Marie Lamba wears many, many hats
Award winning YA author, agent, Philly Liars Club liar extraordinaire, high-energy instructor and mentor (not to mention awesome mom and all around cool and groovy lady), she balances all those roles with an unmatched enthusiasm and wit. I asked Marie to share her thoughts on writing and the world of publishing and here’s what she had to say:
The protagonists in all three of your works feel very authentic. How do you manage to channel your inner teen so effectively?
I think there are several things that help me to keep the teen voice real. One is a bit of arrested development. In some ways I’m still very much a 17 year old: optimistic, living more in the moment, and a bit goofy, too. Another thing is that I am often surrounded by teens. My own kids, and kids I’ve mentored as a scout leader for many years have kept me grounded in what the teen voice is and isn’t. It is deep and very adult at times, and sometimes also very young. And my daughters also serve as my initial editors, helping me avoid certain humiliation otherwise! Jean jackets? God, no. Texting with OMG c u soons? Please god no.
You had kind of a long, unique journey between your first and second books. Can you share?
I think most novels have unique journeys. Here’s how mine went. I wrote a novel and worked on it and tried to sell it for 10 solid years. Oh, it got better and better and the rejections got nicer and nicer, but still, phooey. Then I wrote WHAT I MEANT… in just four months, and within a year I had an agent and a 2-book deal through Random House. Sweet, right? But here’s the thing: the debut was coming out in late 2007. No one realized that the recession was oozing around us, but the signs were there, and one of those signs hit my career hard – namely, I was one of the very first RH titles ever to not automatically be picked up by Barnes & Noble and Borders. This happened a few months before the book was to come out. Now it’s not that unusual, but then? Holy crap! It was a death knell for my novel. At this point, I’d already written the sequel, it had been approved, gone to final copyediting, I’d gotten my advance for it, and the cover was done. The sequel was to come out summer 2008. I had no idea there was any problem at all.
Until I got a call. My second novel was being cancelled. This was three weeks before my debut was to come out. I was floored! Honestly, I had no idea things like this could happen. And, honestly, they expected WHAT I MEANT… to just fail and go quietly into the night, taking me with it. To say I was devastated is putting it mildly. I’d always dreamed of what it’d be like to hold my first novel in my hands. But when I got it, I just cried.
I know. Sad. And a tad bit whiny, too. I determined I wouldn’t disappear. That this book wouldn’t fail. That I’d go into reprint again and again and that my sequel (which was even stronger than my debut) would live. (Insert image of Scarlett O’Hara here – “as God is my witness!”).
So I became a marketing nut. Publisher’s Weekly called my novel “an impressive debut.” It went into reprint over and over. Earned out its advance. Nearly went into paperback…we had a cover and everything for the paperback, but that recession, ya know… I can say, without any exaggeration, that I sold nearly every single copy of that book myself.
The sequel? I tried to retool it as a stand-alone with different names and location, and we tried to send it around, but the recession, grrr…
Flash forward to when self-publishing finally becomes fabulous and doable and distribution of it becomes international. The lovely and brilliant L.A. Banks (miss her!) had just self-published her own sequel that had been orphaned by her publisher. She told me I had to go for it. So I did! So in 2011 OVER MY HEAD finally came out. It continues to get praise and bring in a few dollars here and there – but, honestly, it’s about reaching readers. And I have.
Okay, that was a long story!
You’re latest novel, Drawn, is a bit of a departure in that it has a supernatural element. Is there something about the paranormal that resonates with Young Adult audiences?
Definitely. There’s a sort of magical realism that goes with youth, you know? Like the excitement and the terror that anything can happen. When one of my daughters was tiny, she used to think that mannequins in store windows were dead people (run with that for a story, Jim!). Talk about pushing the edges of reality. As a teen, rules are slipping into place. Limits. Limits on that magical realism. But what if you bucked those rules? Very enticing.
Your stories have very clearly defined arcs; the characters are profoundly changed between beginning and end. Have you ever had the urge to revisit them, let us know where they are now?
Oh, all the time. Readers are always asking me what happened to Gina? What about Cameron? Does Michelle ever see Christopher again? But it takes me months to years to write a novel. I’m getting more careful about what I write next (sequel shy?), hoping that my next novel will be back in the bigger markets and will be a breakout for me. I’ve got a few contemporary novels brewing in my mind right now…
Like your characters in Drawn, you really live in two worlds (Agent and Author). Does that make either job more difficult? Does it provide additional insight that makes them easier?
Yes and yes? Agenting is immensely satisfying, but it’s also a huge time suck. And writing novels takes time. Also, at first I had trouble writing because I couldn’t shut off that inner critic that I use all day reading queries. I started writing a novel and I was all like “Is that really where you want to start?” “Too much back story!” “This is passe.” Grrr! I completely stopped writing and gave my mind a rest. Now I’m better. Mostly! When I write, I HAVE to write the story all the way to the end before I let my inner critic get involved, or I’ll never finish the book. I think I can do that now.
As for insights? Okay, at the risk of sounding like an a-hole, I’ve realized that I’m a pretty good writer and that I shouldn’t take my skills for granted. SO many people try to write novels, but so few people actually can. Also, I can see gaps in the marketplace. Books that I’m looking for, that editors are looking for! Hey, I can fill those gaps with one of my own books, can’t I? Just yesterday I sent off to my own agent (the wonderful Jennifer De Chiara) a picture book manuscript I wrote, and I was also able to give her a possible pitch for the book as well as a list of editors I’d personally talked with that I knew were looking for just this sort of title. I call that helpful insight!
What are some of the biggest mistakes new authors make when submitting to agents?
Writers forget that they are seeking a business partnership and that a query is in essence a business letter and an introduction. Sloppy queries, bad writing, poor targeting, not following guidelines, acting like a real a-hole, mass mailing queries, etc. etc. etc. It’s all like showing up to a job interview in ragged jammies while scratching your crotch. Writers need to step it up, show their professional side, do their research and make a decent impression. If you can’t do that, I seriously will not even look at your writing. Just sayin’
Marie’s works include:
DRAWN, (JAN 2012) young adult paranormal novel in ebook and paperback (Won Silver Medal at the Literary Classics International Book Award)
OVER MY HEAD, (JUNE 2011) young adult novel in ebook and paperback
And check out some of Marie’s clients releases both coming in Spring 2014: