Thanks to the magic of the internet, I had a digital chat with my CP and dear friend, Lyndall Clipstone, all the way in Australia! Lyndall is a great author and has lots of wisdom to impart.
Lyndall Clipstone writes YA Gothic about kisses and curses. She loves: Reylo, making book aesthetics, jasmine tea, and trying to keep her indoor plants alive. She thinks Sarah should have stayed in the Labyrinth with the Goblin King, and the Beast should never have turned back into a prince. She is repped by the wonderful Jill Grinberg from JGLM.
In ten words (and unlimited emojis), tell us about your novel, AT THE LAKE’S EDGE!
Jane Eyre with prettily described body horror.
A while ago, you were an Author Mentor Match Mentee. Can you tell us about your biggest takeaway from that time?
LC: AMM was such a wonderful experience! I found out about it completely at random. It was very much a case of right place, right time. I’d just left my full time job and had my application to study a Creative Writing postgraduate degree turned down due to lack of available supervisors. So I felt really lost. I had a manuscript, but I had no idea if it was any good, or how to make it better. I’d never had a critique partner or even shown anyone else my story beyond the first chapters. I had no idea about any kind of craft or technique. I just kind of… pantsed my way into a mess and by some absolute miracle one of the mentors picked my book.
Looking back on that draft I am still astounded she saw potential in it, and so grateful she did. Together we worked on a full rewrite, two larger revisions, and then she held my hand as I dived into the query trenches. I learned so much from having a mentor. My knowledge of craft and writing technique has improved exponentially. Even now she is a constant source of encouragement. I’m so grateful for her! (Also her book is out next year, it’s queer and dark and fantastic, everyone should go preorder it now!)
Another wonderful part of AMM was connecting with two other mentees in my round: we started off shyly exchanging chapters and ended up making a critique group. I’d be lost without my writing coven sisters who have kept me sane, given me amazing advice about my book, and patiently listened to me whine like a toddler on multiple occasions.
Awesome–and now you’ve become an AMM mentor yourself! What’s that like?
LC: Honestly it’s surreal to be on the other side now! A lot of the time I feel like “who put me in charge? I don’t know what I’m doing!” AMM was such a game-changer for my writing journey, so I’m glad I can pass on some of that support to another writer. My mentee is the hardest worker ever, and I am so excited to see how her book will shine as she revises!
Did you learn anything from being a mentor?
LC: Oh that’s a tough question! Actually, it’s been a really good way to discover what my own writing strengths and weaknesses are. I’m a pantser and write with a chaotic instinct: a bit like someone cooking without a recipe I guess? I just add bits here and there until it feels right. But in order to give my mentee editorial advice, I needed to delve into researching craft and theory. It’s been very illuminating, and I’ve ended up learning a lot of things that I can use in my own work too.
What was the querying process like for you?
LC: It was… pretty stressful. I knew going in that I didn’t have a book that would be an easy sell. I write quiet, small stakes literary stories: fairly different from a lot of the fast paced, high concept books that often dominate lists. But I felt confident I was putting out the most polished version of my book I was capable of producing. I loved my story, and just had to hope an agent might love it too.
I had a fairly good response to my queries. I heard somewhere a really good query has about a 50% success rate? So usually for every pass I’d get either a partial or full request to balance it out. But the waiting and the unknown nature of it all was so tough. I’m someone who likes everything planned out ahead, so just having to sit there and be like “well, I have no idea what will happen in the future!” was hard.
I’d queried for awhile when the next Pitmad contest came up, so I decided to try that as an auxiliary to regular querying. In the end it resulted in four offers. I feel really, really lucky with how it all worked out. And so much of this industry is luck and timing. That said, though I’m technically a Pitmad success story, I still truly believe the best path to finding an agent is via cold querying. Use pitch contests as a bonus, not something to pin all of your hopes on.
Was there a moment where you wanted to give up?
LC: I had so many moments of wanting to give up. I wish I could say I handled the querying process with grace and patience… but I didn’t. I was sad, and I despaired, and I complained a lot to my friends. And spent way too much time on querytracker, as though I could find a magical answer to who would want my book in the comments section.
It was just really hard being “almost” there… I’d written a book, and I thought it was good, but would anyone else? My biggest fear was having to shelve my manuscript. And while everyone says “write the next one!” (which is very good and real advice), it just broke my heart to think of having to put my book aside and start the process all over again.
What did you do when you felt like giving up?
LC: Honestly, having a support group of other writers who were around the same stage of the journey as me was so helpful. I didn’t really want to talk publicly about querying, so it was great being able to share my ups and downs with my close friends. I’d always feel so much better after venting or telling them my news. And then, when they were in the same position, it felt great to be able to listen and support them too.
