Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Jeff Hirsch and THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE

Hello, everyone! It's been a while since we met here to enjoy an interview and discussion with a writer. That's my fault, obviously. I've been writing. :) I hope you have been too! Anyway, I'm pleased as punch to introduce our author today.

I first interviewed Jeff before his book, THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE, was published, and so he has a good bit to fill us in on today. I'm always very curious about the publication process! Jeff is one of those writers whom I enjoyed the second I found his blog, and then more and more as I 'met' him through the interview process, and even more when I read his book. He's thoughtful, kind, intelligent, entertaining, and we're lucky to have him writing for kids (and us). 

Please pop over to his website, and, if you want insider scoop on his previous Friday Feature interview, then click here

Seriously, feel free to click. We'll wait!

Here's a little about Jeff: 

Jeff Hirsch grew up in Richmond, VA and received an MFA in Dramatic Writing from UC San Diego. He now lives in Queens, NY and works at a non-profit in the ad industry. Besides writing, Jeff enjoys cooking, fire eating, escaping from a straitjacket (while standing up or hanging from the ceiling by his ankles), and trying not to get obsessive about politics. You can reach him through his website at or

Welcome, Jeff, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, and to converse in the comment section!

The last time we checked in, your YA was entitled THE LONG WALK HOME. Fill us in. What happened between THE LONG WALK HOME, and THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE? (Love that title, by the way.)

Wow, was it really that long ago since we talked last? Crazy. Well what came between the Long Walk Home and 11th Plague was editing, editing and more editing. That experience was great. My editors David and Cassandra did an incalculable amount of work helping me tighten and clarify and expand. The book is a thousand times better for their involvement.

The title change was Scholastic's idea and I couldn't be happier about it. This was always a hard book to find the right title for and it was great to have some assistance with that.

How was the book's launch? What did you do to celebrate?

My launch day was fairly low key actually. Me and the wife went for dinner at Craft (for you Top Chef fans that's Tom Colicchio's flagship restaurant in NYC) which was unbelievably good, then went to see the book at the Union Square Barnes and Noble and got into a bit of a tiff with the employees when trying to take a picture of my own book!

Juicy. Brawl in the Barnes! That was probably a good bit of marketing. Did you handle other strategies for your book, or did the publisher handle most of the marketing?

Everything that happened marketing-wise was about 98% Scholastic's doing. They kept me on a crazy touring schedule, doing most of the big conferences as well as book festivals all over and lots of school and store appearances. It has been an absolutely wild and intense ride. I am, obviously, eternally grateful for everything they did and count myself super lucky. On my own I did keep doing blog interviews and posts and trying to blog and tweet as much as humanly possible.

It sounds like that did a great job getting your book off the shelves, and you in front of possible buyers. That's so wonderful! What surprised you the most about (or since) having a book released?

Well, beyond the fact that it was actually happening I suppose the biggest surprise was the reaction from readers. We're told over and over that kids want TV and movies and video games, not books. So getting emails from kids, and letters from kids and meeting kids in person who are still super excited about reading and writing was incredibly gratifying.

Definitely gratifying! Do you go about writing any differently now?

I definitely do way more planning now. 11th Plague was written more or less by the seat of my pants. Now that deadlines are tighter, and I aspire to do a book a year, that's not really possible anymore. The good thing is that while I once thought planning things out would put a crimp in creativity that hasn't been the case at all. Knowing more about the road you're heading down helps a lot.

That's great for a self-proclaimed pantser to know! How has your social media habits changed since publication?

I used to be a semi-regular blogger but, like a lot of writers, I'm having more and more trouble making that happen. I'm relying on twitter and Facebook way more now. I sometimes miss the depth of conversation you can have on a blog but if the choice is spend an hour writing a blog post or spend an hour making my book better (or, you know, actually talking to my wife) then I'm going with the book (or my wife).

I'm sure your wife appreciates that! What's next for you? What are you working on?

I've got a new book coming out in September that's a good bit different from 11th Plague. It's more of a sci-fi/fantasy adventure. We're not releasing the title of it for another month or so but I can say I'm really excited about it! Galleys aren't far off!

I love that your next book is so different--that gives us all hope to follow our muses, into whatever genre they take us.

Highest high? Lowest low?

Highest high has definitely been interacting with kids. The school visits I made and the emails I get from young readers have been amazing and humbling. The lowest low? Nothing big really. There are always going to be reviews that aren't quite what you want but that just goes with the territory.

