Ep 21 – Laura Sebastian & The Great Publishing Bake Off

Transcript by Sadie Blach

Episode Date: November 16, 2018


CLARIBEL ORTEGA: I’m Claribel Ortega.

KAT CHO: And I’m Kat Cho.

CO: And welcome to Write or Die. I’m really excited because today is the first time Kat is co-hosting with me, so yay! Round of applause!


KC: Woot, woot, yay! Put in fake applause there.

CO: Yeah, real applause! Everyone’s going to be clapping in their homes and cars.

KC: This show is actually recorded in a front of a studio audience.

CO: [laughs] Also, we have the amazing Laura Sebastian with us today as our guest. She is the New York Times Bestselling author of ASH PRINCESS, which is one of my favorite books– I won’t stop talking about it–and the upcoming LADY SMOKE. Laura, what’s up, how are you?

LAURA SEBASTIAN: Hi, I’m so happy to be here. I’ve listened to the podcast before, and I love it so thanks for having me on.

CO: Yeah, absolutely, thanks for being here. We’re gonna just jump right in, and I want to know about your publishing journey. It is a lot longer than people realized it is.

KC: Yeah, I’m actually really excited because I was telling Claribel earlier I don’t think I know your publishing story. I just know all the amazing talent that came out of it after the fact. I’m already the best audience for this show even though technically I’m a co-host.

LS: I think publishing loves the overnight success story narrative, but it’s never really the truth. If it seems like it was easy, it wasn’t. ASH PRINCESS was my tenth manuscript. I queried my first book when I was eighteen, so it took about ten years. Well, it took eight, but ten years until the book came out. It was a long, winding road. I’d had an agent for a couple of years, and then I had to leave her. It’s been a bumpy road, but I’m glad to be where I am now and I wouldn’t be here without the bumps.

CO: Absolutely. How did it start? Tell me why you started writing. I know you shared a couple of your snippets on Twitter the other day, which were amazing by the way. I was cracking up. They were great, but how did you start writing seriously? When was your first manuscript? Take us on the journey from that ‘til you got your first agent.

LS: I started writing anything. I started writing fanfiction when I was in middle school. It started off as ELLA ENCHANTED fanfiction, and then I switched over to HARRY POTTER because the ELLA ENCHANTED fanfiction community was a lot smaller. It was basically me and five other hardcore ELLA ENCHANTED fans. Then I moved on to the HARRY POTTER fandom, which was a lot bigger. Just a bit. There are a lot of authors who talk about their fanfiction and how they got their community. They built their fanbase from writing fanfiction, and that was never me. Mine had, like, five readers, and that was it. It wasn’t like my stepping stone into writing. I was supposed to do it for fun, and I think it taught me how to build my own worlds by playing in hers. I think I learned narrative structure, and character building was probably the biggest thing. I think I learned to theoretically get people interested in the story–mostly by reading others’. I don’t think I figured it out at that point, but I knew what intrigued me in other people’s stories. The big problem in my head, though, was I didn’t understand writing conflict. I would write these fanfictions and they would always take place after Voldemort had been defeated. This was only after the fifth book had come out, but I was like, ‘fast forward, I want to write about when everyone’s happy and there’s no more war and Malfoy has realized the error of his ways.’

CO: That’s such a place for fanfiction, though. People love that. You want to know what happens after the story and you want to see the wish fulfillment of how your characters end up. That makes sense to me.

KC: I agree. I remember when I was younger, I would read fanfiction of SAILOR MOON, but I would read the fanfiction of their school life. I would have been one of the five fans of your fanfiction. I would be number six.