I had lots of self-care rituals: I did daily tarot cards, took baths with lots of nice bath bombs, and I kept a paper journal. The journal was really helpful- sometimes I just needed a place to spill all of my messy thoughts in private. And on the worst days I could write down those thoughts, close the book and feel like I’d gotten them out of my head for at least a little while.
And I celebrated every milestone along the way. Sending the first queries! The first partial request! The first full request! In this industry where you never really feel “done”, I think leaning into any small victory is a great way to keep motivated.
I also had a practical game plan for if querying didn’t go well. My AMM mentor and I talked about the steps we might take, like having another mentor read over my query and first pages. I also considered making an appointment for a Manuscript Academy “10 minutes with an expert” session. Knowing I had things I could do in the worst case scenario helped a lot.
How did you celebrate when you got THE CALL for the first time?
LC: My agent, Jill Grinberg, was actually my second offer. While I was querying, I had gotten into the bad habit of checking my email overnight (because I’m in Australia so business hours in New York is nighttime here). My son woke me up around midnight and I checked my email on my phone, saw one from Jill and expected it to be a pass. Instead is was the most touching, heartfelt email telling me how much she had loved my book. She compared my work to some of my absolute favourite YA authors and I was so awed and overwhelmed. I usually get so nervous on the phone but I felt really comfortable talking to her.
When I accepted her offer and signed my contract, it was coincidentally my 34th birthday! So my partner and I went out for lunch at a fancy winery and had a birthday/writing success celebration.
What do you know now as a writer that you wish you’d known a year ago?
LC: Mostly I think if someone had told year-ago me– lonely, unsure, feeling like wanting a US agent was an impossible dream– that I’d be here today, I’d never have believed it! So I guess my advice to anyone (my past self included) is dream big, look after yourself, and never give up.
I love that!! Do you have any fun author goals? Seeing fans cosplay your characters, make fanart, or having your book turned into a movie, for example?
LC: Most of my dream goals are actually to do with getting the chance to talk to other people about books and writing, and just to share my love of quiet YA books. I’d love to go somewhere like Yallwest and speak on a panel! I was a children’s librarian for six years, and one of my biggest dreams is to speak at one of the librarian conferences in the US. I’d also absolutely love to teach writing workshops for teens!
You’re based in Australia. Have there been any challenges to working with your US-based agent? Do you have any advice for authors outside the US?
LC: So first of all: you can absolutely have a US agent if you live outside the US. My agent actually began her career in Australia and is the agent for so many Australian YA authors. So I really love having that connection- she represents so many of the writers whose works have influenced and inspired me!
My main advice is:
- Learn about time zones! I have an app on my phone that compares time zones which is really helpful for scheduling calls. You might have to be a bit flexible (most of my work calls have taken place at 6am my time haha, but it’s fine, I have kids and I’m used to waking up early) but it can work.
- Are you willing to travel internationally? I don’t think this is a deal breaker at ALL, especially before you’re published, but being able to visit the US for book related things can be a really lovely way to feel connected to the community. (Protip, Black Friday is a great time to book cheap flights). In the future, I’d love to visit the US once a year and schedule book events to coincide with my trip. But obviously this isn’t possible for everyone and I don’t think it’s something you have to do.
- I’ve also travelled within Australia for book events (most of the “big” things happen in a city interstate, which is about a two hour flight from me). And I try my best to attend anything local! We have a great YA book club and often have really good YA events in my city like the Penguin Teen Showcase.
- Embrace the online writing community! Connecting with other US, traditionally published (or aspiring to be!) writers via Twitter has been a really good way to feel involved, even though I’m physically really far away.
- Embrace your local writing community! I’ve been really lucky to befriend lots of local writers, including some who are also published in the US. Watching the careers of authors like Shivaun Plozza, Katya de Becera, Astrid Scholte and Jay Kristoff has been so inspiring. They’ve shown me that what I aspire to is definitely possible!
What projects have you been working on lately?
LC: I’ve been slowly working on a new book, which has been a lot of fun! It’s about a girl who has to team up with her sworn enemy to stop a magical illness that’s infecting her town. After doing so many in-depth revisions on my first book, it’s a nice change to be back in the “blue sky” phase where everything is new and fresh!
I’ve also been reading a lot (one of my favourite things to do is read books and make aesthetics for them), and working on edit notes for my AMM mentee.
What inspires you in your writing?
LC: I’m really visually inspired: I love collecting beautiful images on Pinterest. I also love listening to music, and making themed playlists. If I can ever write a book that feels like Florence + The Machine album, I’ll be happy!
And of course, reading reading reading… When I find an author who writes the type of stories I aspire to (Literary prose! Small-stakes! Enclosed worlds!) it lights such a fire under me. Some recent favourites have been A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, and Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer.
Thanks so much for your time, Lyndall! Do you have any links you’d like to share?