I may have mentioned earlier that I’m a member of the Authonomy community. For those of you unfamiliar with Authonomy, it’s a site created by Harper Collins (HC) editors where authors can post their work and get valuable feedback and ratings from fellow authors as well as readers. Each Authonomite (a term given to the site’s members) has his or her own virtual bookshelf to shelve five books that they support. Every book on the site is ranked by popularity. If your book is highly rated and shelved by many throughout the month, your book will work its way to one of the top five spots, and if it holds that spot, come the first of the month, it will be reviewed by HC. If you’re lucky, you may end up with a contract. If you’re not as lucky, it’s still an honor to have your work reviewed by a real live editor who gives you tips to make your story better. And there’s also a chance that your work may be discovered by a literary agent willing to represent your work, or perhaps some other publisher browsing the site.
There are some amazing books on this site that I’ve had the pleasure to read. I will be showcasing some of these lovely books and interviewing their authors from time to time on my blog.
This week, I am privileged to interview one of Authonomy’s top rated authors, Mr. Joshua Jacobs. If you’ve never heard of him, I’m sure you will soon. He’s the author of The Words of Adriel and The Withering.
The Words of Adriel is a YA fiction at its finest. Blake, a young and extremely unlucky teen has a change of luck—or so it seems—when he finds a book that grants wishes. But he doesn’t realize that a demon inhabits its pages, putting him in grave danger. You won’t want to take your eyes from the pages of this book from start to finish.
The Withering is a post-apocalyptic YA novel. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I’ve loved what I’ve read so far. Here’s an excerpt from the short pitch on authonomy.com:
“Everyone who catches the Withering bears the mark. Everyone who bears the mark dies. Everyone except Alice. And now the Clan is coming for her.
The world balances on the brink of destruction. A plague threatens to destroy life on earth. What the Withering doesn’t destroy, the remaining sects of men kill, cleansing the countryside of those they hold responsible: Witches.”
booksbytrista: Hi Josh. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
Josh: I have loved creating stories ever since I was a kid. Even before I started writing, my best friend and I would turn off the lights, hide in my closet, and take turns telling each other scary stories. By the time middle school rolled around I began putting my ideas to paper. My writing ability, if you can call it that, was disastrous. Many years and several outstanding teachers later, I decided to write my first novel.
Btb: Both your books skyrocketed to the top on authonomy. Were you surprised?
Josh: Absolutely. Not many people had read my work before I joined authonomy. I had a few beta readers, and I had entered a couple of contests, but I had never put my manuscripts in such a position to be scrutinized by the public. When The Words of Adriel sprinted to the top, I was flattered. Then when The Withering, which wasn’t edited or even complete, followed at an even faster pace without any promotion on my part, I couldn’t believe it.
Bbt: How has authonomy affected your writing?
Josh: Authonomy has affected my writing in three ways. First, it gave me confidence. I knew my writing wasn’t awful, but I didn’t know it would garner such a vast audience and gain such extensive praise. Second, I met several friends who helped me polish a couple of scenes (in both my books) that I had struggled with since draft #1. Finally, it helped me take a major leap toward a career in writing, which I’ll share in a later answer.
Bbt: Let’s talk a little about The Words of Adriel. Is this your first attempt at writing? What inspired you to write this story?
Josh: The Words of Adriel was actually book #6 for me. There were many failed attempts that occurred prior to writing it. The inspiration for the story actually came from a book I’d already written. I took the setting and general premise of that book and injected it with a stronger plot, better characters, and scarier moments. Ultimately, my goal as a writer is to encourage reluctant readers to pick up a book. So, as a teacher, I analyzed the type of books my students were reading. What interested them? They wanted funny, scary, and exciting. That’s why I wrote The Words of Adriel.
Bbt: Were you anything like your main character, Blake, when you were a kid?
Josh: Is it that obvious? Yes. I was a nervous wreck around girls and the maker of my own bad luck. Blake’s voice was so easy to write because, well, it’s pretty much my voice.
Bbt: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process?
Josh: I could try. It’s quite a jumbled mess. It begins with brainstorming, which lasts the entire process, even after the millionth draft. Once I have a general idea, I start outlining the basic plot. I highlight the main events in the story to make sure I have a coherent plot on my hands. Once I’ve established that, I create a 2-4 paragraph blurb that could serve as a pitch. If my story isn’t compelling in that form, then I will never be able to sell the book. If that’s the case, I go back to, you guessed it, brainstorming. This is an important step for me. I thought my fifth novel might land me an agent, but it just didn’t sell itself well in pitch format. I had fewer requests on that book than any book prior to it.
