It was my great pleasure to interview Denise Jaden, author of LOSING FAITH and one of our MSFV "success stories."
AUTHORESS: Can you share with us how your participation in Secret Agent contests played a part in your ultimate success?
DENISE: I believe I entered 3 secret agent contests (with 3 different novels) which all helped me along for sure (and I won the first secret agent contest with Holly Root – unfortunately she was super busy and wasn’t able to get back to me in time – that’s why I ended up going with Michelle). I had entered LOSING FAITH in a secret agent contest, but ended up pulling my entry when I signed with Michelle before the entries went up. It was so useful to me to see how my first paragraphs were perceived ( line by line) by not only the secret agents, but also by multiple readers. There is simply nowhere else to get feedback like that, and as an author I know that often times my perception of my own work can be off.
AUTHORESS: What did your journey look like before LOSING FAITH's success? How many novels had you written prior to the "one"? And what do you feel makes LOSING FAITH different than its predecessors?
DENISE: Prior to LOSING FAITH, I had written one novel for the adult market (which I’m still hoping to revise to YA one day), one other YA novel and one middle grade novel. My earlier YA novel is now with my agent and I hope to be able to sell it soon. And as I mentioned, I still also have high hopes for that first novel. I’m a big believer in putting writing aside for long stretches of time and coming back to it with fresh eyes. I think by the time I wrote LOSING FAITH, I had become better at finding flaws in my work and solutions of how to fix them. I also have a much more suitable network of critique partners, and they deserve a great portion of any glory my writing ever receives.
Since writing LOSING FAITH, I have written two other YA novels, which are in different stages of revision.
AUTHORESS: So, every aspiring author loves to hear stories about "the call." Can you share yours with us?
DENISE: “The Call” is such a fun topic to reflect on! I assume you’re talking about the agent call (my editor deal was actually through email) so I’ll go with that.
I actually received more than one offer of representation. My first call came when I was sitting at my kitchen table, in the throes of my latest work in progress. I heard the phone, and as I always do, I let it go to the answering machine. I guess I didn’t have the volume down though, since seconds later my recorded message started babbling through the house. I considered going to turn down the volume, but instead figured I’d just listen to who it is quickly and then get back to work.
Well…as soon as the agent said her name and agency name, I froze in place. She went on to say she’d read my manuscript and loved it (the first time I’d ever heard an industry professional use the “L” word about my writing) and she wanted to offer representation. I did not rush to pick up the phone, as I could hardly breathe at the time. After she hung up, I started to shake and cry and hyperventilate for a few minutes. I wrote a little freak out email to a couple of critique partners and finally called her back. The rest, as they say, is history!
AUTHORESS: So my first reaction is, "Huh? You still have an answering machine?" :D But what a fun "first contact."
Is your agent a hands-on, editorial type who required lots of grunt work prior to going out on submission? Or was your manuscript pretty much "ready to go?" How did it feel to watch your baby fly into the (scary) yonder?
DENISE: Yes, we still have an answering machine. We’re very old school (aka – my husband doesn’t like change). I do have voicemail on my iPhone.
When first chatting with my agent, I asked her about whether or not she’s a “hands-on” agent. She assured me that yes, she is, but that LOSING FAITH, in her opinion, needed very little work. She did a line edit on the manuscript for me and then we sent it out. It wasn’t until I sent her my NEXT book that I got to see just how hands-on she really is! She sent me back a thorough editorial letter with eleven points of very large changes (including re-working the entire last section of the book). She definitely has a keen eye for what is working and what isn’t, and a great ability to communicate it in a way I can understand.
I’m still in the process of watching my baby fly, and to be perfectly honest, I think it gets harder every day. At first I was nervous if I knew agents were reading it. Then my nerves hit a new level when I knew it was being scrutinized by editors. But on all these levels, I think there is still a reasonable level of respect between professionals. Now that my book is hitting reviewers, and about to hit the public, people willing to speak their minds without reserve, my nerves are in full force. I know that people will be honest and tell me if “my baby is ugly,” or “a babe only a mother could love.” Reading is very subjective, and I think I’ve prepared myself for all possible reactions, but it is still scary.
AUTHORESS: You have such a good attitude about the reviews and subjectivity. This is something all authors must embrace!
DENISE: Yes, well, I think it’s probably easier to have a good attitude BEFORE the reviews start rolling in. But thanks. :-)
AUTHORESS: It's an undeniable truth that authors must be willing to self-promote/market. What is your approach? Is this something that's difficult for you? If so, how are you overcoming the quintessential "author introversion"? If not, share the secret of your strength!
