Interview with #p2p16 editor Lara Willard @laraedits

One of my picks from last year’s Pitch to Publication, JD, interviewed me on his blog today. What is it like to work with me? Find out below.

A writing spot for JD Burns

Hi there,

So #p2p16is right around the corner and today I have a super-awesome, super-timely interview. I managed to talk Pitch-to-Publication editor Lara Willard into giving us some of her time. No small feat, given the number of hats she wears – huge thanks for stopping by Lara!

Lara: Honored you asked me to come over! Next time, I expect snacks.

Yikes! I can’t believe I forgot the snacks! *** flings open pantry doors and stares at empty shelf where chips should be *** Oh that’s right. I’ve been binge watching old Godzilla movies.

editorIn last summer’s P2P contest, I was fortunate to be one of two writers Lara took on for a month of heavy duty revising. Rather than go on and on about how great she is, I thought it would be interesting to get her take on how she works with writers (like me) when she’s editing their manuscript. Kind of a peek inside…

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Author Chats: Interview with Jackie Lea Sommers

Jackie Lea Sommers‘ debut novel, Truest, is available for preorder! Find it at your local independent bookstore, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.


A breathtaking debut brings us the unforgettable story of a small-town love, big dreams, and family drama.

Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck’s small-town life. Brand-new to town, Silas is different from the guys in Green Lake. He’s curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening—and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister—and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.

Truest is a stunning, addictive debut. Romantic, fun, tender, and satisfying, it asks as many questions as it answers. Perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have).


Hi Jackie, thanks for agreeing to do this interview! 

Your debut novel, Truest, is coming out in just a few DAYS(!!) Do you care to talk about your publishing journey?

2013 was a whirlwind! I queried literary agents and signed with one, won the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult Writing, and was offered my book deal with HarperCollins all within a period of a few months. It was exciting and rewarding and terrifying. I celebrated by having my first panic attack and getting a prescription for Ativan. (But really.)

Querying was an emotional rollercoaster. I spent months perfecting my query letter and researching literary agents who seemed like a good fit with Truest. All told, I had about a dozen agents request full or partials, and in the end, I signed with Steven Chudney, who really resonated with my characters and my writing style.

Truest is your debut novel, but it isn’t the first novel you’ve written. How did you know when to shelve your first book, and how did you know Truest was “the one”?

Back in 2012, I queried about forty literary agents and only heard back from one. It was pretty clear to me that it was time to shelve the novel I was working on and tackle something else. That first novel was written for adults; this time, I wanted to try my hand at writing for teens. The entire process felt so different. I had learned so much in the previous four years of writing that first novel, and all of it was put to use in writing Truest. I spent about six months writing a first draft, then handed the manuscript out to a couple beta readers. They and I both knew that this novel was different, that this one was going to be my debut novel.
How long did it take you to write Truest? Any idea how many revisions you went through? Any darlings you had to murder?

All told, there were over twenty drafts. I spent six months on a first draft, another year on revisions, one round of revisions with my agent, and another year on revisions with my editor at Harper. I murdered darlings like it was my job—even right up to the very last draft!

Are you a plotter or a “pantser”?

That’s a good question—and the answer differs depending on what stage I’m in. In general—and especially at the beginning of a project—I’m a pantser. I don’t know the ending when I start writing the novel. In fact, I might not even know the ending until several drafts in. But once I’m in the middle of the project, there is a lot of planning and organizing that has to be done.

See: after pantsing all the freewriting, I had to get them all in the right order. This project looks more like a plotter’s work, doesn’t it?

sommers-plotting sommers-plot-cal
But, if I had to choose only one, I’d say I’m a pantser. If I plot prior to the first draft, the project dies a sad death and I can’t find any energy in the project anymore.

I’d plotted out an entire other novel (for my next book), and once I did, I didn’t want to write it. I returned to my pantsing ways and wrote a different story.


And then I wrote yet another one. That story will be my second novel.
How long have you been writing? 

I’ve been a storyteller my entire life. I’ve wanted to write books since second grade.

I love the sixty-nine test—where you gauge whether you’ll really like a book by flipping to its 69th page and reading it. (It is an easy number to remember.) Would you care to share yours?

“Yup,” he said. “Afraid so. You know my secret … well, one of them.”

“One of them?” I raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have any other siblings, do you?”

“I’m for real, West.” He shoved my shoulder with his own. “Let’s be good to each other.”

“Friendship doesn’t work like that, Silas. You don’t just decide to be friends.”

