Everyone’s journey to publication is different and unique. In Behind The Scenes, I interview writers who tell us how they started and got to where they are today. With the knowledge that comes from experience, they share their words of wisdom with us. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear about your journey! Please contact me here if you’re interested in being interviewed. New interviews featured every second and last Monday of the month.
1. Tell us a bit about your writing journey. How did you get started, and how did you get to where you are now?
First of all, thank you for having me here on your blog! I’ve been writing all my life, but I was always very shy about submitting my work anywhere. It was my husband who encouraged me to try self-publishing a YA historical novel I’d written about the Fox sisters which I called High Spirits. To my surprise, I was contacted by an independent Hollywood producer for film rights and an editor at Sourcebooks who wanted to put the book under contract, revise it, and republish it with a new title. This became my first traditionally published book, We Hear the Dead, and eventually a 6-minute short film called The Spirit Game was produced, too. (It’s currently being pitched in Hollywood as a TV series idea.)
2. Anything you would’ve done differently if you could do it all over again?
I would have looked for an agent sooner. I didn’t start to query agents until after We Hear the Dead came out. I didn’t realize how necessary it was to have an agent for negotiating contracts and looking out for your interests with publishers.
3. What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?
Do your research on the publication process! Read up on agents and publishers and what’s expected for books in your genre/target audience. I wandered into the whole process backward and really didn’t know what I was doing. First I published a book. Then I got a book contract. Then I queried agents and found one. At that point, it felt like I started over again and only really learned the process when my agent sold my next book, The Caged Graves.
4. Is there any book you’ve written that is particularly special to you? Which one and why?
My first middle grade book, The Eighth Day, is special to me. I wrote my YA historicals – including two that have not yet found a home with a publisher – while working full time as a fifth grade teacher. When I started working on The Eighth Day, my students said, “It’s about time you wrote something for us!”
And writing for middle grade turned out to be so rewarding! There’s a lot more fun and humor in these books than in any of my others, even though it’s an action adventure. Plus, I moved out of my established genre (historical) into urban fantasy, which I wasn’t sure I could do. The Eighth Day taught me to take risks with my writing.
5. Who would you say is your favorite character(s) from your books, and why? What is it about this character that makes him/her tick?
My favorite character is Riley from The Eighth Day. First of all, he’s a YA character in a MG book, so he links my two target audiences. At the beginning of the book, my main character Jax, hates Riley, his 18-year-old guardian, believing him to be a no-good slacker. But when Jax learns more about Riley’s past, finds out who he is and how far he’ll go to keep the people under his protection safe, everything changes. Developing their brotherly relationship was one of my favorite parts of writing the series.
Furthermore, Riley invented himself. When I started the first draft of The Eighth Day, I had entirely different plans for this character. But he took control of himself from page one. This is who I am, he told me. Oh, and I need tattoos and a motorcycle, thanks.
Based on reader feedback, I have found that while everybody likes my main character Jax, MG readers aspire to be Riley and YA readers swoon over him.
6. Tell us about your new book. What can we expect from it?
My newest book is The Inquisitor’s Mark, the second in the Eighth Day series. This one was a lot easier to write than the first one, since I already knew the characters so well. I also had the fun of putting Jax in an impossible situation. What does an orphan want more than family, right? In The Inquisitor’s Mark, Jax finds out that he has an uncle, cousins, and grandparents who want to give him a home. Too bad they’re members of a corrupt clan Jax’s father fled long ago – and they would really like to see Riley dead and Jax’s other friend, Evangeline, as their prisoner.
The scenes where Jax meets his nefarious relatives were really fun to write – plus there’s betrayals, chase scenes, magical vermin, and oh yes, a monster, all set in a luxury apartment building in Manhattan alongside Central Park.
7. Are you self-pubbed or traditionally published? What made you go for this model? What advice/tips can you share with writers working towards the same goal?
As you can see, I self-published first, then got one of those offers everyone says never happens: a traditional publisher approached me. Over all, I like working with traditional publishers because they have such a far reach in terms of getting your book into stores. You also have more street cred with librarians. However, traditional publishers are very cautious about acquisitions and if they don’t think your book fits the market, no matter how good it is, they won’t buy it. I might self-publish again in the future, but I would always try the traditional route first, because it gets more respect in the publishing field.
My advice for any writer, before choosing a path, is to thoroughly research all the pros and cons – and believe me, no matter which path you take, there are plenty of both.
Author Bio: DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of The Eighth Day fantasy series (HarperCollins) and YA historical novels, The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH) and We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks). Dianne was a public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend more time hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.