LS: There was no conflict at all. It was just, people being happy all the time, like getting together with no obstacles in their way–emotional or otherwise. It was pure wish fulfillment really. It took me a while to get over that actually. I think my first few manuscripts also had that issue where it was just me having fun and me learning, which I think was really important, but there was no conflict at all, which was the issue. My first one was in the vein of ELLA ENCHANTED. It was like a fairytale retelling. Looking back at it–I did a deep dive and looked back at it, which I’m so mad about, because it’s so bad. It was intended to be YA, but it read like middle grade and had a lot of really adult content in it. So, I just had no idea what the market was. I didn’t really understand the rules, and obviously you can break the rules. They’re not hard and fast, but you should at least understand them before you start trying to break them. It was a mess, but it was something I wrote for me, and it was fun. It has a special place in my heart, but it was terrible. But 18 year old me thought it was the next HARRY POTTER, and that they were going to make movies out of it and it was going to be the best bestseller since HARRY POTTER. I was so ready for that. I remember–this was 2008, actually it might have been 2007–I was not in college yet, I was at home. I took my babysitting money, and I went to Barnes and Noble. I got the, I’m blanking on the name now, oh! It was the Publisher’s Marketplace–used to publish this gigantic book every year that had a list of all the agents and all the publishers and everything. It was the only way to get their information. QueryTracker wasn’t really a thing yet. Most agents were still only accepting snail mail queries. I’d actually send out mail queries. It was a huge thing. It must have been at least 150,000 words.

CO: Holy crap.

LS: Pure, unedited word vomit. I printed things out. I sent out these letters. My little self addressed envelope so they could send me their rejection. I was ready, and all I got back was pure rejections. No partial requests. Nothing. Not even like, ‘here’s what’s wrong with it’. No one said anything. It was just pure form rejections. I was kind of heartbroken, but I think the reason I’ve been able to keep going on is I’m always focused on the next thing. Even when I was getting those rejections, I was working on the next thing. I kept going, and slowly, with each manuscript, I got a couple partials, and then I got a couple fulls, and it must have been with my seventh, I wanna say, that I signed with my first agent.

CO: Okay, and how long after was that?

LS: I was probably twenty-three. I was living in New York and had been out of college for about a year. It was the Upper West Side witches book. I liked the concept, but–I’m thinking back again, it had some of those same tension issues. I used to not know how to edit. I thought editing meant just going through and copy editing things and fixing grammar and sentence structure. I didn’t really understand. I’d vomit out a first draft, and be like, ‘that’s a structure’. That’s it.

CO: I think a lot of people who started writing full manuscripts as teens had the misconception about what editing means, and I think that’s because the general public doesn’t realize what actually goes into revising a book. When you think about it, you think grammar instead of all the other things.

LS: Yeah, I had to explain it to my family, too. Like what my editor does. They kind of thought she just, you know, adds a comma here and there. That’s not the case.

CO: Wouldn’t that be nice if that was all it was?

LS: If only. It’d save a lot of time. It definitely wouldn’t be as good. My editor has made some huge changes or suggested some huge changes to the books that really changed it. I’m so grateful to her. I signed with the agent, and the agent…there are a few kinds of agents. Some of them are super editorial and want to make sure a manuscript is pretty ready to be published when it goes out [on sub]. That’s kind of what I prefer. I think it’s such a crowded marketplace, especially in YA, that debut manuscripts should be pretty tight before going out on submission.

CO: Absolutely.

LS: I didn’t realize that at the time. I thought, ‘it’s fine as it is’, so we went out and got resoundedly rejected. I started working on another thing. That also got rejected. I just realized it wasn’t a great fit agent wise. I talked a little about that on a blog post. It’s a little bit of a complicated situation. I left after a couple years.

CO: What was that like? I appreciate when authors are candid about not being on their first agent, especially because authors and writers attach this romantic notion to being with your agent, which it is an amazing thing, but it’s a business. Sometimes, for business reasons, you need to part ways. Was that a hard decision to come to for you, or was it just like it had been building up and you decided to go? What was that like?

LS: Communication was the biggest issue for me in the end. Toward the end of the relationship, I wasn’t getting the communication I needed. Sorry, that’s Neville–

CO: He’s allowed. Hi, Neville. I love him. He’s the cutest. Pancho, cover your ears. Neville is so cute.

LS: He’s a [inaudible] dog. It’s a scary thing to leave your agent. I worked so hard to get to that point. So many books later. All the queries, and all the rejections. I finally got through that door, and walking back out it seemed like the stupidest thing I could be doing. I remember stressing out about it so, so much. Agonizing over it for months. It was something I knew I had to do, and I put it off for so long. Because I didn’t want to be on the other side again, be the unagented author again. When I’d worked so hard to get that, it felt like taking a huge step back. In hindsight, it was the biggest step forward I could take. Making that choice and leaving that agent was the best thing I could do for my career.

