An Evening with Erica O'Rourke
Attendees of CWIP's May 9 program were treated to a special event: a reading by local author Erica O'Rourke. After a tremendous amount of hard work and tenacity, Erica achieved what many writers yearn for—a book deal from a major publisher. Not just one book, though, but an entire young adult (YA) series called The Torn Trilogy. Erica was generous with her time and advice as she shared her journey from high school English teacher to published author.
Erica has always loved YA fiction, and returned to the genre after trying her hand at adult contemporary literature. She began drafting her first YA novel Torn in mid-2007 and finished near the end of 2009 after taking off a year in the middle to have a baby.
She entered her manuscript in the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart contest. In March 2010, she was delighted to discover her submission was selected for the finalist round in the Young Adult Romance category. A few months later, Erica secured representation with the agent of her dreams. As the icing on this proverbial publishing cake, she won the Golden Heart award for Torn and was on her way.
Since the publication of Torn in early 2011, Erica has released Tangled, the second installment in the trilogy. Bound, the third title, became available this summer. Using her familiar Chicago environment as the story's setting, the books are a tantalizing blend of young love, a strong heroine, magic, and the (now deemed nonexistent) Mob. Erica prefers to write about girls who decide their own fate while falling for boys they shouldn't. She used her former students as models for her characters' behaviors, and drew upon her teaching experience when writing the discussion questions appearing at the end of the books.
Erica read the first chapter of Torn, then offered valuable advice to aspiring authors.
The Writing Process
- Don't expect your first draft to be perfect.
- The book in your head is never the book that ends up on paper.
- Some authors research while they're writing and others find it more useful to research their topics before drafting—experiment to find your own process.
- Figure out how many words you need to write each day to meet your deadline and stick to that schedule. If you don't meet your word count one day, add the remaining number of words to the next day's count. This will help you avoid procrastination as you see the numbers increase.
- Use a tool like Mac Freedom (www.macfreedom.com) to help you stay focused. It turns off Internet access until the computer is fully rebooted.
- Accept that revisions will be a consistent part of your life. Erica revised her manuscript twice before entering it in the Golden Heart contest and continued to revise it after submission. She revised it once again before it was published.
- Scrivener (literatureandlatte.com) is a useful Mac-based tool for storyboarding writing projects. It is highly recommended.
- Surround yourself with people who are genuine, compassionate, and will tell you the truth about your writing.
- Pick your battles: Your publisher might ask you to make significant changes to your manuscript. Try to compromise if possible, but hold your ground if you feel strongly that the changes suggested are not right for the character or plot.
- Consider joining the Romance Writers of America (RWA) if you have an interest in that genre. The organization has a national presence as well as local chapters, and its goal is to help writers get published while having successful careers as authors. RWA taught Erica the craft and business of writing, how the publishing industry works, and how to present at conferences.
- Erica's recommended resource books: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Save the Cat by Blake Snyder; and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.
Working with Agents and Publishers
- Don't pitch an agent while she's in the ladies' room! (Yes, some authors do this.)
- Research agents before approaching them. Do your homework by checking out the agents' websites, social media profiles, etc., to make sure they are appropriate for your book.
- If asked whether you have an agent (but you still do not), keep your options open by saying you're still securing representation.
- If you're submitting a pitch, give a succinct statement about the book that includes a hook and some dialog.
- If you're submitting a query, send a formal letter addressing the agent by name. Do not begin the letter with “Dear Agent.”
- Decide whether you're looking for an editorial agent. Some agents accept only submission-ready manuscripts.
- When choosing an agent, look for someone who is a fierce advocate for her or his clients, who gives honest feedback about your manuscript, and with whom you connect on a personal level.
- If you're proposing a series, indicate in your query that Book 1 is a complete, self-contained story but has the potential to be expanded as a series. Be prepared to give ideas for the plots of the subsequent books in the series.
- Publishers Marketplace (www.publishersmarketplace.com) is a great investment and will give information on who is selling what types of manuscripts to which publishing house, how much money is made, etc.
- Read the agency's agreement to see if later self-publishing is a conflict of interest. This could be an issue if the book doesn't sell initially.
- Find out how the publisher handles foreign sales.
Marketing Your Book
- Hire a professional to design your author website. Ask your agent for a recommendation, if necessary.
- Blogs can be a helpful part of the marketing process, but they're not a requirement.
- The author has virtually no input on the book's cover design. Surprisingly, retail giants like Barnes & Noble have more impact on the cover than the publisher does; if B&N doesn't like the cover, the company won't stock the books in its stores.
- Consider marketing your book using Good Reads (www.goodreads.com), Facebook contests, Twitter giveaways, print ads, blog posts, or bookstore launch parties with small giveaways like bookmarks and YA trading cards.
- Blog tours, including guest posts and interviews, are a popular way to market YA books.
Erica graciously helped us raffle off a lovely purple scarf, which was central to the Torn plot. Tiffany Perry was the lucky winner.
As Erica wrapped up he r talk, she left us with some final words of wisdom: Do not worry about the things you can't control. You can control your writing and marketing efforts, so put your energy there.Erica recently sent a new manuscript to her agent. She welcomes colleagues and fans to follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/ - !/Erica_ORourke) or visit her website (www.ericaorourke.com) for updates.