So many people I know have books coming out in the near future, and I'm thrilled for all of them. Some are first-time authors, others are more established, all of them are wonderful. I'm always eager to learn how people got their breaks, so I'll be sharing some of their stories with you in the coming months.
First up is 22-year old tween author Jessica Burkhart. A NANO winner, blogger extrodinaire, and self-proclaimed PR Ninja :-) Jessica has been on a fast track in the publishing world. Her first book, Take the Reins, came out in January, introducing readers to Canterwood Crest. Book two in the series, Chasing Blue, released this week. I met Jessica over at Galley Cat and I've been so impressed with her work ethic, her positive spirit and of course, her writing.
You started writing for magazines at a young age. How old were you the first time you saw your name in print?
I was fourteen when I had my first piece published in "Teen Ink." The article was about how moving around a lot as a kid had impacted me. I had just gone through a recent move when I wrote the piece, so it meant something to me.
You participated in NaNoWriMo in 2006. Did you “win”? Is that when you wrote Take the Reins?
I did win! I hit the 50,000 word mark for the month and that was when I wrote Take the Reins.
You are very close in age to the characters in your books. How much of you is in them?
Probably a little too much. :) Sasha has a lot of me in her and we like a lot of the same things. I might also share a few qualities with my mean girls. Might. *wink*
How long did it take from when you started on this story until you found out it was going to be published?
Well, I wrote Take the Reins in November 2006, got my agent in January 2007 and the book sold in May 2007. It came out in January 2009.
That's amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that you have six books coming out this year! You must be doing a LOT of writing. How many books are actually completed? Do you have a writing schedule?
I’m finishing the last round of revisions on book four (Triple Fault). I’m starting the fifth book, Best Enemies, next week. When I’m in crazy drafting stage, I write from eight to ten hours a day, usually seven days a week. Once I get going on a draft, it’s hard for me to stop. I feel a lot less anxious when I have a draft down, no matter how bad it is.
Do you outline or do you just sit down and write?
I do a short outline first that’s about five to six pages. Then, I write a chapter by chapter outline that can run up to 30 pages. I need that detailed outline to keep me on track since I’m on such a tight schedule.
Your books are about girls at an elite boarding school, but you homeschooled for high school. Do you wish you could have gone to a school like Canterwood Crest? Why did you homeschool and what was the best part of that experience for you?
I would have loved to attend a school like Canterwood! Boarding school always sounded like fun—especially one with horses.
I started homeschooling after I had a spinal fusion when I was thirteen. I intended only to homeschool until I was well enough to return to school. But I loved being in charge of my own schedule and deciding what I studied. Homeschooling also gave me the freedom to pursue my writing more than if I’d been going to traditional school.
You graduated from Florida State University around the same time that you signed your contract with Simon and Schuster. How did you manage to have a contract less than a year after you wrote your first novel?
A lot of luck. It’s true—it was a right idea at the right time type of thing. My agent had been seeking a horse novel, she stumbled on my blog and asked to read my manuscript. She signed me, helped me revise the manuscript and she knew exactly whom to target when she submitted it. (You can see some of her archived blogs here.)
The books must be doing well because Simon and Schuster extended your contract from the initial four to eight books. How exciting is that as a debut author?
It’s thrilling to know that I’ll be able to stay with my characters a little longer. I’ve got the best team of people behind me—editor, agent, design, publicity, marketing—and I love that they’re excited about Canterwood Crest too.
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a first time author?
The fan reactions have shocked me—in a good way! I went to my first school visit and got to sign hands, arms, t-shirts and books. I was surprised at how excited the kids were to meet me. I’d been so nervous before the visit and it vanished when I started talking to the kids.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Need by Carrie Jones and I’m about to start The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jessica. Now get back to work!