Things I Wish I Knew: Q&A with author Karen Katchur

Ever wonder how published authors balance writing and the rest of their lives? Or what it’s like to have that breakthrough moment with a manuscript? Karen Katchur, author of THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne), has some answers for you. Karen’s first novel THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD was declared a “Best Summer Debut” by Library Journal. Her next novel is set to be published in early 2017. Follow her on Twitter.

On writing schedules, inspiration, advice to her former self, and the rollercoaster of emotions that is writing…here’s a Q&A with Karen Katchur:

What is some advice you’d go back and give your unpublished self?

The only thing I can think of is to stop worrying so much. Control what I can. And stop worrying about the things I can’t. I have a feeling I’ll be telling my future self this as well. It’s something I need to work on.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

My writing days all start the same. I exercise first thing in the morning after the kiddos leave for school. It’s during this time that I think about what I’m working on that day whether it’s a particular scene, or character, or plot point. Then I take notes before hopping in the shower. Sometimes I come up with the best ideas in the shower! I don’t think I’m alone in this. I sit at my desk for the rest of the day until my kiddos get home from school. Some days I’m able to get another hour or two of writing time in after they’re home. On a typical day I write anywhere from three to six hours. That’s not to say some of those hours aren’t spent staring at a blank page on the computer screen!

How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Since my schedule revolves around my family’s schedule, I have to be flexible. And balancing the house chores, the kids, the pets, etc… is a daily battle. Some days I succeed and some days I don’t. I think it’s about prioritizing. If a deadline is approaching then the cleaning and laundry and other daily chores have to wait. Also, unless I have a deadline looming, I only write Monday through Friday. I take weekends off to spend with my family. I find I need the break from whatever I’m working on to think and come back to it with fresh eyes. I don’t subscribe to the “write every day” rule. I need time away from the writing in order to think, to feel, to figure out my characters, their motivations, the plot or whatever it is I’m working on.

Can you describe a moment when you’ve had a “breakthrough” with your
manuscript?

There’s such a feeling of euphoria when things finally click whether it’s with understanding your character, or getting yourself out of a plot hole. While I was writing THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD, I remember struggling with the plot and trying to find a way to connect the past and present mysteries that felt natural for the story. I think I brainstormed with you, Carly! I can’t reveal what we came up with since I don’t want to give anything away, but it was such an easy fix because the groundwork was already there, and it made sense for the story. It’s on those days you feel brilliant. Nothing can stop you! Until the next problem with the character or plot or setting or whatever. It truly is an emotional rollercoaster hitting all the highs and lows. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, Why am I doing this to myself? And then I have a day where it all comes together, and I’m like, Oh yeah, that’s why!

What are you reading now?

I just finished THE GOOD GOODBYE, by Carla Buckley- fantastic read! And I’m just starting PRETTY GIRLS, by Karin Slaughter. Up next, ONE MORE DAY, by Kelly Simmons

Karen Katchur is a full-time fiction writer and winner of a short story award. She is an active member in both the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and Romance Writers of America and has held various board positions in the local chapter, Pocono Lehigh Romance Writers. When she’s not reading or writing, she instructs fitness classes and holds a M. Ed in Health and Physical Education as well as a B.S. in Criminal Justice. She lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters.

Further reading: Karen Katchur in Writer’s Digest

“This beautiful, heartbreaking, and affecting debut, reminiscent of the work of Heather ­Gudenkauf, will have readers craving more from Katchur.” – Library Journal

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Things I Wish I Knew: Taylor Jenkins Reid, 4 Books Later

OneTrueLovesFinalFor the next instalment of “Things I Wish I Knew,” this author needs no introduction: Taylor Jenkins Reid. She is an author, essayist, and TV writer from Acton, Massachusetts. Her debut novel, Forever, Interrupted, has been optioned with Dakota Johnson attached to star. She is adapting her second book, After I Do, for Freeform, formerly known as ABC Family. Her most recent novel, Maybe In Another Life, has been featured in People, US Weekly, Cosmo, and more. One True Loves will be released in June. In addition to her novels, Taylor’s essays have appeared in the Los Angeles TimesThe Huffington Post, xoJane, and a number of other blogs. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.

You are now 4 books into your career! If you had some advice for your debut author self, what would it be?

I’d probably warn myself to be patient. That first book felt like the only book for so long — and now I’m working on my fifth. I think I felt pressure back then to make my debut represent everything I wanted to say. But most people, when writing a debut, are trying to start a life-long career. Think of your debut as the first of many, not your only shot at the plate. 

What do you see as the author’s role on social media platforms?

