Kathy is a young adult author and her debut, Sword and Verse, is now available from HarperTeen! She is represented by Steven Malk of Writers House.
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Now for Kathy’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, going on submission, and being a debut author!
What advice would you give to querying writers?
Don’t give up! This business is incredibly subjective, and it can take dozens of rejections before you bring the right project to the right agent or editor at the right time.
Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?
Yes! Sword and Verse was actually the fourth novel manuscript I shopped around to agents.
What helped you get though the query trenches?
I just kept writing and submitting. I always made sure to have another project to work on, and every time I got a rejection I turned around and sent out another query immediately, before depression had a chance to set in. So much of the process is really about staying ahead of the negative voices in your head.
How did you know your agent was the right one for you?
The way I ended up with my current agent is a bit unusual. Back in 2008, I read a Writer’s Digest article about new agents looking for clients, and one of them, Lindsay Davis at Writers House, looked like a great fit for me and my book. So I submitted to her and she said she’d like to work with me to revise it. Then, several months later, she moved out of the country and Steven Malk, the senior agent with whom she had been working, took over. They shared a similar perspective, which I share too: that it’s more important to take the time and do it right than it is to rush or chase trends. Steven is very much about building an author’s career, not just publishing a book.
How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?
Extremely editorial! We did four years of extensive revisions on the manuscript before we went to submission. There are literally three scenes in the final book that were in the original manuscript. Some writers might balk at getting a 40-page edit letter with extremely drastic suggestions, but I was at a point where I was dying for that kind of feedback and I knew it was what I needed to get to the next level.
Do you see the feedback from editors?
I did, but that was my choice. As far as I can tell, the biggest difference between submitting through an agent and submitting directly to editors is the quality of your rejections. With submissions through agents, you get a paragraph about what’s awesome about your book before they tell you why they are rejecting it.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Keep writing. Go on vacation. Work overtime at your day job. Meditate. Basically do anything to distract yourself, because it might take weeks and it might take months and no amount of obsessing about it will make it go faster.
Is there anything you learned while being on submission that you didn’t know before?
The biggest surprise to me was when my agent and I sat down and selected the publishers we would submit to. In addition to considering which imprints would be a good match for my genre, my agent looked at which editors he thought would mesh well with my personality and revision style. It had never occurred to me that this could be a consideration, and it was an area where I was definitely grateful for his experience and knowledge.
What’s involved in promoting a book?
It depends on the book and how much the author is willing to do, but no debut author can afford to sit back and hope the publisher does all the promotion. It can get overwhelming, which is why it’s important to pick the things that matter to you and that will work for your book. In my case, I have lots of library connections because I have been a librarian for years, so I partnered with a local library to run a trailer contest for my book and set up author panels at local libraries. I chose to focus on Twitter as my major social media platform, and I have run lots of giveaways there. I also did a pre-order incentive where readers got their names written in the language of the gods from the book.
What other 2016 debut books have you gotten to read? Did you get to read them early?
So many! This is one of the perks of being part of a debut author group! We have a system to pass around our advance reading copies, and we actively read, review, and promote each other’s books. I’ve probably read about 25 of the 2016 debuts so far, including A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin, and The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan.
Is there a lot of support among debut authors?
Goodness, yes! I might be a little biased, as I founded The Sweet Sixteens, but I can’t imagine getting through the lead-up to 2016 without the group. So much of the debut process involves waiting around – having other debut authors to celebrate and commiserate with keeps you sane!
What advice would you give to writers who are working hard to get to their own debut year?
About a year before my book came out, I asked my agent what I should be focusing on. And he said, “Writing your next book. Only that.” I didn’t understand what he meant until Sword and Verse actually came out. It’s easy to think that the voices of self-doubt and distraction will go away once you get an agent, once you get a book deal, once your book finally gets published – but all that happens is that the volume of those voices gets amplified. The only thing the author has control over is the work, and it’s easy to lose sight of that. So find a way to keep your focus on the writing where it belongs, and hold tight to that no matter what happens.
Thank you, Kathy!