow and pace that add such a richness of detail without bogging the plot down. She is a true artist who gives me a ton of freedom, always telling me to “trust your instincts” and “let Eddie take you where he wants to go.” I’m so lucky to work with her!
What is it about Edmund Xavier Lonnrot, aka “Eddie Red”, that makes him such a compelling protagonist for readers?
I think Eddie is very likeable; he’s a boy that kids can relate to, a boy they might know in their own class. He’s smart and funny without being arrogant. He’s human- he makes mistakes, even with his so-called “perfect” photographic memory. He’s eager to solve the case, and is well-intentioned even when making poor choices like snooping through a detective’s desk or pulling out a Taser to ward off whatever evil lurks in a dark alley.
You’re already working on the next Eddie Red book. Are you hoping to focus your writing energy on this series solely, or also branch out into other books?
Eddie two is almost done, and I’m brainstorming ideas for Eddie three. I love writing his adventures but I have too many stories in my head to just focus on him. For the past two years, I’ve been working on an MG/YA fantasy that my publisher is currently considering (fingers crossed!). And I’m starting another MG fantasy this coming month, a story idea that’s been with me for a while. Both fantasy stories star girl protagonists.
Have you ever considered writing novels for adults as well? Why or why not?
I’ve considered it but never had much luck with it. I’m more drawn to YA and MG in general. Even when I try to write a YA story, the feedback is always the same: “You have an MG voice. Make this an MG story.” So I’m going with it!
How did you first get in touch with your illustrator, Marcos Calo? What tips do you have for authors looking for a great illustrator? What are some things to look out for?
My publisher chose Marcos. His work is amazing and I am thrilled to have him on board. I can’t offer tips as far as the search for a great illustrator, but I’ve had such a positive experience with Marcos I can tell you what works: keep an open mind to your illustrator’s ideas and remember that it is a partnership, not a one-sided deal where the author dictates. But also be confident in your vision. You’ll know right away if it’s going to work or not, based on the illustrator’s own vision and take on the project. And it’s not just the author and illustrator working together- the editor and the art director are involved as well! I was very lucky with my team- their ideas were a perfect fit for Eddie and only served to make the book stronger. I am blown away by the final result- it’s a work of art!
Do you have a marketing plan in place to build your author platform and book sales?
I am very lucky that Houghton Mifflin has such a great marketing department- they are really doing the heavy lifting! But I’m trying to do my part as well- blog appearances, a website, Twitter, Goodreads giveaways, Facebook— I’m spreading the Eddie word through those channels. I’m also doing a book launch in my hometown, a tour in the southeast states, and am planning many school visits around New England. I realize there’s no quick solution- I’ll be marketing Eddie through appearances and conferences and interviews hopefully for the rest of my life!
What is your best advice for new authors trying to break into publishing?
NEVER give up! I was told “no” on this project for three years. Then my agent said “yes”, and six months later I had a two-book deal. But not giving up doesn’t mean you should send the manuscript out to a million people and never rethink the project. In the three years I tried to sell Eddie, I took writing classes, I wrote two other books, and I edited the heck out of Eddie with my new-found tools. Listen to feedback. Be an honest and intelligent editor with your work. And don’t stop just because someone says no!
What’s next on the horizon for you? Do you have any upcoming events or workshops?
At the end of April, I’m going on tour with three other Houghton Mifflin middle grade authors, as part of a “Middle Grade Mania” celebration. We’ll be in Miami, Atlanta, Raleigh and Philadelphia. I can’t wait! I’ll be posting the tour details on my website soon.
Thanks so much for interviewing with us, Marcia!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is currently pursuing her M.A. in English at the University of Idaho. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.