After constructing the pitch, I write. And write. And write. After each chapter, I go back and read it again two or three times to polish it. This allows me to check for consistency between chapters and keeps me from having to rewrite the whole book when I’m finished.
After my first draft, I go back and edit the entire thing several more times. Each time I edit, I follow a different process. At least once or twice I read the book aloud to make sure it sounds right. It’s amazing how much this helps improve sentence fluency. I also do at least one or two drafts in a single sitting to check for continuity. Once I’ve done about a dozen drafts, I send it to at least ten beta readers. Based on their diverse feedback, I complete a couple more drafts. Really, as you can see, it’s a long, arduous process, but there’s no greater feeling than seeing your work take shape.
Bbt: I’ve never attempted a novel before, but I hear it’s tough to write one. Have you worked on your novels for a long time? Do you find it challenging or does it come easy to you?
Josh: Writing middle grade comes easy for me. I wrote the first draft of The Words of Adriel in three weeks. The third novel I wrote was finished in just seven days. If you take the time to prepare and know where you’re going—at least roughly—the novel is actually quite easy to piece together. Writing young adult is a greater challenge for me. It took more than two years to find the inspiration to finish The Withering. Most of the time, though, it is the editing process that takes longer.
Bbt: Growing up, I loved to read books like The Words of Adriel and I still do. What authors have inspired your work?
Josh: As a kid, I loved R.L. Stine. His books were my first taste of the horror genre and largely responsible for me wanting to write scary stories. As far as writing goes, though, I’m inspired by some of my favorite authors such as Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Rick Riordan, James Rollins, George R.R. Martin, Catherine Fisher, Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, and Jonathan Stroud. Really, these authors have helped shape me into the writer I am today. You write what you read. Depending on what type of book I’m writing, I make sure I’m reading a book that contains a similar voice/mood to what I want to accomplish. If I’m not careful, my voice changes. For example, I was reading The Game of Thrones while writing The Withering, hence its dark tone. On the other hand, I was reading The Percy Jackson series while writing The Words of Adriel which helped at the light-hearted humor.
Bbt: I hear you have some exciting news. Want to share?
Josh: As referenced above, my greatest use of authonomy came from receiving a glowing review from a HarperCollins editor. I quoted my review in my query letter to agents and received many requests. In April, I was offered representation by the lovely Courtney Miller-Callihan of Sanford J. Greenburger. I, of course, accepted her offer. We just finished revisions and are preparing to submit The Words of Adriel to publishers.
Bbt: Do you have any more future best sellers in the works?
Josh: That’s the hope. My summer officially started on Saturday. On Monday, I’m beginning a new middle grade novel. You’ll have to wait for more details.
Bbt: How exciting! Can’t wait to hear about it! What advice would you give to young aspiring authors?
Josh: There are two pieces of advice I find myself offering to my students who want to become authors.
#1: Be patient. Learn your craft. Write every day. Polish your work. Most writers pitch their work to agents before it is ready (I did with my first novel). Chances are you won’t even sell your first novel. When they don’t find success, they quit. Instead, take the time to learn how to write a compelling, well-plotted story. Then when it’s written take the time to make it as good as you can, even if that means bringing in others to help you. If you don’t succeed with that novel, write another. Then another. Consider each novel practice for the one that will finally sell. Don’t make writing a one or two year affair. It took me seven years and six novels, not counting the two I wrote after The Words of Adriel, before I finally found a literary agent. If you really expect to sell your work, be patient and plan for ten years, or even more.
#2: Write what you love. While it is important to know what will sell in the current market, don’t jump on the bandwagon and write what everyone else is writing. Your work will likely end up buried beneath the hundreds of other manuscripts just like yours. Instead, consider what you want to read. If you could pick up any book right now, about any topic, what would it be? Write that story.
Bbt: That’s great advice. I think I need to work on patience myself. 🙂 Thanks, Josh for agreeing to do this interview. I really appreciate it. Anything else you’d like to say?
Josh: Thank you for inviting me to your blog for an interview. It was fun!