Thursday, March 29, 2012

Interview with Kim Wiley: a voice of sanity in the process of publication

I first met Kim Wiley at the MFA program I attended at Queens University of Charlotte, NC (a brilliant program, by the way, should you need a recommendation for such things) where she dispensed her wisdom to us soon-to-be-graduates on how she had made a living as a writer.  Through her savvy, skills and talent, she has been a full-time writer for thirty years.  That just plain makes me happy.  So when her book, Your Path to Publication, came out I could not wait to get my mitts on it.  And I was not disappointed.  Published by the fine folks at Press 53, this guidebook on the process of surviving and succeeding in publishing a book is full of wit, wisdom and genuinely practical little tidbits of information.



I am re-reading certain chapters of it again as I craft cover letters and approach agents.  After a particularly slimy-feeling presentation on leveraging social media I pulled it out again because it makes me feel like I have a friend in the process: someone on my side, who has gone ahead, lived to tell the tale and tells it like it is, while also being hilarious.  One thing I particularly appreciated was the idea of being intentional about what kind of publishing experience you were looking for.  That is, it's critical to be aware of the paths available, make informed choices, and think strategically.  My favorite bits are her own journey from manuscript to book to promoting the book and the joys and low points along the way.  If you are trying to get a book published, or curious about the process at all, I highly encourage you to gift yourself this read.  While you're waiting for it to show up in the mail, check out her insightful blog here.

Read on for my interview of Kim:

You made a shift from writing non-fiction to fiction with your novel, Love in Mid Air.  What were some of the challenges of moving to fiction?  Did you encounter any resistance from family, friends, publishing, or yourself?  What were some surprises that you encountered with this transition?   


       Fiction is often considered more of a financial gamble than nonfiction – there are always a few novels that become best sellers and make lots of money for their authors but most sell pretty poorly.   Nonfiction writing is a steadier gig and most of the working writers that I know depend on nonfiction to pay the bills.   So I wouldn’t say there was resistance from anyone about the switch to fiction, just an acknowledgement that it’s more of a crapshoot.
        But for me I was just adding fiction to the mix, not dropping nonfiction.  I love nonfiction because I love research and interviewing people and I can’t see ever giving that up.  I’m too social to be a full-time novelist!  
          The interesting thing is that in my new project I’ve found a way to combine the two.   I’ve started a historical mystery series about the first forensics unit at Scotland Yard and the first installment is City of Darkness, which explores Jack the Ripper, one of the most famous unsolved cases of all time.   The book is certainly fiction - with the exception of the Ripper, his victims, and Queen Victoria,  all the characters are my own creation.   But writing it required a lot of research, which I thoroughly enjoyed.   Thank God for the internet.   If you need to find out how long it would have taken to cross the English channel in 1888, the information is right there.  It kept me from feeling so stuck in my own head, which can be a disadvantage of novels.


You talk a bit about shifting from writer to author (and back again) in your book Your Path to Publication.  Can you say a little about what this means for you?


Writers primarily sit alone in a room and write.   It’s a very private and sometimes lonely task.   Like right now I’m in my bathrobe with my elderly dog lying at my feet farting away and a cold cup of coffee.  And to produce a whole novel you have to get very comfortable with months and years of this type of isolation.  By the end of Love in Mid Air I was walking around the house saying my dialogue out loud to myself and I must have looked crazy.
      Then boom, the book comes out and you’re expected to be this social creature who is polished and well dressed and media-ready.   
       A lot of writers have trouble making the switch and publishers don’t give them much help….surprisingly little, in fact, considering how much of the publicity work falls to the writers today.   I know so many people who have really struggled with being suddenly so public after having been private for so long.   They become obsessed with their reviews, panic before they have to appear at readings…..even the author picture can be traumatic.   And they develop a whole love-hate thing with Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for mentors in the whole process of writing and publishing.  Who have been your mentors along the way?  How have they changed your perspective/approach/life?


It’s funny, but I’ve never really had a mentor per se, at least not in the sense that I’ve looked at their career and tried to emulate it or that there was one person I turned to first for advice.
       That said, I’ve definitely had people who helped me.   Fred Leebron, who now heads the Queens MFA program, was one of my first and best teachers and I met three women through him who all went on to write novels.   We’ve been each other’s circle of support and I don’t know what I would have done without them.   One of them introduced me to her agent, who went on to be my agent, and we also serve as each other’s first readers, which is a very pivotal role.
         If anyone would ask me one single piece of advice for writers I would say this:   find and befriend other writers.   You’ll need them at so many points in the process.  Not just for networking when it’s time to find an agent or get blurbs or promote your book, although God knows all that is important.   You’ll need them just as much as readers and for emotional support.   This whole writing-publishing thing is a strange process that pulls a lot of different emotions to the surface and I’ve never known anyone who came through utterly unscathed.   You need people to talk to and only other writers completely understand.
 
Thank you, Kim, for stopping by!
All the best on the mystery series you are working on,
and all your other, many exciting projects!

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