Zoom Chat Sofiya Pasternack and the MGwaves
Award-winning author Sofiya Pasternack generously offered to chat with our #MGwaves writing group about all things writerly. It was absolutely lovely to hear from a successful author who has ADHD (like myself) and I found myself furiously scribbling notes on her tips and app suggestions. Here are the 16 pieces of advice that I gleaned from Sofiya's chat.
Sofia is inspired by Russian folklore and Judaism (both sides of her family's background). She absolutely loves the history of mythology and what it can tell you about a culture. Inspiration is everywhere, but you have to be open to it. If you are amped about a topic it comes through in your writing and someone out there will want to read it. Researching your subject matter is really important. Even if you're writing a fantasy that takes place a long long time ago and no one can technically prove you wrong, robust research is important. She also feels that grounding your fantasy in realism is smart to provide readers the ability to feel like they can reach our and touch the world you've created.
When editing your book, Sofiya recommends having 3-5 beta readers. She doesn't use more than 5 because you'd be waiting forever for feedback. One person might really like a section, another person might not like it at all, so she likes at least 3 readers to have one be a tie-breaker on those sections. Be sure you know what the deal-breakers are for you. What character, themes, or even lines do you feel 100% need to stay in your book. When you eventually get to an editor, they will want to know what you consider priceless, hands-off china to leave in the cabinet, and what are disposable paper plates that can get destroyed or reused in different ways. She also recommends having a beta reader in your book's age group, so if you're writing MG have a kid aged 8-12 read it and provide feedback. Make sure the kid is comfortable being critical to an adult.
Sofiya had 3 completed manuscripts when Anya and the Dragon earned her an agent. She has a ton of partially finished drafts and writings because she used to consider herself a pantser only to discover toward the midpoint or end she had no idea where the book was going and she'd shelf the whole thing. Now she realizes she works much better when she knows the ending and has a loose outline of the book she's going to write.
You're never "done" with revisions, they just come due (or you just bite the bullet and submit them). Her first drafts are about 60-70% of the final word count. She revises twice on her own, filling in a lot of setting and descriptions, then sends it on to her beta readers and critique partners. They go through about 2-3 rounds of revisions with her, and then she sends it on to her agent.
She feels like there is a pressure to publish a new book every year to eighteen months in order to stay relevant. Agents don't put this pressure on, but she feels like this is sort of a thing that authors put on themselves. There is a constant worry that everyone will forget about you if you don't put a book out in two years.
Beta readers are not necessarily writers. They are enthusiastic readers who will give you feedback on your overall story. Critique partners are typically other writers in your genera. Both help you when you aren't sure how to fix your manuscript and you need another perspective.
Comp titles should focus on books with similar voices, framing device, and themes. Edelweiss is an awesome site where you can put in the title of any book you love, pull it up, then click on "see more information" under the picture of the book cover and you can see all of the comps for that book. You can also see how the book was marketed on certain books (check out Anya and the Dragon for example).
Queries are dang important in finding the agent! A couple typos in your MS (manuscript) won't be deal breakers, but your query has to be exciting and grab them otherwise the agent won't even get to your pages.
Advice she'd give her younger, unpublished self? You don't have to be perfect. Calm down, you'll be fine. You don't lose, you win or learn.
Sofiya did one big round of edits with her agent, but every agent is different. She was coming off of the extensive PitchWars 3 month revisions mentorship so her MS was fairly tight. Some agents will take a MS that needs more revising and guide the author through it, others want it ready to send to sub. Totally depends on the agent.
The thing that surprised her most about her journey is that agents are largely nice people who like books. They don't sit on thrones glaring down at pathetic writers. They are regular people too!
It is super important (whether you have an agent yet or not) to have a website. It should show your social media links, you should have a newsletter, and eventually you'll want to be on Goodreads as an author. People who buy your book will be looking for you on Instagram, Facebook, or Goodreads, not Twitter. Establish and develop your brand. Who are you writing for and who are you as a person/writer? If you're at a party and overhear a bunch of conversations around you, which topic is the one you head towards to join in? What are you passionate about? It doesn't have to be related to your books. Sofiya's tagline is Books. Bread. Goats.
When writing a series, complete the first MS and write synopses for the next books. Don't actually write the second or third books as so much might change during editing of the first!
When deciding if your book is MG or YA, look at theme and focus of plot, not character's age. If the character is working on finding their place within their family/town, the focus is inward and that is more MG. If the character is breaking away from their family/town and finding their place out there, that is YA. Sofiya argued that the entire Harry Potter series, though it follows Harry's life and would be aging out of MG, is actually firmly MG because he never does try to break out of his place.