As part of a new series on this blog, I’m going to be talking with various authors – traditionally and self-published – to learn about their processes and garner advice for those writers still on their way.
I am excited to announce that my first guest for this series is Bex Hogan, author of Viper and Venom. Read on to hear about Bex’s writing, creative process, and her journey from query to publication.
How long have you been writing?
A very long time. I wrote my first book back in 2009. I had just read the Twilight books and they were something new to me. I thought to myself, I think I could write this kind of thing.
Before, I had read a lot of literary fiction and felt like it was unattainable; I wanted to write but I couldn’t be a ‘writer’. There was something accessible about the Twilight books that made me decide to go for it.
Tell me about those early books you wrote.
I wrote a book for the adult market first, not YA. This was back when you had to post queries with a stamped addressed envelope (SAE); there were no online submissions. I got a full request for this book and thought, this is going to be easy! But of course, it wasn’t. The agent unfortunately passed and I got no further interest.
I wrote two more pieces of adult fiction before I wrote a YA book, which is actually a very early version of what later became Viper. There was lots of interest in that one – I received 10 full requests – but, alas, all passed. So I wrote another book, and then another, and another.
Eventually, I went back to that YA book, knowing it had potential. I did a massive rewrite, drawing on my, at the time, eight years of experience writing, learning from every manuscript I’d written since.
Where did that initial idea for Viper come from?
I had a dream of a scene that is actually still in the book despite the rewrites. After that, I had to know who these characters were and how they got there. A lot of the core of the Viper story was in this original draft – the 12 isles, the Viper – but there was a whole trilogy packed in to one book and it was too much.
So I took a breath and allowed the story space to stretch out a bit more. I focused on telling just that story and not every detail about the whole world. While I had this idea of the overriding plot that could span into a trilogy, I tried to keep book one as self-contained as possible in case I didn’t land a multi-book deal – which can be tricky with YA.
How long did it take to write the first draft of Viper? Did that change for the later books?
Before I landed my agent, I was able to write a first draft in two to three months. It took me much longer to write the sequels because I had a book deal at that point and lots of other things taking up my time.
I started the draft for book three in the summer of 2019 and handed it in at the end of January 2020. While I was working on that, I was still doing edits for Venom, so it was a case of managing my time.
Having a deadline really works for me as a writer, though. I will often ask my agent to set me a deadline, because without one I will get all dreamy and wander off. The pressure of knowing there’s a time limit helps me settle down and write.
What also helped, of course, is that I knew exactly where I was going with these books. I already had good synopses and foundations, so writing was quicker.
How did your writing style change once you’d landed your agent? Did you tackle writing Venom differently with input from someone else?
With Venom and book three, I had to relax more and allow myself to write a messier first draft. I like to make a perfect first draft, but there really isn’t time for that when you have deadlines. The great thing about having an editor is that I can send her this messy draft and she will have input on the structure or plot, which saves time overall.
One thing I found really hard when writing my first draft of Venom was that I had just been doing the final tweaks to Viper, so I switched from this super polished draft to a really rough first draft of Venom. Viper had been worked on a lot at that point, so it was hard to switch between the two.
But the great thing about having an agent is looking at your future book ideas and working out what might be sellable. It’s a big time-saver to bounce ideas off someone who knows the industry. You don’t have enough time to write everything, so you have to be selective. I know the advice is ‘write for yourself and not the market’ but there does have to be a market for what you’re selling.
Which of the three books was your favourite to write?
I really loved writing the second one. The world had already been established in Viper and I knew where the story was going.
Having just finished drafting book three, I can tell you it was by far the hardest one I’ve written. Venom gave me freedom, but book three was all about concluding the series, and that was a real challenge.
Tell me about your querying journey for Viper.
The first time I queried the book, I sent out about 30 submissions. After the rewrite, I sent out just 10. By that point, I had gotten to know a few agents and was aware of people who had liked my previous work. I was more targeted in my approach.
Fortunately, this time I received an offer of representation and signed with Davinia Andrew-Lynch of the Andlyn Agency.
Is there anything about the journey that surprised you at all?
A lot. The whole way publishing works, for one. There are so many people involved, so many different roles with unique jobs. For ages I kept sending messages to the wrong people because of the sheer number of departments! ‘That’s not for sales, that’s for the special sales division.’ I’m still learning how it all works.
Having seen how many people are involved in traditional publishing, it has only given me more respect for writers who self-publish. They are doing all that work on their own, while also writing.
Having done every part of the journey – writing, querying, out on submission, publication etc. – what would you say was the most exciting part and the hardest part?
The most exciting part was seeing my cover for the first time. That was when I allowed myself to believe that it was really happening. After years of rejections, getting picked up and getting the deal, I still expected someone to change their mind, so I didn’t let myself get excited. When I saw the cover for Viper, that all changed.
The hardest part has to be the emotional aspect of it all. As writers, we’re prone to anxiety and you have to constantly balance expectations and worries and hopes and fears. The whole journey is a rollercoaster of emotion. The month around my publication date was a bit of a wreck.
But that’s why it’s so lovely having the input of other people in the publishing department. You lose a fair bit of control over certain things, and that can be good. Inevitably someone won’t love your story, but it’s more of a collective effort at that point. It’s not your baby anymore. Of course, you still worry about how it will do and if it will sell well!
It’s funny because I expected a lot of those worries to stop after I got a book deal, but I kept remaining anxious. It didn’t feel like reaching the end; it was more like I had finally reached the start line, and now I had this marathon to run. It was an exercise in resetting expectations.
What advice would you give to authors currently querying?
Write something new at the same time. It just helps you cope emotionally and reassures you that there’s a future beyond the current project. Because there are only so many UK agents, once you’ve submitted to them all, it’s time to reflect. Rest your project for a while, but trust that the agents will start to remember you. If they see your name coming back with something fresh they might get excited.
And hang in there – I remember how hard it was and thinking, perhaps I should just give up. You need to have self-belief, which is tricky because us writers tend to be very hard on ourselves.