Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Author Spotlight: Kristi Charish, Author of Owl and the Japanese Circus

The Crazy Bookworm is beyond thrilled to welcome Krista Charish. Author of the Owl and the Japanese Circus. Not only is she a great Canadian author, she is super nice and a fellow Yogi! That scores points in my books ;)

Kristi took the time to discuss with us the publishing world in Canada. And as someone who hopes to one day be a part of that world, I couldn't have jumped on this topic any faster! Okay, enough blabbing! Without further adieu, please welcome Krista Charish to The Crazy Bookworm!

 Getting Published in Canada

Like most aspiring writers (Canadian or not), I knew shockingly little of the publishing world when I set out. How did one go from being an aspiring writer to a published author? Worse, everyone seemed to have a different answer.
Publishing is dead, self publishing is the way to go! No, self-publishing is over, go with a publisher!
Don’t get an agent! No, you need an agent!
Everyone, agents, authors, editors, all had a different set of rules and guidelines for divining the pathway to publication, and wading through all the conflicting information is next to impossible because everyone offering it has been successful in their own right.

Now that my very first novel, Owl and the Japanese Circus, is out through Simon and Schuster Canada and my second series, Kincaid Strange, was just picked up by Random House Canada have I gleamed any wisdom on the topic?

I don’t know if I would call it wisdom, but I think I’ve learned something worth offering up over the past two years, and hopefully- if not help- it will give some insight into how published worked for me.

There are no rules, only a handful of patterns
I went into the agent querying process (sending out a letter to agents asking if they want to see your manuscript) fully expecting to be rejected at least 50, maybe accepted by the 100th, and then have my first novel not sell. Harsh expectations but this was the consensus, average publication path most spec fiction authors out there had experienced.

I ended up being the exception.
  1. Finished Owl and the Japanese Circus.
  2. Wrote up a letter, got a list of agents who represented authors I liked, and emailed a batch of them over a month (personal emails folks, no spamming lists, you’ll get booted to the junk mail folder)
  3. Heard back from Carolyn Forde (who represents Ian Hamilton, one of my favorite authors) the next day. A manuscript request and phone call later I had representation.
  4. A few months later Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket US picked up my manuscript and the sequel.
What is the take away? The publishing world has a lot of patterns but next to no rules. Everyone’s path to publication is going to be different. I repeat: Mine was an unusual experience. That my second series sale went almost as smoothly as the first is also not what’s supposed to happen. That isn’t to say my path to publication isn’t valid- it could and does happen to new writers all the time – but it’s not an accurate representation of how getting published is supposed to go (As a result, I’m sure I now have unrealistic expectations).

There are serious advantages to being Canadian
When I first started out I was told in order to be taken seriously as a writer I needed an American agent. New York was where all the big deals were made.

Like most writing/publishing advice out there, there is some truth to the statement. New York is still where the heavy hitters of the publishing world reside. But in my experience, there is a huge advantage to being a Canadian author. First, there are fewer of us, and that’s not marginalizing the Canadian reading population or publishing world. On the contrary, when Canadian writers throw their hats in with the Americans, not only are they competing with each other but, well, the Americans- and every other hopeful writer on the planet.

A lot of bestselling Canadian authors (Ian Hamilton, Yaan Martel, Kelley Armstrong) have Canadian agents. When you get to the point where you are querying, Canadian Literary agencies are more than capable of negotiating with New York and over seas publishers and do so on a regular basis. The best part? They represent Canadian clients. Yes, there are fewer agencies in Canada than in the US, but they’re an option for us that the Americans don’t have and shouldn’t be over looked. I feel I’ve had more opportunities working with a Canadian agent and agency than I would have had otherwise. Second, we have access to the Canadian publishers. All the major publishing houses have branches in Canada and publish under their own imprint. It’s not easier – there’s tough competition from other Canadian authors – but it’s an option our American counterparts don’t have so why not take advantage?

Get the novel done first, then worry about publishing
This one has been around for a while and I found it completely true. The good news is your chances of getting published aren’t nearly so doom and gloom as people make it out to be. Every agent and editor out there is desperate to find his or her next favorite book. But that’s the trick. You need to get to the point where you have a book- A quality, best you can write book, to shop around.

There is only one way to do this. Write. Sit thee ass down at your desk and write. If you can’t work up the enthusiasm or self-discipline to do this, writing might not be the career path for you. Once you have a publishing deal it only gets harder (think promotion, articles, websites, deadlines).

An author who’s advice letter I follow, David Farland, tells a story of a series of workshops he’d run at the genre conventions. The first was on selling million dollar outlines and the second was an actual workshop to help improve writing ...Guess which one was empty? Aspiring writers were trying to figure out how to sell their work before they’d even written it. Writing doesn’t work like that. You need to write the book before you can sell it. And even then, it might not sell. You get into this business for the love, not the money.

And when you get so tired of writing you can’t bring yourself to put another word on the page?

As Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Same rules need apply here.

While we’re on the topic of writing, what about those workshops and critique groups?
I won’t lie; this is a tough one because in my opinion it’s a big grey area. Personally, I didn’t find critique groups all that helpful. In my experience it turns into design by committee. You end up with a story or novel that doesn’t piss anyone off but it also doesn’t blow anyone out of the water either. It’s been so catered to everyone’s individual preferences that the compromise overshadows whatever story you started out with in the first place. But take that with a grain of salt. It’s my personal opinion and lots of people out there seem to love critique groups.

