Hi everyone! This week, I’m starting a new series, Dear Claerie. This series is similar to my author interviews, but specifically for other unpublished authors and writers to share their experiences throughout the process and hopefully interact with one another. I will alternate between author interviews, and Dear Claerie posts every Friday. First up, we have YA writer and blogger at Quills and Coffee, Caitlin Lambert!
Intro: What is your name, what do you write, and where can readers find you on social media? And just for fun, if you could be any mythical being or creature, who or what would you be?
Hi everyone! I’m Caitlin Lambert, and I write YA science fiction and fantasy novels! For my full bio and social media links, check out the end of the interview =)
If I could be any mythical being, I would be a Pegasus (because *wings*) or an elf (but only if I could live in Rivendell).
- You have a passion for YA novels, but you are also writing picture books according to your website. Which do you like more and what drew you to each genre?
Young adult is my focus, and I am always drafting/working on a YA project. Picture books are more sporadic, but are still a passion of mine. I have been writing YA since I was a pre-teen, and it stems from my love of reading. Young adult books are full of magic and growth and discovery. They are an open door for the imagination, and I LOVE that aspect. I am drawn to picture books because of my love for poetry. I write strictly rhyming picture books (PBs). Rhyme comes very naturally for me, so I have had a long-time love for poetry. Picture books, to me, are like story poems, and their fun, sweet, lilting flow is what draws me to both reading and writing them (plus, there are beautiful illustrations).
- YA is such a wide-open category. What type of YA do you enjoy the most and why?
Fantasy is my favorite, but science fiction is a close second! I am currently fleshing out an idea for a future WIP, which will be a hard core science fiction novel. WHAT LIES ABOVE, my latest novel, is a mix of science fiction and fantasy, while my current WIP is a high fantasy. I definitely don’t favor paranormal or contemporary, although I am always open to trying new genres!
- Do you find there are central themes or elements that are unique to your books? (For example, are you drawn to anti-heroes, antagonists, certain settings etc.) Why do those things stand out to you?
I tend to be drawn to unreliable narrators or worlds which are seen by the narrator differently than they actually are. Because I write in first person, it gives me the opportunity to keep the reader in the dark a little, until a plot twist flips everything on its head. My favorite books are those which have mind-blowing twists, where you look back and see all the subtle hints leading up to that moment. I want to see the story differently at the end than I did at the beginning. In terms of theme, there usually is some kind of idea in each book. In WHAT LIES ABOVE, it is “freedom”. In my WIP, it is “trust” vs. “betrayal”.
- I know from chatting with you on social media and following your blog that you recently started a Youtube Channel and are the creator of the Voices of YA tag. What was your experience like transitioning to that platform and where did the idea for the tag come from?
I never thought I would have a YouTube channel, but I started one to talk about two main things: (1) updates & behind-the-scenes stuff from my traditional publishing journey, & (2) books that I love. I don’t post on any schedule. It is more random and fun! I am still in the very early stages of my channel, but so far, it’s been so fun! I don’t see it as a transition necessarily (stepping forward to a new place)… more like fanning out horizontally and adding another arm to my platform. More writer friends! More community!
The #VoicesofYA Tag is something that I started in April, with a focus on young adult writers, their novels, and books they love. The idea came from a lack of young-adult-themed tags, as well as the lack of tags which discussed both writing and reading. #VoicesofYA is composed of five questions about the writers and five questions about the books. So many people have done the tag, and the ripple effect has been so incredible! I love meeting all these YA writers!
- I read on your website that you wrote your first novel, Concealed when you were only 12. You have said you’re not seeking publication for it but that it taught you a lot. Can you pick out the three to five biggest things you learned from that experience?
- Your first book might not be “the one”. You might have to shelve it and write a second, fifth, and tenth book before you hold a published novel in your hand. Don’t ever give up – persevere – but also keep your expectations realistic, so you don’t suffer any unnecessary disappointment.
- The more you know about the publishing world and process, the better!
- Agents are such nice, encouraging people, not nearly as scary as I imagined. As a really young writer, I didn’t see myself in a very professional light. I saw myself as a young, beginner writer, and that made me put agents on a pedestal so that I almost became scared of them. While you always want to remain professional and respectful, see agents for what they are – people. Book-loving, support-giving, publisher-wrangling, people. They want to be at your side, on your team, to boost your career and support your work. They don’t reject you to be cruel. They are just looking for a book they are passionate about.
- My favorite point of view is first person. CONCEALED was written in third person, and it made me realize that I prefer first. Every writer is different. This is just something I discovered about myself.
- You are currently querying your novel, What Lies Above. Querying is a daunting process for many authors, so what advice do you have about writing that oh-so-important letter to publishers?