It’s about showing readers who you are. I know when I fall in love with a book, or a TV show, or a movie, I start Googling everyone involved after I’m done in the hopes of delaying the end as long as possible. Finding the authors of the books that spoke to you, learning who they are, can be an extension of the reading experience. I’m not a commodity but if I was, I’d like to think of myself as the DVD special features of my own work. 

Can you talk about how you draft and what your schedule looks like from research to finished manuscript?

Ha! I swear, I think I have a plan all sorted out with each book and then it never goes the way I think it will. For the most part, I start with a beginning and an ending in mind and I start writing. I try to write between 3-5k a day. That’s a high word count and I can stick to it because during my first draft stages, I do absolutely nothing else. I don’t have much of a life for those 4-6 weeks. 

Once the first draft is done, I let it sit on my computer untouched for as long as I can, schedule-wise. And then I come back to it, read it, make a list of everything that isn’t working, and get started editing — again a certain amount of words per day. Hopefully, by the end of it, I have something that won’t embarrass me. (But that is not always the case…)

You’re published in 14 languages. What has it been like seeing the foreign editions of your work come in? What’s your favorite cover?

This is probably the most surreal of the book publishing experiences, mostly because I can’t read my own work! It’s been interesting to see what I can piece together and what I can’t. And it’s been very fun to learn how different countries market books. I think my favorite covers so far have been the Spanish editions. They are so bright and inviting! Italy also did a very cool “date with a book” campaign where Forever, Interrupted was sold in a gorgeous paper-bag-like sheath with a general, vague description of the emotional through-line of the book. I loved that.

What can readers expect from you next? 

Next up is One True Loves — out June 7th. It’s about a woman who marries her high school sweetheart only to have his plane go missing. Years later, after she has become engaged to someone else, he’s found alive, ready to come home to her. I like to think of it as Cast Away from Helen Hunt’s point of view. 

This book is a perfect example of a draft that did not go the way I scheduled. But it turned out to be one of my favorites — all the better for the time it took. 

Things I Wish I Knew: Navigating Publishing Contracts

Woman's hand signing documents

I’m obviously pro-agent. I believe we add huge value to a writer’s career in all areas, but most importantly protecting their intellectual property rights through their contracts. However, sometimes writers get into contract situations without an agent and don’t know what to do. Or, some writers like to learn about the business side of things. This post is for you.

Susan Spann is a publishing law attorney and hosts a Wednesday information session on Twitter called #PubLaw where you can follow along with the hashtag. (Do it!) I’ve been following, and retweeting, her #PubLaw advice for a couple years now and I think you’ll find this edition of “Things I Wish I Knew” extremely helpful on the contracts side of things. I’ve asked her a number of questions about contracts as well as what happens when a writer gets a contract and doesn’t have an agent: what should they do? Read on…

What is the one thing you wish debut authors knew about their publishing contract? 

That they have the ability to walk away if a publisher won’t agree to industry-standard terms, and that both the author and his or her work deserves the respect of a contract that doesn’t abuse or overreach the industry standards. 

Far too often, I hear from authors who signed non-standard contracts—either from ignorance or from a mistaken belief that as new authors they “didn’t deserve” the same protection as more seasoned authors. Not surprisingly, they come to regret that decision, but once the contract is signed it’s often too late to help them. 

Take the time to get professional review of every contract, and have the courage to walk away from any publisher or deal that tries to take unfair advantage—having no contract is infinitely better than finding yourself in the publishing version of an abusive relationship down the line. 

 

If writers don’t have an agent who should look at their contract? 

An agent! (Kidding…) Real answer: an agent or an attorney who specializes in publishing contracts. Publishing deals differ from standard contracts, and not all contract attorneys understand the details of publishing well enough to review a contract for an author. 

I know many authors who secured an agent after receiving a contract offer, and many more who reach out to me or to other publishing lawyers for contract review when the deal comes in. Find an experienced lawyer or agent, and get a professional opinion on the contract before you sign. 

 

What has been the best part of starting your #publaw hashtag on Twitter? What’s the reception been like?

I started the #PubLaw hashtag in the hope that it would be come a resource for authors seeking to learn about publishing industry standards and how to protect their legal rights. In many cases, authors can be their own first line of defense against scams and unscrupulous publishers, but you have to know your rights in order to defend them!

I’m thrilled to see how much #PubLaw has grown since I started the hashtag back in 2010. The response from authors and other industry professionals has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s wonderful to hear how many authors have been able to protect themselves after seeing something posted on the #PubLaw feed. The work is definitely ongoing—but it’s great to see the hashtag and the people who interact on it with me helping to spread the word about publishing industry standards and authors’ rights.

