Interview with Kate Karyus Quinn

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is a fellow Lucky13, Kate Karyus Quinn. Kate is also a member of the upcoming Class of 2k13, and (of course) I am too! Kate's debut ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE is coming 2013 from Harper Teen:


Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I looong to be a planner. Not just in writing but in all areas of my life. But I am not.

Instead, I am one of those people who will put something important in a safe place, and then when I need that something important I will have to spend hours searching my house for the place where I hid it. My writing method is not really all that different from this. I usually start a novel with a character and the seed of an idea. With just that I can usually write a good five thousand words or so without having any idea what that seed will grow into…

At some point though, I hit a wall. That’s when I have to sit down and do some plotting and planning. I ask myself where is this going? And what does the character want? I try to get enough engine into my story so that my character isn’t left stranded in the middle of my novel with nothing to do. But I wouldn’t call what I work from a plan. It is ideas, story beats, and the hope that it will all work out in the end.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I am a really slow first drafter. Usually it takes me around a year to finish a first draft. That includes some time when I am not writing at all, but just mulling things over and letting my ideas germinate.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

Usually, I work on one project at a time. However, recently, I had an idea for a new book and since I was at the time stuck on my current WIP, I decided to start working on it. Since then I have gone back and forth between the two projects and have really enjoyed having the option of working on two different things.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I have to overcome fear every single time that I sit down to write. I don’t think I have ever just sat down in front of my computer and let the words flow. Usually, I have to give myself this little push to open the Word document and make myself start typing. I think it is a fear that I won’t be able to properly translate all the thoughts, images, and ideas in my head onto the paper.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

Two. One was a romance novel. It was a really important book because while I had begun many many books, this was the first one that I saw through from saggy middle to triumphant end. Just knowing that I could do it, that I write all the way from beginning to end, and then also go through and edit and revise it – gave me a lot of confidence. And it also showed me there was no magic to writing a book. Just determination and making yourself sit down and write.

My second novel was an urban fantasy. That one taught me a lot about rewriting. I also learned an important plotting lesson. Perhaps the most important plotting lesson of all. And this is: if your central premise is faulty no amount of rewriting will ever be able to fix it.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

I did query agents for both of my trunk novels. I got very few bites with my first book. The second book, actually had two revise and resubmits from an agent, but she ultimately felt that the book did not work. Really, I just knew it was time for both of them, because I was ready to move onto something new.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

My agent is the amazing Alexandra Machinist. I found her the traditional way – sending out query letters and hoping for a full or partial request.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I received my first “I’d like to call you” about a month after I’d started sending out queries. I think I sent out about 20 queries?

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

I used for querying all three of my novels. That was a huge help as far as finding the best agents to query and also keeping track of who I had emailed, who had responded, and how long I should expect to wait before receiving a response. I also had lots of help from other writers (including those on the querytracker forum) in getting my query letter into fighting shape.

How much input do you have on cover art?

A bit. Before the design began I was asked if I had any thoughts, and if there were any covers out there that I really loved or hated. Then when the cover was done-ish, I was emailed a copy and asked what I thought. Luckily, the HarperTeen designers are really amazing and I am counting down the days until I can reveal my cover!

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

I guess the biggest surprise was how much I truly loved the revision process. I have always found first drafts to be more difficult than edits, but I had no idea how exciting it would be to receive the first revision letter from my editor and then really be able to dig into edits. Having that letter to go back to and use as a touch point just gave me so much confidence in the changes that I was making and this certainty that I was making my novel stronger.

How much of your own marketing do you do?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

I put a website together for myself! That’s been my first big marketing move. You can find it at

I can also be found at all the other usual places.
@katekaryusquinn for Twitter. - Pinterest - Goodreads - Blog

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I started my blog in 2008, right around the time I was querying my first novel. I joined Goodreads when I was just a book lover and not an author. It took me awhile to jump on the Twitter bandwagon – I finally took the leap after my novel sold in 2011. My website is the most recent addition to my list of online links.

Building an online presence bit by bit, wasn’t really a plan (I’m not that organized, see the planner/pantser question above) but it has worked out well. I think if I had to come up with a blog and everything else all at once it would be really overwhelming.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think anyone pushing social media needs to include the disclaimer: results may vary. Some authors (see: John Green) have used social media incredibly successfully. Others have shot themselves in the foot tweeting something that maybe they should not have.

Right now if I Google my name (Not that I spend a lot of time Googling my name. It’s too much like looking in the mirror. Do it to make sure you’re not walking out the door with spinach between your teeth, but don’t do it so much that you either fall in love with or start hating yourself.) my blog is the top result. My Goodreads page and website is also on the first page. I’m happy with that.

However, if I Google “young adult author”… Urgh. Yeah, I don’t know how many of the 674,00 results I would have to wade through to find my name. I don’t want to know. And honestly I don’t care about that too much right now. I am a debut author, and everyone knows… World domination is best saved for the second book.