More of Me
The Learning Curve - Insights from Debut Authors
by Nicky Schmidt
Of all the Debut Author Interviews I’ve done for Words & Pictures, this is one of the most special - as I get to interview one of my long-time critique partners and dear friend, Kathryn Evans.
As every Debut Interview starts...
For many the road to publication is long and fraught. For Kathy this has indeed been a long and challenging road, but it is a road she has walked with singular grace, humour, and tremendous kindness and generosity to others, especially her fellow writers and pals at SCBWI. I have shared Kathy’s joy at hearing the news of her deal, squealed with excitement at a very early sneak preview of the cover of More of Me, and listened to her worries about edits. It was with great delight that I was able to ask Kathy to participate in the Debut Author Series. Here’s her story…
From the time you first started writing, how long did it take to get a publishing deal?
Ah, well, that’s a difficult one to be accurate with – I’ve always written. I was writing at university and writing for magazines when Beloved and I set up our first farm. Writing books, trying to be published, that began when my daughter was little and she’s now 21. I guess it took ten years to be signed by my agent and another five before we sold my first book. A VERY LONG TIME. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Sophie held the faith – even when I wavered, she never did.
It is said that writers have to be persevering and have a tough skin – did you find you grew in endurance and perseverance? Did you ever think about giving up? What made you keep going?
I used to be an actor, you learn to suck up rejection and try and take something positive from it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when it comes, but if you really want to do something, you have to be able to fail, learn and move on. I’m naturally tenacious – it helps. It’s to do with pride too – it sounds backwards, you’d think every time your pride took a rejection kicking you’d move closer to giving up but it stiffened my resolve. And I can’t not write – I’ve tried, it made me miserable and horrible to live with. I think, if you are driven to write, and you can learn to take the positives from rejection (they are usually there, we often choose not to see them) you’ve nothing to lose by trying to get published. Getting rejections puts you in good company, after all.
How did you feel when you first landed your deal? Did it feel like the world had changed? How long did the excitement last?
An email popped up from my agent headed OFFER! Any email from her made my heart pound but one with this heading? I opened it, trembling and then squealed like a stuck pig. As it sank in, I cried with relief. I’ve had so many people encouraging me, supporting me – my agent, my critique group, my SCBWI friends, my husband, my kids – I felt like, finally, I could say look, I did it, we did it. It was validation and that was what I’d been striving for. It didn’t feel like the world had changed – for a long while I didn’t really trust it had actually happened, but the excitement is still with me. I am loving every second of this journey.
If you think about the amount of work you did on your story pre-deal, how much more work did you have to do once you’d landed your deal – did you realise the real work had only just begun and how surprised where you by that?
There was quite a lot more work and I’m glad of it. Working with an editor was a thing I dreamed of, more than seeing my book in the hands of a child! Coming from a theatre background I was really comfortable with an actor/director relationship. I expected it to be the same and it really has been. The book went through four significant edits. Sarah, my editor, told me from the outset to expect that. By the time we got to the fourth though, I knew I had to nail it. I knew, too, that something was still wrong with the pace. Sarah had suggested cutting some scenes that had a similar tone to them but I just didn’t have the nerve. The book went out early for cover quotes and Mary Hoffman gave me a great review but made the same comment. It gave me the courage to do what needed to be done - over the next few days I cut 2000 words. 2000 on the final edit! It was exactly what the book needed and my editor was delighted. I honestly don’t understand why people get so precious about their manuscripts, for me, good editorial input is an absolute gift.
As the creator of your story, having always been in control of your characters and your plot, how did you find taking on board someone else’s comments and suggestions – was it like losing control and did you ever argue with your editor?
Never, I loved it! And she was always kind and always right. I’d have been a fool to ignore her. That’s not to say I always roll over and do what I’m told – very often I went much further than she’d initially suggested – she may have lit the fire but I fanned the flames! It was different with copy edits – I thought that would be a box ticking exercise and it definitely wasn’t. It was a different editor, one I had no relationship with and who didn’t say any nice things to temper the challenging ones. Sarah was between us though so I coped. I did stick to my guns over a few things there, particularly turns of phrase that I think are part of my voice, but again, on the whole, the copy editor saw things that did need addressing!
Assuming you took the majority of suggestions on board, how do you feel it impacted on your story?
It’s a much better book. Tighter, more focused. Right to the end, even after copy edits, I was still begging Sarah to let me know if she was uncomfortable with anything – I wanted it to be as perfect as possible. I’m really proud of it now. Although the temptation to tweak never goes away!
How have you found working with illustrators and cover designers? How much involvement have you had with the graphic content of your book (covers or illustrations)?
I had very little involvement – I was sent the first draft of the cover and I suggested the girl on the cover needed deeper blue eyes. That’s all though, and they took that on board. They know what they’re doing, I love the cover they’ve created, really love it. I think it’s clever and striking and perfect for my story.
Do you think that having had your first book published, your writing life will be easier and your career will be on track? Do you think it will all be easier the second time round?
I don’t know. It depends how this book sells, doesn’t it? I don’t think it’ll be easier – I feel the pressure to produce something as good as More of Me and that’s daunting. People take you more seriously though, so I guess that must help. I feel less guilty taking writing time, I can legitimately call that work now! And I know more people – though I’ve learned that has very little to do with anything and can actually make things a bit awkward if someone likes you but doesn’t love your book.
Aside from the editing, what other aspects of being an author have you had to come to terms with?
It’s early days for me so the whole PR thing is just gearing up but I found it really hard when the book went out for early cover quotes. I relaxed a bit when the first ones came in and were good – I had no idea I could be so needy. I’ve been amazed how interested people are though – the National Farmers Union are running a piece on me. There’s a lot to do too – I wrote four different blog posts in one day before the book cover was revealed – that cuts into book writing time quite a bit. What else? Contracts take AGES, using your advance to pay off part of the mortgage is dull – treat yourself to something small to celebrate! Also, you will feel both pressure and responsibility to write a second book as good as the first.
What have been your biggest lessons since landing a deal?
I’ve learned so much about editing – I feel like my skill level has been taken up about ten notches.
What one key piece of advice would you offer unpublished writers when working with an editor for the first time?
Don’t be precious, be grateful. They may not be right all of the time but they have experience and skills that can only make your book better.
Now that your first book is out – what next?
I’m looking forward to doing lots of school visits (hopefully). I’m writing another YA novel and I’d love to get a picture book published and a middle grade book I’ve been working on forever…nothing changes really. I just want to work hard at what I love doing and hopefully produce things people want to read. Though obviously now I do all this while reclining on a chaise lounge being fed strawberries from a silver platter.
Buy More of Me at Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/More-Me-Kathryn-Evans/dp/1474903029 or The Book Depository http://www.bookdepository.com/More-Me-Kathryn-Evans/9781474903028