While doing an interview with Dianne Salerni for her newest release, The Carrefore Curse, she mentioned hitting a career snag after releasing the final book in her fantastic Eighth Day trilogy. I’m a huge fan of her work and really enjoyed the Eighth Day series so my interest was immediately piqued by her doubts about the future of her writing career at that point. I thought it would be interesting to pick Dianne’s brain for a bonus interview about her writing career and how she navigates the ups and downs of this business.
Publication list to date:
- The Carrefour Curse(2023)
- Jadie in Five Dimensions (2021)
- Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts (2020)
- THE EIGHTH DAY SERIES
- The Eighth Day (2014)
- The Inquisitor’s Mark (2015)
- The Morrigan’s Curse (2016)
- The Caged Graves (2013)
- Very Superstitious Charity Anthology (2013)
- We Hear the Dead (2010)
Can you tell us your writer’s origin story? Can I safely assume there weren’t any radioactive arachnids or harrowing escapes from dying planets involved?
No spiders whatsoever and no dying planet as far as I know! Just parents and grandparents who read to me all the time so I started trying to write my own books at the age of four. (Well, I drew the pictures, anyway.) I still have my first book, The Dragon and the Girl. It looks like I cut the pages from a larger sheet of paper and assembled them with Elmer’s Glue.
I continued to write stories throughout my childhood, carrying notebooks with me everywhere I went. This went on into high school, during which I submitted short stories to Isaac Asimov Magazine (rejected). Fiction writing tapered off in college, but I returned to the habit as a young teacher, often writing stories for my students that featured them as characters. I produced a couple of YA novels that my husband convinced me to submit to agents (rejected). In 2007, once again encouraged by my husband, I self-published a book about real-life spirit mediums Maggie and Kate Fox with iUniverse. (This was before the days of Amazon self-publishing.) The book, High Spirits, A Ghostly Tale of Rapping and Romance, caught the attention of Sourcebooks just as they were launching their YA imprint, Sourcebooks Fire. They offered for the book, and it was edited and reprinted in 2010 under the title We Hear the Dead.
I quickly realized I was way over my head signing contracts and navigating the world of publishing on my own. The ink on We Hear the Dead was barely dry before I started querying for agents.
The reality of a writer’s life is no different from the ebbs and flows of life in general. What are a few of your most significant or valued career experiences with over a decade as a published writer under your belt?
The most important career experience I learned was the value of a good editor. My first experience with this comes from something that’s not usually part of my bibliography. Before the publication of We Hear the Dead, I published an adult short story with a short-lived anthology series called Visions. After reading my story, titled The Necromancer, the editor said that the ending lacked the right twist and suggested alternatives: Ending A or Ending B.
I answered that I didn’t like Ending A but thought Ending B was a fantastic idea!
His response: “Great! Now make the reader think you are going for Ending A before pulling the rug out from under them with Ending B.”
Hats off to Michael Katz, the editor in question! He was the first, and every editor afterward has taught me something important about writing in general and my books specifically. In particular, I love working with my current Holiday House editor, Sally Morgridge, who always has brilliant insights into how to take my manuscripts to the next level.
If you could travel across dimensions with Jadie Martin to leave a piece of career advice to the 2010 Dianne, what would it be?
What I would tell 2010 Dianne – and anybody else embarking on the journey of publishing – is this: When an authority in the publishing world gives you devastating news that predicts the end of your writing career, don’t listen to them! I don’t mean that you should ignore the advice of editors and agents. (See the answer I gave to the last question!) I mean, if they tell you that you are a failure, they are wrong.
In 2010, a high-ranking editor at Sourcebooks told me that sales for We Hear the Dead were so bad, she didn’t think B&N would ever stock another book by me.
Also in 2010, a high-powered agent told me that the contract I’d signed for Sourcebooks contained a bottomless option clause that made it impossible for her to take me as a client. “Frankly,” she said, “I doubt any agent will take you.”
As a point of fact, B&N stocked my next 6 books. (Then they stopped stocking all midlist MG books, but that’s a different kind of problem.)
And the next agent who responded to my query offered representation. When I confessed to her about the No-Good Very Bad Option Clause, Sara Crowe – agent extraordinaire – said: “They can’t hold you to that! I can make that go away with a phone call.” And she did.
No matter how important an editor or agent is, no one has the right to imply that you should give up. Their opinion is still only an opinion.
No Writer is an Island
Who is on Team Dianne?
As you can probably tell from my answers above, my husband is very definitely on my team. Not only is he a one-man cheerleading squad and poker/prodder when I need a little push, he actually reads my manuscripts. Depending on the project, he might read chapter by chapter as I write, or I’ll send him the whole thing when I’m finished. He’s not a writer, but he has a good ear for voice and will highlight lines where “this character wouldn’t say it like that.”
