Cinderella Story: Interview with Debut Author Ella Martin

We're very excited to welcome YA author Ella Martin, whose debut YA novel WILL THE REAL PRINCE CHARMING PLEASE STAND UP? will be published soon by Astraea Press.

If only fairy tales warned “happily ever after” only happens with the right guy...

15-year-old Bianca learns the hard way when she falls for Dante, the hottest guy in her class, who turns out to be anything but charming. And it doesn’t help that Tim, a long-time crush and her brother’s best friend, still makes her head fuzzy. Bianca has to ask: WILL THE REAL PRINCE CHARMING PLEASE STAND UP?

photo credit: Ansa du Toit

photo credit: Ansa du Toit

Ella Martin is a prep school survivor and a Southern California native. She writes books about spunky teenagers who are way cooler than she ever was, and she totally believes in love and happy endings. She likes sunny places and is terrified of snowy winters, so she now lives in Florida with her husband and son.

Lady Byrd Bonebreaker: I consider myself very fortunate to be one of Ella’s “alpha readers” and I absolutely adore WTRPSPSU. I devoured it each time I had the pleasure of reading it.

Ella Martin: *interrupts* Sara, let’s get this straight: I’m the one with the incredible good fortune to have you as an Alpha reader. As you might recall, I was already represented at the time by Julia A. Weber, but I don’t think I would have been able to address her editorial notes as thoroughly without your help. *smiles*

LBB: Well, thanks! Seriously, it was my pleasure. What inspired you to write WTRPCPSU? What do you love about it? What do you hope readers will love about it?

EM: WTRPCPSU came to me when I was thinking about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, specifically how we don’t know a whole lot about Prince Charming but are somehow expected to believe she goes off with him to have a happily ever after. And in the original Grimm version, he actually negotiates with the dwarves to purchase her as she’s lying unconscious in a glass coffin. So it made me wonder about Prince Charming. What if he was really a misogynistic control freak?

I just finished re-reading WTRPCPSU this past week after my most recent (but most certainly not last) pass at edits, and I discovered I really love the friendships more than anything else in the book. When I was still mulling over the story in my head, long before I put my fingers to the keyboard and began writing, I thought about all the great friendships I was lucky enough to have in high school. Even then, we had different interests and ultimately went to different schools (and now live in different states), but I wanted to capture that on the page. So I really hope others will love that part about it, too.

LBB: Tell us about the writing process for the book. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

EM: *nervous laughter* WTRPCPSU was the hole-in-one shot I don’t think I could replicate ever again. I reflect on it on occasion, and I’m still like, “Wait—what?

I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2012 in late October. It was one of those, “Hey, why not?” moments. You know that scene in Legally Blonde when the professor goes, “It’s like she woke up one morning and said, ‘I think I’ll go to law school!’” That was me. I had the basic idea for WTRPCPSU for a while, and it went through a few iterations in my head before I scribbled a (very) rough plot on note cards and ultimately sat down to write it. It practically wrote itself. I finished the first draft in 24 days, which still blows my mind.

LBB: Twenty-four days is pretty mind-blowing! How did you prepare, then, for the querying process?

EM: I made a few changes to the manuscript on my own before I handed it off to my friend Brad (Hi, Brad!), who teaches 7th grade Language Arts, with explicit direction to check for character believability and to ensure the school administration behaved appropriately. Then I retyped the whole manuscript, incorporating his notes. That was the biggest overhaul, as minor as it was, before my agent got a hold of it.

My querying experience was, in a word, atypical. I was so new to the publishing scene (I still am) and didn’t know a whole lot about querying, except that was the way to submit to an agent. I was also getting used to Twitter and how it worked, and one night I was toying with my pitch and was so excited when I realized I was able to condense it to 140 characters. And I’m still marveling at the timing of this, but the very next morning, there was a Twitter Pitch Party hosted by author Brenda Drake. I tweeted my pitch, and it caught the attention of three agents and an editor. I studied the submissions guidelines for each of them and sent what was required—which meant a mad scramble to write a detailed synopsis so I could submit everything before I went to bed that night.

The whole thing was a whirlwind. One week after the Twitter Pitch Party, I had signed with Julia A. Weber. And more than a year later, I’m still wondering how I got so lucky.

LBB: Yes, what a whirlwind! You landed in the realm of soon-to-be-published YA authors so quickly. Tell us about your publishing “Cinderella” story.

I credit my agent Julia with so much of my success. No, scratch that. I’ll let her take the credit for all of it. She would probably say that’s silly since I’m the one who wrote the book, but she was such a champion of the story from the very beginning. During The Call (or The Skype, to be more accurate), she told me what she loved and what needed fixing, but she was so enthusiastic about taking it on. Like, she really got it. And she loved Tim. So by the time I sent you that early revision, I had already addressed a number of things in her editorial notes.

LBB: *interrupts* Um, everyone is going to love Tim.

EM: I think the fact that I was so green, coupled with the good fortune of having a knowledgeable agent, worked to my advantage because I could let her lead. I honestly didn’t know any better. I still don’t. And I think that’s part of what makes it a Cinderella story, because I had no expectations. I had hopes, sure, but I never expected to get an email asking, “How do you feel about a three-book deal?”

LBB: How important was it for you to get an agent? Tell us a little bit about your relationship.

I knew I wanted an agent to represent me. I knew that early on, and it’s largely because I could freely admit to what I didn’t know about publishing—which is all of it. And I also work full-time and am raising a precocious little boy, so there was no way I was willing to take on the role of self-publisher on top of that. And while I knew I could submit to independent presses without an agent, that whole process was too overwhelming for me. I really wanted someone to guide me through the publishing landscape.

Julia is that guide for me, and so much more. We had a fun chat at the Empire State Building last May when she was in New York for BEA13, and I told her that I didn’t want to know anything about being on submission. I didn’t want to know who might have it waiting in their In Boxes. I didn’t want to know who rejected it. I didn’t want to know anything, really, though I did want to see any rejection notes with the editors’ names redacted. I don’t know how common it is for authors to request to be placed on a need-to-know basis, but I think it was the only way I would have made it through submissions. After all, you can’t obsess over things you don’t know.

Julia is also a tremendous advocate, and in this business, you really need to have a support group in place. I didn’t know a whole lot of writers before I signed with her, so her other clients have kind of become my second family. Between Julia and my agency sisters, I have a really solid support system, and I don’t know what I’d do without them.

I’ve said numerous times that Julia earns every bit of her 15%, and I can’t stress that enough. I’ve sent her--*counts on fingers*--several hundred emails in which all I’m doing is freaking out, and she responds almost immediately with reminders to breathe and sensible plans of action. You can’t put a price on that.

LBB: What were some of your favorite books as a child and teen? And now?

The first book I can remember really sticking with me was Charlotte’s Web. It was the summer after first grade, I think. I sobbed at the end of the book. It’s kind of a funny story, in retrospect. I woke up my sister from a nap, and through my tears, (spoiler alert!) I said, “She’s dead!” And my sister bolted up and demanded to know who was dead, and I handed her the book and said, “Charlotte!”

I still can’t read that without crying, by the way.

I was a voracious reader and read everything I could get my hands on. I spent the summer after fourth grade devouring Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew books. I think that was the summer I read The Outsiders for the first time, too.

Nowadays, I don’t read as much as I’d like to. I have more than a handful of books I want to drop everything and read, and a few more I’d like to read again. I have not-so-secret writerly crushes on Ally Carter and Lisi Harrison; I devour anything those ladies write. And Gail Carriger is quickly becoming a favorite, too.

LBB: You and I bonded on twitter over our love of Beverly Cleary’s teen novels and the rest, as they say, is history. How have you benefitted from your social media presence? How will you continue to build that?

EM: Yes! Yes, we did. And don’t laugh, but I thought a lot about Stan in Fifteen while I was writing Tim. You never forget your first book boyfriend, even if you're writing another. *smiles*

Hello, Stan. from goodreads.

Hello, Stan. from goodreads.

LBB: True! My first book boyfriend was Tony from Maud Hart Lovelace's Heaven to Betsy, the Tall Dark Handsome Stranger. *sigh* Oh, you were saying?

I have met some of the most amazing people on Twitter. I’ve explained to a coworker that Twitter is like the break room of my writing office. That’s the easiest way to explain it.

I have two separate Twitter handles, mainly because I don’t want to inundate too many of my friends with WTRPCPSU news all the time. Plus the @WestgatePrep handle is where all the bookish news like giveaways and such will be announced.

As for the other platforms, I have a weird relationship with Facebook, but I have a page there, too, and I’m on Google+. It’s crazy, I know, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the social media landscape is constantly changing, and you need to be wherever your readers are.

Once I fully establish the street team (Westgate Prep Boosters Association), I’d like to have occasional hangouts on Google+, set up a Boosters Association group on Facebook, and interact with everyone on Twitter. And one of my characters will be keeping the Westgate Prep tumblr updated with whatever randomness she deems fit, including sneak peeks at works in progress and whatever else I may be working on in the Westgate Prep universe. I’ll eventually put the same character in charge of an Instagram account, too.

LBB: How would you describe yourself as a writer?

EM: In a word? *thinks* Neurotic.

LBB: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

EM: Plantser. I really am a hybrid. My friend L.S. Murphy is super methodical and outlines and plans so diligently. That’s probably why she can finish writing a book in the time it takes me to fill a page. (That’s only a minor exaggeration.) But I find I do best if I have rough plot points established and have an idea of what needs to happen in each chapter in order to get to each plot point. So much still seeps into it organically, and it allows for that element of surprise.

(Fun fact: Bianca only threw up on Tim’s shoes after I researched the effects of…the thing that led up to it. True story.)

LBB: Oh, I love that scene. And Tim. Have I mentioned that I love Tim? Sorry, sidetracked. So do you work on a strict schedule or are you more flexible?

EM: I so wish I could work on a schedule. I write when I’m able, which is usually late at night after my son and husband have gone to bed. I keep a notebook handy for when bits of dialogue pop into my head during the work day, too.

LBB: Very important question: Coffee or tea or other?

EM: Yes, please. *smiles* That’s to say, I’m not particular about my beverage. I like water best, but I’m kind of obsessed with Starbucks Refreshers right now.

LBB: Ooh, yeah, Cool Lime is my favorite. Do you listen to music while you’re writing?

EM: Yes, and in fact, I’m constantly listening to my Westgate Prep station on Pandora. It’s a somewhat eclectic mix of poppy punk, emo pop, poppy emo punk, and a dash of Top 40. I find emotions for my characters in the music. (For example, “Why Don’t You Love Me” by Hot Chelle Rae is on as I type this, and this could very well be one of Jake’s theme songs for Book 2.)

LBB: Where is your favorite location to write?

EM: I think I’m most productive when I’m at the dining room table. I get a lot done in my reading/writing nook, too, but I’m less likely to fall asleep or get distracted at the dining room table.

LBB: What’s one unusual fact you’d like readers to know about you?

EM: An unusual fact? *thinks* I can’t sleep if my feet are cold. Random, I know, but true.

LBB: Thanks for much for taking some time out to speak with us, Ella! Dear readers, if YOU want to hang out with Ella in her Twitter and other social media break rooms, you can find her here:

Blog: www.ella-martin.com

Twitter: @WestgatePrep

Facebook: Ella Martin

Google+: Ella Martin

Don't forget to enter to win one of our fantastic prize packages this month, one of which includes an e-book copy of Ella's debut novel, WILL THE REAL PRINCE CHARMING PLEASE STAND UP?

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