“I just did.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

He looked me in the eye. “My girlfriend is in Alaska, and my sister is messed up. Your boyfriend lives on a tractor, and your best friend ditched you for summer camp.”

“Hey!” His choice of words stung. “She—”

“Let’s be good to each other,” he repeated, and his eyes were so sad and serious and intense.

“Starting when?” I said, trying to mask the panic in my voice.

“Starting now.”


What’s the best / worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? 

Best: Write “shitty first drafts” and give yourself short assignments. Thank you, Anne Lamott.

Worst: Wait to write till you’re inspired. As Stephen King wrote, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
I’m sure all of your characters are your brain children, but if you had to pick a favorite, who might it be?

I adore Silas Hart, one of the characters in Truest. But I’m also enchanted by Asa Bertrand, the main character of my next novel. Rowen Lucas, Asa’s best friend and the girl he’s in love with, is a strong, artistic badass. I want to be her.

Your gorgeous blog has posts about faith and OCD. How do either of these affect your writing? Will we see these themes in Truest? In your next book?

My faith affects everything in my life, and especially my writing. God and I wrote Truest together, and God had all the best ideas.

My OCD doesn’t affect my writing in the same way, but having a nearly life-long battle with clinical anxiety has affected my writing life.

The main character in Truest—Westlin Beck—is a pastor’s daughter, and faith is a big theme throughout the novel. I think (and hope) it’s addressed in such a way that anyone can enter into the conversation though.

OCD/anxiety is something I’m tackling in my next novel, Mill City Heroes.

When my blog readers finish Truest and are anxiously awaiting your second book (working title: “Mill City Heroes”), what should they read?

Everything by Melina Marchetta.

If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?

Flying!!! Or running so fast that it’s nearly flying. I can do these things in my dreams.
Which Hogwarts house would you be sorted into?

I’m a proud Ravenclaw.

Last question. Favorite Billy Joel song. Go.

“She’s Got a Way”


Are you an author that has been (or will soon be) traditionally published? I’d love to interview you and turn you into your own adorable 8-bit sprite! Contact me on Twitter or e-mail me: query lara at gmail dot com.

Editor Interview

#PitchtoPublication is Samantha Fountain’s new contest which pairs writers with freelance editors before an agent round. I’ll be participating as an editor, and Samantha interviewed me on her blog. To find out more about the Pitch to Publication contest, check out

Interview originally appeared on, along with interviews of the other participating editors.

Q. How did you become a freelance editor?

I was an English Department TA in high school and throughout college. Grammar has always interested me. In high school, everyone figured I’d either become a teacher or be an editor at a publishing house. As a writing coach and freelance editor, I get the best parts of both—teaching receptive, determined writers and editing without having to worry about sales.

I was one of the acquiring editors at my university literary magazine and loved it. Some of my peers went on to work in publishing, but I liked the flexibility of freelancing because I have two small children at home. 

Q. Do you have a general philosophy for how you approach your editing work?

I’m more of a literary editor than a commercial one. I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I love literature and writing. (Enough to pay a private university thousands of dollars to give me reading and writing assignments for four years!) Of course, this is my job, so I need to be paid for my work. I never overcharge or undercharge, and I base my rates on the EFA standards.

Editing is a collaboration between writer and editor. It’s a mutual partnership. It’s a conversation. I encourage my current and potential clients to ask questions and voice concerns. Some writers need more nurturing. Others want to improve at any cost. Either way, I give honest, encouraging feedback. I’m never harsh, but I do respectfully snark sometimes. Editors and agents are snarky creatures. It keeps us sane in the slush.

Q. What are the most common mistakes you see in new writers work?

Cliches: If you’ve seen a phrase on someone else’s page, it’s probably a cliche. If you’ve heard it in a movie trailer, it’s definitely a cliche. If you have body parts moving of their own accord—eyes shooting open, for example—it’s not only a cliche, it’s an awkward visual.

Telling rather than showing: Telling does have its place. For example, you can tell me that a character shut the door without describing her movement across the room, the sound of the door creaking. Unless shutting the door is somehow a plot device, it’s not important and can be summarized. Novels do require some telling, otherwise they’d be scripts. But readers want to experience the story, so include feelings and sensations to incorporate the reader.

Over description and underestimation of the reader: Pick a “divine detail” to set the scene. Describe that, then let the reader fill in the rest. Readers don’t want to be lectured; they want to participate in the story.

Q. What’s the one thing most novelists don’t understand about the art of revision?

The first draft is about exploration and expression. It’s about the writer. Revision is about creating experiences for the reader.

