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How Lenore Appelhans Took It To The Next Level

Lenore sits down with Posh and explains how she achieved a book blogger's dream: getting her own YA novel published!

How Lenore Appelhans Took It To The Next Level

Over the almost three years since we launched FYA, we've had the opportunity to meet some incredible people, including our favorite writers and fellow YA swimfans. But one of our all-time favorites is Lenore Appelhans, a fellow blogger who kindly showed us the ropes and guided us through the book blogging community. (In return, we gave her many excuses to drink.) Lenore is basically an FYA bestie, and we are thrilled to congratulate her on her upcoming debut novel, Level 2! In today's interview, she tells Posh what it's like to live the dream (and score a cover with no fancy dresses).

So, Lenore, let's start at the beginning. When did you first start dreaming about being a writer?

Growing up, I was actually one of those kids who loved school and my teachers encouraged my talent for writing. I always suspected that I’d be a writer of some sort, but I never really dared dream of writing and publishing novels. That seemed so rarified and unattainable. So I studied journalism and ended up working as an advertising copywriter for many years.

Is this your first attempt at a novel? If not, can you tell us a little bit about your other endeavors?

This is my first attempt at a publishable novel. One summer in high school, inspired by the Sweet Valley High installment where Liz Wakefield nearly goes off to boarding school in Switzerland, I set out to write a novel about just such a boarding school (minus Liz, because let’s face it, she blows). Armed with a baby name book and a stack of Seventeen magazines, I spent weeks developing a character bible. I had some very cool girls named Quentin and Xanthe, but … I never wrote a single word on the actual story.

On behalf of YA lovers everywhere, I demand that you ressurect Quentin and Xanthe! Especially because anything you write has to be better than Sweet Valley Confidental.

In my senior year, I had this great idea to write a novel with my best friend. It was called The Three Seasons, and I it was to be from three points of view (me writing two POVs, her one). I wrote a good bit of my parts, but she didn’t take the project seriously. At all. But OMG – it was such a melodrama. I wish I could find it. (BONUS – The Three Seasons shows up in LEVEL 2 … shhh!)

Once you decided you wanted to actually, like, write an entire book, how did you schedule your time to make it happen?

So, I got the idea for the afterlife world of LEVEL 2 years ago, and occasionally I’d get out a notebook and jot down paragraphs, but I couldn’t really figure out a plot to go with my world. Then, in Summer 2010, I went to Pompeii with my friend Ann and the breakthrough came to me in the shower. We went out for tuna and onion pizza and talked through the whole idea – characters, plot twists, everything.

Wait, I'm sorry, tuna and onion pizza? GROSS. Ok, sorry, continue.

I immediately wrote one pivotal scene (that is still in the finished novel, practically unchanged) but then let everything marinate for a while. I wrote chapter one in November 2010 and asked a few trusted friends to read it. Their excitement was key to me committing to actually writing the whole thing. Since I was attending a writing conference at the end of January 2011, I wanted to finish as much as possible by then, and I just sat down every day and typed until I ended up with five good chapters.

Lenore & Posh at Camp Pizza. One of Lenore's most annoying adorable qualities is her refusal to be in the foreground of a photo.

In what ways do you feel that your book blogger experience helped you on the road to publishing?

Book blogging was the turning point for me. Meeting and befriending authors via the blog changed my mindset and allowed me to see that publishing might be an attainable goal after all.

Describe what happens during that magical time between shopping your book around and getting a deal.

So, at the writers conference in January 2011, I had those five chapters of LEVEL 2, but the instructions for our session was to present only writing that was ready for submission, and I knew enough to know that five chapters of a first draft wasn’t going to cut it. So I presented a picture book manuscript that my husband and I had developed instead.

In a weird twist of fate, I ended up having my future editor at S&S, Alexandra Cooper, critique me as well as a super lovely agent who ended up offering rep based on that manuscript. Which was super exciting!! But see, I always thought that if I ever had something publishable, I’d query my dream agent, Stephen Barbara (because I love everything he reps). I’d met him a few times at SCBWI events and had coordinated blog features on his authors with him over the years. So I just sent him a quick mail asking him if he’d like to see our stuff.

In another twist of fate, he had heard via a client that I was writing a YA novel as well, and he asked to see what I had. I was super nervous about showing him – because again – first draft of five chapters – but I sent it off at his insistence.

A few hours later, he wrote back with the best e-mail I have ever gotten in my life. In a nutshell, he loved it and knew exactly where to sell it. The next day, he became our agent.

During February, I revised my first chapters with him and wrote four more. Then, on a Friday the week before the Bologna children’s book fair, he submitted the partial to a bunch of editors. I was a wreck until the following Tuesday when the preempt offer from S&S came in.

