Monday 18 June 2012

The Big Break with Leigh Bardugo

As part of the tranatlantic blog tour, I am so happy to have Leigh Bardugo on the blog discussing her journey to publication. 

Hi Leigh, thanks for joining me today on the blog.
My pleasure! Thank you so much for having me.

I would love to know a little about your writing journey. How did you go from being a makeup artist to writing books? 
I've been writing since I was a kid, and it was always what I dreamt of doing. (This is a drawing that my friend Gamynne did of me at a book signing when I was 14, so there's your proof.)

I worked as a journalist and a copywriter, but when my dad passed away, I knew I needed a change. I had to get away from the computer and out of my head. So, I quit my job, went to makeup school and started fresh. The funny thing is, I don't know that I ever would have written The Gathering Dark if I hadn't stepped so far off the path I was on. When I got home from a day of writing copy, all I wanted to do was watch SYTYCD and go to sleep. When I got home from a shoot, my feet were sore, and I was tired, but my head was bursting with ideas.

The cover of The Gathering Dark is drool worthy. How do you feel about it?
I'm so glad you like it! It was a bit of a shock because it's so very different from the US cover. (The German cover is completely different, too!) But it's so exciting to see Alina brought to life and to get a glimpse of how someone else pictures her. (Plus how much do I love that blue and gold kefta?)

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for my readers who have yet to set eyes on such a delight?
The Gathering Dark is set in a fantasy world inspired by the beauty and brutality of Tsarist Russia. At its heart, it's the story of a lonely, difficult girl, desperate to find her place in the world, who discovers that she may be the one person who stands between her country and destruction. Also, saints, samovars, and some really spectacular party clothes.

The Gathering Dark is your debut novel. How are you feeling about it all right now?
Well. Right now, it's about 4 am. (Somehow, in my last round of revisions I got on this insane schedule and I don't seem to be able to shake it.) There are days when I'm giddy with excitement and others where I feel something akin to abject terror. I'd call these mood swings, but I'm not sure that encompasses their scale.

How long did it take you to write?
From the initial idea to querying agents, it took about a year. I spent part of that time researching, part of it wallowing in self-doubt and watching the afore-mentioned SYTYCD.

What was your first reaction when you found out your book was to be published?
I was grocery shopping when my agent called to tell me that we'd had our first offer. The sound I made can be best described as something between a screech and a bleat. I got a lot of stares, and I can't say I cared. I abandoned my cart and went outside to sit down, take some deep breaths, and talk it through with Jo. She explained what our next steps would be, and a week later, we were at auction.

Did you find it easy to get an agent?
I'm always wary of answering this type of question because I don't want people who are out there in the trenches to get discouraged if they don't get snapped up right away. I got an agent quickly, but I also got very lucky. I queried the right person at the right time in a very hot market. Yes, I wrote the best book I could, I did my research, I agonised over my pitch. But you can do all of that and the timing can still be wrong. If things move slowly, try not to beat yourself up. Query in small batches so that if you don't get the response you want, you can go out to other people with a modified pitch. It's great if lightning strikes, but it isn't some kind of judgement on your work if it takes a little longer for your book to find the right home. Okay, pep talk over.

How long was it between the initial deal and publishing day?
We signed the deal with Henry Holt/Macmillan on December 3, 2010 and the US release is June 5, 2012. So, almost 18 months exactly. I had no idea it took that long to bring a book to market.

I understand that this is Book 1, how many books will be in the series?
Three, though I do sometimes think I'd like to write a prequel about the founding of the Second Army and the creation of the Fold. There are also some secondary characters from Book 2 whose stories I'd love to tell somewhere down the road if there was interest.

I know you are writing Book 2 at the moment, how is it going?
In a way, writing Book 2 was much harder because, unlike Book 1, I had a deadline and there were people waiting on the other side of it with expectations. I was terrified of disappointing everyone. But I did finish, and it was lovely to learn that I actually can do this, and that completing Book 1 wasn't some kind of fluke. Now it's just difficult not to be able to talk about it. I want to blab spoilers all over the place.

How do you fit writing around your other career as a makeup artist?
Badly? I'm a freelance artist, and that means that, if you aren't constantly hustling for new jobs, the work dries up pretty quickly. While I'm on deadline, I go into lock down mode and I've had to turn down some good jobs. But I just can't bring myself to regret those decisions. I'll always keep my toe in the business. I love talking product and it's fun to be able to trick out my friends in glitter and gore on Halloween. But writing is what matters to me. The rest is noise.

What advice would you give to aspiring and unpublished authors?
Just finish. Let that first draft be messy. If you don't know how to deal with something, don't get on twitter and talk about it, don't get bogged down. Write the question into the draft and keep moving. Murder doubt. Murder distraction. Murder perfection. Just finish.

Thank you Leigh for inspiring answers. The Gathering Dark is available to buy now. I have read it and loved every word of it!

To find out more about Leigh Bardugo:

Twitter: @LBardugo


  1. What a lovely interview and Leigh has some pretty great advice for aspiring authors :) I think it is awesome that Leigh is a makeup-artist AND an author :)

    Now I'm off to check out the other covers for The Gathering Dark, since Leigh mentioned it I felt the curiosity build inside me ;)

  2. I love the picture. :D Very well done in my opinion. :D

  3. Interesting reading, I especially enjoyed Leigh's advice to aspiring readers.


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