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, peaks and valleys, but what remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft, and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.
In bringing you this 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 Lauren Karcz’s path to publication.
Amy: At what age did you truly know you wanted to be a writer?
Lauren: I have a very clear memory of being in Kindergarten and imagining myself as the author of a coloring book about my life. I think that was my moment of realizing that there were people behind the books – and coloring books – I loved, and some inkling that I could be one of those people, too.
In second grade, we had a designated Creative Writing Day every month. We were given a writing prompt and several quiet hours to work on a story related to that prompt. That was such a gift. At some point, it hit me that I didn’t have to wait for Creative Writing Day to work on a story. My mom bought me a spiral notebook with Care Bears on the cover and I started filling it with little bits of fiction. I couldn’t imagine ever not loving the writing process; I knew I wanted it to be a constant part of my life.
Amy: When did you complete your first manuscript?
Lauren: Ahh, that’s hard to say! How old of a person and how serious of a writer does one have to be before one has a manuscript rather than a long piece of fiction? I guess I’ll go way back once again and give Young Lauren some credit. About halfway through fifth grade, I decided I was going to write a novel, and have it finished by the last day of the school year. And you know what? I did it. I stayed up late the night before the last day of school, but I wrote “The End” and I was so proud. The novel was about a ten-year-old girl and her six sisters living in New York City. I wrote it on a stack of notebook paper fastened into one of those Mead folders with brads. 166 pages – I’ll never forget that number.
And the best thing was, since I’d written one novel, I knew I could do it again. I kept this up throughout middle school and into high school: starting a story, giving myself a deadline, finishing it, and then sharing the manuscript with friends. I wish I had stayed that disciplined into college and adulthood. The Internet appeared in my life in early high school and destroyed a lot of my good writing habits! I had to reteach myself basic writing stamina and will power in my 20s. I was so thankful to find NaNoWriMo in 2001 – it helped me get back to writing fiction regularly, and around 2006 I was finally able to write “the end” on a YA manuscript.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Lauren: I had this thing – a contemporary YA manuscript – I wrote and trashed and rewrote for years. It was perpetually “almost ready to query.” Every year I’d go to the same SCBWI conference and see acquaintances who’d ask about my progress, and after a while it was embarrassing to be at the same “not quite ready” stage with this manuscript. I realized that I was addicted to the manuscript’s potential, and to my own potential, which itself was a symptom of my fairly paralyzing dual fears of failure and success.
All this to say, a friend made a bet with me to send out some queries for that manuscript. I did it to symbolically put it to rest. I sent fewer than five overlong query letters. Nothing resulted from them, which was a relief. I finally put the manuscript aside. I was back to the blank page.
I should say that up to this point, I had been an obsessive reader of what we’ll call The Publishing Internet. I had been reading all the agent and editor blogs for years. I followed numerous writers and publishing people on Twitter. I read the deal announcements every week. I tried to file all that knowledge away as “writing research,” but publishing stuff really needs to go somewhere else. Like, if your brain was a town, then writing thoughts should be in a cozy house and publishing thoughts should be in a mall down the highway. Anyway, the biggest thing I did toward writing my debut was to completely shut off The Publishing Internet. I drafted for six months without reading a word of publishing news or gossip. Once I returned, I was actively revising my novel, and The Publishing Internet was actually of relevance to me. When I queried that novel, it was out of confidence and hope rather than capitulation and exhaustion. And it did get me an agent! (And eventually, a book deal!)
Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?
Lauren: By the time I was ready to query THE GALLERY OF UNFINISHED GIRLS, I had been reading stuff about crafting queries and pitches for over eight years (save for those delightful six months when I took a break). I had pretty well internalized the structure and feel of query letters by that point, so my first query drafts weren’t too dire. It wasn’t too long before I had a query I was happy with. The hardest part was hitting send!
Amy: Can you give us a short summary of your call with your agent, Victoria Marini? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Lauren: I was thrilled when Victoria requested a phone call with me to talk about THE GALLERY OF UNFINISHED GIRLS. I felt like our literary tastes were very similar, and I’d had a good feeling when querying her that the manuscript would be up her alley. Several of the characters in the manuscript, including the protagonist, I’ve been writing about since I was in middle school, so it was pretty surreal to be talking about those characters in a professional context. I loved that she loved the characters, and also that she had some great revision ideas for the manuscript.
I also loved when she told me she’d stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish reading it! In all the hundreds of “how I got my agent” stories I’d read over the years, that was always one of my favorite things about other people’s agent stories – that thrill when realizing they’d hooked a publishing professional with their manuscript! I was just like, wow… now that’s part of my writing story, too.
Amy: The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?
Lauren: Be kind to yourself – in whatever form that takes. The publishing industry will magnify all of your best and worst qualities, and will give you endless things to obsess about. Find ways to be kind to yourself and practice them often.
Lauren Karcz is the author of the upcoming THE GALLERY OF UNFINISHED GIRLS (HarperTeen, 2017). By day, she works in the linguistics world, which has given her an unholy fascination with the grammar of various languages. By night, she listens to Broadway cast albums and writes young adult fiction. Lauren lives with her family in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkarcz.