Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kari's Kave: Writing Revelations

That's My Story, and I'm Sticking to it!
Way back in 1989, I discovered romance novels and couldn't get enough of them. At that time I was going to college for English and got certified to teach because I didn't know what else I could do with that major. I just knew I loved to read and write. So I started my first novel on an old Brother typewriter, had no clue what I was doing, and didn't get far. Soon after I began writing, I got married, finished my degree, and stared substitute teaching while looking for a full time position. After the birth of my first child, I was offered a position but chose to become an at-home mom. I started writing again when my first child was one in 1995, and partnered up with my first CP (Barbie Jo Mahoney) who is still my CP today. I needed an outlet, something just for me, but my writing became more than that. It became my passion. Naptime was "my time." Again, life got in the way with three more children and a master's degree to finish, but this time I didn't stop writing. I continued to write on and off for years as we moved time and again, but didn't really get serious about my writing until 2000 when I joined RWA and the New England chapter.
My biggest challenge other than finding the time to write has been wasting too many years on trying to make my first "baby" sell. That book that I started in 1995 took 5 years to write and has been about 10 books. I made it single title, then it was category, then it bacame several versions of each. Instead of writing ten books, I basically spent my time applying everything I learned to that one book. In 2004 I moved back to central NY, joined CNYRW, and started attending writing conferences with my CP Barbie Jo Mahoney. Just when I was getting ready to finally put my first book down and start something new, ironically, that's the book that landed me my agent. It finaled in the New Jersey Put Your Heart in a Book contest in 2006 and won the single title category. Agent Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency was at that conference. We met and hit it off instantly, and she asked me to send her the full. I sent it when I got home and two days later she called me, offering representation. I met my second CP, Danielle LaBue, at that confrence as well. I could not do any of this without my fellow Book Cents Babes.
After I signed with Christine in 2006, I thought that was it. I'd finally made it. But after I didn't sell right away, I had my first revelation. I needed to give my agent more books to shop around instead of waiting and hoping on just one book. So in two years time, I wrote a romantic comedy, a funny chick lit, and a funny mom lit. I kept hearing all the same things from editors: love her voice, great writing style, and if this was a year ago, she would have sold, but the market is saturated right now with those type of stories. Does she have anything else? I had my second revelation. I could sell off just a partial. I had an agent, and editors had read my work and knew I could complete a book, so all I needed was a partial now. I went on this partial kick. I then wrote a partial of a funny chick lit mystery, a funny category Christmas romance, and a humorous non-fiction narrative. Ironically again, I ended up deciding that my first book had made all the rounds anyway, so why not give the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest a shot. I entered and finaled in 2008, much to my amazement. The contest was a great experience, and gained me lots of exposure, renewing my confidence that I did have talent and I could sell if I just didn't give up.
After finaling and placing in other contests as well as the Amazon, but still not selling, I had a third revelation. You never know what you might be good at or enjoy writing if you don't step outside of your box and try something new. But in this case, these new editors wouldn't have read anything I wrote, so I knew I couldn't get away with a partial. I needed a full again. So I took my first book yet again, as well as my chick lit adult story, and adapted them both to young adult romantic comedies. Again the editors loved my voice, but thought the stories were too old for YA, and the stories had been done before.
This led to my fourth revelation. You can be a fantastic writer, but if the concept isn't that unique, then it probably won't sell. Yet you can be a good writer who's maybe not fantastic, but if the concept is high enough, an editor will probably take a chance on you. I knew I could write a partial now, so I really did my research this time to see what genre was selling well. Then I tried to come up with ideas I didn't see that were unique. In 2008 I wrote a partial of a young adult fantasy, a young adult paranormal, and a young adult paranormal sci-fi. When those didn't sell, I made them tween. When they still didn't sell, I tried them at upper middle grade and finally found where my voice fit. The sereis I thought would sell--the straight paranormal--fell through at the last minute. I was devastated and, for the first time ever, thought of giving up. But then just 48 hours later, a different editor at the same house said she loved my voice and what else did I have. We gave her the paranormal sci-fi, which was called Hard Wired at the time but is now The Samantha Granger Experiment, and she loved it. She offered me a three book deal at the end of June in 2009. Fifth revelation. Always have a backup plan because if an editor loves your voice but a particular story won't work for them and they ask what else does she have...you will be ready!
Since I wasted so much time in the past and because I have an agent now, I never write anything I haven't run by her. I'm not saying write to the market, but definitely pay attention to the market and be open to trying something new. You have to like writing in the genre you're in. I write funny. I would never write a thriller or horror even if they were selling like hotcakes. However, if a certain genre was hot and I knew I could add my brand of funny to that grenre, then I would go for it. I also write fast, so that makes a difference. If you write slow, then something else might be hot by the time you finish. It just depends on what type of writer you are and whether or not you can get away with a partial or a full. What I do is I always ask my agent what editors are looking for. When she tells me, I do my homework. I find out what is out there already, and then I try to think of ideas that aren't out there. Then I write just a blurb for the idea and run it by my agent. If she tells me that won't work for whatever reason, then I don't waste my time. I come up with another idea and blurb. Then when I get the go ahead on an idea, I write the synopsis. I always write my synopsis first now because you don't know all the details, so there's no risk of telling everything and having a boring synopsis. If you just try to tell what the book is about like you're telling your CP about your new idea, then it comes off much more exciting. Once I run the synopsis by my agent, I don't write the story until I get the go ahead and work out any plot issues that might be a problem. Then my synopsis becomes the perfect road map for a partial which is the setup of a book anyway. After that, I plot as I go along, chapter by chapter. I usually write about 4 pages an hour, and I write about 4 hours a day now that my kids are all in school :-)
Having taken so long to sell, it's hard to turn down an opportunity when it comes along. When my agent found out an editor she knew well was moving to another house, she immediately called her and asked her what she was looking for. The editor said she wanted to buy cozy mysteriees, so my agent thought of me since I did have a mystery, albeit more of a chick lit mystery than a cozy, but we both thought why not at least try. Well, the editor loved my voice and loved the story, but said there's no way they'll let me pick it up as a cozy. Does she have anything else? I really didn't but at this point it was no longer about selling for me. It was about career longevity. One of my career goals had always been to be in both the young adult and the adult world and at two different houses. I just hadn't thought it would happen this soon, but who knows when I'd get another shot, so I decided to go for it.
Revelation Six was target your homework. If you don't have anything else, but an editor loves your voice, then come up with something just for them. Since each publishing house has its own set of needs and slots to fill, I decided to research this house's site. I wrote down every theme they had for their cozy mysteries, and then I came up with three different story ideas. My agent gave them to the editor who was so impressed she picked the one she liked best, telling me light paranorml did really well for them. Then I wrote a ten page synopsis and my agent sent it to her. The editor loved the story and said they didn't have anything like that so she took it to her boss. Only a week and a half later at the end of November (just 5 months after my first 3 book deal), my agent got me another 3 book deal. Now, for the first time in a very long time, I think I've finally made it. But imagine if I had given up...I would have spent the rest of my life wondering what if I'd tried just one more time...
Never give up, don't be afraid to try something new, and work harder than you ever thought you'd have to. I truly believe if you want this badly enough, it will happen. The only people who will never sell are those who give up.

