Interview with The Intern

If you have yet to meet THE INTERN then you are seriously missing out. This lady dishes out sound writing and publishing advice with a dash of humor, a splash of sarcasm and one sharp kick to the head.

INTERN was the unpaid toiler on the publishing house floor, and is now a writer whose books are presumably being toiled on by even more unpaid interns (the cycle continues!). She blogs about publishing  here and as her "real self" here . You can also stalk/follow her on Twitter @internspills. Her first novel, BEAUTIFUL DISASTERS, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in summer 2013.

INTERN has been a busy lady lately, so I asked her to stop by the blog and answer a few questions. I supplied the questions and she supplied the witty answers that followed.

Me: Other than your new book, what is INTERN up to these days?

Finding a place to live! Techie Boyfriend and I have been bouncing from place to place every few months, and somehow ended up living in this completely ridiculous “ecovillage” in the pot-growing capital of the universe. What we really want to do is buy land—the whole 40 acres and a mule dream—and invite all our writer and musician and theatre friends to come live with us. In the meantime, we’re just kind of drifting around, getting into all sorts of weird situations…

Me: (Raises hand for a mule ride) You write a lot on your blog about the pros and cons of the various publishing routes (self-pub. vs. traditional). What is the best advice you would give to a writer struggling with this decision?
For one thing, it depends very much on the kind of book we’re talking about. Some kinds of non-fiction—how-to, travel guides, books on a really specific topic—can be much easier to sell as a self-published author than fiction. Fiction sales rely so heavily on this elaborate system of vouching—publishers vouching for a book’s quality, published authors vouching for published authors. With non-fiction, potential buyers care more about whether the information is useful/relevant or not—a publisher’s stamp of approval doesn’t matter as much.

As for fiction, it partly depends on the category—people are having great success with self-published erotica, thrillers, and paranormal, but it’s maybe a little harder to sell contemporary realism or “literary” fiction as a self-published author.

I read an interview with self-publishing celebrity Amanda Hockings where she said her rejected novels were just sitting on her hard drive, so she figured she might as well put them online. Self-publishing might seem like a fall-back to some people, but it’s better to go with a fall-back that might be spectacularly successful than to do nothing at all.

Me: What was the deciding factor for you to go the traditional route?

Being INTERN has its perks, and one of them is that several agents and editors had contacted me before I even finished drafting my manuscript. So even though there was no guarantee of selling the novel (and I did, indeed, get my fair share of rejections when it went on submission) I already had this weird toehold in the traditional publishing world—and it was a no-brainer for me to run with it.

Me: I am not shooting spit wads at a screen shot of your face, honestly, I'm not...You've done a great job dishing out behind the scenes details of the publishing world. What was the most surprising thing you've learned?

As an intern, the most surprising thing was probably listening in on the bizarre calculus that goes into making an acquisition (“but we already have a gypsy book coming out next season!”)

As a writer, I’ve been most impressed by how densely interconnected the whole publishing world is—everybody knows everybody, everybody runs into each other at the same conferences. Word gets around.

Me:  Sounds like, you mess with one agent, you mess with them all. Good. To. Know. Changing subjects a bit, a recent post has introduced your readers to your alter-ego 'real, actual Hilary'. Can we expect more Faces of Eve type interactions in the future?
Haha! I’m still not sure how much real actual Hilary is going to show up on INTERN. The INTERN persona has been such a big part of my life for the past three years that she feels very real to me, even though I’m eager to speak in my own voice too. For the most part, I think real actual Hilary is going to stick to her tumblr ( though you never know J

Me: You've also just announced the title of your book BEAUTIFUL DISASTERS (yeah!). What can you tell us about it?

Writing it has been hands-down the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It deals with some themes that are very important to me and very personal—but come on, what first novel doesn’t? I’m terrible at describing what it’s about: young musician falls down an exhilarating rabbit-hole of grief and love and ecstatic truth, with some murder and snarfling and midnight bike rides thrown in for good measure.

Like most first novelists, I’ve been a total wreck at various points in the revision process. A few times, I even started to question the whole book deal—like if I hadn’t happened to get lucky with the INTERN blog and all the opportunities that have sprung up around that, nobody would have taken a chance on what has felt, at times, like an impossible manuscript.

But the flip side of that is I ended up with an editor who was willing to invest in me and work with me intensively, draft after draft, until the novel revealed itself to be not so impossible after all. If the manuscript had been in perfect shape when it sold, I might never have had that experience of failing and failing and failing and being pushed to get it right, which has been extremely important to my development as a writer. I am keenly aware of how lucky I got, and am grateful to have fallen into such generous and patient hands.

Ok, last question. You only get to read one book for the rest of forever. What book would you choose?
The Soul of Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks. I know, I know—so unoriginal. But I need ecstatic poetry in order to exist in this world. I would go crazy without it.

There you have it folks. Special thanks to real, actual Hilary for loaning us INTERN for today's interview. Be sure to stop by INTERN Spills to get more INTERN knowledge and keep an eye out for BEAUTIFUL DISASTER coming summer 2013.