Most writers write for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if writers want to work with agents and acquisition editors, if they want their work read by thousands of people, they need to recognize that literature is collaborative. Just read the acknowledgements at the back of a novel! Writing is a solitary effort, but success and publishing are both team efforts.

Q. What’s one easy thing every writer can do right now to make themselves a better writer?

Nothing about writing is easy! But writers who are easy to work with will become better writers. Read a lot, be a good listener, be professional, respect your readers, and remember that agents and editors are readers, too.

Q. What kind of entries are you looking for in your Pitch to Publication query box?

I’m a very omnivorous reader, so genre doesn’t matter. I want a story I can escape into, with characters who are uniquely human, not underdeveloped stereotypes. I want subverted tropes. I want something that isn’t cookie-cutter. What makes your story different from everything else out there?

Note: I’m not going to assume that anyone has read the same books I have, so I’ll give TV and movie examples to illustrate. If you haven’t seen them, it only takes an hour or two to rectify.

Writers with a graphic novel script, good gracious, send that baby to ME. For novels, I want all the genre-illusive pieces (Princess Bride, Doctor Who, Galavant). All the bromances (Sherlock, Psych). All the will-they-won’t-they spy and crime-fighting duos (Chuck, Castle). Anything depressing yet hilarious or with a happy-for-now ending (500 Days of Summer, Casablanca). Adventure stories that pass the Mako Mori test (Firefly, Pacific Rim). Character-focused historical fiction with an interesting plot (Indiana Jones). And possibly guilty-pleasure thrillers (Pretty Little Liars).

I do have a couple rules: no erotica, sexual violence, violence against children, or misogynist or racist POVs. Those stories are not for me.

Q. What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Minneapolis has too many creameries for me to ever just pick ONE favorite ice cream flavor. But I tend to gravitate toward complex flavors which combine textures. I like salted caramel pretzel. Grand Ole Creamery has Cookie Monster flavor, which is butter pecan with Oreo and cookie dough pieces and maybe M&Ms?—it’s amazing.

Q. How do you take your caffeine?

Chai Tea Latte, usually. Before 8pm or else I’m up all night! Also the chocolate I sneak while my kids are napping.

Author Chats: Interview with Kate Brauning

Kate Brauning‘s debut novel, How We Fall, is available! Find it at your local independent bookstore, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon (UK).


In the wake of her best friend’s disappearance, 17-year-old Jackie throws herself into an obsessive relationship with her cousin, only to find out her best friend’s secrets might take him, too.


Hi Kate, thanks for agreeing to do this interview! 

I always hate the question “Where do you get your ideas?”—but your debut novel, How We Fall, is about a girl who falls in love with her cousin. But it’s also a mystery. Now I’m curious. Which formed first?

The cousin relationship definitely came first. But people rarely have just one thing going on in their lives, and it’s often one thing that makes us see another more clearly. Jackie’s missing friend, Ellie, becomes a determining factor in her relationship with Marcus.

Two of my favorite romances deal with cousins falling in love, actually: the play The Importance of Being Earnest and the movie The Young Victoria. Related or not, who’s your OTP (One True Pairing)—your favorite couple—fictional or otherwise?

Mikael and Lisbeth from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Lisbeth is such a complicated character, and it’s so difficult for her to relate to people and show her emotions that it was really something to watch her relationship with Mikael change. Watching him change and discover his attachment to her was so compelling, too. Struggle makes or breaks a romance for me, because it shows so much character and really tests the relationship itself.

What’s the best / worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? (Ed. note: Links added by Lara, post interview, for readers’ benefit.)

The worst advice I’ve ever gotten, I think, is to write what you know. It gets passed around and misunderstood to mean writing about living in your state, or working your own job, or basically writing your own life. That can make for boring, unimaginative stories, or stories we can’t see clearly because we’re still living them. I think a better interpretation is to write things you can identify with—conflict in sibling relationships, revenge, regret, the struggles of first love, etc.

The best advice I’ve received is to study writing fiction, and not just keep writing draft after draft. Practice is definitely important, but there’s so much to storytelling that I’d struggle to pick up just from practicing. How the human attention span works, what makes people curious, what puts them on edge, how to make concepts interesting, the difference between theme and message, identifying and then connecting with your readers, etc. Reading good books on craft and hearing great authors speak has been invaluable to me.

You’re an editor with Entangled Publishing. Did being an editor change the submission process for you?

It didn’t, actually. Publishing is a small world, but my agent had very specific ideas about where she wanted to submit, and she was totally right. Also, I’m new enough to publishing that they were all places where I didn’t know people. It did help me know, though, what kind of imprint I wanted to be with. It also helped to be really familiar with editorial letters, and publishing language, and general timelines. It made it easier to handle some of the stress and nerves!

