Interview with Stephanie Kuehn

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 is fellow Class of 2k13 member Stephanie Kuehn. I had the pleasure of rooming with Stephanie (and Debra Driza and Kate Karyus Quinn - it was a blast!) at ALA 2013, but more importantly, I've also had the pleasure of reading her book. CHARM & STRANGE is what Steph calls her "dark little book." It's a mind-bender.


Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I think I am a bit of both. I’m not someone who sits and outlines every detail before I get started. If I have an idea and I have an itch to write it, I’ll start writing. But at some point, I’ll pull back and try and summarize where I’m going with it and what the major themes and arcs are. 

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

It has varied greatly for me. But I usually anticipate it will take a few months to write a solid first draft. 

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

I used to only work on one project at a time, but I’ve learned how to multi task. Learning how to set something aside and come back to it, is definitely an acquired skill for me, but I am working on it!

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

Yes. I am very self-conscious person, and even though when I first began writing I wasn’t thinking about publication or ever showing anybody what I was doing, I still felt uncomfortable and exposed.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

CHARM & STRANGE was my fifth full novel.

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

Yes, I have quit and moved on to other projects. I think I have to love something to keep working on it. I don’t have to love it in its current form, but I have to love what I’m saying or how I’m saying it, and if that passion isn’t there, I will put it aside.

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

My agent is Michael Bourret of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. I am so very fortunate to be working with him. I connected with him by sending a query to someone else at his agency, who passed it on to him—something I am so very grateful for! As to how I got a yes out of him, I have no idea. I suppose I had a polished novel, and one that was unique. I also think my novel fit his particular taste, which was probably the more important factor.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

It took about two months and a half months of querying.

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

Be patient and be willing to wait for the right agent. It is worth it.

How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

Very surreal! It’s still surreal. In some ways I feel disconnected from the actual product…the story is something from inside my mind, an abstraction, but all the rest of the work that went into making it an actual physical book, well, I had nothing to do with that. The book is beautiful to see and hold and read, but my sense of ownership really only extends to the characters and the story.

How much input do you have on cover art?

I was able to give a little bit of input on the design, but it’s the designer, Kerri Resnick, who came up with the amazing cover. 

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

I learned how far I could push myself with revisions.

How much of your own marketing do you?

I have a social media presence, but I don’t do very much direct marketing. I’m involved in YA Highway, which is a group blog that has allowed me to connect with other authors and people in publishing. I’m obviously a part of the Class of 2k13, which is a small group of debut authors who work together on marketing. I’m most often on Twitter, but I don’t think of it as a marketing tool as much as I do a social networking one. 

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

I am not very marketing minded. I do think authors should have some social media presence, if only to connect with other authors and publishing folks, so that they have a handle on what the industry climate is, and to not feel alone in the whole process. But I have very limited time and my efforts are usually best spent writing.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I’m not sure. I think a good book and marketing on the level that a publisher can do, is what matters most. I also think social media in the form of word-of-mouth from readers to other readers can build interest, but that doesn’t involve the author.