Blogging has allowed me to meet so many amazing people. Tierney reads my blog and she is an author. She shared her advice on everything from the writing process and managing two jobs to finding a publisher and staying inspired.
1. Congratulations on your book deal! Could you tell me a little bit about the process of getting published?
Thanks! It’s super exciting. While many authors are now choosing to self-publish through Amazon (or other similar sites), my publishing deal was pretty traditional. Obviously, the first step is to actually write your book. (Really, that’s the easiest part of this entire process.)
The next step is to put together your query. A query is a one page letter that is used to pitch both yourself and your book to potential agents. (I used a site called Query Tracker to both find agents and manage my submissions. I’d also recommend doing some research on how to write a great query letter—there is a very specific formula that is expected in the industry.)
This is the point that can be hard for a lot of writers. Some agents receive around 5,000 queries a year from aspiring writers. Usually you’ll receive a form letter rejection, and sometimes you won’t ever receive a response at all. But, then the wonderful day comes when you connect with an agent who loves your book. I ended up signing with Jennifer Mishler from the Literary Counsel about three months after I started looking for an agent.
She and I went through my book and made a lot of edits. (You basically don’t stop editing your book until it’s released, and even then, you wish you could do just a few more changes.) Then, she went to work for me. Again, many writers choose to self-publish or just pitch to publishers directly, but I liked having an agent to do that work for me. Agents are great because they have relationships with many editors at different publishing houses, and many times, an editor is more inclined to read a manuscript from an agent than one that is submitted directly from a writer.
Fast-forward a few more months (the road to publication involves lots of patience), and we connected with Patricia Riley from Spencer Hill Contemporary. She loved the book, and her enthusiasm made my decision easy. I signed the contract (for Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous and two sequels), and the rest is history.
2. What is a typical day workday like for you?
I live in Northern Virginia (a suburb of Washington, DC), and like the majority of college graduates in this area, I work on a government contract as a business systems analyst. I’m lucky enough to have a flexible schedule, so often I try to come in early so that I can be home before rush hour starts. (DC traffic is a nightmare!)
I’m very involved in my church, so often my nights are taken up with teaching Sunday School, tutoring, editing books, and writing puppet shows, skits, and press releases.
I also have a style blog (The Preppy Leopard), but lately, I’ve been overwhelmed trying to keep it updated. I’m much more active on my Instagram (@ThePreppyLeopard).
In between work and volunteering and semi-blogging, I try to find time to write. Not going to lie—it’s hard. Sometimes I get home from work, and I just want to veg on the couch and watch Netflix. Being a writer requires lots of self-motivation (and late nights).
3. What advice do you have for other writers who would like to be published?
First, get thick skin. You’re going to see a lot of rejection, and that’s okay. (Margaret Marshall’s Gone with the Wind was rejected twenty times. JK Rowling was once told that she shouldn’t quit her day job. You’re in good company!)
You’ll also need thick skin when it comes to editing. I graduated from George Mason University with a degree in English, and during my time, I was in many writing workshops. You can’t be too defensive of your writing. If your editor is suggesting you change something, it’s probably a good idea to listen! They know what sells in the industry much better than you.
Lastly, make friends with a lawyer (or a really smart person). Luckily, my Dad is brilliant and read through all my contracts with me. You need to be careful at this point—you don’t want to unknowingly sign away all the rights to your book forever!
4. Tell me about your book! What were you inspired by?
Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous is about a young woman who goes from applying to community colleges to dominating the covers of tabloids. I pitched it as Gossip Girl meets Zoey Dean’s A-List series.
I have always been fascinated by celebrity culture–specifically about our national obsession with tabloids. You’d think that the celebrities who seem to have it all–looks, money, fame–would have these perfect lives, but instead you watch starlets spiral downward before crashing spectacularly. I wanted to write a book that explored the effects a meteoric rise to fame could have on a girl’s family, friends, and love life.
