QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interview: From Slush Pile to Publication

Karen Sandler is our latest Querytracker.net success story with a book coming out (September, 2011). We hope you enjoy her interview. If you have any questions, I'm sure she would love to answer them.
Can you tell us about your journey from The Call to now?
Looking at my records, my first query for TANKBORN went out October 13, 2009. Before the process was over, I’d sent out 28 total. In some cases, the agents’ submission requirements allowed me to send part of the manuscript. In a very few cases after sending only a query I got requests for the partial and even the full. Two agencies that requested the full eventually made me offers of representation within days of each other in late February 2010.

I’d always thought it would be very cool to have more than one agent “fighting” over me. But I loved them both and it was difficult and sort of heartbreaking to have to choose one. Eventually I decided on Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

Based on Matt’s notes and those of his fabulous assistant/junior agent Lindsay Ribar, I did an extensive (but not the first) re-write, with much back and forth with Matt & Lindsay. When we were all satisfied, the book went out in early April 2010. We got an offer for Italian rights in early May (seemed very unusual to sell foreign rights before a U.S. sale. Then in late August, came the offer from Lee & Low Books. TANKBORN would be one of three launch books for Lee & Low’s new YA/MG imprint, Tu Books.

Once the contract with Lee & Low was in place, there were two more extensive re-writes based on notes from my editor, Stacy Whitman. Along the way, we discussed cover art and Stacy also commissioned an artist to draw a map of Svarga, the main continent on the planet Loka where the story takes place. The map (based on a very crude one that I drew) will be included in the book. Stacy also had an expert in Indian culture read the manuscript to be sure I didn’t commit any major faux pas.
The most recent milestone for TANKBORN is that the cover was just released and I’m waiting on copyedited galleys.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
I had gotten very used to writing what are called “category” or “series” romance novels. In my particular line, six books are released every month. They’re quite short (55K-60K for the ones I wrote) and the turnaround time is short as well. So I could write a book in about four months (and I know authors who write them even more quickly). I was used to writing at least two a year, with time left over for other projects. There would be one round of very light editing for my book, then later a quick read-through for typos and that was it as far as editing was concerned.
For TANKBORN, a full-length (~97K words) science fiction book, there were four rounds of very extensive re-writes. Based on my past experience of being lightly edited, I thought this meant that there was something wrong with me as a writer. Lindsay assured me that what we were going through was par for the course. I’d just never had the luxury of an editor being so focused on my book and being able to give me such thorough notes.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn’t you?
There have been many times when I considered giving up. Back in the late ‘90s, early 2000s when I didn’t have a sale for three years. More recently when I submitted five (yes, five) proposals to my editor at Harlequin and he turned down every one. Luckily, I’d been working on TANKBORN during that time, so I had somewhere to turn when I got discouraged.
I didn’t give up because I’ve always wanted to be a writer (at least since I was 9 years old). I identify so strongly with being a writer, it’s hard to imagine not doing it. I will always find a way to write.
What is the hardest/least favorite part of being a writer?
There are two very difficult aspects to writing, and they’re related to one another. First, I despise the waiting—to hear back from an agent, to find a publisher willing to take a chance on your book, to have to wait for reader reactions because the book doesn’t come out for a year or six months. The other aspect is that so many other people seem to control at least part of your career. Often, without an agent, you can’t get your book to a publisher. Without a publisher, you can’t get your book published. Even if it’s published, you can’t make readers fork out their money to buy it and you certainly can’t make them like it.
Nowadays, the opportunities for self-publishing have the potential for removing the “obstacles” of agents and publishers. But there’s still the issue with finding readers (or readers finding you), which is even more difficult with that mode of publishing your book.
If you could give a message to aspiring authors everywhere, what would it be?
If you truly want to see your work published, keep working at it. Don’t allow yourself to mope for longer than a day when you get a rejection. Remember, you’re only getting rejections because you’re getting your work out there. If you’re persistent and talented, you will likely reach your goal of publication.
What is your advice to new or unpublished writers? 
Improve your craft. So many editors or agents say “write the book of your heart” or “write the best book you can.” But you can’t do either one if you don’t know the basics of spelling, grammar, character development and story construction. So take classes if they’re available (there are many online). Go to writer’s conferences where you’ll not only learn your craft, you’ll have a chance to meet bestselling authors, agents and editors. Join or form a critique group. You need outside eyes to read your work.
What kinds of things are you doing to promote your books? Did you do anything before you found an agent? If so, what?
Keeping my blog, website and Twitter feed up to date. Doing school visits, book signings, attending conferences. If television or radio interview opportunities come up, I’ll be glad to do them. I’ve been doing these kinds of things for years, both while represented and not.
Is there anything you wished you had done differently?
There are individual decisions I sometimes second-guess myself on, hindsight being 20-20 and all. I always wish I was more disciplined in my writing. But everything I’ve done, right or wrong, has been a learning experience.
What are you working on now?
I just submitted a proposal for a TANKBORN sequel. I’m also working on a re-write of a paranormal YA.
Karen Sandler can be found on her website, blog, and Twitter (@karensandlerYA)


Karen said...

Oh the waiting, the waiting. Definitely the hardest part!

The books sounds great, I'll be adding it to my pile :o)

Karen Sandler said...

Thanks, Karen (from Karen) :-)

lake said...

What is tank born all about and why must I read it! Just interested!

lake said...

What is tank born all about and why must I read it! Just interested!