Interview Transcripts

Karyn Witmer Gow 9/21/06

Event start time:

Thu Sep 21 18:56:52 2006

Event end time:

Thu Sep 21 21:08:21 2006



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all!

 

Welcome to our Professional Connection live chat interview.

 

Tonight we're chatting with Karyn Witmer-Gow.

 

Since 1985, Karyn Witmer/Elizabeth Grayson/Elizabeth Kary has written a category romance, ten historical romances, and a women's fiction novel. She's won a Waldenbook Award, a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times, and was a 2005 Rita finalist. Her current book, A SIMPLE GIFT, written as Karyn Witmer, comes out in this September 2006

Mary Rosenblum

Karyn, welcome! This is a treat and I think you're bringing a lot to our chat tonight!

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Hi everyone! I've been writing all my life. Had a poem published in the 4th grade --

 

wrote my first historical novel when I was 15 and have been writing ever since

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, that's cool. :-) So did you get the novel you wrote at fifteen published?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I started writing for real when I was teaching...

 

It took me 4 years between report cards to finish the book.

 

It took another two years to sell the ms.

 

I write slowly, but I've kept publishing ever since.

Mary Rosenblum

And you sure haven't let grass grow under your feet. Do you use the various pen names for the different genres in which you write?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Yes, I started writing as Elizabeth Kary, moved to a new publisher as Elizabeth Grayson.

 

My publisher wanted me to write the contemporary, A SIMPLE GIFT, under my real name.

 

Taking the step from historical to contemporary was a big one.

Mary Rosenblum

Has it meant larger sales for you?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

It's too early to tell.

 

The book came out just three weeks ago.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, that's true...that's the September release.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I was asked to make the move. Bantam put the contemporary as the second book on a contract.

 

At first I was stunned. I hadn't really thought very much about doing contemporaries

 

but the western market was not doing very well.

 

I had just the gram of an idea

 

so I moved ahead with it.

Mary Rosenblum

And clearly it worked out for you.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

They tell you that the biggest problem in making the change

 

is the difference in the language.

 

But for me it was the size of the brushstrokes.

 

What I mean is that it's easy to write about people's emotions in an Indian attack

 

but in a contemporary story the incidents are smaller

 

and you have to find a way to wring the same amount of emotion out of the characters and your words.

Mary Rosenblum

So the story became more internal? Less reactive to outside events?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

It became more about internal motivations and how the members of the family were in conflict.

 

On that level.

Mary Rosenblum

Do you have any concerns that fans who loved your historicals will have trouble finding the contemporary?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

It deals with a family that has become estranged.

 

Yes, frankly I do. Particularly because of the name change.

 

But Bantam encouraged me to let people know and I have.

 

I worried more about historical readers liking the contemporary voice

 

but the people I've heard from haven't complained.

Mary Rosenblum

If you don't make a secret of it, your fans will find you. I had a similar concern when I went from SF to mystery, but my fans seem to be happy with both, most of them anyway.

builder guy

Did you have to change to contemporary to keep your book contract?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Yes. As I said, the western market was headed down hill.

 

Bantam liked my work but was looking for another venue.

diamond girl

Why the name change, if I may ask?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Well, the truth is there was a concern about the numbers...

 

The historical print runs were going slowly downward

 

and Bantam wanted a chance to get more copies out.

 

I do worry that it's a W

 

people read shelves from the front of the alphabet

 

but we'll see. Bantam didn't think it would be a problem.

Mary Rosenblum

This happens in all genres. It's a matter of bookstore databases. If your last book sold X copies, they only order X copies. And you know what, Karyn, if people like your book, you beat the alphabet blues. Word of mouth advertises your book.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

The word of mouth has begun, I think.

 

I visited a book group by phone last night and they all kept saying

 

that they were going to buy copies for all their women friends.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, super! I LOVE book groups! Great PR.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

It's something of a tear jerker.

Mary Rosenblum

That always sells. :-)

Karyn Witmer-Gow

They were a great group of ladies.

 

I'd love to do it with another group and if your group is interested in having an author call in

 

contact me through my website.

tory

How do you find out about & get invited to book groups?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

www.elizabethgrayson.com   

 

I was doing some on line promotion.

