I was very fortunate to get to read an ARC of At Your Service through Edelweiss, which Jen herself told me about. I can't say enough that this book is awesome!!!
Q: At Your Service takes readers across New York City, with multiple sights described in detail. How did you tackle the research for the book?
A: First of all, thanks so much for having me- I love how supportive of one another MIX authors are! The way my kids look at me when I tell them I didn’t have the internet as a kid is exactly how I look at authors who wrote before Google Maps? I can’t even. So there was a lot of that and a lot of drawing on my own trips to the city for inspiration. Luckily, Boston isn’t so far from NYC. Those really helped me to write about the city from a tourists’ perspective, but when it came to the hometown perspective of my main character, Chloe, I had to rely on an author friend who lives in Brooklyn and my editor to correct all the things I got wrong about NYC life in my first draft. For instance, I had a scene where my main character got her foot stuck in the gap between subway and platform and both of them sent me cell phone pictures from their commutes to show that no way, no how could that happen. Not even to a child-sized foot. I also give my husband credit for taking hours and hours out of a business trip to visit EVERY PENNY MACHINE IN THE FIVE BURROUGHS and take many-angled pictures for me. I’ll be keeping him around!
Q: A lot of my readers are trying to get published. How long did it take you to land an agent and book deal from the time you started writing?
A: I got very, very lucky in the scheme of things. I started writing in February of 2012 and signed with my agent in October of 2012. My book deal was inked in March 2013. In publishing terms, that’s basically “overnight” and I don’t take that for granted at all!
Q: You’re also a teacher who regularly teaches classes on book promotion and getting published. What advice do you have for aspiring authors who are having a hard time landing a book deal? What lessons did you learn along the way?
A: I’m just getting into teaching classes on publishing, but my prior career was working as the New England head of publicity and promotion for 20th Century Fox and I’ve been teaching a class on the business side of the film industry at Boston University for the past fifteen years. There are a ton of parallels between the two industries! In terms of advice, when I was out on sub and getting discouraged at passes from editors that seemed so close, but weren’t panning out, a friend instructed me to go to a bookstore and buy a book. As you can imagine, this was not a hardship! When I got back and called her, she said, “Great choice! Now, what was wrong with the hundred of other books you passed over?” Of course, the answer was nothing at all. But on that day, at that store, I wanted the one I wanted. A lot of publishing is like that—just being in the right place at the right time. It’s a bit discouraging to realize there is only so far talent and hard work can get you; however, I really believe if you keep putting yourself in the right place, eventually the right time will catch up with you! *Here is my caveat. This advice applies to writers who have talented critique partners (or a freelance editor or an agent) giving you an unbiased thumbs-up on the strength of your writing. If you don’t have one of those, forget that other advice and find one fast!!!
Q: You’ve had a big year—selling two more books to Simon & Schuster and two young adult books to HarperTeen. How do you switch back and forth from writing for teens and tweens? Do you have a routine that cleanses the palate?
A: It’s been a really great year- no complaints here!! Because I write “upper middle grade” with main characters who are around age thirteen and “lower YA” which is geared to readers ages twelve and up, I haven’t found the switching back and forth to be so difficult (knock wood!). I haven’t yet tried to write both categories at once- so far I’ve been finishing one book before moving on to the next (though that will likely change with upcoming deadlines.) To date, I’ve cleansed my palate of middle grade by reading 10-20 YA books in a row and then diving into my YA, and vice versa when it comes time to write MG.
Q: We discuss writers who are “outliners” vs. “pantsers.” Do you carefully outline before starting a new book or do you just start writing and let it flow?
A: I don’t usually outline, but I do always write a three paragraph short blurb that reads like the back jacket cover. To write one you need to have a compelling character, a conflict, and stakes. If I can get them all into the blurb, I know I can get them into the book and referring to it keeps me focused as I write, because I know what I want to end up with. But my new series with S&S is co-written with a good friend (and fellow MIX author) Gail Nall and we could never have written it together without a very detailed outline to work from. Before starting we brainstormed out a chapter-by-chapter outline so I could write one chapter while she wrote the next one. After seeing how smoothly that worked and how much more polished our first draft was as a result, I might just be a convert!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Welllllllll. My summer with the kids home has not been productive for writing (I find I need chunks of uninterrupted time to get in the zone), so I let go of that and spent my time doing promotional things for At Your Service and prepping workshops for this fall (I’m serving as the Author In Residence at my local middle school), trying to get as much done ahead of time as possible. That will clear my schedule to spend all of the fall writing! Gail and I will write book 2 of our RSVP series and do copyedits on the first one. I’ll also need to revise my first YA and begin brainstorming a Book 2. And I have a trip in September where I’ll do six school and library visits and two book festivals in ten days. It’s going to be a CRAZY fall and I might be huddled in a ball come January! But it’s so exciting and a total dream come true, so I’m trying to make sure I savor every moment.
About Jen Malone
- I once spent a year traveling the world solo from Nepal to Romania to Fiji, where I learned 99.9% of humanity is pretty freaking awesome yet somehow doesn't share my love of ice cubes in a drink.
- I met my husband on the highway. As in, he was driving in the next lane and I made a face at him. In fact our meet-cute was SO cute we had a whole story written about it in Ladies Home Journal.
- My twin boys placed second in the Most Identical contest at the International Festival of Twins (their little sister placed first in the most adorable category at the All The People In Our Living Room Festival.)
- I once accompanied a pajama-clad Oprah Winfrey (and her puppies) through the laundry room of the Four Seasons. I have also been in a hotel room alone with a shirtless Mark Wahlberg. In both those instances, it was not what you think.
- Oh, and I went into early labor while on Stevie Nicks' tour bus. That is pretty much what you think.
- Also, At Your Service literally (I know everyone misuses this word, but I promise I’m not!) saved my sister’s life, but if you want that story, you have to go here to get it: http://www.jenmalonewrites.com/#!at-your-service/c1l3w.
If you're ready to buy At Your Service or add it to your Goodreads list, check out the links below. You can also learn a little more about Jen by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.