Today we’re talking with Amber Mitchell about her journey to publishing her first novel, Garden of Thorns, hitting shelves on March 6, 2017. Amber
Starting from the very beginning, what inspired you to start writing Garden of Thorns?
Every time I see a movie where there is a big ball room scene and the women are twirling around in their ball gowns, I always thought they looked like flowers. It was one of those things I filed away for a later date. While I was editing a supernatural novel that I was working on, this voice kept tempting me. It grew so loud that I opened up a different Word.doc and I started writing in Rose’s perspective. Her situation, being trapped where she was, resonated with me so strongly that I had to keep writing to figure out exactly what she was so afraid of. That night I came up with the concept of the Dancing Flowers and the Gardener and never looked back. GARDEN OF THORNS was one of the few books I didn’t plot out completely before I started writing. After I got stuck, I started to plot, but I was surprise at how natural it came to me.
What were some of the edits you made in order to polish your manuscript before submitting to agents?
I went through a lot of rounds to edit GARDEN before I considered it ready. I knew I had something special with the concept and world but I had a lot of problems with the middle half of my book. After getting some feedback from beta readers I was able to refocus the plot and felt the book was much stronger. I also needed to add more world building in. I’d had touches of Delmar’s religion and culture but I needed to amplify it even more before I sent it out.
When you decided to submit your work to agents, how did you narrow down the huge list of agents to a list of those you wanted to query? How did you keep yourself organized throughout this process?
My saving grace was Querytracker.net. I lived on that website. It’s really useful because you can track which agents you query, the status of your query and on what day the agent responds. I updated it every day and spent hours reading the comments people posted and what other agents had requested and rejected. When I felt I was ready to start querying agents, I looked at what they represented first and foremost. I was not making the mistake of sending out a query to someone that didn’t represent my genre. Since I was writing a YA fantasy, an agent that represented both of those genres became a must for me. I shied away from those that liked YA but weren’t into epic fantasy since I wanted to save myself as much heartache as possible. After that, I looked at which agents were the most active, who they represented and sent out my queries.
Speaking of queries, what tips can you give other writers who are faced with the daunting task of writing their query letter?
Do your research. This is such a big one. And after you’ve done your research, make sure you are personalizing every query you send out there to the best of your ability and following guidelines to the tee. Don’t get disqualified before an agent even lays eyes on your work! The other major thing that I find helpful is to give your query to people that haven’t read your book and ask them if it makes sense with their limited knowledge. That will help you weed out those generic phrases and confusing sentences.
You were signed by Nikki Terpilowski and have been working with her ever since. What is it like working with an agent? Was there anything that surprised you?
It’s really nice having someone in your corner that will help you navigate the maze of the publishing world so you can focus on the things that matter (like writing). Since this is my first publication, I had so many questions and Nikki has happily answered every single one. She has always been an awesome advocate, giving me great advice, celebrating my victories and also advising me when to take a step back and let things play out naturally. Even now, I have a hard time letting go of control, not because I don’t trust, but because I care so much. However, I’ve learned to breathe easier knowing that Nikki is on top of things.
After your book sold to Entangled Publishing, did you have anything that surprised you about how a publishing house operates?
Working under deadline has been a completely new experience for me. I’m a slower writer (I used to think I was pretty fast but I’ve come to reconsider that opinion) so while I would always set myself deadlines, it was nothing like what was expected of me during the editing phase of publication. Then there was the added pressure of knowing that people are relying on me to get my job done so they can complete theirs. I loved the back and forth of completing edits and then receiving comments from my editor a few weeks later. It made the novel feel alive, always changing, always new.
The other thing I didn’t expect was how many rounds of edits it would need. I was prepared for the developmental and line edits but the multiple rounds of copy edits took me by surprise. I actually found the copy edits to be the hardest because I could no longer move things around and suddenly, I had to justify why I was changing a word or taking one out.
When the edit notes came in, did you have any obstacles that seemed insurmountable? How do you approach editing your story?
The first round of developmental edits were big and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t scare me. When I first opened up the email, it felt like I needed to rewrite most of my book, which was only partially true. After re-reading the email and speaking with my husband, what I began to realize is that I needed to re-think all of the decisions I’d made and really figure out what made sense. I needed to reanalyze character motivation and relationships to figure out what all of my main characters wanted. After I started thinking about motivation and how that affected everything in the world, the rest sort of flowed onto the page naturally. It helped that I got permission not to worry about word count!
What is one “writing tip” you learned from editing Garden of Thorns?
The question that kept coming up in editing was what was keeping Rose and Rayce from their goals. Was it just for plot’s sake or did I create an underlying reason for them to be unable to obtain their goals (and each other) in the beginning of the story? When I approached the story for that angle, scenes that were lacking tension suddenly sparked off the page.
So the biggest trick I’ve learned from editing GARDEN, is to really dig deep and figure out what is keeping your characters from reaching their goals emotionally, physically, spiritually and societally. Points if you can come up with something that does all four! Make them want whatever they want badly, make it impossible and then join in their triumph as they strive, bleed and stretch to reach the unobtainable.
You mentioned in your earlier interview that you found out how impatient you were during the slow moving process that is publishing. Any advice to writers who find themselves staring at their computer screens?
Is there any advice they would like to share with me?
I kid, I kid. Mostly…
The only thing that has helped me besides very cheap champagne and expensive chocolate is to focus on your next project. I hate this advice because it’s literal torture to follow it, but if you really do unplug yourself from the internet, even 10 minutes at a time to fall in love with something else, it will get easier. Not a lot easier, but enough to function.
It seems that publishers and agents alike are always advising authors to be building their author platform. How did you approach this?
This is something I’m working on even as I’m typing this interview. I started out in the book blogging community so that is proving helpful. It’s also very prudent to test several different social media sites so you can find out which ones are enjoyable for you to use. Personally, I really like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads so that is what I’ve been focusing on. Try to be active, don’t make every tweet, update or blog post about writing. People want to know the person behind the words.
Any exciting plans to celebrate your book’s publication day?
I’m going to Disney World with my hubby and friends! No, seriously, I am. Which isn’t a super huge deal since I live in Florida but it seems like a good way to celebrate the fruition of a lifelong dream. I might even get that Gaston plushie I’ve been eyeing and if I want to get really crazy, we might even go to meat sweats (we call Brazilian steakhouses by this lovely moniker) for dinner.