 

It is her reading group and do mostly romance

 

though that's not all the ladies read.

Mary Rosenblum

Want to tell us a bit about the book? I usually ask at the end, but now is fine, too. :-)

Karyn Witmer-Gow

It's a story about a run away daughter coming home

 

and that throws the family into turmoil.

 

Everyone has been in a kind of emotional turmoil since she left

 

and now it is up to the heroine/mother to find a way to bring her family back together again.

 

She uses a simple gift

 

A cutting from a Christmas cactus that has been passed down through four generations of women

 

as a way to show her daughter that she still loves her.

 

I had the chance

 

to write an historical vignette for each of the women who passed on the cactus.

 

So that was fun for me.

 

It also gave me the chance to try some alternative story telling elements.

Mary Rosenblum

Karyn, Cosmos, in our audience tried to ask a question, but it didn't come through...I'll ask it for her. :-)

 

She wondered what issues you'll address in your contemporary

 

romances and how they differ from what you wrote in the Western historicals? (I'm paraphrasing)

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I mostly explored how people who loved each other deeply

 

could do things to hurt each other.

 

And how they managed to forgive and forge stronger bonds.

 

That meant delving deeply into each of the characters' motivations

 

especially the father's

 

because he was the most resistant to forgiving his daughter.

Mary Rosenblum

Do you plan on staying with contemporary for your next novel?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I have both a contemporary and an historical going --

 

a little different approach for me because the historical is a real person.

sss1208

Is the book in hardback or paperback? And how long is it?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I'm still researching that.

 

A SIMPLE GIFT is out in paperback now.

 

It's 400 and some pages.

 

I like writing longer books

 

and that can be a problem with some publishing houses.

Mary Rosenblum

Depends on the genre, too. :-) You'd be just fine in fantasy!

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I'd rather tell the story my way and then cut than deal with small ideas.

 

Oh, Mary, fantasy is safe from me!

Mary Rosenblum

So let's talk about your 'ten things' that you wish you'd known. The first one on your list is, I think, very important....

 

1) Accept responsibility for your work, what you write and how you write it. Figure out what you do well and how that fits in the current market.

 

In other words, write what you love to read, more or less?

 

Or write what you love, rather?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Yes, there are a lot of people -- especially when you are beginning

 

to write who are willing to offer suggestions about your work.

 

But it is important to consider their opinions carefully.

 

The writer must accept the responsibility for being the final arbiter of her work.

 

They must do what seems right to them

 

after listening to what people say.

 

They must chose the ideas that best serve the story they want to tell.

Mary Rosenblum

That's certainly true. No matter how well intentioned the advice, it's YOUR story. If the advice isn't right for your story...it's not.

 

But you know, that's hard for a beginner if a pro in a conference workshop hands out advice.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

It's also important

 

to know what you do well. What your strengths are.

 

That way you have a platform for evaluating your own work.

builder guy

I think it was amazing how you stuck to writing your novel for four years and didn't give up on it. Does the writing come quicker now, or are you still teaching?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

And it is hard if a pro offers advice

 

or you get conflicting advice from people you trust.

 

I'm not teaching now, except for the odd writing class

 

but back then, writing was like a disease with me.

 

I wrote everywhere. I even wrote during teacher’s conferences at school when I had down time!

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, I know that obsessive state. :-)

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I'm a bit faster now

 

but if you have the choice of being fast and good or slow and good

 

pick fast and good.

Mary Rosenblum

How long does it take you to complete a book now? Not just the first draft but the revisions?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I'm always running late and hibernating during deadlines.

 

I like 18 months to work out a book.

 

Publishers seem to be pressing for no more than a year...

 

It's a question of trying to promote and build an author.

Mary Rosenblum

Stay out of mystery! They like about 9 months between the first three books! LOL

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Back to your question, Mary.

 

I revise as I go and then do about a six week, flat out, obsessive write to get a final copy.

 

But I am also told I turn in a very clean ms.

cosmos

What kind of schedule do you put yourself on to finish a book in a year? Do you set up a written chart with goals and time deadlines?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Good question.

 

I rarely finish a book in a year. I feel like the first

 

research and character development

 

writing the perfect first three or four chapters

 

takes about 6 months, and I play catch up after that..

