Karen McManus, Author

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As a kid I used to write books when I was supposed to be playing outside, and not much has changed. I’m a marketing and communications professional who also writes Young Adult contemporary and fantasy fiction in Cambridge, MA. 

When not writing or working I love to travel, and along with my nine-year old son I’ve ridden horses in Colombia and bicycles through Paris. A member of SCBWI, I hold a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of the Holy Cross and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northeastern University. Which I have never, ever used professionally.

Q: How long did it take you to write ONE OF US IS LYING? Is it the first book you wrote?

KM: ONE OF US IS LYING took me two months to write and another two months to revise. It’s my third book. My first was filled with classic rookie mistakes and should have been filed away under “Learning Experience: Do Not Query,” but of course I didn’t know that. I racked up lots of form rejections in early 2015. Then I joined Twitter, found CPs, and started studying writing as a craft. I wrote a second book over the summer that got a decent number of requests, but they all moved slowly. I started ONE OF US IS LYING in September 2015 and sent my first query in January 2016.

Q: How many drafts and revisions did you complete before querying?

KM: I queried with my fifth draft. The first couple I revised on my own. Then I shared with CPs, subject matter experts, and beta readers. That was the most extensive revision process I’d ever done, and it made a big difference.

Q: What made you know Rosemary Stimola was the agent for you?

KM: There were a lot of reasons. Rosemary represents several authors I admire, including Suzanne Collins, who’s one of my biggest YA inspirations. I wanted an agent who specialized in kidlit, and who regularly worked with imprints at the top of my publisher wish list. And when it came time to query, Rosemary’s website specifically mentioned an interest in YA mysteries. So it all just sort of came together.

Q: What was the call like? Did you prepare a list of questions?

Yes! I don’t think you can get through The Call without a list. Your mind would go blank. I’d already done a lot of research so my questions were mainly about Rosemary’s reactions to my book and how she likes to work with authors. She put me at ease and I could tell she had a real connection to the story.

Q: What did it feel like the day after you signed? Did Rosemary give you notes and ask for revisions before going out on submission? If so, how much time did she give you?

KM: The next day my CPs kept messaging “YOU HAVE AN AGENT!” which was good because I’m not sure I would have believed it otherwise. As a querying writer, you knock on so many doors and get used to them not opening. Once one does, you almost don’t know what to do with yourself. But it’s the best possible confusion.

Rosemary and her assistant, Allison, suggested a few editorial changes. I didn’t have a hard deadline, but I turned the revision around in a couple of weeks.

Q: What was the publisher submission process like?

KM: Going on submission is both thrilling and nerve-wracking. In my case, it happened very soon after signing with my agent, so there wasn’t any lull of “Whew, mission accomplished!” before moving on to even higher stakes. But the process itself was smooth, and I knew I was in good hands.

Q: How long did it take to sell your book? 

KM: Two weeks. This is not typical, so I was very fortunate.

Q: What were your first set of editorial notes like and did you faint when you saw them? How quick was the turnaround?

KM: My editorial notes were fantastic. I got a little emotional as I read through them because I knew my editor truly understood the book. She didn’t want to change elements that I considered the heart of the story, but she identified exactly which areas needed strengthening. There was a lot to consider, but she gave me great guidance along the way. I returned the first revision in around six weeks.

Q: If you could give yourself from two years ago advice what would it be? Would you be able to take it to heart then?

KM: I would tell myself to treat writing like a business, not a hobby. Learn everything you can about the industry. Study the market, the agents, and the imprints for your age category and genre. Define what success looks like to you, and find authors who’ve achieved it.

And no, two years ago I would have paid zero attention to 2016 Karen and all her spreadsheets. I just wanted to write stuff I liked.

Q: What inspired you to become a Pitch Wars mentor this year?  

KM: Discovering the Twitter writing community was a turning point for me. When I started querying my first book, no one outside my family had ever read it. I didn’t realize how many bad writing habits I had, and how much I didn’t know about plot, pacing, character arcs, etc. When I started connecting with other authors and sharing work, I was able to identify what was holding me back and improve. Lots of people helped me along the way and I wanted to pay it forward.

Q: I see you are open to a mentee that writes magical realism- how do you define magical realism? 

KM:To me it’s an undercurrent of magic in a real-world setting—everyday events fused with extraordinary happenings that aren’t necessarily explained. One of my favorite YA books this year, PLACES NO ONE KNOWS, features a popular girl who appears in a troubled boy’s house whenever she burns a candle. We don’t know why it happens, it just does, and it sets up an amazing love story.

Q: What book(s) do you keep on the shelf near you while you write?

KM: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, to remind me to keep things simple. The Emotion Thesaurus as a go-to guide when I’m getting too adverb-y. And whatever I happen to be reading at the moment, because sometimes you just need to take a break and lose yourself in someone else’s words.

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Karen is a 2016 Pitch Wars mentor.

If you enjoyed Karen’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah DaviesAlan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica Hoffman, Betsy Thorpe and  Nicole Ayers.

 

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