Interviews > Published on January 21st, 2014

Ten More Questions with 'The Moment Before' Author, Suzy Vitello

As 2013 came to a close we interviewed in-demand LitReactor instructor, editor, author, and "den mother" of Portland's most distinguished writing group, Suzy Vitello, about her soon to be released YA novel, The Moment Before. Since then, her novel has officially launched, experienced the usual bumpy turbulence POD authors can expect from Amazon, landed on Amazon's #2 spot for children's books on death, and garnered some stellar reviews. Not bad for a debut release.  

So, ten questions turned into twenty. We wanted to know what happened post book launch, what book marketing tactics to adopt and avoid, what challenges Suzy's had to overcome, why YA, and more. 

Five months ago you signed your first book contract with Diversion Books for the print and ePublication of your YA novel, The Moment Before, which launched into the reading world January 14th, this year. You’ve been writing for at least twenty years. How do you feel now that a major writing goal has been met – publication?

I’m going to Disneyland! Just kidding. But it does have that milestone-that-should-be-accompanied-by-something-special feel. I mean, I’ve never wanted anything as much as I’ve wanted a published book. Well, actually, that’s not true.

When I was 15, I still hadn’t had my first period yet. I had no boobs. At all. I remember doing incantations in my bedroom. Spells. I devised elaborate remedies that involved Bonne Bell Lip Smackers and dice.

It took another year or so, but I got my period, grew boobs, and lost my virginity in short order. Had someone interviewed me at 17 about my late-blooming goal achievement I would have probably said something like, “Yeah, but boobs hurt when you run, and cramps suck.” Are we ever satisfied? Now I’m all, but my rankings! And, what about those couple of really shitty reviews! And, why is there a “out of stock” sign on my Amazon product page, and what if nobody buys the book? What then?

But mostly? It feels great. Really, really, really great.

What drew you to YA?

Unfinished business. A certain type of arrested development whereby my imagination, my, let’s just call it inner child to yank down a catch phrase, is still asking questions. Is still pondering the road not taken. That’s perhaps one of the reasons I prefer to write YA in present tense. I am addicted to that “anything can happen” vibe as you push your character into strange and scary circumstances.

The relationship between writer and reader is an intimate exchange that is not usually acknowledged. Launch games and social media shout-outs build relationships and honor the understanding that books don’t live without readers.

Will you continue to write within the YA genre?

I have another book coming out this summer. It’s a YA I wrote before The Moment Before. It’s the book that really answers the last question, the one about what drew me to YA in the first place. I have this crazy obsession with the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and I could only access her voice through a fantasy of what she may have been like just before her betrothal to Franz Joseph at the age of 15. Nerdy, right? That’s why I chose a more accessible medium.

I’ve written many versions of the book, but the latest is one that pairs her plight with that of a contemporary heroine — a Portland teen who comes across the Empress’s diary and finds a lost piece of jewelry that has magical powers. There’s some magical realism in it, some crossing over. It’s much more of a fairy tale mash-up than TMB and there’s definitely room for a sequel or a series. I also want to write a “two years after” sort of follow up to TMB.

That said, I have my big old tome (or as Chuck calls it, my cannon) that I’ve been rewriting and tinkering with on and off for twenty some years. That book is for an older audience. It’s called Black Dirt and it’s super, super dark. And Catholic. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell just for thinking some of the shit that’s in that book.

Ooh, can't wait to see it all, Suzy! As a fellow nerd, I've been following your Empress Sisi feed on Twitter for a while and am eagerly anticipating its release.

Okay, pub shop talk. Once genre writers publish their first title, there’s an increasing pressure from fans and the publisher to keep producing. How do you feel about this and how will you, for lack of a better phrase, spiritually handle this demand on your time?

Well, one of the by-products of my late-blooming debut is that I have a few more ready to go, or nearly.

To tell you the truth, I love it. I’m a deadline gal. Nothing makes me more productive than an “assignment.” And I’m in a place in my life where the demands on my time are not overly complicated. I have a pastiche sort of work life: writing, editing, teaching.

I think the hardest thing to fit in is marketing, because it’s a never-quite-reaching-the-top situation. A false summit. You can always reach out more. You can always take more time to hand-sell and be present with readers and fans. The spiritually satisfying part comes from reader interaction, I think. Some of my ARC readers have been very generous and thoughtful in their feedback. I’m just at the very beginning of this journey though, so I might be completely overwhelmed in a few months. My incantations these days are more like: “Suzy, it’s important to be realistic, and to venture into the land of saying no when you can no longer enter into an opportunity or assignment in a fully engaged way.” Ha! We’ll see.

You’ve handled your book’s pre-launch brilliantly — authentic, fun, Suzy Vitello style. I can’t think of many authors who absolutely love marketing their book to their readers. What should emerging authors keep in mind when marketing their first book? What works and what doesn’t?

Thank you! I’ve had some brilliant models to follow. Lidia Yuknavitch, for one. Her creative approach in her social marketing for The Chronology of Water and Dora was inspirational, in that it was authentic to the books and to her style.

I am not very economical in my approach, I’ll admit. Not a fan of Hoot Suite and those programs that auto-post to all social sites at once. I have a slightly different audience on Twitter than I do, say, on Facebook, and I don’t think my posts cross over verbatim as well as if I tweak things here and there. Do I sound like a control freak?

Not at all, that's a wise call...

This last week I decided to try a paid approach to my Facebook Author Page. Just for a day. I invested $10 to see if I could reach folks outside my sphere. I did get more followers, and the jury is still out, but I suspect it’s not worth the investment in my case. With a book like mine, a rather quiet, moody young adult contemporary novel, a more personal approach, an organic spread, feels like the right way to go about it.