KC: I love when people are really candid about these things that we all know was really hard for them to come to this conclusion, but you’re telling it in such a clear way. I think it’s really hard in the moment to see the logic in it because our industry is so emotion-based, and we love our work and everything like that. People sometimes forget in the moment when you make your decisions based on emotion, oftentimes what you’re doing is you’re keeping yourself shut out and shut in this situation that’s going to keep you from moving forward. That’s a detriment to everyone involved. I think it’s really brave you took that step especially for being so young too. That’s something to be said as well. It’s hard to make business decisions at all, but I think it’s way harder when this is your first industry that you’ve really had experience in.

LS: I think at that point, I wasn’t even thinking of it as a business. That was not my mindset going into it. That probably hurt me a bit. It’s something new authors need to think of–is the business.

CO: Absolutely. I think we met when you were deciding who you w–I think you already had offers on the table already.

LS: That’s actually a little further down the line.

CO: Tell us what happened once you left your agent. How are you feeling? Are you bummed? What’s your next step?

LS: I would love to say I queried with a new manuscript and immediately got a bunch of offers. That was not what happened. I wrote two more manuscripts. They both got a good amount of full requests, some people who wrote some really lovely rejections. Not form rejections. At that point, I started getting rejections with feedback. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that I wrote ASH PRINCESS…about…let me think of the timeline. Fall 2015, I wrote ASH PRINCESS. I signed with my agent that April. We went on submission a few months later, and it sold…we went on submission exactly a year from when I started writing it, which is very fast. After everything else, it didn’t feel fast.

CO: Right. It was fast after the five hundred other manuscripts that you had to write to get there.

LS: During the time I had signed with her, I actually started interning at an agency, which was incredibly helpful to me because I started reading other people’s queries. It illuminated everything because I had been on the other side and I knew what they were looking for, and I also realized it was so easy for me to imagine agents sitting in front of their computer cynically reading these queries, picking out everything that was wrong with it and looking for a reason to reject it. Once I was on the other side of it, I realized that’s not the case. Agents are so excited to get in and find something special. They’re not enjoying sending rejections. They’re not enjoying crushing people’s dreams. It’s the worst part of the job. That was really helpful for me to realize.

CO: Do you think reading other people’s queries and sample pages helped you realize what you were doing wrong in your own writing? When I read for other people, I’m like, ‘they’re doing this thing they shouldn’t be doing, but I think I do that, too!’ It sort of helps me. Did you ever come across that?

LS: Definitely. I had to write these edit letters, which some agents will give out. You definitely get one when you sell a book. Your editor will write one for you. Part of what I learned interning for agents was how to write a edit letter, so I was reading more critically than I had before. I used to be one of those people who loved everything I read. I didn’t read critically, so I don’t think I wrote critically because of that. Once I started reading critically, I was so much more aware of my own writing and the flaws I had in that and needed to fix.

CO: Listeners, if you want to get better at writing, it’s not just about editing your own stuff. Being a good CP [critque partner] and beta reader will help you to become a better writer. Being a good reader is not an easy skill to have. Most people are not good readers or good at giving feedback because they will give you feedback based on how they would write something, as opposed to what’s right for your book. If you can learn that skill, it’ll be really important down the line. So, you wrote ASH PRINCESS. You got an agent. Then what?

LS: I got an agent. We sold the book! Which was mind-blowing to me, because I was…I’d been around the industry so I had very realistic expectations going in that it might not sell, that it might take a few rounds. It blew me away that it happened as easily as it did. Again, easily after a decade of hard work. It went really well. A few months after we sold the book, my agent called me up and told me she was leaving publishing to pursue her own writing, which I’m so excited to see what she does in the future. But, you know, as a debut author, it was a little [laughs]–

CO: Yeah, that’s stressful.