But that doesn’t mean you get out of feedback. It’s possible the first page you ever write is a masterpiece in no need of any fixing whatsoever...but probability wise you’re better off buying a stack of lottery tickets. I have two critique partners I trade work with and two other readers who are not writers. They all like a read the same novels I like and read so we’re well matched. Trading work with a historical fiction writer would be a lot of fun but probably not too relevant to either of our works. Different audiences, another thing you need to take into consideration when picking writers and readers.

And please, please, as in I can’t beg you enough, stick to workshops and critique groups run by reputable authors for FREE or at most a community center/community college level fee, and we’re talking a couple hundred bucks MAX (*See #6: ‘Some things you can’t buy’ below for further comments on this).

Outfits don’t make a bestseller
And in this case I’m not talking about the cover.
There’s a real propensity for critique groups to focus on prose- the way you convey the story rather than the story itself. This may upset one or two critique group workshops out there, but the more I learn about the craft of writing (and the more professional authors I meet), this strikes me as an amateur’s mistake.

It’s like worrying about how a gown for a ballroom dancing competition is going to look without asking yourself whether you know how to dance. The outfit helps you look good but if you can’t dance, no amount of trussing up is going to help. The person wearing the potato sack but knows how to dance is still going to win. The purpose of good prose is to make a good story look better, but people read a story for the story. No amount of fancy writing is going to make a lackluster novel better than a spectacular story, even if the spectacular story decided to show up wearing a burlap potato sack and Birkenstock sandals. And don’t doubt for one second this doesn’t happen every day in publishing. In fact, once in the publishing door there are a slew of editors (content, copyediting, proofreading) whose job it is to fix up the typos, prose, and make sure the logic of the story fits. Yes, the story needs to be as ready to go as possible but wasting hours making it perfect is a poor expenditure of your time- especially when you should be working on the next project.

Some things you just can’t buy
Earlier on this list I mentioned a limit for workshop spending of a couple hundred bucks. Preferably free (I got to do a fantastic workshop with Canadian Sci-Fi great Spider Robinson for FREE through the Vancouver Public Library. As in world class writer, no money left my pocket). If you take no other advice off this list, please, please, for the love of your bank account, please, take this one.
You cannot buy your way into publishing.

Anyone who tells you different (or worse, offers you a way) is screwing you over.
Between writing conferences, critically acclaimed workshops, MFA programs, and conventions there are a multitude of places for you as a budding author to drop a serious amount of coin. AND THOSE ARE JUST THE REPUTABLE ONES. I know a number of aspiring authors who have spent upwards of 5000 dollars on reputable workshops and university track writing programs and have yet to be published.

My total expenditure on workshops and conventions before I was published was less than 500 dollars.
  1. Vancouver Science Fiction Fantasy Convention: Free workshop with published authors included with 40$ weekend convention ticket.
  2. Vancouver Community College 6 week Speculative Fiction Writing Class: 120$
  3. Vancouver Public Library Workshop with writer in residence Spider Robinson: FREE
  4. Shadbolt Community Center 6 week Writing Workshop with Aurora Award winning author Eileen Kernighan: $120
  5. Norwescon Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (Seattle): FREE writing workshops included with 60$ weekend membership. Also included publishing, editing and pitch workshops.
  6. Subscribed to David Farland’s Daily Kick, a daily series of writing lessons delivered to your inbox: FREE
Spending money on the more expensive and prestigious workshops will not increase your chances of getting published or getting an agent. Once you’re published and have a bit of money from your work under your belt, great! Try one of the bigger workshops, but there’s no need.
The sorry truth is you can’t buy your way into a book deal. Writing is a solitary event.

Urban fantasy is dead
One of the first responses I received (and from a highly respected agent) when I first starting querying was that they couldn’t sell urban fantasy. The market was flooded. I’ve heard that one since from a lot of authors, editors, and commentaries. To a point it’s true. There are probably hundreds of urban fantasies coming out a month, and that’s just traditional publishing.

But all that means is that writers need to be original. If the book is good enough, interesting enough, and different enough, it doesn’t matter how flooded the market is, someone will be willing to take a chance.

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more of it I have.” Coleman Cox, 1922.
I left this one for last because it’s a damn good note to leave on.

No doubt about it, I’ve been incredibly lucky in publishing. I currently have five books under contract to two major publishers before the first one is out and I’ve only been writing 5 years (I started in Feb 2010).

I also have worked harder at writing fiction than anything else I’ve ever attempted in my life. When I started I was getting up at 7am to write for a couple hours before heading to the lab where I did my PhD, then writing on the train home and until I fell asleep on the computer keyboard (my spousal unit has a lot of unflattering and very un-photogenic dirt on me). Once I switched to full time writing the pace didn’t let up- I simply had more time to write. Get up at 7am, write. Break at 9. Then more writing. Gym at 5, then – you guessed it – more writing. And that’s not considering social media, promotion, etc. It’s 4 pm on a Saturday as I’m writing this article. Once I’m done, I’ll read for an hour, finish some more articles, then get some writing done on my novel until maybe 10 or 11 tonight. 14 or 16 hour days are a reality for a full time writer. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Phew! Aren't we lucky to get a sneak peak into the Canadian Publishing world?! I found this post so valuable and I hope you did, too!
About Kristi Charish:

Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second installment, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Jan 2016. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.

Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.

Get Your Copy of Owl and the Japanese Circus today!

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