Sounds like your skin is just the right thickness. :) Jeff, what is the biggest thing which you have learned since your book was released?

The importance of the galley. These are the copies that go out to bloggers, reviewers and other influential folks about 6 months prior to the release. I made changes to 11th plague that are small but significant (to me anyway) between the galley and the final book and I wish I had made them earlier. I now think of my deadline as the draft that will become the galley, not the one that will become the finished book.

That's really interesting, and something I haven't heard other writers talking about--also I have a few galleys, and just assumed that they were equivalent to the actual book. Maybe I should pick up the finished copies! 

Do you have any trade secrets you can let us in on?

I wish. If there are trade secrets out there I look forward to the day when someone will reveal them to me.
Hear that everyone? If you know a trade secret, definitely let us know in the comments! (I think the galley point was a great trade secret, Jeff.) 

And, just because I'm curious, dogs or cats?

I have two cats (Pip and Henry) who are awesome but I grew up having dogs so I long for the day when I can get one of my own, ideally one of the large and lumbering variety.

Very cool. I have a Pip cat too. Maybe next time we check in, you'll have a new book, and a new puppy. Not sure which one takes more work. :)

Thanks, Jeff, for the enlightening interview!

Everyone, give Jeff a warm welcome in the comment section, leave him a question, and be sure to check out his website, book, and twitter before you go. I'm sure you'll want to keep tabs on Jeff and his upcoming book release. And if we ask very nicely, maybe he'll tell us the name of that new book!

Oh, and leave the BEST COMMENT or QUESTION, and I will GIVE you a COPY of THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE! Yup, because that's how I roll. Comment away, friendly followers!   


  1. This is a fresh interview, thanks Jeff and Heather!

    First off, I feel very connected to you, Jeff because I am a major TOP CHEF fan and I love cats.

    I find your advice on using the galley as your final deadline to be very helpful. I know I've heard it before, but your testimonial adds in the extra realistic aspect.

    I do have a question, since it wasn't mentioned in the interview.

    How did Suzanne Collin's blurb come about and what did you do when you received it?

  2. Hey Jeff! Thanks for being here today! My question is: Can you tell us what the title is of your next release? And is it also a YA book? Is it set in the future, or a different time altogether? I'm so excited for it! :)

  3. Hi Jonathon! Hope you're good. The funny thing about the blurb is I had no idea Scholastic was even trying to get it. They just sent me an email one day and said something along the lines of "Oh by the way, we gave Suzanne your book and she's going to say this about it..." Obviously heart palpitations immediately ensued. Don't think I can ever adequately thank her for that.

    Thanks for doing the interview Heather! And yes I can now say a very little bit about the book. It's coming out in October and it's called Magisterium. Quite a bit different from 11th Plague. Young woman protagonist. More of a Sci fi/Fantasy adventure. I'll be blogging about it in more detail next week so people should keep an eye on or follow me on twitter @jeff_hirsch

  4. Fabulous interview, Heather and Jeff.
    Magisterium sounds like a unique, cool title.
    I love hearing about the publication journey.
    My question for Jeff: What authors do you admire or read frequently?

  5. Excellent and interesting interview. And I'd be curious to know how/where Jeff came up with his idea for the book.

  6. Great interview Jeff and Heather. I loved reading about the title change. I really like the new one. It's so intriguing.

    And it's interesting how Scholastic set up so much of your tour. Many authors aren't so lucky.

    I agree that the ARCs are a huge part of marketing. I think the interviews and ARC/book giveaways really help create buzz for a book.

    So awesome Heather that you interviewed Jeff before he got published and after. Sorry I wasn't following your blog then.

  7. Hi Kelly! Thanks for stopping by. So many authors I love. Stephen King. Tim O'Brien. MT Anderson. David Almond. Christopher Moore. Joe Hill. Neil Gaiman. Bryan K. Vaughn. George R R Martin. Suzanne Collins. The list goes on and on.

    Hi MsHatch. The story of where the book came from is a little long but basically...I used to be a bit of a news junkie and, like now, things seemed pretty messed up in this country. And not only that but all the institutions we look to to fix things, mainly the government, didn't seem able to fix anything any more. That's what got me thinking that what we needed was a giant reset button we could hit and start all over again. The question became if we did start all over again, would we do things better the second time around or make all the same mistakes.