LS: She felt terrible, and I felt terrible she felt terrible. It was a whole thing. I was in really great hands with my editor, and I love her. I had interned with an agent, who I had loved working with, and when it came time to find a new agent, I called him up and explained the situation to him, and I ended up signing with him.

CO: And that is?

LS: That is John Cusick, who I love working with. He’s great. He and his wife started a Youtube channel today, which I’m gonna plug that.

CO: Wait, what? I didn’t know that. What is it about?

LS: They just did a video for NaNoWriMo, and it’s query writing and the foolproof hook and how to get an agent interested in your query, like the perfect opening.

CO: I love that. Okay, we need to have them on the show now. That’s such a good idea, and yay for more publishing professionals having a presence on Youtube. That’s fantastic and will be really helpful for writers as well.

LS: It’s interesting. Molly, John’s wife, she used to be an agent, but she’s the foreign rights person now, right?

KC: She’s a scout.

LS: A scout. Those are two novel perspectives we don’t often get on Youtube about the industry, so that’s really cool.

CO: Can you explain what a scout is for the listeners? A lot of writers won’t know what that is.

KC: When you sell your book, oftentimes in the announcement, you’ll see North American rights or World English rights or World rights. If you’re only selling North American or World English, you have all of these other rights like foreign language and international rights that you can sell, which we call subrights. You also have film rights, television rights. You can sell for merchandise, for theme parks. Scouts will have these clients which are publishers from international markets as well as Netflix, Amazon, and other people like that that hire people who are scouts, who all they do is they hear these news of people going on sub or books being sold and think, ‘This would be really good for my client’, so then they would read it and see if it would be good for their client and suggest to their client if they think they should pursue those rights. It’s a really cool microcosm of the publishing world.

CO: Yeah, I didn’t know what scouts were until they started coming up to me at Frankfort and knowing things no one should know because they’re like sneaky secrets agents who have all this information, and I was like, ‘what does a scout do?’ And that’s when I found out. A lot of people listening won’t know what that is, so thank you, Kat. That was a very good explanation.

KC: Thank you. I will say if you are a person who likes to collect secrets then becoming friends with someone who is a scout is a good way to collect publishing secrets.

CO: Or be a scout. Gretchen Weiners would have been a scout probably.

KC: Yeah, Gretchen would have been a scout for sure.

CO: Let’s get to the part I’ve been waiting for. Laura, let’s talk about your books. I read ASH PRINCESS, as you know, and I was live texting you my reactions, which I only do when I’m really excited about a book. So can you tell our listeners what ASH PRINCESS is about and what LADY SMOKE, the sequel, is about?

LS: Yes, ASH PRINCESS is about the hostage princess of a fallen kingdom, who after ten years of waiting for rescue, decides to save herself by spying on, manipulating, and at times seducing her captors, including those she’s come to care for. It’s like a damsel in distress story when the damsel gets tired of waiting to be rescued and just does it herself.

CO: And it’s so good.

KC: Literally like an analogy for our modern day.

LS: It wasn’t topical at all. Again, I wrote this in 2015.

CO: Oh, gosh, you predicted the future.

LS: I guess it wasn’t too hard to predict at that point.

CO: Can you tell us a little bit about LADY SMOKE without too many spoilers? Is that possible?

LS: I’ll share my short pitch for it, which is fantasy BACHELORETTE with murder.

CO: Yes, I love that.

KC: That’s amazing.

CO: It’s so good. I would watch that.

LS: I think the BACHELORETTE aspect came about, because book twos are hard. They’re really hard. I was not having fun writing it. So I wanted to figure out how to let myself have fun. I was like, what if it was like the BACHELORETTE, which was fun for me to write.

CO: That sounds super fun. It sounds exciting.

KC: Yeah, we often hear about sophomore slump, and I wonder if it’s because it’s a writer’s first book on contract so they’re writing it out of duty.

CO: I’m so incredibly grateful for my editor’s notes on ASH PRINCESS. They transformed the book, but it was hard to write without her voice in my head. Which was good in some ways, but in other ways, it made me freeze a little bit.

[Neville barking]


CO: Neville!

LS: Sorry!

