Lucy Silag interviewed me for the Book Country blog back in June of 2014. Since that blog is no longer online, I’m posting the interview here.
June 17, 2014: Today we are talking to Book Country member Sherrie Petersen, whose book WISH YOU WEREN’T is a June Editor’s Pick. Connect with Sherrie on Book Country, and read on to find out more about her experience with beta readers, designing her own cover, and why she loves writing for middle graders.
Congrats on publishing your first book, WISH YOU WEREN’T. Tell us the story of how the book came to be, and how you brought it into the world.
I wrote the first page of this story several years back after watching stars with my kids one night. It was right before a writer’s conference where I had the chance to get feedback from an agent, an editor and an author. (Someone else read the page out loud, thankfully!) All three of them loved the voice, the setting, the mood that page evoked – they wanted to read more. That totally encouraged me to keep going. And despite many rewrites, the first page has stayed essentially the same.
I had an agent for a while and after we parted ways I thought about getting another one. But a friend of mine has been making a living self-publishing, and doing quite well. I worked for many years as a freelancer so the idea of going it alone didn’t scare me as much as it might other people. I like having complete creative control not only with the product, but with the marketing. It’s been fun trying things out, seeing what works, finding unique ways to reach readers.
Your cover is really gorgeous—it drew me right in as soon as I saw it. Did you design it? If not, how did you collaborate with the designer?
Thank you! I did design the cover myself. In my other life (aka my day job) I’m a graphic designer, so I felt comfortable tackling the cover on my own. It took me a while to come up with the concept, though. I was actually talking to a writer friend of mine and blurted out the idea of two boys silhouetted against the night sky. As soon as I said it, I realized that was exactly how I wanted the cover to look. After that, it came together quickly.
WISH YOU WEREN’T is a sweet Middle Grade novel. Do you have any middle-grade beta readers who helped you with it? What about adult fans of the MG genre who gave you input?
I have a critique group that has been invaluable to me. After they all weighed in, I sent it to a number of beta readers. They helped tremendously as well. I think the trickiest part was deciding what advice to take and what to ignore. I had one beta stop reading after four chapters because she said I was taking too long to get to the point. That was painful to hear, but after I finished crying, I realized she was right. I ditched two chapters and combined two others to keep the pace moving.
That experience reminded me that you can’t just get input from people who know and love you. While they play a vital part in helping me shape my stories, they become almost as invested in it as I do. It’s good to get outside opinions, which is why a community like Book Country can be very valuable.
What makes Middle Grade an exciting genre to be writing in right now?
The books we read as kids really stay with us. They shape our ideas of the world outside our immediate surroundings and they give us permission to dream. I think as more middle grade stories cross over to a wider audience, more people are remembering just how wonderful these books are. It’s so much fun to be in the head of a 12-year-old on the cusp of life, discovering how much they are capable of, learning basic truths about the world and their place in it. And I love that middle grade readers are still willing to believe in magic because I still do.
As you wrote and edited the book, how did it change? What is the biggest difference between the book now and the first draft?
When my agent was sending this book out, I got some fantastic rejections. One came from an editor who read it on Friday and got back with notes on Monday. That alone was thrilling because it meant that she really liked the story. One of her comments was that a character who showed up 2/3 of the way through the book was so engaging that he ought to be around from the beginning. I resisted at first – it meant a complete rewrite! – but in the end, I followed her advice and I’m so glad I did. I love the energy Paul brings to the story and I think the rewrite made this book even stronger.
You’re building an author platform online. What’s the most fun part about that? What is the most challenging?
For me, the best part about being online is making connections with people all over the world. Today I exchanged emails with people in Canada, Georgia and California. And on Twitter, YA author Andrew Smith favorited one of my tweets and retweeted it. I had a total fangirl moment where I could barely breathe. I mean, how cool is that?!
But when you write middle grade, definitely the hardest part is connecting with the middle grade readers themselves. Teens are on Facebook and Twitter and reading blogs, but ten-year-olds? Not so much. Hopefully, as adult readers find and enjoy WISH YOU WEREN’T, they’ll share it with the tweens in their lives.