QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, July 1, 2013

Giveaways & Lessons from YA Author Elana Johnson

Update: Winners for the giveaways are posted in the 7/12/13 Publishing Pulse.

Eight hundred posts ago, on December 28, 2008, the QueryTracker Blog became a team effort for five aspiring writers.  Since then, a lot has changed, both in the makeup of the QTB and in the careers of those aspiring writers. Not everyone in the original team is still writing or seeking publication, but everyone has learned from their time in the trenches. We thought it was time for a series of posts sharing where everyone started, where they are now, and what they learned along the way.

To kick things off, we asked Elana Johnson, author of the YA Possession series (Simon Pulse) to tell us about her writing and publishing journey beginning with her time with the QTB (12/2008 – 7/2010) and bringing us up to date on where she is now!

Elana has graciously agreed to do a couple of giveaways as part of her interview. There are two different prizes, which will go to two different people. 

First, one of her books. If you are new to her Possession series, she will send you the first book, Possession  If you are already a fan, she will send you the latest in the series, Abandon (published June 2013). If you are in the US, you will receive a hard copy of the book; if you are outside of the US, a digital copy.

Second, Elana is a query-letter expert! She teaches classes across the country and online on how to write a killer query, and she is going to critique one lucky winner's query.

Please see entry instructions at the end of this post.

Where I Started and How QT Helped Me

I spent so much time with QueryTracker, researching agents, critiquing query letters, obsessing and celebrating in the forums, and reading and writing for the QT Blog. I still refer people to QT every chance I get.

When I started writing for the QT Blog, I didn’t have a literary agent. I’d been writing seriously for about a year, and my first project had just met its death in the query trenches. I had another book I was gearing up for querying, and since I loved blogging, taking on the QT blog was something that was natural and enjoyable.

Being part of the QT team gave me the courage to step outside my comfort zone. The first thing I did was co-organize one of the first QT agent opportunities with Joanna Stampfel-Volpe. It was amazing corresponding with agents without trying to pitch them my work. This helped me realize that agents are people too.

Signing with My Agent

I blogged with QT for 11 months before I signed with my agent, Michelle Andelman. During that time, being a QT blogger helped me establish my credibility in the writing world. I’ve been asked to teach at professional conferences based on some of the posts I wrote for the QT blog, and I still have friendships and contacts that I met “way back when” I was blogging at QueryTracker.


Since then, I’ve released three books (my Possession series –3 full-length novels + 2 short stories— was just completed with the release of ABANDON this past June!), co-launched another group blog (The League of Extraordinary Writers, which is dedicated to science fiction and fantasy), and co-founded the biggest writing conference on the Internet, WriteOnCon.

My Approach to Writing: Then and Now

What has stayed the same? I still blog a couple days a week at my own blog. I’m still with Michelle, and we’re still selling books. I still teach elementary school, and I’m still squeezing writing into the 15 minutes I have before school, or my 30-minute lunch break.

The biggest difference is that now I write under a deadline. I don’t have as much time to get my work up to par—probably the most challenging thing I’ve had to endure in this publishing gig! For those who are unpublished as of yet, enjoy this time to get your craft polished. The possibilities for you are endless. Enjoy the time you have to learn, to grow, and to make mistakes. I still do all of that (it’s not like every word I write comes out golden), but I don’t have as much time to enjoy it as pre-published authors do.

I feel like I’ve come a long way in my personal confidence. When I first started at QT, I thought, “Why would anyone listen to what I have to say?” Now, I teach classes at a variety of conferences—I’ve become the expert! I’ve been working as a freelance query letter writer for a few years, and recently went out on my own in this venture. I’ve even taken my in-person-only query letter writing workshop and launched it on the Internet.

I’m also an independent publicist, something I really enjoy. I’ve always liked doing the marketing side of writing, setting up promotions and chats and giveaways for my own books. It seemed natural to take my contacts and skills and transfer them to another author’s book. I love working with authors and book bloggers in this capacity. (You can find out about my blog tours and blitzes, as well as cover reveals, here.)

Advice to Unpublished Writers

I don’t believe the unpublished should rush into publishing. Really take the time to perfect your craft, and when you do, the rewards will come. Publishing is not a race.

My best advice for those looking to promote their books is to be as active as you can in the online community. Recently, someone asked me how I met all the book bloggers I know. I honestly couldn’t answer. It’s not like there was one specific event where I met everyone. It was something that happened over the years as I read their blogs, clicked over to their cover reveals, followed them on Twitter, and emailed them about my own books. So if you’re looking to make contacts in the publishing world, you have to be willing to spend time where publishing people hang out—and the QT forum is a great place to do that!

When the original QTB team interviewed agents and authors, we often did something we called a Fast Five—five fun, quick questions. For a while the question of the day was “Courier or Times New Roman?” but we had to move on when it became clear that the industry standard had become TNR! So here is a fresh Fast Five for our alum:

Fast Five with Elana Johnson
  1. Mac or PC? Macs rule!
  2. Favorite Social Media Platform? Um, Facebook? Yeah, let’s go with Facebook.
  3. Writing Pet Peeve? Grammar. I always sacrifice grammar for voice and style, baby!
  4. Guilty Pleasure? Mini chewy sweet tarts
  5. Can’t Live Without? Lightning-fast Internet!