What did you do to celebrate your deal? (Please say champers were involved.)

In Germany, I’m six hours ahead of NYC so by the time all the details were hammered out and the deal was official, it was nearly midnight here. Daniel and I walked in a daze to the grocery store and bought Snickers ice cream bars and sekt (German sparkling wine). It was surreal.

Surreal and TASTY!

Obviously, getting a deal is just the beginning. What happens between the signing of the contract and the book appearing in stores?

So much. By the time the book comes out on January 15, 2013, it will have been 22 months since the deal. Which if that seems like a long time to you, well it seems like an eternity to me.

Since the book sold on 9 chapters, I had to finish writing the book first. Because it was unfinished, I got to really discuss the plot and character arcs with Alexandra in detail in a marathon phone session. We agreed on a direction that was much less convoluted than my original idea. (I’m not joking when I tell you that my synopsis had about 20 big reveals in the last chapter.) It was super helpful to have such a big picture talk before writing the whole draft.

Once I finished my whole book and sent it in, the next step was revision and line editing based on a massive edit letter from Alexandra. This was the stage where I added a ton of details and clarification of character motivation and plot points as well as took a close look at word choice and language. The manuscript went from 55k to 72k.

Then there was copyediting where I learned I don’t know how to use commas and first pass pages where I got to see the typeset words for the first time.

Next comes marketing and promotion. I have my first events at BEA next week! I’ll be at the S&S blogger preview, a meet and greet with the Apocalypsies (debut author group 2012) on Tuesday at the Javits, and at Books of Wonder on Saturday, June 9th on a panel with some fabulous YA authors including Lauren Oliver.

How much input did you get on the cover? Also, congrats on avoiding a fancy dress or big face!

Lizzy Bromley (the amazing art director who did Lauren DeStefano’s WITHER and FEVER covers among many others) shared her inspiration photos with me, which was cool. Then my editor let me know they were going to do a photo shoot – which is a big deal since many YA covers are designed using stock photos (resulting in many “lookalikes”). I felt really comfortable leaving the cover in Lizzy’s capable hands.

When I got the cover, I was floored. And funnily enough, one of my first thoughts was “Yay, Forever Young Adult is going to love it!”

Well, you're right. WE LOVE IT! Girlfriend is FIERCE.

You've reviewed tons of books on your site. Do you feel that made you extra critical of your own writing?

My reviewing background has informed what kind of writer I am. I seem to be unable to fast draft because I can’t let bad writing stand. I am so super critical that it takes me forever to get words on the page. But hey - on the upside, my first drafts are super polished.

Also reading so many YA books as well as reviews and commentary from the book blogging community has given me a real sensibility for what works and doesn’t.

Are you kinda freaked out by what book bloggers might write in their reviews?

Not as much as I probably should be? If book blogging has taught me anything, it’s that no one is going to love every book but that every book is going to be loved by someone. Every reviewer’s reading experience is affected by his or her own personal mix of bonus factors and deal breakers. I could put myself in someone else’s shoes – let’s say a person who hates prancing goats or a person who thinks nude scenes have no place in teen lit - and write a critical review of LEVEL 2 right now. I want book bloggers – even the ones who know me well – to feel like they can be honest in their reactions.

What's been the best part about becoming a bona fide author? And what's the hardest?

You know, honestly, this still feels like a dream. In fact, I may not feel like a bona fide author until I hold my shiny book in my hands.

There have been SO MANY bests so far, but probably the support from the community has been the most touching. The hardest? Definitely the waiting. I wouldn’t have said I was an impatient person before, but the glacial pace of publishing can be frustrating.

I haven't even read your book yet, but I can already tell I'll be suffering from TEABS. What's the status of the second book?

I originally conceived LEVEL 2 as a standalone, but S&S was so enthusiastic about the idea, they wanted two books. So while LEVEL 2 does indeed work as a complete story in itself (no evil cliffhanger – yay!), the second book has some big revelations that put a lot of things in question. The first draft is due in July, so I’m hard at work on that now, and I’m really excited by the way it’s shaping up. I have a rough outline, but I’m also open for surprises while I write.

And I do hope you like LEVEL 2 enough to want to read a second book. But you can tell me if you don’t, honest!

Thanks for the lovely interview Posh!

Well, thank YOU, Lenore, for giving me goosebumps with your responses because I AM SO EXCITED FOR YOU!!!!!!

And now you're all dying to read the book, aren't you?!! It doesn't come out til January 15, but I have a hunch that FYA might be giving you a preview in the months to come...

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).