KC: Neville doesn’t like your process. He doesn’t approve.

CO: He’s like, ‘tell them about the other things, tell them about how I helped, too! I was part of this’

LS: He thinks he owns my whole building, so any time someone walks down the hallway, he’s like ‘how dare you come into my kingdom?’

CO: He kind of does.

LS: You’d think that but there are so many other dogs who think the same thing. It gets a little tricky.

CO: I’m pretty sure Neville’s the only one that’s right, though.

KC: You know what’s really reassuring about hearing you having a voice in your head? Because I know you finished writing book two, did you finish writing it before book one even came out?

LS: I was halfway through drafting book three when book one came out.

KC: You are an unnatural witch person. You have magical powers.

LS: Again, I’m really grateful to my editor, because she really padded my deadlines a lot, which was really…in part for that and in part because I was a debut author, and she didn’t know how much time I would actually need. She wanted to make sure we had extra time if I needed it. Little did she know, I take to a deadline like a fish to water. I’m really grateful because there’s a lot debut year. You’re dealing with a lot of stress, a lot of travel, a lot of other publicity stuff you have to do. Having gotten a lot of what I could get done before was really helpful.

KC: What I love about your story is people hear you did some things really well, like you were halfway through book three before book one came out, but it doesn’t mean you were without your struggles and your own internal voices in your head. That’s really important for people to know and probably why people listen to this podcast to hear that no matter how divergent our experiences are, it all [inaudible] how neurotic we end up being.

CO: Even when it ends up being an easy journey, and I won’t call her out because it’s not my story to tell, but I know an author who got an agent really fast and a book deal really fast and her first book did really well. When she went to write her second book, she was paralyzed with fear, like, ‘what if I can’t do this again? What if this is a fluke, a one time thing?’ She had to get deadlines extended because she was freaking out so much. Even when things seem perfect on the surface, we’re always dealing with something, some kind of self doubt.

LS: I actually think the years of rejection and the years of querying helped me be able to write the second book because I was so used to, one thing was out, and I was on to the next thing. I was able to turn out manuscripts really quickly, and I’d gotten used to that. I think all of the rejection actually helped me when I had a deal because I was able to move on to the next thing.

CO: That makes sense, and a lot of it is training yourself to work a certain way. Do you have any tips you use, any methods? I know some people use stickers and planners to keep organized. Is there anything special you do to keep on track?

LS: I have a journal that’s called Scene Anatomy. Usually every morning before I begin drafting, I will fill out a quick form of who is in the scene, what just happened in the last scene, and a question – why is it happening? I very rarely have to add scenes in editing. I usually have to add. I think that really helped me, knowing ‘what purpose does this scene serve?’ whether it’s to the plot or to the characters or to the world or ideally all three. Most scenes should serve all three. Whenever I’m not sure what happens next, when I do that, I figure it out.

CO: Those are some good tips. I’m going to write some of them down for myself.

KC: I was thinking that, but I was literally hoping your answer would be all of your baking stuff. I love that. I’m like, ‘maybe she inspires herself by baking’.

LS: It’s the reward for me. I can’t cook until I finish my work.

CO: You have to invite me over. I will yell until it’s time to cook ‘cuz Laura is really good at cooking.

LS: It helps keep me sane during the debut year because it’s something I have control over. There’s so much in publishing you have zero control over. I can control the outcome more than anything I can in publishing.

KC: It’s so smart. Were you–

CO: A–

KC: I’m sorry.

CO: No, I was just going to agree with you. It is so smart.

KC: I was going to ask, were you a part of that conversation–I saw there was a thread about how people who are writers should have a creative outlet that is not writing because of our inability to control our outcome?

LS: That sounds familiar. I think I saw that.

KC: People were talking about singing or knitting or other things. You talking about baking reminded me of that and how important it is.

LS: Especially when you write full time, which is a very privileged sliver of us that are able to do that not just for financial reasons. I feel like there are a lot of people who can financially do it who mentally can’t, who need the day job. When you do write full time, you need to have something else in your life. Otherwise, publishing will consume it, and you will go absolutely crazy.

CO: We should have the Great Publishing Bake Off.