29 comments:

Cassy Pickard said...

Kari: I loved your post. Thanks for first being so honest about your path and second for being such a good cheerleader. Those of us who are still in the unpublished world hang onto stories like yours.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

That's the very reason I love to tell my story. It took me 14 years to sell....3 of them with my agent.

I think the most important thing you can do is to work as a team, listen to your agent, and keep learning and growing from the experience.

People say it's a cinderella story...in a way I guess it is. Cinderella had to through hell and back and work her butt off to get what she wanted.

So go make your own fairy-tale, my people :-)

Melissa said...

So exciting....what's the theme of the second series?

Marilyn said...

Kari, you certainly deserve success! You paid your dues!

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks Melissa. The second series is called The Fortune Teller Mystery Series and each book will focus on a different fortune-telling tool. So book one is called Tempest in the Tea Leaves and book two is Corpse in the Crystal Ball and book three will be Trouble in the Tarot. The main character is named Sunny Meadows and she is a real psychic, she just uses the fortune-telling tools to help her with her visions.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks Marilyn :-)

Liz Lipperman said...

Kari, although I knew your story, it was still inspiring to read it. I can say I knew you when.

My story is similar. I had 4 completed manuscripts when an editor said, "Can she write a cozy?" So you are absolutely right about writing new stuff all the time. So many of my friends are stuck on one book the way you were. Actually, I have one like that, too, that I love. Hopefully, one day it will sell, but in the meantime, I've discovered I can write in a genre I would never have guessed I could.

Your story (and mine) should give hope to writers out there who hear that, "I love her voice but..."

Great blog, chica.

Donna Cummings said...

Kari, this was really great. Thanks for sharing it.

I agree about everyone going out to make their own fairy tale. :) That's excellent advice.

