I’m thrilled to be interviewing Elise Hooper on the eve of the launch of her first book (September 8 at Elliott Bay Book Company) and the start of a promising career (she has already turned in a second book to her publisher, William Morrow/Harper Collins). I first met Elise when she was working on her first draft in my Hugo House Deep Revision class, so it’s great to be able to learn more about how her manuscript became this beautiful book.
Tell me the development of the book. Where did the spark come from?
I grew up near Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, located in Concord, MA. After attending drama camp there as a young girl, I found myself intrigued by the Alcott sisters. Were they really the neatly pigeon-holed characters portrayed in the March sisters—the dutiful daughter, the tomboy, the angel, and the artist? My gut told me there was more to these women than Louisa depicted. Years later, when I decided it was time to embark upon writing a novel, there was no question what I’d be writing about: the Alcotts. I wanted to dig into the complexity I knew existed in the real women behind the beloved fictional characters.
How long did it take you to write it? And what helped you during the writing process?
I spent about two years researching and writing The Other Alcott and took some wonderful classes at Hugo House in Seattle (including two with you, Waverly!). Through the classes, I found a great community. Surrounding myself with other writers was helpful because they gave me feedback and encouraged me to develop accountability and set deadlines for myself.
Tell me about how you found your publisher.
First, I needed to find an agent. I started looking in the acknowledgements of other comparable titles and made a list of agents who represented historical fiction that felt similar to mine. Then I wrote a query letter and decided to test it out on six agents. Five out of six of them responded quickly, wanting to see more, and within a month, I signed with Barbara Braun of Barbara Braun Associates. It was Barbara who shopped my manuscript around and landed me at William Morrow/Harper Collins.
What was it like working with your publisher?
I’m extremely fortunate to be working with people who love books and support authors. My editor has been an enthusiastic champion at every turn and the sales and marketing team at William Morrow/Harper Collins has opened up opportunities that I never would have believed possible. Have you seen The Other Alcott’s beautiful cover art? That was all the design team. Thanks to the proofreaders and copyeditors who’ve worked on my manuscript, I’ve learned that champagne flutes weren’t used in the 1870s and that I’ve been mixing up mantel vs. mantle for my entire life. And that’s just two things on a list of about 3,492 editing revelations.
What has been the most surprising/exciting/challenging thing about the publishing process?
I guess I’d have to say that it’s been challenging to be patient with people’s expectations. My book was acquired about a year and a half before it will arrive on bookstore shelves. During this entire time, I’ve had friends asking, “Your book’s out now, right?” Ummm, no, it takes a long time to produce a book.
What are the plans for promoting the book? What have you done so far?
Book promotion begins the day you sell your book. At that point, everyone tells you to start building your platform. Create your website. Produce a newsletter. Consider a book trailer. Advice comes in from all sides. I’ve felt lucky because I haven’t been under enormous pressure to live my life on social media, but I think Instagram is fun since I love photos. My agent and editor told me to focus on writing my next book and I’ve happily obliged.
I know the book is just being launched, but you already have reviews and readers. What has surprised you about having people read and comment on your work?
I love the enthusiasm people still have for the Alcotts even though it’s been almost 150 years since the publication of Little Women.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I’ve just received revision notes from my editor on my second novel. It’s historical fiction about Dorothea Lange, the pioneering documentary photographer of the 1930s and ‘40s. This novel is scheduled to be released late in 2018. Meanwhile I’m doing a number of events to promote The Other Alcott.
Any advice for other writers looking for publishers?
Be open to all paths to publication. I’m in a group with other debut novelists with books releasing in 2017, and since hearing their stories, it’s clear there’s no one path for your book to find its way into the world. Some tried Pitch Wars (I’m still not exactly clear of what this is, but it seems to work), some wrote short stories and poetry that led to their agents, some completed MFAs, some tried literary contests. The key seems to be patience. Good luck!
Although a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise now lives with her husband and two young daughters within stone-skipping distance of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound. When she’s not writing, she’s in her classroom making American history and literature interesting for high school students. Want to try your hand at creating a pitch for Shark Tank: Colonial America Edition? Stop by her classroom.