 

It gets you in trouble with your editors sometimes.

Mary Rosenblum

Yeah, I bet it gets you in trouble with editors! :-)

 

Your point two is VERY well made:

 

2) If your family needs your income to pay the mortgage, don't quit your day job.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Most of them have been pretty patient.

 

Unless lightning strikes

 

it takes a long time to get advances that are big enough to stop working a day job.

 

Or you need another income.

 

Also it's really hard to budget the way writers get paid.

Mary Rosenblum

That's the myth that is hard for new writers to let go of...that Stephen King's advances are pretty atypical.

 

Want to talk about how you get paid?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I think the trick is to have reissues out there

 

so you are selling and making money from your back list

 

while you are working on new projects.

 

If you reach that point where you think you can quit

 

and you're not a genius with finances

 

go to someone -- a financial planner is who I use -- to help you budget for taxes, retirement etc..

tory

Nice to have the active backlist, but isn't that beyond your control--other than writing well and marketing as much as you are able.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Series work helps keep a backlist active.

 

It's also the result of having a certain number of books under your belt

 

or having what my agent calls "a significant publishing event."

Mary Rosenblum

A really big seller is a great way to bring your backlist back to life. :-) But these days, alas

 

a lot of publishers drop books out of print rather than maintaining backlists...it's a matter of tax inventory.

sss1208

Is there a pool where you pick names for characters? Seems like lately all mystery writers are using the same names. It kinda gets confusing.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

May we all have mega sellers in our futures.

Mary Rosenblum

Amen!!!

Karyn Witmer-Gow

No, I keep a list of names I like.

 

I get them from magazines

 

historical monuments, TV.

 

When I am working on a new character I look at the list and see if anything pops out.

 

Beware of having too many similar names or names that all start with the same letter in a book.

 

It drives the copy editors crazy.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding! Your third point is a good one: 3) Realize that once you mail your book to a publisher you can be its advocate, but you've relinquished control.

 

Want to expand on that?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I also work from a picture file.

 

I use it the same way... pick out likely characters from magazines etc.

 

and look through it to help me form characters for a new story,

 

collaging with characters and other elements of the story is also a coming thing for some folks.

 

I decided

 

that relinquish control might be too strong.

 

I changed it to "enter a collaborative situation."

 

Revisions -- especially the first time -- are a real shock.

 

What you have to realize is that the editor really does want what is best for your story

 

or your book. You just may not agree with her.

 

The way to deal with that is to listen carefully to what she has to say, or read the revision letter.

 

Then have a nice 48 hour sulk.

 

Eat chocolate... kick walls.. whatever.

 

Then talk to her again.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Realize that revisions are a negotiation.

 

Be flexible, but don't be afraid to bargain...

 

Give on the little stuff if you want something big later.

Mary Rosenblum

I like collaborative situation better. :-) I've always felt that my editor and I were working as a team. An argumentative team, yes. But the 48 hour sulk is good advice! :-) That's about how long I need, too.

cosmos

If you are working on a series and your editor asks you to rewrite or change a major section in your first novel, I can see where that could put a big dent in your schedule. Has this ever happened to you?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

There's a trick of really listening to what the editor is saying --

 

where you look at what she's asking and decide where the problem really is.

 

Often the problem is earlier in the ms and you have to look back to fix it.

 

Now about that major change in a series.

 

You as the writer see the long view.

 

You see what this will do to subsequent books

 

and you should discuss this in DEPTH with your editor.

 

Especially in a series you both have to agree where the series is going

 

and you might see potential problems with her changes

 

that she might not see.

 

These books are our only babies while we are working on them.

 

Editors are working on a number of books, so you might really have better insight.

 

It’s about communication.

Mary Rosenblum

Which leads us to your next point: 4) What happens between you and your publisher is almost never personal.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Also realize

 

that you can have input on the cover, title

 

back blurb and teaser. But they can ignore you, too.

 

What you can't control is stuff like

 

marketing plans and pub dates. Print runs and advertising.

 

You should be informed about this through your agent.

 

Ah things not being personal.

