Every writer has their own path to publication. Some are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.
In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.
Today, I am pleased to share Kate Watson’s path to publication.
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
Kate: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I started seriously thinking about it in 2009 or 2010. I was a director at a private university, and in the middle of meetings, I would find my mind wandering to people and places that didn’t exist. I knew I was either crazy or I had a story to write. I think it was the latter.
I started writing a YA portal fantasy trilogy and actually wrote all three books. I queried the first before realizing that, although I still think there’s something beautiful there, there was also a lot of ugly. Abandoning that project was the best decision I’ve made since I started writing. In addition to all of the what-not-to-dos I learned from the experience, it taught me that it’s okay to write something, love it, and move on. Not every book has to be The One.
Amy: I love that your debut is a reimaging of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. What inspired you to recreate this classic story?
Kate: I’m a borderline Jane Austen fanatic, and in addition to rereading at least one of her books every year, my bookshelves are filled with retellings and spin-offs of her works. Mansfield Park is rarely retold, yet it’s one of my favorites (they all are, let’s be honest). Aside from the delight I take in Henry Crawford, part of what has always struck me is the modern reaction to the main character, poor, perennially overlooked Fanny Price. Jane Austen’s works nearly all translate wonderfully to modern day, and most of her heroines would be considered strong and exemplary in any era. Mansfield Park stands out as the exception. Fanny’s character and situation are a product of a world we can’t quite relate to, even if we can understand it in theory (although, in fairness, it wasn’t universally loved at the time, either). The result is a book that is often tricky for readers to get behind. During a reread of it a few years ago, I started to wonder what would make sense to a modern audience. SEEKING MANSFIELD was the result of that question.
Amy: I love your background, especially living all over the world. How do you think that experience influenced your writing?
Kate: Living overseas was a humbling and eye-opening experience. There is so much beauty and diversity in the world beyond what we see in our personal bubbles or on TV. It’s like the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy leaves Kansas and suddenly everything is in color. That’s what traveling and living in foreign places has done for me, and it’s certainly influenced my perspective, which I hope has influenced my writing.
There’s something unique about every country—like the land itself has a soul, or maybe it’s the collective soul of the people. I find that the more I’ve traveled even in the States, the more I’ve found the same to be true here, too. Being in Chicago feels different than being in Boston or Miami or Seattle. As soon as I got the idea for SEEKING MANSFIELD—before I’d written a single word—I knew Finley had to be half Brazilian, and I knew the story had to take place in Chicago. Her heritage influences who she is, just as her hometown does.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Kate: My experience with querying my ill-conceived portal fantasy was exactly what you’d expect: lots of rejections, a handful of requests for partials, none for fulls. I used every resource at hand to make it better, including reading every post from Query Shark and using the Absolute Write forums. I entered a First Five Pages workshop and a few First Page contests and got fantastic feedback. After incorporating all of it, I tried again and got more requests for partials and a couple of fulls, but all ended in rejection. In total, I queried around 40 agents before realizing that I wasn’t confident enough in the project to continue. Fortunately, my experience with SEEKING MANSFIELD was very different.
Amy: How many agents did you query for SEEKING MANSFIELD?
Kate: This will sound unbelievable (and it still is to me). I queried one agent, the amazing Bree Ogden, who represents me now. The timing of my being ready to query coincided perfectly with Pitch Madness (Team Fizzy for life!), and I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate. I had figured that I would start querying if nothing came of it. But a couple of days before it started, I was interacting with a friend on social media who happens to also be friends with Bree. I said something about SEEKING MANSFIELD to my friend, and Bree commented that it sounded delightful. I knew Bree was a big deal in horror and graphic novels, but I looked her up and found that she also represented YA contemp. I read a bunch of her interviews, and the more I read, the more excited I got about her. So I queried her. Just after Pitch Madness ended, I got The Email from her asking for The Call. I was floored! I’d had some agents request fulls from Pitch Madness, but something about Bree just felt different, and after talking to her, I knew I wanted to work with her. Everything about it has felt kismet since day one.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
Kate: For my first book, I received a lot of form rejections and did the math many times on “no response after six weeks means no.” But a handful of the responses were personalized and absolutely invaluable. Agents are almost impossibly busy, so when they took that extra few minutes to give me helpful feedback, I was in awe of that kindness, and I took their feedback very seriously.
Amy: It can be difficult to find an agent who is the right fit for you. How did you know you wanted to work with Bree Ogden?
Kate: You hear it all the time, but she just got me and the book. She knew what I was trying to accomplish with it, and she loves the classics as much as I do. My writing style is influenced by the classics and the fantasy novels I grew up on, which means I tend to be a bit wordy (okay, a lot wordy) and to want to world build more than is necessary for a high school setting, for instance (turns out readers don’t typically need to know what is carved on the back of every single bathroom stall, but does that stop me? Nope.). Bree was able to see past all the extraneous words and scenes to what I was trying to do. Her feedback made me so excited, I knew I needed her vision to help me make the book shine.
Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you receive early on in your career that you still use today?
Kate: Writers write. It may not sound like advice so much as a mantra, but however you see it, it is a constant reminder that if I want to make this a career instead of a flash in a pan, I have to write. Not chill on Twitter or catch up on all the shows on my DVR, but write. It’s also an empowering statement. Being a writer doesn’t mean you’re published or a NYT bestseller, regardless of what your friends and family think. It means that despite all of the other things you could be doing with your time that would, frankly, make life a lot simpler, you choose to write.
Amy: Writing can be a difficult experience at times. Was there ever a time you wanted to give up? If so, what inspired you to keep writing?
Kate: When I started writing seriously, I was going through a lot of difficult things personally, and writing became my escape from it all. I found that whenever real life got hard, my thoughts turned more and more to my writing, and it was like shelter from a storm. Then I became a mom, and writing became a cute dream I had when I was sneaking naps or, when I returned to work, during meetings again. At the end of every workday, though, I realized my thoughts had been on two things all day, neither of which were my job: my daughter and my WIP. I decided to stay home in 2013 to focus on my family and my writing. I’m happy to say I haven’t looked back.
Like every little girl, Kate Watson dreamed of studying philosophy in college and being a director at a private university one day. Then she grew up, became a wife and mother, and realized she should do the responsible thing and write for a living.
Born and raised in a village in Alberta, Canada, she has lived in Utah, Israel, South Carolina, Brazil, and now calls Phoenix home. Her husband and two children are the loves of her life. Her novel, SEEKING MANSFIELD, debuts in Spring 2017 with JFP.