I love the sixty-nine test—where you gauge whether you’ll really like a book by flipping to its 69th page and reading it. (It is an easy number to remember.) Would you care to share yours?

Oh, that’s a really great test! And I totally would, but I just checked, and that page is super spoilery. So I don’t spill secrets, here’s the first page instead:

Last year, Ellie used to hang out at the vegetable stand with Marcus and me on Saturdays. This year, her face fluttered on a piece of paper tacked to the park’s bulletin board. Most weeks, I tried to ignore her eyes looking back at me. But today, Marcus had set the table up at a different angle, and she watched me the entire morning.

The day that photo was taken, she’d worn her Beauty and the Beast earrings. The teapot and the teacup were too small to see well in the grainy, blown-up photo, but that’s what they were. She’d insisted sixteen wasn’t too old for Disney.

The crunch of tires on gravel sounded, and a Buick slowed to a stop in front of the stand. I rearranged the bags of green beans to have something to do. Talking to people I didn’t know, making pointless small talk, wasn’t my thing. My breathing always sped up and I never knew what to do with my hands. It had been okay before, but now—surely people could see it on me. One look, and they’d know. Chills prickled up my arms in spite of the warm sun.

Marcus lifted a new crate of cucumbers from the truck and set it down by the table, his biceps stretching the sleeves of his T-shirt. Barely paying attention to the girl who got out of the car, he watched me instead. And not the way most people watched someone; I had his full attention. All of him, tuned toward me. He winked, the tanned skin around his eyes crinkling when he smiled. I bit my cheek to keep from grinning.

The girl walked over to the stand and I quit smiling.

Marcus looked away from me, his gaze drifting toward the girl. Each step of her strappy heels made my stomach sink a little further. Marcus tilted his head.

He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He did that when he saw my tan line or I wore a short skirt. I narrowed my eyes.

“Hi,” she said. “I’d like a zucchini and four tomatoes.” Just like that. A zucchini and four tomatoes.

Marcus placed the tomatoes into a brown paper bag. “Are you from around here?”

Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she were.

“We just moved. I’m Sylvia Young.” The breeze toyed with her blonde hair, tossing short wisps around her high cheekbones. Her smile seemed genuine and friendly. Of course. Pretty, friendly, and new to town, because disasters come in threes.

How We Fall Cover

How long did it take you to write How We Fall? Any idea how many revisions you went through? Any darlings you had to murder?

I drafted it in 6 weeks, but then spent several months revising it, queried, did another significant round of revisions, queried again, went through an R&R with my agent, another round after I signed. Finally, I did revisions with my editor. And yes, lots of murdered darlings. 🙂

Whom are you represented by? Are you willing to show us the query letter that got you your agent?

Of course! My agent is Carlie Webber at C.K. Webber Associates. She’s fierce, awesome, and is really great to work with. Here’s my query:

HOW WE FALL, a YA suspense, is complete at 88,000 words.

Making out with your cousin has its pitfalls. Seventeen-year-old Jackie hasn’t been able to end her secret relationship with Marcus since he kissed her on a dare. He’s her best friend, which only makes it harder to quit.

Except she has to, because she’s falling in love with him. It’s not like it’s illegal to date her cousin, but her parents would never approve and the families would split up their multi-family home. Afraid of losing her best friend, she calls it off. She can’t lose Marcus right now: the cops just found her missing friend’s body.

Hurt and angry, Marcus starts dating the new girl, Sylvia. But with Sylvia comes a secret and a stranger. The stranger starts following Jackie everywhere she goes, and Marcus is nearly killed in a car accident. When Jackie finds out Sylvia lied about not knowing her murdered friend, Jackie’s certain Sylvia is connected to the man threatening Marcus.

The more Jackie finds out about Sylvia, the bigger the wedge between Jackie and Marcus, but she doesn’t have long to figure out what’s going on. She may have lost both her relationship and her friendship with Marcus, but she couldn’t handle losing him for real.

If she doesn’t act fast, Sylvia’s secrets may mean their bodies will be the next ones the police dig out of the Missouri woods.

Thank you so much! Final act of business: Hogwarts house and favorite Billy Joel song. Go.

Ravenclaw! And “The Stranger” by Billy Joel is so interesting, it’s definitely a favorite.


Are you an author that has been (or will soon be) traditionally published? I’d love to interview you and turn you into your own adorable 8-bit sprite! Contact me on Twitter or e-mail me: lara willard at icloud dot com.