 

The great law of publishing is that you are judged by your work --

 

your ability to complete projects in a timely manner

 

your professionalism in dealing with editors and such.

 

But most of all you are judged by your numbers.

Mary Rosenblum

That is the rock bottom line of publishing!

Karyn Witmer-Gow

There is nothing you can do to increase your "numbers" but write a story readers embrace...

Karyn Witmer-Gow

and build a following...

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Your own promotion will never make you a star...

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Only your publisher's backing will make you a star!"

Mary Rosenblum

Here's a good one! :-) And one you don't hear that often in the 'how to write' books: 5) Never throw anything away.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

A story idea may not be strong enough to draw a first sale...

Karyn Witmer-Gow

but it may well work as a later book.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

If you're dealing with a new concept or a new way of dealing with a story...

Karyn Witmer-Gow

you may well be writing ahead of the curve and the book...

Karyn Witmer-Gow

will sell at a later date.

Mary Rosenblum

What about books that didn't sell? Have you hung onto them?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

You may have to

 

grow into the story you want to tell.

 

You may need to develop your skill as a writer to do it justice.

 

A SIMPLE GIFT was a bit of something

 

that had been kicking around for ages before

 

Bantam asked me to write a new kind of book.

 

Or at least a new kind for me.

Mary Rosenblum

In terms of books that don't sell, I do want to say that trends come and go in the publishing world, and if your novel is well written but it doesn't sell to big publisher now, you can put it aside and that topic may turn hot later on.

 

So you'd had that idea for Simple Gift for some time? Cool.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

You also grow as a writer

 

and a story that you don't tell well now, you may do a better job on later.

 

We just had this discussion on another list with published authors.

 

and many said this had happened. It was either them

 

or a more receptive editor that made the difference in an old story.

 

Do NOT revise the same book endlessly.

 

Move on, get some perspective on the project.

 

Keep yourself fresh.

 

Besides in this age of flash drives and such

 

you can save things until the cows come home.

 

OOOOOh! Talk about mixed metaphors!

cosmos

How much time do you need to write each day, when you have so many other things in your schedule related to your writing?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

The closer to the deadline the more hours I work.

 

I write from about 8:30

 

to 3 or 4. By then I'm mostly brain dead and ready to get outside.

 

I see friends and do my duties around the house after 4.

Mary Rosenblum

Here's another good one: 6) Agents aren't forever. Want to talk about your experience with agents?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I spend the evening with my husband and

 

often revise at night once I have put the email to bed.

 

Ah, agents. By my guestimate

 

about 10% of the writers who are currently publishing are with their first agents.

 

Most people stay with their old agent about two years longer than they should.

 

I know I did.

 

My needs changed --

 

her qualifications didn't.

tory

So what are clues it is time to move on?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

If you ever suspect

 

that your agent is being less than honest with you, or is not sending our your work

 

leave immediately. Most problems are not that severe.

 

But if you think that you and your agent have different ideas

 

of where your career should be going.

 

If they reject projects you love

 

and after careful consideration, you disagree

 

I'd think about looking.

 

If communication drops off

 

or when you communicate you don't quite connect, I'd be worried. That said

 

be aware that different agents work in different ways,

 

that some want to be part of the planning process.

 

That some barely read the things you send in before they pass

 

things on to an editor -- and I'm talking about an established editorial relationship here.

 

That could be a problem.

cosmos

Do you need an agent with your first book?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Some agents are great negotiators and others have a way of strategizing that will help you build your career.

 

It depends what you want.

 

First book?

 

Depends on what you're writing. Single title, and I'd say yes.

 

Category romance and not so much. Harlequin doesn't negotiate much on series.

 

I can't speak to the mystery market.

Mary Rosenblum

Only if you're publishing with a NY house, Karyn. Agents don't handle small press. No advance and not enough money.

cosmos

Yes. First book. I'm working on a mystery series.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Ah, I learned something tonight, too. Thanks.

Mary Rosenblum

You'll need an agent if you want to pitch to NY, cosmos.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Just one last word on agents.

 

No agent is better than a bad agent.

Mary Rosenblum

Another AMEN!!!

cosmos

What are some tips on finding an agent that really cares about your career?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Recommendations from friends.

 

Check dedications and acknowledgments in books....