LS: That’d be fun. I also want to have a mac and cheese party where everyone makes their favorite mac and cheese recipe.


LS: I wanna figure out which one is the best.

CO: Do you put breadcrumbs on your mac and cheese? Cuz Angie Thomas might not be happy with you if you do.

LS: My answer might be more treasonous. I really like the creamy mac and cheese, the Velveeta type.

CO: Oh, no.

LS: I just like it gooey.

CO: Aw, man, Laura.

KC: Interesting.

LS: I know!

CO: This interview is over.

KC: You know what I like? And I don’t care if this is a blasphemy to anyone. I like the kind of baked mac and cheese where it’s crispy on the outside but there’s so much cheese on the inside that it’s still gooey on the inside.

CO: Who wouldn’t like that?

LS: That’s what I’m saying. All mac and cheese is pasta and cheese. You can’t fuck that up. Can I say that?

CO: Yeah, you can. There’s cursing. You absolutely can fuck it up because there’s people out there who put peas in their mac and cheese.

LS: Oh. No.

CO: And I don’t know what’s happening.

LS: If you’re gonna go healthy mac and cheese, you gotta go broccoli. Broccoli or nothing.

CO: Broccoli sounds interesting. I’ve also had mac and cheese with Brussel sprouts. That was really good.

LS: Trader Joe’s has a microwavable one. They don’t call it mac and cheese because it’s pretentious. It’s shells and brie [inaudible]


KC: Shut up. I kind of love that.

LS: It’s really good.

KC: Here’s a good rubric for what vegetable you’re allowed to add in mac and cheese. If you would eat that vegetable with cheese on its own, then you can probably shove it in your mac and cheese. Broccoli with cheese is amazing. Like cheddar broccoli.

LS: That’s literally what I’m making for dinner tonight. It’s called creamy garlicky broccoli soup, and it has shredded cheddar.

CO: That sounds so good.

LS: I will post pictures on my Instagram.

CO: This took a lovely food detour.

LS: Sorry, not sorry.

CO: Nobody’s sorry. This is now Write or Die or Eat. That’s the new name of the podcast.

LS: I love it.

CO: Everyone who’s on the show either tells us something they wish they knew when they started or their most embarrassing publishing moment. You can pick either or, or just one. It’s up to you.

LS: Okay, so my most embarrassing publishing moment was–I’m trying to think if there was one that was actually embarrassing. I’ve stopped getting embarrassed about things. I’ve reached a limit on my embarrassment cap where at this point I don’t care. They’ll get over it. Something embarrassing will happen to someone else in a few minutes and they’ll forget, which is good advice for people in publishing. The thing I still get teased about is I once butt-rated my book on GoodReads one star and tweeted it.

CO: [laughing] I remember this.

LS: So I had my phone out because I was trying to copy the description from GoodReads. I can’t remember why. It was for an interview or something. I was getting on the subway and just needed to grab it real quick. I put my phone in my pocket without realizing GoodReads was still open, so being on my book’s own page, I rated it one star, and then it was like, ‘would you like to share this?’ and my butt was like, ‘yes.’ I was getting all of these tweets and texts from friends like, ‘are you okay? Have you reached that point in the editing process where it’s terrible?’


KC; It’s like the author equivalent of when people post angsty song lyrics on their Facebook.

CO: Oh, God, yes, that’s exactly what it is.

KC: Like a cry for help.

LS: Or they’re like ‘I’m going through so much personal stuff right now, but don’t want to talk about it’, so it’s like, ‘why are you posting on Facebook?’

CO: Absolutely.

LS: It wasn’t a cry for help. It was just my butt.

KC: Can we put that on a t-shirt?

CO: ‘It was just my butt’ is amazing. I think that may be the title of this episode.

LS: And the publishing advice: just be nice to people. It’s such a small community. I feel like people don’t realize that. I also feel like people don’t realize what goes in to making their book a book. Your editor, your editor’s assistant. I feel like a lot of people don’t appreciate how much work their editor’s assistant is doing. Publicist. Publicist’s assistant. So many people who you will probably never meet who are putting so much work into your book to make sure it’s doing as well as it can do. People tend to take things personally in publishing and think people aren’t trying their best, which isn’t the case. Sometimes it’s the market or they’re making choices you don’t understand that are going to pay off later. It involves trust and common decency, which should not have to be said, but you’d be surprised.

CO: Yeah, it does need to be said because some people in publishing need Jesus. Only wanna be friends with you if they think they can get something from you. If you’re one of those people and you’re listening, just go in a corner and think about it for a couple hours.

LS: I’ve had people kind of blow me off and then come back to me later like, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how big your book was’.

CO: Oh, bitch, no.

LS: Then they started kissing up, and I was like ‘wait a minute, I was just trying to be nice earlier, and I feel like that’s tainted’. It happens more than I ever expected it would. But I’m also so grateful because there are so many lovely people in this industry who champion books and love authors. That includes you guys.

CO: Thank you. I have an intense rage for people who are social climbers. It pisses me off so much.

LS: I think they don’t realize how obvious it is.

CO: It’s so obvious.

LS: It’s such a great community. Just enjoy it. Don’t stress out about befriending the right people, because that was an issue I kind of had last year, and then I stopped worrying about whether other people liked me and I started concerning myself about whether I liked the people around me.

KC: Very very strongly whole-heartedly agree with that. I think there’s a subset of people who get the advice that it’s a networking industry. You have to know people–you hear that all the time. But a lot of authors are naturally introverts so they force themselves into these situations where they’re awkward and could be coming across as social climbing and I would say those people should still take your advice, Laura, and see. I think you’re a very good role model in that sense because since I’ve met you, you’ve always been consistent in how you’ve talked to me since before you got published. It’s been very clear every time I’ve interacted with you that you’ve been yourself. That’s all people want really. Just be yourself. Not only will you come across as natural because you’re being yourself, you won’t give mixed messages of trying to be in with people.

LS: I get a lot of really bad social anxiety. It’s an issue  I feel it’s a really obvious issue. I think I’m not alone in that. I think a lot of book people are introverted and have a lot of social anxiety because we’re very used to living in our books. Just remember everyone else is anxious, too. Everyone else just loves books. You automatically have that in common with the people you’re talking to. You’re all on the same side.

CO: Or get yourself one extroverted friend who will be that comfort to you. If you’re a Hufflepuff, make sure you have a Slytherin friend. You do need those friends who feel a bit more comfortable and will tell you you’re okay, you’re doing great, it’s fine. I get a lot of questions about how to make friends also in publishing without seeming like a dick about it. Your advice to be nice is good for people to keep in mind, but do you also have any advice if there’s a new writer out there who’s looking to find their community and find their writing friends, what would you say to them?

LS: I think Twitter right now is like the Wild West. It’s a horror of a place, but you can also wisely use it to meet people and talk to people. It’s hard for me because I live in New York so my way of meeting people is to often go to book events here. There are a couple, we have at least a few a month. I always had that available, but I know a lot of people who don’t live in the city don’t have that available. So it kind of has to be online. There’s a good community on Twitter. You have to filter some things out, but it’s good sometimes.

CO: Yeah, sometimes. I feel like it’s gotten different from a year ago. I don’t want to say better because there’s still so much crap on there, but I do feel like because everything’s on fire all the time, people are going out of their way to have more fun on Twitter and share stupid memes.

LS: I get so angry when something’s fun and people are like, ‘don’t you know the world’s on fire?’

CO: Just let people breathe.

LS: We can have both. We are evolved human beings with wide attention spans. Just because the world’s on fire doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy the good things.

CO: Right, and sometimes people are out doing things in the real world and Twitter is where they come to chill.

LS: I think social media in general is kind of misleading because you think you know people. You’re only seeing a sliver of their life. You only see the highlight reel. No one’s ever tweeting about their failures. I Instagrammed an embarrassing story yesterday. A lot of times, it’s just the good stuff.

CO: I think that’s why a lot of people appreciate Susan Dennard a lot because she’s so open about the pitfalls and the things she’s struggled with and despite being really successful in her own right, she still talks about the things she has a hard time with. I think those things are really important to talk about. It’s just weird to me that we’re an industry that deals so much with being creative, and to be creative, you have to be vulnerable, but we live in this bubble where we want to deny that rejection is happening to us at all times and put up this facade. I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone involved. There are certain things you need to have discretion with because of how the industry works. Like if you’re on sub, you don’t want to be like, ‘Got another rejection’ on Twitter.

LS: I’ve seen people do that, and I’m always like ‘oh no!’

CO: But that’s more so to protect yourself than anything else.

LS: Yeah, sometimes editors will look, and if they see that the book they’re reading has gotten a lot of rejections, they might go into it with a different gaze, so you just have to be a little bit wary. But I think it’s really great to share stories about our failures as well as our successes.

CO: I think so, too. I think they’re really important. That’s one of the reasons this podcast exists to show the other side of that. Thank you for coming on and sharing your story with us. I know a lot of people will find inspiration and hope in it because you’ve been through a shit ton, Laura, like so much.

LS: Well, thank you. Thank you guys for having me on. This is such a fantastic podcast. I love it. I’m so glad you guys are doing it. You’re both shining examples in the community. You’re so great to writers who are up and coming and so supportive. I feel like my debut year would have been a lot darker without you guys.

CO: Aw, Laura. We love you. I think it’s really important that when you open the door, you bring people in with you, especially we are really focused on helping marginalized writers. We want to help writers as much as we can. We’re both really new also. Just wait ‘til we’re famous, bitches. Then we’re gonna bring everyone with us. It’s gonna be amazing. And then we’re going to start the Great Publishing Bake Off. We can be the three hosts.

LS: The great, great YA Bake Off.

CO: Come on, middle grade!

LS: Middle grade! Sorry, Claribel.

KC: The great kidlit Bake Off. It’ll be fine.

LS: Can I just say before we go I’m so excited for your guys’ books?

CO & KC: Thank you.

LS: We’re almost in 2019!

CO: I know! My book is not gonna come until the end of the year.

LS: Still, it’s gonna come sooner than you think.

CO: Yeah, that’s what everybody says. It’s kind of scary.

KC: Yeah, which is horrifying. It’s the worst.

CO: It’s creeping up on you!

LS: I feel like yesterday was January, and now it’s November.

CO: True. I also think it’s because we’re thikning like seasons ahead and we’re always thinking ahead in publishing, and that’s what makes things go so quickly.

LS: I have friends who are already in 2020. We’ll be talking about a book they’re working on like ‘it’s out in January’, and I’m like, ‘you mean in two months?’, and they’ll be like, ‘no, ooooh, it’s not 2019 yet.’ They’re acquiring books for 2021 already, 2022. It flies by so fast.

CO: It’s ridiculous. So, Laura, where can people find you if they want to follow you online?

LS: I’m on Twitter. I’m at sebastian_lk – because my middle name is Kathleen, so LK. On Instagram, I am lauraksebastian

CO: You should follower her guys because she posts pictures and videos of Neville, and he’s really cute, and I love him.

LS: There are books on there I guess, but mostly pictures of Neville and pictures of food.

KC: You Instastory your baking process. I spend too much time watching those.

CO: It’s pretty much the perfect account. Laura, thanks again for being on. You are lovely and fantastic. I can’t wait for LADY SMOKE even though I already have it, ha ha. Humblebrag. Humblebrag! I have it, and you guys don’t!

KC: I had it for like a week because I was the messenger.

CO: And you took pictures of it like a fraud pretending.

KC: I never claim to own every single book I take photos of.

CO: You did that with WICKED KING also. You took a picture of it, and I was like, ‘that’s my ARC, Kat, that doesn’t belong to you!’.

KC: I never made false claims. Laura, back me up. I had a right to take a photo of that book.

LS: I’m glad you did. The more people who take a photo of it, the better for me.

CO: Fine, I guess. But next time you have to put a disclaimer that it’s not yours.


CO: Thank you so much for tuning in to this week’s episode of Write or Die. Please don’t forget to check out all the links in the show notes below and follow me on twitter at claribel_ortega – see you next week.

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