Entering the Giveaways

  1. Comment on this post and tell us something YOU have learned from being part of the QueryTracker community. This can be from the QueryTracker Blog, the main QueryTracker site, or the QueryTracker forums. By commenting, you give us permission to quote you any of the aforementioned QueryTracker sites.
  2. We will take comment entries through Wednesday, July 10th
  3. Winners will be chosen at random and announced on Friday, July 12th in the Publishing Pulse. Please watch for this announcement, as I (Carolyn) will need the winners to contact me. I will include instructions on how to do so in that Publishing Pulse.

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook


Julie Musil said...

I loved this "catch up" moment with Elana! I've always loved her down-to-earth posts, and I'm so happy for her. Query Tracker has been such a huge help all of us writers. Thanks!

Martina Boone said...

Great interview, Carolyn! And thanks for the advice, Elana. I can never get over how much you manage to accomplish!

Bonnie Staring said...

Great interview, Carolyn and Elana! It's amazing how much people can accomplish in what seems to be such a short time. What the Query Tracker blog has helped me learn over the years is that A) I'm not alone on this journey and B) there's always something new to learn. Thanks!

HD Elliott said...

Elana, thank you for being such an inspiration! It's so good to be reminded that steady work pays off in the end.

One of the most important things I've learned from QT is that writers are one of the most generous communities in the world. Everybody is so cooperative about sharing their private but oh so useful information. It makes me proud to be a part of it!

Mim said...

This blog has helped me stay on top of the trends in the industry and helped me get ready to start querying. I also love the tool, because it makes it so much easier to track my querying progress, and monitor agent response times so I'm not quite as neurotic as I would be otherwise.

Brenda Harris said...

Thanks Elena, I enjoyed reading about your history with QT. I always wondered how QTs writers evolved. I love QT. It has lots of "how to's". Then, it will say "If you want to know more about "..." go here. This makes some topics mentioned in your posts equivalent to being listed in a Table of Contents. It makes it so easy for me to link with websites you recommend simply by saving and tagging your posts. Thanks QT. :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview, Carolyn and Elana. I always learn so much for QT advice on querying and the whole publication process. Advice from people who've gotten published like Elana is invaluable. Her advice to aspiring authors to enjoy writing without the deadlines is something I've heard from other authors as well. And something I hopefully will do. The deadlines kind of scare me but seeing someone like Elana handle them gives me hope that I can too.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview! Elana has been on my radar for a while now, but I haven't found the time yet to read her books. I didn't know she was an elementary teacher like me! Although I'm switching to 7th grade LA this year :-) I've learned sooo much from this site . . . the Publishing Pulse posts on Fridays are a goldmine and something I look forward to all week!

Jemi Fraser said...

Yay for Elana! The QT site, along with AQ, are my go-to places for all things query and agent related. Amazing resources for all writers! Thanks for all you do!

Krysten Lindsay Hager said...

The main thing I've learned is that I'm not the only writer who feels the way I feel! I have company in my feelings of insecurity, etc.

Kirstin said...

I really like this advice: "I don’t believe the unpublished should rush into publishing. Really take the time to perfect your craft, and when you do, the rewards will come. Publishing is not a race."

I've been working on my first novel for three years, and writing some shorts along the way. Books, articles and blog posts I've read and workshops I've taken since, have given me teachings I've woven into my book. I often say it took me four months to write my novel, and three years, and counting, to learn how to write it well.

I have friends who try to convince me its ready to go, but I know its not ready. Thanks for the encouragement to take my time.

Rosie said...

Elana, so great to see you back! You're a rock star, girl.

Patchi said...

I learn so much from the QT blog because the posts are always so full of information. I also love the critiques on the forum and how the website makes organizing and keeping track of queries so easy. Great interview!

Jane Lebak said...

I learned a lot from the forums. I've learned how to improve queries in general and how to make sure all the basics get covered in the query letter. :-) And I learned I like blogging for us, too. ;-)

Brenda Drake said...

Love this interview. Love Elana!! She was one of the first to critique my query on QT. I've learned about giving back to the community from her generous heart. Cheers to all her successes!

jams3062 said...

I've been following Elana for quite a while and am always amazed at how much she's able to accomplish while still working full time! Elana gave me wonderful feedback on the query letter for my first novel. It didn't sell, finally, but I did recently sell my second novel to Disney Hyperion, so I've learned from her that persistence pays off!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping us focused with these interviews! It means so much! So now I'm supposed to choose a couple of things QT has taught me over the past few years? Hmmm...I'm not sure there's enough space here, but I'll give it a try. One- We're all sailing the same ship. Some of us are really close to our destination, some have reached the publishing island, while others are just beginning. No matter where we are, the storms do rage, and it's great to know that we all have buckets, and even when the water rises, we do endure. Stay the course. It IS worth it in the end. TWO- Chivalry is NOT dead! In an increasingly(sorry about the adverb) cruel world, QT proves that while not everyone agrees, kindness is the friend who lifts you up with a couple of sentences of encouragement just after a rejection. On days when you're almost sure you want to give up, but some QT member gets a deal, and you realize that writing is difficult but NOT impossible. Success breeds success. A daily dose of QT is like Scripture; it feeds my soul. Blessings, Don

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Just to let you all know that the winners have been posted in the 7/12/13 Publishing Pulse, which says:

Winner of a signed copy of Elana's novel Possession: Jamie Ayres!

Winner of a query critique from Elana: Mim (Miriam Caldwell)!

Would each of you please send me (Carolyn) an email using my QueryTracker.net address listed in the column to the right? Jamie, please include your snail address; Mim, I just need your email so I can connect you with Elana. Congratulations!