DENISE: I think it’s unfortunate that authors are expected to be excellent at so many things besides writing. To be honest, I’ve been a performer since I was very young, so being in the public eye doesn’t really bother me. But I am still a bit of an introvert, especially when it comes to speaking in front of people.
I think one thing that has made the promotion/marketing endeavor a little easier on authors, though, is social media. When I first started to seriously pursue publication, I also started to dabble in all kinds of social media—blogging, twitter, facebook, youtube. I’ve always hit every area of marketing with the idea that I’ll give it the good ol’ college try, and if after a few months it really feels wrong or difficult or like I’m constantly working it, I’ll drop it and pursue something else. I must say that none of the social media has turned me off so far. In fact, it’s often something I have to restrain myself from.
AUTHORESS: As a die-hard Twitter addict, I hear ya!
So tell us a little about the story! Tantalize us.
DENISE: Tantalize? Yeah, no pressure or anything. :-)
Losing Faith is about sixteen year old Brie Jenkins. She’s the black sheep of her religious family, until her older, angelic sister dies in a fall from a cliff. Through the process of grieving, Brie discovers that her sister Faith had a dark and twisted secret… a secret that may put Brie’s own life in danger.
AUTHORESS: Yay! I absolutely want to know what the dark and twisted secret is.
So, what are you working on right now? How do you envision your long-term career? Are there different genres you'd like to explore? And how has having an agent and signing your first deal affected the way you approach your work/perceive yourself as a writer?
DENISE: At the moment, I’m working on another YA contemporary, called PERFECT AIM. It’s about a teen archer who shoots way off target when she tries to unite her family, and instead instigates family war. And in the midst of all that, she slips into the wrong crowd and falls for the wrong guy. She has a pretty big mess to pull herself out of!
As far as my long-term career, I probably approach this differently than most authors. Most of the time, I don’t really think of my writing as a career as much as a hobby. This is not because I wouldn’t LIKE it to be a career, but I just feel this attitude gives me a bit of sanity. So much of this business is out of my control, and the idea of it being my hobby takes some of the pressure off, at least for me, and helps propel my creative side.
Most of my story ideas fall into the category of YA contemporary. I think that’s just the way my brain works. If I explored any other genre, I think it would be dystopian, though still with a very solid real-world bent.
At first, having an agent and then selling a book were huge confidence boosters. Now that the dust has settled, however, I don’t think I see myself much differently than before. I still remind myself regularly that I write primarily for me, and if my critique partner or agent or editor doesn’t like what comes out of me, it’s not the end of the world. I think I have learned a big lesson in subjectivity through the whole process, though. I only hope I can retain it!
AUTHORESS: I'll admit that your outlook is unique--but obviously working!
So what about the non-writing bits? Aside from your "hobby" (hee!), what else do you pour your passion into? Where might we find you on a sunny afternoon? A wintry evening?
DENISE: Aside from writing, I’m also a professional Polynesian dancer, which I love. I’ve danced since I was eight and the troupe I dance with is a group of very committed and passionate individuals. It feels so great to work hard at something as a team and make it excellent.
I’m also a homeschooling mom. My son is six, going into second grade, and for the most part, we both love doing school together. We spend lots of time figuring out “field trips” where we can learn on the fly, and this can also be almost a full-time job at times.
On a sunny afternoon, you’d probably find me at my computer writing, as you would on most afternoons. Regardless of the weather, I’m pretty committed to writing every day, and it usually works out best in the afternoons. I love being outdoors though, and try to get out there, to the park or for a bike ride, as often as possible.
On a wintry evening, you’d most likely find me at home with the fire on, watching a movie with my husband.
I also spend about 5 mornings per week in the gym, and have done that most of my life. Many years ago (in what feels like another life), I used to compete in fitness and strength competitions.
AUTHORESS: All this, and you WRITE, too? What a unique and fascinating life!
So share with us, please, your words of wisdom/inspiration/encouragement to aspiring authors who are still in the trenches.
DENISE: Read a lot, write a lot. Don’t allow rejections or bad reviews or harsh critiques to alter what you’re passionate about and who you are. Only you can tell the stories that are inside of you. Don’t compare yourself with others, no matter what stage of the process you’re in. Even with the same editor or agent, it’s really all apples and oranges, and comparison is just one big recipe for crazy-making.
AUTHORESS: Denise, it's been wonderful getting to know so much about you. Thank you for your time!
DENISE: It was lots of fun doing the interview with you too! Thanks again for hosting me – I hope it will be something others enjoy reading.
Denise Jaden is represented by Michelle Humphrey from the Martha Kaplan Agency. LOSING FAITH releases from Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster TODAY!
LOSING FAITH at Borders
LOSING FAITH at Chapters