 

What’s the best online resource for publishing contracts? 

That’s a rough question – there’s a lot of good information out there, but also a lot that isn’t reliable. 

I’m trying to build a solid resource on my blog (at SusanSpann.com/blog, in the #PubLaw for Writers and Contracts categories), and SFWA’s Writer Beware (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) and the Writer Beware Blog (http://accrispin.blogspot.com) also have excellent posts about contract issues and regular warnings about scams and dangerous publishers. 

Generally speaking, I recommend that authors depend on online resources and industry watchdogs who have experience negotiating contracts (agents and publishing attorneys) and who offer information that isn’t filled with inflammatory or self-serving rhetoric. Read widely, and use good judgment when deciding who to trust.

 

What are you reading for fun right now?

I just finished Jennifer Kincheloe’s fantastic debut mystery, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc (Seventh Street Books), Kerry Schafer’s fast-paced paranormal mystery, Dead Before Dying (Diversion Books), and a delightful anthology of World War I short stories called Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War (HarperCollins).

 The book currently on my nightstand is James Rollins’s The Bone Labyrinth (HarperCollins), and Michael Koryta’s So Cold the River is queued on my Kindle. 

I’ve also got A Brief History of Seppuku and a history of medieval Japanese ninjas on my desk, as research for my fifth Hiro Hattori novel (working title Betrayal at Iga), which I’m currently editing. Research is fun too! 

Thank you so much for asking, and for letting me answer these questions for your blog!

Susan Spann is a California attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur, 2013), was Library Journal’s Mystery Debut of the Month and a Silver Falchion finalist for Best First Novel. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, releases August 2, 2016 from Seventh Street Books. Susan is the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and shares publishing legal and business information on the Twitter #PubLaw hashtag.

Things I Wish I Knew: Book Baristas Tips for Social Media

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.22.30 AMIf you don’t know about Book Baristas you’re probably not on Instagram. Book Baristas, at the time of writing, has approximately 80,000 Instagram followers and is certainly one of the most followed and respected “bookstagramers” around. If you’re on Instagram be sure to follow her! If you’re on the fence about the power of Instagram for books I think she’ll convince you it’s necessary.

She recently took a job working in publishing and has moved to NYC. She continues to blog and bookstagram while working for Penguin Books. Her name is Natasha Minoso and she’s our next “Things I Wish I Knew” series interviewee. I was thrilled to direct her some questions I know writers ask a lot: how do I grow my online platform and how do I work with book bloggers? Read on for the answers…

Book Baristas is a major book recommendation source on Instagram! Congratulations on building that platform. What do you wish you knew when you started it? 

Thank you! I wish I would have known that it would be both extremely time consuming and addictive. It’s a lot of work to keep up an Instagram, but its 100% worth it to be able to connect with readers/authors/publishers all over the world on one platform.

When you started Book Baristas did you strategically plan for it to grow on Instagram (as opposed to Twitter) or was that a natural place for the platform to develop? How fast did it grow?

I definitely didn’t plan for it to become as big as it is – creating an Instagram for the blog was just another outlet I could use to drive traffic to my blog’s website. It became apparent that Instagram was going to play a bigger role in this whole blogging world I was suddenly a part of. I’d say it started growing a lot faster after one of my first-ever Instagram giveaways (#BookBaristas5k) in February of 2015 that ended up being a crazy successful giveaway. Since then, it’s been kind of a whirlwind!

What advice can you give to writers about working with book bloggers or Instagram reviewers?

I’d say to remember that these bloggers/reviewers are going to be busy reading/reviewing a ton of other books and to be patient with the time that it can take for a review/Instagram feature to go up. Personally, I feel a sense of urgency when a writer will ask me when exactly I plan to put up a review. Blogging can feel insanely overwhelming so I’d just be more aware of that. Also, be prepared for whatever review/rating you get – sometimes a story doesn’t resonate with a reader and that’s okay.  

What advice do you have for writers or bloggers trying to grow their platforms? 

Be authentic – your personality and style will make your platforms sing. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be original with your words and ideas. Know your audience – every platform will attract different types of readers. Be honest with your content – if you are passionate about your work, it will show and people are more likely to appreciate your honesty! Lastly, remember that if reading and sharing your love of reading with others is something that you adore doing, then you are in the right place! Books are what bind us together in this community – don’t forget that we are all just readers finding our place in this online bookish world.

For more, follow Book Baristas on Twitter, Instagram and the blog, or follow Natasha’s personal account on Twitter.