I did my first author’s interview on Wednesday and what a blast. It was stimulating, encouraging and a lot of fun. Kate has been writing pretty much all her life, but was published first at 24. She has gone on to publish well over 30 books (a list can be found here) for children, teens and adults, in fiction and in non-fiction. She has lived for many years in Southern Europe – starting her writing career in Rome (her husband is Italian) and for several years now based here between Monaco and Menton. Probably the biggest lesson I learnt was – never try and tape an interview in a noisy bar! I wish I could have transcribed the whole interview, as it was fascinating and wide reaching, but I shall limit myself to some key questions.
Joanna: What has your publishing path been like?
Kate: I started out years ago when it was a very intimate, almost family atmosphere, with Alfred Knopf, a division of Random House. At that time RH made most of its money from books like the Return of the Jedi, Star Wars and Barbar the Elephant etc. They also published many classics, and then lesser-known writers producing good literature, but with these they were often breaking even or even at a loss. They could do this because Star Wars kept this small house afloat for years. Publishers now are running scared. The bottom line today is business.
Until recently RH still remained a family publishing house, but sadly these no longer exist.
I have had the same editor the entire time and I moved because my editor moved, to Farrar Strauss & Geroux, bought out by MacMillan a few years ago. She is 80 this year, and was given her own imprint. She supported my projects and loves my work. It’s a bit of a marital relationship. You stay married to your editor and there are fidelity issues as everyone thinks about having an affair, but……
Joanna: Is your editor hands on?
Kate: I have never needed much editing, which is a lucky thing. Everyone has a different experience. She has a lot of respect for the writers she works with and she is hands on and gives comments on everything, though less so these days as everyone is so overworked, I have been writing my own jacket flaps for years.
Joanna: Do you have an agent?
Kate: I took an agent two years ago because I started doing adult books. I wrote a literary manuscript. I signed up with Writer’s House, one of the most prestigious literary agencies in the world. My agent has two manuscripts of mine that she is eager to sell. But this was just as the market crashed so I don’t know what’s going to happen. It is important to know what you are you looking for. I think it may be best to stick with a small house that does more literary books
Joanna: What about your subject matter?
Kate: I don’t write for a market. Which is my choice. It is a hard choice. It’s not a personal decision; it’s hard to explain how I write, but it is an inspired process that comes from deep within. I think the best writing comes from the heart, though now many people don’t live from the heart so they don’t recognize this work. Listen to others, but in the end listen to yourself. Publishers don’t like to admit it, but they don’t know what the market will be anyway.
Joanna: Does your publisher talk about the changes happening in the publishing world and are you managing to keep up with these changes?
Kate: Actually no and I don’t have daily contact with her (my editor). They are very busy. There’s nothing like getting a phone call and being told in person that your book has been accepted; it’s just not the same by email…….and the rejections are by email now…… everything is by email.
I do look to electronic publishing. That is one reason I hired an agent, to have them stay on top of that. Publishers will not be completely up front about their offers.
One of my projects is a manual type of book and with this I will look to electronic publishing because of the target age. It’s aimed at exam age, 12 and upward, and it is based on the field of energy medicine and what goes on in the body when we take exams. This is my second profession, Energy Medicine. I’ll send you a copy when it’s done. It should be finished in the next week or so. (*Joanna nods excitedly*)
This book explains to teens what happens when they take exams, physiologically. Exam taking is a skill set, with very little to do with what you know and nothing to do with retention. …. … I then present energy techniques to them to improve exam skills. I work with kids with exam stress a lot and there are little tricks that they can learn and are very empowering for young people to learn. I would like to get someone interested in an app so kids can have it very accessible. (*Joanna becomes excited about the application of this book to many of her students as a guidance counselor*).
Joanna: So you are writing for adults, for children, fiction and non-fiction!
Kate: I started when I was 24, as you go on you do branch out….
Joanna: What was you first book?
Kate: Alphabet Soup. Peter Sis, my illustrator, was an unknown artist from Czechoslovakia and he has just agreed to do the pencil drawing in this spiritual novel for kids I am writing. For me this is a beautiful circle that has come around and I have always loved his work and wanted to do another special project with him.
Joanna: Have you collaborated a lot with other illustrators?
Kate: I have collaborated a lot with all my illustrators. I went to an exhibition when I was living in Rome and Peter was a still life, struggling artist and I loved his work. Because I found him myself, my publisher had to allow us a lot of collaboration. We even made dummies together, which the publishers, Gallimard, loved.
Joanna: At what age did you start writing?
Kate: I knew I wanted to write since I was little and was good at and it was clear that I would write well. My teachers encouraged me and I had a lot of confidence to keep going, which is crucial.
Joanna: Do you have a writing routine and where do you write?
Kate: I do have a study, but I move around the house all the time. And now my two sons aren’t at home, I can use their rooms too. If I have writer’s block I go to a bar. I have a few I go to. Now on a Saturday morning I drive to a bar in Bordighera in Italy and sit there for an hour or so. I write a lot in the car when I am a passenger. You realize when the thoughts flow and you get used to using the time. I get up often at 5.00 in the morning and have to write for 5 or 10 minuets in a notebook – fortunately my husband is used to that. I make it a rule to write every morning, but never set word goals, ever. You need to be disciplined.
I have tons of notebooks I carry around all the time. (Kate shows me a notebook with words from Max’s Words, another of her picture books, and then notes from her present novel.) I always work on more than one project at a time, especially if I have a block with one manuscript. I try to have a novel going as well as shorter books.
Joanna: One last question. What advice would you give to new writers like myself?
The most important thing today is to find an agent. Research agents. What kind of books are you writing? Are they character driven, mass market stories? Then find an agent who likes these? If more educational, then an agent that has that bias. Don’t always look for the big agencies. Get a match.
Joanna: Thank you so much, Kate.