Less is more. Every word needs to count. Make your sentences clear and intriguing. Don’t get bogged down in lesser subplots or characters who are not central to the story. Focus on the main storyline – the bones of the book. Sometimes, it is even helpful to write a rough query blurb before you start drafting. That way, all the little details won’t crowd your thoughts and pour onto the page.
- What is/are one or two pieces of advice that you learned while querying that you wish you had known before you started?
- Sometimes, the writing journey is a very long one. I was pretty positive that CONCEALED would snag an agent, secure a publisher, and be on shelves before I was 18. This had nothing to do with being vain. It had everything to do with a lack of research and an unrealistic (uneducated) understanding of the publishing world.
- It is better to be patient and edit slowly than rush and lose your chance at a great first impression. With querying, you 99.9% of the time get one shot. Unless you do a major revision of the manuscript (like I did with WHAT LIES ABOVE), a rejection from an agent means no for that book. As excited as you are to send your book into the world, take the time to polish it to its best possible state. Give the same amount of attention to your query letter.
- Make yourself comfortable in the trenches. It is not a fun place to be, but if you see it in a purely negative light, querying will be a very dismal, discouraging process for you. It should be fun and exciting. There is so much promise!
- You mentioned in one of our chats that you have some experience with making revisions and resubmitting your manuscript to agents. Can you pick one that really stood out and tell me about it?
Last year, about a month after I initially started querying WHAT LIES ABOVE, I received an email from an agent who loved my story, voice, and characters, but who had some suggestions on revisions. She then said she would be open to a revise and resubmit. I didn’t really understand what that was, but after a little research, I realized it is actually pretty rare, and that all hope is not lost with an R&R. It is not a rejection. It just means “the manuscript needs a little more work”. I spent the next four months polishing, editing, and rewriting WLA, and finally came out with a finished product I was proud of. That agent ultimately turned the book down, but that revision was the best thing I could have done for WHAT LIES ABOVE. It made the story so much stronger!
- What do you think authors can do to help make editors and publishers interested in their manuscripts?
Work on their craft! Lots of writers tend to think that a big platform or lots of followers attracts agents/publishers. While a huge following can sway a publisher, it is ultimately about the book. Even writers with no following/social media can snag agents, if their concept is fresh and writing is strong. The only way to accomplish this is through practice and work. Study the basics, learn the craft, research the business.
Now, I still recommend putting effort into social media, as it is a powerful tool for writers. Agents do want to see writers at least making an effort to connect with fellow writers and potential readers. However, it is not the most important thing they consider when evaluating pitches. The manuscript is.
Last, and MOST IMPORTANT, is to write a really strong query letter. I could never go into depth about this here, but if you want to know how to write a killer query, check out my four-part series over on Quills & Coffee. Here’s my post on nailing the query letter. https://www.caitlinlambert.com/single-post/2017/01/27/Querying-Part-3—Writing-a-Killer-Query-Letter
- This is a random but fun one, if you could pick any time period to live in, when would you live and why?
Violent kings and abundant beheadings aside, I would live in the medieval times. Palaces and balls and flowy dresses… it’s everything I write about in my fantasy novels (alongside the dagger-wielding female protagonists, of course!). Part of why I love high fantasy is because of that old, pre-technology time. It makes the characters depend on themselves more and technology less. I love that!
- What is one book you think every YA writer should read at least once?
This is a hard one! I don’t own many how-to writing books, actually. Most of my research is done online (and I have done a LOT of it). Instead, I will recommend a blog which every YA writer (or writer in general) should check out… Fiction University, the blog of author Janice Hardy. This site literally changed my writing life! Janice has such a wealth of great information archived, as well as new posts uploaded constantly. I have been following it since I was drafting CONCEALED. She has several non-fiction books on the writing craft as well, if you are drawn to physical books instead of blog posts.
Caitlin Lambert is the mind behind Quills & Coffee, where she shares tips, tools, & encouragement for writers. She writes YA sci-fi/fantasy novels, and is currently querying her second book, WHAT LIES ABOVE, while drafting her third. When she’s not writing or working, you can find her reading, composing piano, and adding endless destinations to her travel bucket list. Or quite possibly eating dark chocolate.
Website: Quills & Coffee www.caitlinlambert.com
Thank you for having me, Claerie! This was so much fun! I’d love to meet all of you guys, so come find me on social media/my blog. Don’t forget to share your writing and querying journeys in the comments below!
Thank you for all the great advice Caitlin! If you want to be featured in my Dear Claerie series, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with Dear Claerie in the subject.
As always, keep making magic word weavers!