Next up on the blog series "People to Learn From in the Trenches," is author Laura Valín. I've been in a writing group with Laura for three years now, and I've seen her learn and grow as a writer. Laura has some great insight, advice and resources that can help querying writers.
J: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
L: Hey there! I’m an author and screenwriter, as well as a freelance editor. Who knows what the future holds, though. That’s my favorite part of creative work. Storytelling is a malleable discipline –there’s many ways to tell a story— and it’s this unpredictability and inherent freedom that first attracted me to it. ‘Writerly’ speaking, I wrote my first book (an unfinished load of crap) in Spanish when I was 11. Over the next couple of years I wrote some short stories that gained some recognition. But it wasn’t until I turned 17 or so that I became serious about the craft and completed my first (real) novel in English. On a personal level, I love science and overthinking for absolutely no reason. But traveling is fun too! I need to stay active somehow, I struggle with stillness. I’d like to think that I’m building some sort of legacy through my work, or that I will, someday.
J: What do you feel has been the most difficult part about the writing journey?
L: It’s hard for non-U.S. authors to compete in the American market. My first two years in the query trenches I spent them in Spain. It’s remarkably difficult to make connections in a country where the literary market is so limited, with the added pressure that I write in English, not in Spanish. Flying in and out to attend conferences in the U.S. was out of the question, and I couldn’t pitch my books in person either. So I got myself a remote position as a reader (I highly recommend this experience to everyone—go TriadaUS!), and moved to LA at a certain point. It became a little easier to network there, especially after doing different internships. I won’t lie—it’s still ridiculously challenging to participate in the US market as a non-citizen, and that needs to change. You won’t be offered the same opportunities as an American, so you have to fight for them. At the end of the day, you might not even get that chance, but at least you’re learning and moving forward with your career.
J: I know that's a perspective that most of us U.S. writers don't even think about. Thank you for sharing your experience.
J: What genre do you write in?
L: Fantasy is my jam, especially Epic Fantasy a la Game of Thrones, but I write Contemporary too. I’m open to all genres and would love to dabble in Sci-Fi and Historical Fiction in the future.
J: How many manuscripts have you queried? Have you shelved any? If so, what did it take for you to make that decision?
L: I’ve completed three full manuscripts, four if you count my current WIP. Out of those three, I’ve shelved one, which I haven’t really queried–I don’t think the market was right at the time (a Sci-Fi with a dystopian element). Another one I rewrote but haven’t queried yet (Adult Contemporary). And then the other one –“the one”—, I’m revising (an ownvoices YA Fantasy). It’s an ambitious project, the kind that takes blood, sweat and tears. This is my 5th (? –I’ve lost count) round of revisions, but it pays off.
J: Yes, every round of revisions is tedious but makes the book better. Also, it's kind of neat to dive in and develop things more each time, I think.
J: What has been the best moment during your writing journey?
L: I think the writing per se. I love that initial moment of inertia, of daydreaming, when you first come up with an idea, and then seeing all that translated into words. Finishing your first draft is also pretty sweet, although the excitement lasts about 0.005 seconds… until you realize you are going to have to revise that baby ad infinitum.
J: Haha. Love this!
J: What was the absolute worst moment?
L: Probably getting overlooked because of external factors that are out of my control. I grew up with the mentality that I had to be in control of everything, when in fact no one can. My first rejection was pretty bad too. I queried a first draft to my –at the time— dream agent, and got rejected. Rookie mistake –I didn’t even know what CPs or betas were, so Past Me deserved it. Also I was a little too overconfident. You could say I’m a bit of a Sheldon Cooper meets Tony Stark (minus the money and the cool suit).
J: I think we all made rookie mistakes. It's growing from them that matters, which you have. Also, I'm totally laughing at your description of yourself, love it!
J: Name one fellow querying author that has helped you and why.