 

I'd say that if a writer acknowledged an agent, they're happy with them.

 

Be sure you check out RWA's agent list.

 

The SF people

 

They have a pretty comprehensive list of agents on their website.

 

There's also an agents group and they are on line

 

but I can't come up with the initials right now. Mary? Do you know the one I mean?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes! Association of Author's Representatives.

 

AAR homepage

cosmos

How do you find an agent when you can't afford to go to conferences? Send out queries?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

That's it.

 

Write the best letter you know how.

 

Introduce yourself.

 

Tell them what you're writing.

 

Give them an idea about the story in 5-7 sentences.

 

Mention any writing credits

 

and sign off. I have an "On Writing" section

 

on my website. I talk about this in one of the bits there.

aurora1

Should I get an agent for a first book about getting sentenced to a boot camp?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

www.elizabethgrayson.com    or www.karynwitmer.com

 

Mary made a good point

 

about who you're hoping to sell to.

 

If it's a NY publisher... probably. I don't know much about smaller presses.

Mary Rosenblum

About the only publishers who will take unagented mss among the NY houses are a VERY few SF houses...and they're mostly changing to agent only.

aurora1

I am writing a book about a female juvenile offender sentenced to boot camp, should I get an agent first before pursuing a publisher

Karyn Witmer-Gow

If it's autobiographical that's a whole other ball game.

 

I do fiction.

 

I think it depends on your hopes for marketing the book.

aurora1

I'm sorry it is autobiographical

Karyn Witmer-Gow

That would make it non-fiction, which, I believes, calls for a different kind of proposal, too.

Mary Rosenblum

And definitely an agent!

builder guy

How do you get your first book professionally edited? It seems like you would want to give a good clean copy to a perspective agent. Right or wrong?

Karyn Witmer-Gow

I'm kind of not your best source of information on this, though the agent process is the same.

 

You want your manuscript to be in the best shape possible.

 

It depends on your own writing skills and your confidence in them

 

as to whether you should go to someone professional.

 

You might check around to see if a teacher

 

at a high school would proofread.

 

Or a friend who's good at that.

 

If you want help with the story... then there are services you can hire.

 

Check the yellow pages.

 

That's how I found the typing service that turned my hand written tome

 

into real manuscript pages.

Mary Rosenblum

Karyn, we're almost out of time, so I’m going to group these last few points of yours together, so you can speak to them as a whole. 7) Never underestimate the importance of having writing friends.8) Never underestimate the importance of maintaining friendships and relationships outside of writing. 9) Celebrate everything good that happens.

 

And finally...10) Ultimately - what's most important is The Work.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Actually these are related.

 

Your writing friends are the only ones

 

who really understand the ups and downs of the business.

 

Chose them with care, to be trustworthy and have a sense of humor.

 

Keep your old friends even when writing is all you have to talk about.

 

They are the ones who will save your sanity

 

and give you balance when the pressures of writing to deadlines

 

gets too much.

 

Celebrate everything....

 

That's self-explanatory. But also

 

remember that once you're writing and publishing

 

this is a business of deferred gratification.

 

So

 

when something great happens, break out chocolate, or gin, or whatever and have a great time.

 

My other thing is

 

when you sell a book, buy yourself something you can keep.

 

Something you can look at when things aren't all that great

 

and have a tangible reminder of what you accomplished.

 

I like jewelry myself

 

But my friend Kathie De Nosky has bought herself

 

a simple charm that represents every book she's written.

 

Because she's fast and good, she has one heck of a charm bracelet!

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, that's a fun idea. :-)

tory

Great suggestion, Karyn

cosmos

Thanks so much for coming. I appreciate your advice.

Mary Rosenblum

You have offered a lot of excellent advice, Karyn. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

 

We really enjoyed it!

 

I hope your new book does very well!

Karyn Witmer-Gow

Thank you.

Mary Rosenblum

I'll put a live link to it when I post the transcript.

builder guy

Thank you very much Karyn.

Karyn Witmer-Gow

That would be great.

Mary Rosenblum

And good luck with the new venue!

 

And the 'new' name!

 

We'll wish you a good night and let you go rest your weary fingers!

 

Good night all!

 

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