Kate Quinn's books. One of the sweetest and most humble people I have met online, she is also a great writer. Her book Mistress of Rome gripped me for months after reading; I couldn't forget the vivid details and the compelling characters. And when Daughters of Rome came out the following year, I was first in line. And I can hardly wait for Empress of the Seven Hills to come out next year.
One of the things I love about her books is how I can share them with my husband. He and I love chatting about books, but some books I read he has no interest in. But Kate writes stories and characters that can grip both male and female.
It is important for new writers to find wisdom from those who have gone before us, and Kate has offered to share her experience with us.
Thanks, Kate, for your time and for sharing what you have learned with us.
Rita: How did you hear about your publisher Berkely Books?
Kate: My agent found them for me. I found my agent on my own, by doing a lot of research and sending a lot of query letters and sample chapters. Once I had an agent, she took over the process of trying to get me published. She submitted my first novel to four or five different major publishing houses where she had connections – before being an agent she had worked as an editor at Ballantine for over 30 years, so she knew a lot of people in the business. About eight months later her hard work paid off and she found an editor at Berkley who loved my first book.
Rita: Why did you decide to publish through them?
Kate: Berkley offered a standard advance for a debut author like me, and standard royalty percentages. My agent told me I could hold out if I liked for a publishing house that offered a bigger advance, but there was of course no guarantee we would find one. Ultimately I decided to go with Berkley because their rates were fair, because they were a big, long-established house with a good reputation – and because they had an editor there who was crazy about my book and talking it up in-house to everyone she could find. I had a feeling I'd be in good hands with someone who loved my work, rather than just one more fish in the stream with a different house and editor.
Rita: Were you happy with the terms of your contract? How did they honor their side of the contract?
Kate: They have been scrupulous about fulfilling their side of the contract. My payments arrive on time, and so do answers to any questions I've had about the contract.
Rita: Did you have to pay to be published? If so, how much?
Kate: I've never had to pay a dime to be published, since Berkley is not a vanity press. You should not have to pay anything to a non-vanity press: editing is free, so don't believe it if you're told you have to pay for an editor's services.
Rita: How did the editing process go? Were you happy with the comments and responses from your editor?
Kate: My editor at Berkley is wonderful! She puts a huge amount of thought into how to make my books better – I get editorial letters with copious notes, and then we spend hours on the phone hashing out plot solutions. No matter how much work she wants me to do to revise a book, I never hang up the phone with her feeling overworked or discouraged. She has a gift for filling me with optimism and enthusiasm for my work.
Rita: How was the customer service and support once you were published?
Kate: Professional and prompt. Editorial questions go to my editor; I do sometimes have to wait a while for answers on those, but that's only because she's approximately as busy as a trauma surgeon in an ER ward after an eight-car highway pileup; she'd never brush me off or make me wait deliberately. Publicity questions go to the in-house publicist I was assigned once I was published – I'm not her only client by any means, so she's delighted the more publicity stuff I take care of myself (writers can't rely on a publicist to do everything) but any questions I have are always answered fast.
Rita: How do you feel about your experience with your publisher?
Kate: Couldn't be better. I love Berkley. They are taking the long view with my career, allowing me to build an audience and a reputation as a writer, and I couldn't be more grateful for that approach – which, I'm starting to realize, can be rare in the publishing world.
Rita: Will you publish through them again?
Kate: I hope I'm still working with my Berkley editor when I'm old and gray.
Rita: How has your experience changed your perspective of writing and the publishing industry?
Kate: Before I was published, I had the usual dreams about a six-figure advance. Now, I'm almost glad I didn't get one. Sure, some first-time authors do get that half-million dollar advance for their first book – but then they have to live up to all that hype! If their book doesn't succeed right away on a huge level, then in the eyes of their publisher they haven't earned back that huge advance. The publishing house might decide to drop you; roll the dice with another new author. Nowadays a lot of publishing houses are doing just that: looking for the next big hit author, the next Suzanne Collins or JK Rowling. And sure, I'd love to be Suzanne Collins with all three of my books on the New York Times list and a four-movie deal.
But these days I fantasize less about having Suzanne Collins's career, and more about having Bernard Cornwell's. He started small with his Sharpe series, and was lucky enough to have a publisher who believed in letting him grow the series and the audience over several books. By Book 4 or so, he was getting more attention, more readers, more good reviews. He grew his reputation slowly over years, until now the man hits the NY Times list with each new release. That's the career I want: a smaller advance to start out, maybe, but it gives me a chance to exceed expectations rather than fall short, and time to grow as a writer. I'm incredibly lucky to have an editor who has the same long view in mind for my career, rather than wanting to drop me for the next possible Suzanne Collins. (I'm hanging on to her for dear life, and you should too if you can find an editor like that.) Now here's hoping I someday get to be as successful as Cornwell, and meet Sean Bean when he stars in the miniseries made out of my books . . .
Rita: What would you say to a new author looking to get their books published?
Kate: Be aware that publishing takes a long time. It took me about seven years of on-and-off querying to find an agent – and that isn't particularly unusual. My agent started shopping my book around the publishing houses in March, and it wasn't until November that I had an offer – and that's regarded as pretty fast. Once I had a publisher, my book wasn't out in stores for another 16 months – also quite usual in the publishing world. Publishing is a slow process; anyone who says otherwise is lying. And while your editor should believe in you and like your work, they should NOT tell you it's perfect. You start hearing that your work needs no corrections, that it will be out in stores in two months, that it's going to make you a million dollars the first year – run for the hills, because you are walking into a scam!
*I'm starting a new series to interview authors about their experiences with their publishers. If you are a published author and would like to share your publishing experience, please contact me at my rita[at]ritajwebb[dot]com email address. I'm looking for both negative and positive experiences.*