It’s no secret that I love Twitter. It’s introduced me to several talented writers, many of which I’ve featured in this series. One person in particular, Kate Brauning, I follow on a regular basis because she is not only a writer, but an editor who always gives great advice with the hashtag, #subtips. When I heard that Kate was agented, and recently sold her novel, HOW WE FALL, I knew I wanted to feature her writing journey.
Many thanks to Kate for sharing her story today…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
Kate: I wrote all through high school and wanted to publish the manuscript I was writing then, but I knew it wasn’t good enough and really knew nothing about the industry, so when I went to college, I realized it wasn’t going to work out for that book. I stopped reading for fun in college because I was too busy reading for classes, and I stopped having ideas. It was frustrating, because I had this dream of being an author and I felt like I’d never have another book-worthy idea again. After four years of that, though, I graduated and started reading books I chose myself, and the ideas starting coming back. I started writing again in January of 2010, and that was the first MS I queried.
Amy: When did you complete your first young adult manuscript?
Kate: That MS I started in 2010 took me two solid years of writing nearly every day. It had one YA point of view and one adult point of view, which (needless to say) didn’t work out so well. I suppose you could say that one was my first YA, but HOW WE FALL, the MS I signed with my agent for, was my first solidly YA manuscript. I completed it and started querying it in January of 2013.
Amy: You are an editor for Month9Books. What skills have you learned as an editor that helps make you a better writer?
Kate: Working on other writers’ manuscripts and helping to sharpen them has really made me see that a quality manuscript usually isn’t the result of a flash of genius that the writer then types out, tweaks, and then queries. It’s round after round of deep revisions and sharpening and refining. Knowing that, it’s easier for me to not be frustrated when what I’m drafting isn’t great and I know it. I don’t expect it to be great right away anymore. I wish it would be, but that’s just normally not how writing works. It’s so complicated and so layered that we really can’t expect our work to not need serious revisions. I’ve seen so many other great writers take a good manuscript and revise it into something stunning that I know it’s possible, and that’s how the process works. So, it’s helped me adjust my expectations for myself.
Also, it’s driven home for me the basics of solid storytelling—double-checking character motivation, tracking a character arc through the MS to look for change and depth, making sure each scene builds plot and character, looking for page space and plot point significance to measure pacing, comparing the impact of the payoff to the buildup of the tension. The more I edit those things for other people, the more I build them into the process of revising my own work.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Kate: Ha. Well, that depends on which day you ask me. I felt the frustration of waiting and rejection as much as every other writer, but I was kept so busy with editing for others and drafting a new MS I was in love with, and my CPs were so supportive that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was exciting and fascinating and the whole opportunity of it was really encouraging. Though at times it did feel like signing with an agent would never happen and my writing wasn’t good enough, that wasn’t a state I stayed in for very long, thankfully.
Amy: How many agents did you query for HOW WE FALL?
Kate: 47, plus 5 who requested from pitch contests.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response, or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
Kate: Several of them were same-day or next-day responses, and some were weeks or a few months. It was a very mixed bag. Mostly, I tried to not obsessively check my inbox and tried to be productive elsewhere, and it helped to keep me from thinking about it as much as I would have otherwise.
Amy: What was your “call” like with your agent, Carlie Webber? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Kate: It was a great call, but I was really nervous about it. I’d researched her quite a bit and knew what I wanted to ask, so I felt pretty confident, but that has never stopped me from also being nervous. I knew she was the right fit when she said started describing the kinds of suspense stories and themes that caught her attention, and it was the perfect brand of edgy, so I thought, “Awesome. That’s what I write.” I also trusted her work experience quite a bit, having known some of the places she’d trained and agented. When she discussed what she liked about my book, I could tell she really understood what I was going for both with my writing and the story itself. After we discussed my career direction, I knew she was the right fit. I could talk with her easily, too, and we’d been emailing back and forth as well, so I knew I could work with her. So, it was a combination of her experience, her vision for my book and career, her personal taste, and my personality being compatible with hers.
Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you got early on that you still use today?
Kate: Trust your ability to rewrite.
Holding too tightly to sentences and paragraphs and ideas in my manuscripts held me back more than almost anything else. Someone once told me that if I can write one good line, I can scrap it and write another, and if I can have one good idea, I can come up with a second. Doing what’s best for the story and the prose and not keeping myself locked in to something just because I’m proud of it is essential to being a good writer. That’s been a huge factor in reducing the stress of revisions. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.
Amy: What parting advice can you give to aspiring writers who may be on the cusp of giving up on their publishing dream?
Kate: Think of writing and the publishing journey as training and pursuing any other career. You study, you learn from experts, you network, you study more, you try your hand at it, find the space you fit, take constructive feedback, and work, work, work.
For some reason we have this expectation that it should take us maybe a year to write and revise a MS and a year to get the querying process figured out, query, and hear back. Either way, 2-3 years is about the time we expect to have an agent and be on submission if we’re any good.
I don’t think that mindset is accurate or always healthy. Writing is a competitive, demanding, detail-oriented, incredibly complex career. No other career like that gets off the ground in 2-3 years. It takes more than that to become a teacher, lawyer, engineer, graphic designer, or doctor, and even then, most of them start with a job at the bottom and expect to work their way up. You haven’t failed and you aren’t a bad writer just because your journey takes longer than someone else’s. Treat it like a long-haul career both in your expectations and your work habits, because you are the biggest factor in your career. To me, that’s encouraging, because it means my story doesn’t have to happen like everyone else’s or on their timeline, no one can tell me no, and if I keep at it, I’ll get there. And so will you.
Kate writes contemporary and speculative suspense, and she is represented by Carlie Webber at CK Webber Associates. Kate is a compulsive traveler, cake-baker, and music lover. She believes wine is best rich and red, chocolate is best smooth and dark, and books are best bittersweet. She loves bright colors, fall leaves, unusual people, and all kinds of music. She has written novels since she was a teen, but it wasn’t until she studied literature in college that she fell in love with young adult books. Kate now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. She can be found on Twitter at @KateBrauning or on her website at www.katebrauning.com.