5. What is one thing that you wish you had known when you started pursuing becoming an author?
Just because your book is being published doesn’t mean you get to quit your day job and write full-time. I hope I can do that one day, but for now, I still have bills to pay. When I was in college, I wrote all the time. It was easy for me then because I spent every day in a highly creative environment where my personal projects could be used as academic projects. Now, I have a career that still involves a lot of writing, but none of the fun kind. When I spend all day compiling functional requirements or capturing process flows, the last thing I want to do is get home and sit in front of the computer again. I’m still struggling to find the balance between pushing myself to write when I need to but not getting overwhelmed and burnt out.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I hope I will have made the transition from business analyst to full-time writer. In five years, I should have published a few more books, and one of my ultimate dreams is to see Lifestyles as a show on the CW! (Gossip Girl left a gaping hole in my heart.)
7. What advice would you give to someone who is about to graduate from college and enter “the real world?”
Most people spend their years in college doing what they love, and I remember graduating and thinking I’d find a job that let me continue to do what I enjoyed. I had a very rude wake-up call when I realized very few people do a job that totally fulfills them. Work is called work for a reason, and sometimes, you might not get an ideal job that lets you write creative essays while perfecting your Instagram filter selections.
If you can’t find work doing your creative passions, then purpose to make time for them whenever you can. If you want to write books, then you might have to do that instead of watching Netflix or going to the gym. Achieving your dreams often takes sacrifices.
8. Please describe your workspace.
My cube at work is super boring (except for one time where I received an epic birthday prank).
As result, I’ve tried to turn my bedroom into a comfortable, creative place. I’m way too obsessed with navy and white. While I usually find myself sitting on my bed with my laptop on my knees, I recently bought a desk so that I can try to stay focused. My desk has just my laptop and my makeup (I use it as a vanity as well). I try to keep it uncluttered because I get really easily distracted when I write.
9. Where do you turn for inspiration?
When I find myself running into writer’s block, I start reading other books in my genre. Often, reading great books gets me inspired to do the same thing. Lately, I reread the entire Private series by Kate Brian.
10. Who is your mentor?
It’s hard for me to pick just one, so I’ll list a few! My Dad is pretty much my hero. He’s had a lot of success in business, but never at the expense of his family. I think that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned—you need to have your priorities straight. I purposed a long time ago to never let any of my professional pursuits interfere with my relationship with God or my family, and I learned how to walk that out practically through him. He’s turned down huge promotions because he knew they’d require constant travel or late nights that would take him away from his family, and despite that, he’s one of the most successful people I know.
When it comes to writing, I’m so thankful for my agent, Jennifer, and my editor, Patricia. Our working relationship really has morphed into a friendship, and they are always available to answer my random questions, explain tricky parts of contracts, or give me great editing direction. I started down the publishing road with zero clue what I was doing, and I’d be so lost without them!
11. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
I love this verse—it always brings me such peace when I’m stressed out. Often, I can get overwhelmed by everything on my plate (both professionally and personally). Tomorrow will bring a new set of hurdles, but just focus on doing what you have to do today.
12. What advice do you have for other young professional women?
My serious advice: Our generation has such a stigma of being narcissistic, lazy, and entitled. Do your best to prove that stereotype wrong. Show up early. Be willing to take unglamorous assignments. Be quick to help others on your team. Meet your deadlines. Realize that you are not the exception to the rule, and you do not deserve special treatment.
My fun advice: Put effort into your appearance. I find myself feeling more confident when I’m wearing my favorite red lipstick or have cute shoes on. Also, put effort into your personality. Say hi to people. Smile. Ask your coworkers about their weekends. Even when I don’t feel like it, I try to make an effort to sparkle a little brighter. As result, I’ve been tapped to host huge events at work, attend client meetings, or organize company parties because I’m generally well-liked and enthusiastic.
You can follow Tierney at: The Preppy Leopard (blog), @ThePreppyLeopard (instagram), Tierney Fowler (website), @TierneyFowler (Twitter), and you can add her book on Goodreads! Publication date is August 19, 2014. She is available to answer any questions about writing/finding an agent/being published. You can can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org!