L: Everyone in my writing group PCC (Pitch Crit Crew) has been amazing and they all continue to be so. It’s nice having a group of people you can share your successes and disappointments with, from getting an agent, a publishing deal, or even the little victories like getting into a contest. Nothing was handed to them, they built their own career. It’s one of the things I admire most in life. Also, Jueneke Wong deserves a special mention. She’s an amazing, super thorough critique partner as well as an awesome storyteller.
J: Yay for PCC and Jueneke!
J: Name a published author who has inspired you.
L: Oh, no! I suck at these kinds of questions. I never know what to answer! Overall I’m a sucker for stories that feature unapologetically strong women, front and center. But I think more than admiring one author, I look up to several people in different arenas, re: execution and originality. Angie Thomas (THE HATE U GIVE) does an amazing job capturing emotion through subtext and internalization, and her writing’s really concise and spot-on. Amélie Zhao (her debut novel, BLOOD HEIR, comes out next year) is an example of how perseverance pays off. Keep an eye out for her debut –it features some great characterization work and thrilling world-building. If you want to read her story you can do it here: https://ameliezhao.com/2018/01/25/i-have-a-three-book-deal/
J: When do you find time to write?
L: I’m a bit of a workaholic, so I’m often haunted by the thought that I should be writing every minute of the day if I want to accomplish something in life, but age is teaching me that I need to mind self-care too without feeling guilty about relaxing. That being said, I really admire people who can wake up at 5 a.m. and write. I can barely process a thought at 5 a.m. I try to write/revise a little every day, depending on whether I have a deadline or other things to do. I’m more productive in the afternoon/at night in terms of creativity, and I always make more progress if I can work steadily every day, although there are times when I can only schedule time to work during weekends. A good playlist always helps with inspiration. Generally speaking music helps me work faster.
J: I'm probably an odd one, in that I don't use music. I also wish I had the 5 a.m. drive. I wait until nighttime and sometimes my brain is fried!
J: What is the best thing you've learned?
L: Revise. Revise. Revise. Networking is tedious but important. If you can, find yourself a position as a reader. It’ll help you approach revisions with as much objectivity as you would if it was someone else’s work. You can learn a lot about the business and the real behind-the-scenes, which will ultimately help you when choosing your agent. Lastly, don’t give up on a project. I know this can be a little controversial since industry professionals often advise writers to put a MS aside after a certain number of rejections. I think you need to be a stubborn b**ch and keep going –if the project’s worth it. Revise. Revise. Revise. Write something else while you’re at it to polish your craft and so you don’t drive yourself crazy, but if you’re passionate about a something, fight for it.
J: I'm with you. I've seen people get agents after 150+ queries. I've also seen trends come in and out, and encourage people to hold onto manuscripts that aren't on trend now but might be in the future. Lastly, I think revising is THE MOST important thing authors in the trenches can do. Revising one hundred times is not too many. Thanks for sharing!
J: What is your favorite resource, whether for craft or querying?
L: In terms of querying, QueryTracker and MSWL. QueryTracker is an excellent resource for writers to keep track of agents and queries. #MSWL is the Twitter hashtag where you can take a look at what kind of material agents and editors are requesting, market trends, etc. Jessica Sinsheimer also created the MSWL website in case you want to do a more specific search. You can also do a lot of networking on Twitter. Most agents and editors use Twitter, and there are plenty of pitch contests if you know where to look (follow Brenda Drake and Beth Phelan, among others!) Oh, and check out Descriptionary as well. If you’re ever stuck with a setting description, you can find some inspiration there.
J: Anything else you want to share with fellow query trench authors?
L: Oh, no, I stink at advice! I’m not even good at following my own advice, I’m stupidly stubborn. But well, if I had to say something, it’d probably be this: Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s success. Their story is not your own. True inspiration comes from those who persevere, who are still persevering. Stop dreaming of the top the mountain and start paying attention to those climbing it with you. Success isn’t guaranteed, but if you ever get there, don’t forget to help out the little guy. You were once the little guy.
J: This is perfect advice! Thank you, Laura!
To connect with Laura, follow her on Twitter @lauravpvp.