Living in the NOW - Six Years After Debut, What's Changed?

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, actually it’s called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel too hopeful dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest is Kate Karyus Quinn, who has been on the blog multiple times in the past, for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) , the SNOB (Second Novel Omnipresent Blues), and the SWAG (Shit We All Generate). Kate was my first guest on the podcast, and today she’s ushering in the NOW.

Kate is the author of multiple YA novels, screwball romantic comedies, and a contributor to multiple anthologies. Her debut, Another Little Piece, came out in 2013.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career? 

It’s all over the fucking place. I have felt like a failure far more than I’ve felt like a success. That being said, I think more recently, I’m finally finding a place of greater equilibrium, where I’ve made peace with the fact that Oprah is not going to call and neither is Steven Spielberg and that staying in this business is always gonna require a lot of hustle.  

It’s not just writing. It’s networking. It’s being aware of what’s going on in the publishing industry. It’s looking at all the different ways money making avenues and deciding how many of them you can use to help pay the bills.

I think – like a lot of authors – I wanted the fairy tale. The JK Rowling insane success story. Riches, critical acclaim, AND a fucking theme park. Instead I’ve made a modest amount of money doing something I love, have gotten mixed reviews, and as for the theme park… eh, I’d honestly rather just someone put my name on a library someday.

Let’s about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself as an artiste. The first book I wrote was romance which is arguably one of the most disrespected genres of them all. So, I never had dreams of writing “the great American novel.” I just wanted to write a book that I’d want to read, because I am first and foremost a reader.

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But I guess I’ve realized since then that what I want to read is not always what other people want to read. I went through a bad time a few years back where I was really questioning myself and my writing and I really so very very badly wanted to write something that would break out big. But you can’t manufacture that type of thing – or I couldn’t anyway. And it made me deeply unhappy trying to force it.

Since then I’ve come to a happier place where I realize that I have LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of ideas and I need to pick one that A. I’m excited to write and B. That there’s also a market demand for.

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut? 

Yes, the bloom is off the rose. When my debut was pubbed I was in my early thirties and now I’m (gasp) officially forty. There are definitely times when I’m at book events with other children’s authors and I feel OLD.

I think there’s also a bit of cynicism that creeps in. And exhaustion. That hustle that I talked about above is tiring. But, as cheesy as it sounds, I think you have to remember to count your blessings and keep working. Even when it feels like there are so many books out there (and OHMYGOD there are SO MANY BOOKS out there!) you have to believe in your little book and believe that the world needs it… which takes a crazy mixture of guts and (let’s be honest) self-regard.

Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

I’ve accepted writing the need to write a good synopsis and blurb and logline. Basically, that I have to not only be able to tell the story, but I also have to be able to tell about the story – which are two really different skills!

I just self-published an adult romantic comedy and I wasn’t getting the sales I wanted, so I decided to rewrite my blurb. I rewrote it. Then I rewrote it again. Then I did it again. And now, finally, many versions later, it is way better.

Really what I’ve realized is that a blurb or synopsis isn’t a book report. The teacher doesn’t want to make sure I read the damn thing. It’s in fact a sales pitch. Which means knowing my audience – ie: don’t tell someone who wants a sports car about the heated seats – tell them about acceleration and let the heated seats be a nice surprise for their bum on a cold winter’s day.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how was it changed (or not changed!) your life? 

The first thing that I ever got published and paid for was a short story in Woman’s World. I was paid $800 for 800 words. I cried when the acceptance letter (snail mail!) arrived. It was the most emotional I ever became – even though the offer for my debut novel was significantly more money and more prestige and more, well, ALL the things (except a theme park… damn it). But that first acceptance was the one that made me believe I wasn’t crazy, that I could do this and make money doing it. And it’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. So yes, it has changed my life and I truly believe – to steal from Wicked the Musical – I have been changed for good.