For years I have relied on Marcy Hatch, author of time-traveling western West of Paradise, as a critique partner. I send her chapters while I’m drafting, and she provides feedback and cheerleading. (I do the same for her.)
There have been many people I’ve relied on as beta readers over the years – people I ask to read the entire manuscript after it has gone through a few revisions. But one person I can always count on to accurately pinpoint the problems in a manuscript is writer Maria Mainero. For example, Jadie in Five Dimensions went through many, many drafts (and died on submission twice). For years I insisted on including, in the second half of the book, chapters with adult POVs. Beta readers kept telling me, “You have to cut those because kids don’t like adult POV.” Well, that’s a dumb reason to cut them, and it’s not true. I can think of a few best-sellers with adult POV chapters.
Then Maria came along and said, “These late-appearing adult POV chapters would be better off told by the middle-grade POV characters you’ve already introduced. And here’s why.” It was the why that convinced me. Maria was the only reader who helped me see the opportunity I’d blown for my already established POV characters by introducing new ones. It had nothing to do with them being adults.
Are there any support groups or individuals you turn to for advice and/or support?
I’m a member of the KidLit Author Club, a group of PB, MG, and YA authors who live in the mid-Atlantic states. We support each other at author events – conferences and festivals – sometimes carpooling or referring each other to events we can’t attend ourselves. The membership is fluid, as people’s lives and goals change, but I’ve been with the group since 2012. When I retired from teaching in 2014, I worried about the fact that I would no longer have contact with “co-workers.” But as I started attending events in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York, I realized that the KidLit Authors were my new co-workers. In addition to supporting each other at events, we also do some beta reading and book blurbing for each other.
We all know hindsight is, or appears to be, 20/20 so how do you prepare for what comes next using the gift of experience?
I have learned to accept that gaps in my publishing resume happen, and that’s okay. There’s a 3-year gap between my first and second book and 4 years (almost 5, really) between the last book in The Eighth Day series and Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts. Sometimes, it’s an issue of manuscripts that don’t find the right editor. Other times it’s because my productivity is down. Both of those things are okay. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a next book when the time for that next book arrives.
Do you think one book at a time or do you project several future books at a time?
I am definitely a one-book-at-a-time author. The only time I planned multiple books at once was while I was writing The Eighth Day series. Even then, I only started planning the sequels after the first book sold. I was hoping for a series, but I had no big plan ahead of time! My editor, the head of HarperCollins Children’s Books, asked me to plan for 5 books but to make sure the 3rd book had a satisfying conclusion in case they decided not to buy the last two. She assured me, though, that wouldn’t happen. Then she retired. You can guess what happened next, and I chalk that one up to another “gift of experience.”
With the saying, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” in mind, how does your experience affect how you evaluate your future projects and decisions?
I have a lot of dead manuscripts on my computer. But I have come to believe in the power of resurrection. Jadie in Five Dimensions died on submission in 2015 and then again, after a round of revisions, in 2017. In the fall of 2019, my agent offered it exclusively to Sally Morgridge at Holiday House after she and I finished working on Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts. Luckily, Maria Mainero had already convinced me to rewrite those troublesome POV chapters, although I bet if she hadn’t, Sally would have given me the same advice.
My most recent book The Carrefour Curse and my next book The Tontine Caper (2025) were born out of manuscripts that I abandoned after the first draft. In both cases, the manuscripts languished in my “dead” files for 3 years before I opened them again and got back to work.
So, I guess I don’t always evaluate my projects correctly? Last fall, I closed the file on a really, really, really crappy story. But is it really trash? I don’t know. I’ll figure it out in a couple of years.
In the spirit of concerning yourself solely with controlling the things you can control, do you trust in the power of persistence + patience and in keeping to the course as a creator?
Very much so. Jadie in Five Dimensions would never have been published if I hadn’t believed in that story enough to keep revising and revising – and seeking out beta readers until an astute reader told me where I was falling down on the job. Some stories just need patience and time to slumber until I’m ready to look at them under the right lens.
Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this interview, Mike! Publishing is a bumpy road, and authors are cautioned not to publicly air their woes. (I’m not supposed to tweet: 12 rejections for this manuscript! 3 editors loved the character but not the plot. 4 editors love the plot but not the character. And 5 just don’t like aliens! This was a real thing, by the way, for a manuscript that was never published. Yet.) But those rules are loosening, and I think it’s good for published authors to talk about the bumps and potholes and sinkholes so that other authors, published and pre-published, know their experiences are shared by many.
Thank you, Dianne, for being our guest once again and sharing your experiences and insights from over a decade in the publishing business. Best of luck and keep your words, especially those middle-grade words, flowing!
If interested in more information and updates from Dianne, visit her online at https://diannesalerni.com/. Thanks for reading!