Friday, 19 March 2010

How I Got Published: Karen Schwabach

Today Karen Schwaback explains how a combination of her membership of a professional writers' association and a very sensible sister led to her eventual publication despite her efforts to scupper her own success.

My middle-grades historical fiction manuscript, A Pickpocket's Tale, won the Sydney Taylor Manuscript contest, which is open only to unpublished writers and is free to enter. There's a nice prize, but it doesn't include publication.

Then I joined SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). They have a bimonthly journal which lists market updates at the end—often the contact information for editors who are reading. In one 2002 issue, a young editor at Random House was listed as interested in middle-grades historical fiction, so I sent her Pickpocket.

It was a year before she contacted me—via my yahoo email address, because by that time I'd moved from Alaska to North Carolina and had completely forgotten having submitted to her. She said she liked the story but wanted to see revisions. When I sent those, she sent them back with what I now recognize was an editorial letter (a detailed request for revisions)—but at the time I thought it was a rejection. Now I wonder how many writers receive such letters and go off in a huff as I almost did.

Fortunately my sister talked sense into me, I did the revisions, and they made an offer for A Pickpocket's Tale, which was published in 2006, and was followed by The Hope Chest two years later. I definitely had no connections, but did have two important assets that I recommend to anyone trying to break in:

1. Join your genre's professional organization if there is one, so that you can get constant market updates

2. Enter contests, including those open only to unpublished writers, so that you can get credentials

Good luck!


Sophie Playle said...

Two solid pieces of advice. Well done on your publications, Karen!

Jill said...

Yes, yes, and yes again! Joining a writing organization helps! You meet people, get ideas, get feedback, learn of events and opportunities. Nothing to lose!

I also agree with contests, provided they are not terribly expensive to enter (if you go hog wild, you can spend a small fortune!)


Nicola Morgan said...

Good advice, Karen. And I'm glad you make the point about not having any special contacts - most writers gets published through writing the writing book well enough, and persevering, not through any fancy inside knowledge. Well done!

Karen Schwabach said...

Thanks, Sophie, Jill, Nicola, Jane :).

Jill, I stuck with no-fee contests because of the rule about the money only flowing one way. But then some of the ones that charge fees are quite prestigious.

Nicola, I have a quote of yours taped to the wall: "The story is king." Jim C. Hines has been posting the results of his authors' survey, which show that indeed most first time novelists do not have insider contacts:

Nicola Morgan said...

Wow, you mean I'm quoted? AND pinned to a wall? Srsly, I'm flattered and amazed. Thank you for making my day!

Karen Cioffi said...

Hi, there. I found your site through the NWFCC which led me to Children's Publishing, to you. Round about way, kind of how your book found it's publisher

I agree that you need to keep current with the market and keep submitting your work; perseverance is the name of the game.

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

This is a great reminder. A writer/illustrator, I've been remiss about following up when someone has expressed interest in my work - which happened twice at SCBWI conferences. Thank you for sharing your story.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Not sure how I ended up here, but am glad I did. Congrats on the publication and great advice. I use novel contests for another reason, to jumpstart rewriting it because of the all important word -DEADLINE. I think, ok, if I drop everything else, I can meet this deadline, then I get it out and now I have a chance.

I applied this to the on-going Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, made the first round cut, based on the 300-word pitch (an art in itself) and now I'm anxiously waiting to see if I made it through the second round and into the quarter finals. This comes with a publishing contract and tons of publicity.

I'm pushing another deadline for the Faulkner-Wisdom contest. A ton is a getting rewritten. Been short listed/almost finalist two years in a row for two novels and I'm revising them both again.

Novel Contests (I agree they can be pricy, so be choosey!) and deadlines, from obscurity to publication! Others do it all the time, so can we.

Another big tip, rewriting. The novel in the Amazon contest has gone through 21 drafts, and each draft two or three back to back edits including some printout edits, too.

Keep in the hunt and keep your work out there where others can read it. All the best.

Crystal said...

This was very INSPIRING! Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Karen! :)

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

Thank you for the great suggestions! I am new to this and can use all of the advice I can get!
Lindsey Petersen