Cassy Pickard said...

Are there others out there who have winning stories like this one?

Melissa said...

Oops I knew about the Fortune Teller Series...can't wait for that one! I guess the one I don't know about is the theme for the first series...love those cozies!!!

Lindsay said...

Congrats on your long hard works success Kari.
Sorry Cassy, no fantastic success story here. Still writing and trying to sell. Except now I have Tomato Bisque soup to warm me.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks Liz! I thought it fitting at this time, since people need to be reminded that while times are tough, they are NOT impossible.

They just have to want it badly enough and be patient.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

I agree, Donna. You have have to be obsessed almost, and have the attitude of "What's sellin? Well, I can do that, just watch me!"

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks Lindsay :-)

And Melissa, the other series is a teen superhero series called The Samantha Granger Experiment. In book one, Fused, Sam is obsessed with her cell phone and all things technology. When she touches a glowing rock, it turns out to be a radioactive meteor and she gets zapped. When she wakes up, her cell phone is missing. It is now fused to her spinal cord and she becomes the very piece of technology she's so obsessed with.

GPS in her head, cell in her hand, instant iTunes anytime, Internet 24/7 with always 4 bars and a battery that never dies :-) My 4 kids are all obsessed with their gadgets and that's how I came up with the idea. I once said, "If you guys don't put those stupid things down, you're going to turn into them!"

Hello, what a fabulous idea. Thanks, guys :-) That's also the series that has Hollywood interest. It's been adapted to a screenplay by a hollywood director and is being discussed at studios as we speak, so cross your fingers and stay tuned!

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Kari, I heard your story at Nationals with Christine when you did the panel. I loved reading it again and having the revelations highlighted in red. I need them printed out and hanging above my computer!

Kari Lee Townsend said...

I hear ya, Tiffinie. I need to remind myself somedays :-) In the end, this crazy business we are in IS all worth it.

T.H. Browning said...

Kari, thanks for sharing your path to publishing. As a newly agented writer you have provided EXCELLENT advice and hope for my writing career. I feel so fortunate to have such a wonderful, talented and supportive BC family to help me learn and grow within this difficult business -- and of course the most fabulous agent who I am thankful for everyday! :) XOXO

Kari Lee Townsend said...

T.H., you can so do this. Just hang in there and keep working hard. It WILL happen, you just have to know this business is slower than ever these days.

I've learned not to sweat the things we can't control. And trust my agent to do her job while I do mine.

E.C. Smith said...

I love this post....huge resonance for me. Especially the part about stepping outside your confront zone. I did just that a couple of months ago and discovered not only how much fun it is, but that doors do open and opportunities do come if you're willing to try something new.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

So glad to hear that, EC. It really is true. You never know what can happen unless you open yourself up to it. Good luck to you.

Cassy Pickard said...

Go give up, Lindsay and enjoy the tomato bisque.

Kari, I think you've touched a cord here in a big way. Both you and Liz have wonderful stories. I think you should adapt it for RWA's magazine. Truly.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Great idea Cassy. I just might have to do that :-)

Anita Clenney said...

Kari, I loved hearing your journey. It's really inspiring, and you're proof that there can be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Rochelle Staab said...

Kari - what an inspirational story! Every novice writer should read this and BELIEVE.

Never give up. Never surrender. Believe in yourself.
Your journey is proof!

Mary Moreno said...

Thanks for the inspiration, Kari. Your post started my day on a positive note.

Manhattan Mary

Kari Lee Townsend said...

You're welcome Mary! Glad I could lift your spirits. This business isn't for the faint of heart, that's for sure.

Gwen Hankins said...

Kari,
Thanks so much for your post. Leigh Michaels referred us to your blog and I'm so glad she did. I have been up till now almost 4am writing, wondering if someone who writes seriously will ever live close enough to have a crit partner and whether I should just quit and blah, blah, blah, ...Your post put a spring in my step. I have been writing my whole life. Taking classes. Going to conventions when I can. You turned a light on-Thanks!! I can't wait to read this rest of this blog. Thanks

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Awww, thanks Gwen :-)

This business is so difficult but so worth it in the end. Just never give up and always be on the lookout for a way to break in. Think outside of the box and try new things.

It WILL happen eventually if you want it badly enough and are willing to work hard for it.

Good luck! Can't wait to see you on the shelves someday.

June Shaw said...

Kari,

I still have your email from November 25, 2009, on the teenlitauthors' group. Christine had just sold your second set of books after recently selling the first ones. How inspiring! Love your story.