What’s been your favorite part of TMB’s launch?

Discovering (thanks to my savvy daughter-in-law, Katie), the Rhonna app and making my countdown posts basically on my phone. It made a rather arduous and obvious ploy for pre-orders less slutty. Okay, maybe still slutty, but fun, too. And I got to package up gifts and favors and send them to people and have them smile back when they got the package. The relationship between writer and reader is an intimate exchange that is not usually acknowledged. Launch games and social media shout-outs build relationships and honor the understanding that books don’t live without readers.

Your least favorite?

The parts I’m not in control of. Which is to say: reviews, problems with the distribution supply chain, rankings and anything that calls out: “Fine, you wrote a book, but you still suck, because ________ (fill in the blank).” Plus, see next question for a big, fat rant.

You’ve published with Diversion Books, a mostly eBook publisher now launching into print on demand publishing. Large book retailers like Barnes and Noble don’t usually carry POD books because they’re non-returnable. Unless B&N and other large book retailers change their business model, how can people find your book?

This is the most heart-wrenching and baffling part of the whole business. Here I have a physical, published book, which has even been selected by Junior Library League, and you probably won’t find it sitting on a bookstore shelf—except in a couple of bookstores in Portland and Seattle, where I’m consigning directly with the bookseller. I’m working on Powell’s. Hopefully, they’ll be convinced to stock it. Barnes & Noble is an extra hard nut to crack. And then there’s Amazon, the default for quick rank-spiking sales. But, alas, due to their ever-gnarled relationship with decent business practices, BEFORE NOON ON LAUNCH DAY AMAZON SHOWED MY BOOK AS “OUT OF STOCK.” Later in the week, the eBook, too, became difficult to find. It literally disappeared from the product page. Oversight, or perhaps part of their black hat strategy to freeze out small publishers who don’t use CreateSpace? It’s beyond maddening.

As much as I’m grateful for the eBook medium, I’m a dinosaur whose frame of reference for literature, for books, is of the three-dimensional variety — as it still is for a good percentage of readers at this point in history. I think POD publishers are largely at their wit’s end with this conundrum. Booksellers MUST be able to return books (easily and without hassle) when they don’t sell, and they need their 40%. The more middle men involved, the more ways the pie is sliced, the less return on investment for publishers and authors and agents. In some cases, POD publishers are going into their pockets to fill orders, as are authors. As am I.

In a perfect world, the business model would support POD publishers, their authors, AND the booksellers. I have heard of several cases where publishers’ Ingram reps are dropping the ball. Either miscommunicating the terms, thereby cancelling any chance a bookseller will order stock, or not getting back to their publisher clients after repeated phone calls.

For now, it seems that sending folks who are looking to buy a physical copy of your book to their favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore’s ordering desk is the best way to make the connection, though it puts the burden on the reader, which is somewhat problematic.    

I'm predicting this will be a great topic for our LR team to explore on future podcast. 

A few days after launch, you posted that your book was #2 in “hot new releases in children’s death and dying books.” What’s up with that?

Ah yes, the few minutes before I got churned up in Amazon’s game. Live by Amazon, die by Amazon. That’s a pun. Ha! Funny.

I imagine you’ve got some book signings coming up. Wanna share the details with us?

Yes!! I am reading/signing locally (in Portland) here:

  • Voodoo Doughnuts (Eastside Location), Wed . Jan 29th, 6 pm.
  • Annie Bloom’s, Tues., February 18th, 7 pm. (co-reading with Kate Scott)
  • Broadway Books (along with the fantastic Averil Dean), March 11th, 7:30

And, biggest news ever, Chuck and the gang are launching me in style at a special Bedtime Stories event at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle at the tail end of AWP! Here’s the write up:

Come see for yourself the spectacle of “Adult Bedtime Stories.” At sold-out events across the country, thousands of people have already dared to wear their pajamas in public. They’ve laughed, cried, fainted, won prizes, been pummeled with candy, and survived to post rave accounts of the experience. In a tribute to bedtime storytelling, five writers will present short fiction and celebrate the publication of Suzy Vitello’s debut mystery novel, The Moment Before (Diversion Books). Sharing the stage are Chelsea Cain, author of the Heartsick series; Monica Drake, author Clown Girl and The Stud Book; Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water and Dora: A Head Case; and Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and Choke. They’ll all be reading new material, tailored for a new adult audience. So, wear your PJ’s, bring pillows and blankets, but don’t dream of getting any shut-eye. Seating is limited and tickets ($15 general admission & include a copy of Suzy Vitello’s book, The Moment Before) are available starting February 8 online from and via phone and in person from Elliott Bay. The first fifty people to arrive in their pajamas at the event will get heart-shaped boxes of chocolate from Chelsea Cain, herself. 

As more reading/signings emerge, they will be plastered here.

Thank you so much for this interview!

Thank you, Suzy, for taking time out of your launch to share your journey with us. 

Readers, feel free to click on the handy Amazon links below to order Suzy's print or eBook, or if you'd like to see Suzy's book on a shelf within your local independent bookseller, you can call them and request they order you a copy. 

About the author

ERIN REEL is a Los Angeles based publishing and editorial consultant, writing coach, columnist, blog host of The Lit Coach's Guide to The Writer's Life and outspoken advocate for writers. A former literary agent with nearly 10 years in the industry, Erin has worked with a wide array of writers worldwide. She has contributed to Making The Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye (Sands, Watson-Guptil, 2004); and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents (Frishman & Spizman, Adams Media, 2005).

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