The Spilled Ink-quisition – An Interview with Jules Arbeaux

Suzy Darlington

A longlistee for the 2022 Bath Novel Award and a 2020 Pitch Wars alum, Jules Arbeaux writes character-focused science fiction and fantasy. Cat parent, artist, and professional neglecter of many thriving succulents, Jules subsists on sour gummy worms and far-fetched dreams. This week she talks to Spilled Ink about her writing process and the journey that is querying a manuscript with literary agents (this one has a happy ending – we promise!).

Suzy: What are you working on at the moment?

Jules: I currently have a few active projects and more that are still in the idea-making stage, but the one I’m drafting right now is a dual-POV dark fantasy.

Suzy: When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?

Jules: Sorry, I’m one of those people. I first realized I loved to write at five years old, when I wrote a story about going on adventures with my tailless rescue cat. I was a voracious reader from the moment I learned to read. I didn’t discover online critique groups until I was in my teens, though, and I never knew that getting creative work published was possible for the average person until I was in college.

It wasn’t until 2020 (oof, what a year) that I learned about the publishing industry and started seriously revising my first completed novel. We don’t speak of that novel. I love it dearly and it will never see the light of day. But that doesn’t really answer your question. I’m not sure if I can.

If the question is ‘When did I want to be a person who writes?’ then the answer is, from the moment I learned not to write my Bs backward and discovered how to jam letters together to make words and words to make sentences. If the question is ‘When did I want to be an author?’—I’m not sure if that’s a dream I’ve ever consciously allowed myself to have.

Suzy: What’s the most difficult aspect of writing for you?

Jules: Writing is the most difficult aspect of writing, for me. I always see people talking about the joy of drafting, and I think that’s amazing. I’m also a little envious. Drafting is the most difficult part of the process for me. Like everyone else, I love it when the words are flowing, but revising… now, revising is the good stuff. Now that I finally understand that about myself, I’ve adapted my process to suit it: I write the first draft as quickly as possible to get the tough part out of the way. While I’m drafting, I’m taking scene notes and larger-scale revision notes, so by the time I’ve completed my earliest draft, I already have a thorough plan to make it stronger.

Suzy: Would you ever kill off a character readers love?

Jules: …what if I already have?

I mean, excuse you. I would never!

Suzy: Can you give ScratchThat readers an idea of how long the manuscript querying process takes?

Jules: It’ll be different for everyone, because timing and luck play such huge parts. I know authors who unsuccessfully queried five projects over seven years before their sixth book landed them an agent and a deal. I also know authors who got an agent and a book deal within weeks of querying their first book. It’s tempting to say that one of those is a ‘good’ querying experience and one of them is ‘bad,’ but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that good and bad don’t apply in publishing. Writing is hard. The learning curve is steep. If you don’t stuggle in one place, you might encounter difficulty in another.

In other words, I can’t say how long it takes, but if it’s useful, I can share how long it took for me. I queried three different projects between late summer of 2020 and late summer of 2022.

The first book got me my first-ever request from a mentorship program, my first full requests while querying, my first agent R&R, my first experiences receiving in-depth critique from peer writers on a novel-length work (I learned so much!), and my first-ever official critique partner. If I wanted to sound professional, I could say I set it aside because I got into a mentorship program with book two, but while that’s not false, it would be more accurate to say that I set it aside because it had eight POV characters and three intertwining plotlines, and I knew nothing about the publishing landscape when I wrote it.

Book two was genre-weird and I loved it like my own soul. (I might have loved it better.) I got into a mentorship program with that book in fall of 2020. I learned a ton from my talented mentor and met a bunch of amazing people. I found so many friends and critique partners thanks to that book.  I began querying in spring of 2021, stopped querying a month later, began again in summer, and set the book aside in August to focus on drafting the next book. If that sounds chaotic, it’s because it was. 2021 was a rough year.

Book three was also genre-weird (a bit fantasy, a bit sci-fi, a bit upmarket). You’d think I would have learned my lesson with the previous book, but instead I leaned even more into the weirdness. Through the third book, I met even more amazing new writing friends, was longlisted for a novel prize, and signed with my agent. We went on submission in late fall, and some exciting things have been happening in recent months that I’m not allowed to talk about.

Each book taught me a little about publishing, a little about myself and my writing process, and a lot about patience and how it’s not my virtue, as much as I wish I could force it to be. Patience, unfortunately, is gold in publishing, because everything takes time. A lot of time, usually.

But I digress. In short, whether your journey takes ten days or ten years, there are other authors who share your experiences, and I hope you find them. The process is a lot less dire when you have people to talk to.

Suzy: Is there any particular advice you would give aspiring authors who want to query agents with their manuscript?

Jules: Here are the things everyone says. I’m repeating them because they’re true: find your community. There will never be anything more valuable than having writing friends beside you on the journey. Be always aware of the difference between goals and dreams. It’s easy to mess yourself up by aiming for ‘goals’ that are out of your control. I have plenty of dreams (wild, impossible dreams, in fact), but I know that achieving or failing to achieve them says nothing about my value as a person or the value of my work.

Here’s something I wish I could have told myself: the business of writing will be rough no matter where you are in the process. Imposter syndrome and self-doubt won’t go away as you wade deeper into publishing, so hoard your joy like it’s precious. It is. Querying is a business venture. There’s always a risk, when you’re trying to make business of your passions, that the uncomplicated joy of writing can begin to fade. My method of holding on to joy (this won’t work for everyone, but it’s how I tricked my brain) was to remind myself that there are things to treasure at every stage. Something that gave me peace when I was querying and drafting new projects was that I had no deadlines but the ones I arbitrarily set for myself. I could tell whatever stories I wanted. I had plentiful time to develop other ideas, enrich my understanding of writing, devour the books of talented critique partners, and learn things about my writing process. That craft awareness and self-understanding served me well when I signed with an agent. I’m not saying to smile when you want to scream, by the way. That sounds terribly unhealthy. Scream. You’ll probably feel better afterward.

Suzy: How do you know your manuscript is ready to query?

Jules: Asking the hard questions! I think the traditional wisdom is that you’re ready to query when you’ve done everything you can do by yourself. When you have the strongest possible version of your work, you’re ready to throw it into agent inboxes. For me, though, the real test is getting feedback from beta readers or critique partners after I’ve taken the book as far as I can take it by myself. I’m not sure if there’s a foolproof way to always know when a book is ready, but I will say that if you’ve done the work and are still unsure, it’s better to take the leap and try than never to try at all.

Suzy Darlington writes science fiction fantasy stories and consumes more of the same than is probably healthy. In another life she wrote copy for game streaming academy, GGWP, and reported on the Capcom Pro Tour for Canadian news outlet, When she’s not having unexpected (but totally welcome) dreams about being Timothée Chalamet’s best friend, she’s searching for high-angst, LGBTQ+ romantic tension in fiction.