By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
In November 2009, a novel was born about a gatekeeper and a penguin.
Two years later, the novel (initially conceived during National Novel Writing Month, a novel-writing fest in which participants are expected to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days) was uploaded to Penguin’s Book Country, an online community for genre-fiction writers to share and workshop their work.
Fast-forward a few weeks: Danielle Poiesz, an editorial coordinator at Book Country emailed Kerry Schafer, 48 and a mental health crisis response professional in Colville, Wash. and the author of said novel, asking her if she would send the complete manuscript to an interested editor at Penguin.
Susan Allison, vice president and editorial director of Berkley Books, a publishing group within Penguin, was that interested editor. Allison wanted to talk, somehow an agent, Deidre Knight, got involved, and a digital-age book deal was born.
The structure of the deal is fairly standard, according to Schafer: Advance, two books, first due out in February 2013. (Schafer would not disclose the size of the advance.)
What’s different about this book deal is how the book was discovered: Book Country. Schafer’s novel, Between, an urban fantasy on the Book Country genre map, was the first to be picked up off the site by Penguin. (When Book Country launched its self-publishing tool in November 2011, some self-published authors criticized Penguin for bating newbie-writers into thinking that by working with Book Country, they might have a chance at getting picked up by the major publisher even if that wasn’t necessarily the case.)
Book Country has about 4,500 active members and nearly 1,000 manuscripts on the site that are being workshopped, according to Book Country community manager Colleen Lindsay.
We sat down with Schafer to discuss her writing life, how she polished her work to the point of purchase and what she plans on doing now that she’s been signed by one of the world’s largest publishers.
Jeremy Greenfield: You’ve been writing for many years, you told me. Since the sixth grade, in fact. You started your first novel at 27 and it took you ten years to write. That’s a far cry from the month it took you to write the first draft of Between. I guess what I’m trying to ask is, how does it feel?
Kerry Schafer: I feel like fairy godmother waved a little magic wand and everything fell together. There was a lot of hard work that went into it beforehand.
JG: Is your writing inspired by your work as a mental health crisis response professional?
KS: Definitely. Most of the people I see are considered dangerous to themselves or someone else due to a mental illness. Working with the mentally ill is very fascinating and made me start thinking, what would it be like to look at the world from a different perspective on reality?
Between is about a woman who is a gatekeeper who has to monitor the doorways between the dream-world and the wake-world and gets stuck in the “between” place where those doorways meet and those dreams are real.
This is my second book on book country. The other one is called Dead Before Dying and is in some ways inspired by my work.
JG: You were discovered on Book Country. How do you think the site helped you?
KS: With Book Country, it all depends on what you want to get out of it. With Between, I hoped maybe – I didn’t really believe it – but I did hope that maybe it was good enough and somebody might have a look at it and maybe an agent or an editor might have an interest. At the same time, I continued to query it [with agents].
JG: So, now that you have a book deal from a big-time publisher, have you quit your job?
KS: No, not yet. Someday, there’s a dream, down the road, I would like to write full-time.
But now I’m a little bit more dedicated making sure I get my daily writing time in. it’s a job now. I have a contract; I have a commitment. My family understands.
My first round of revisions is due by the end of March. The second book rough draft is due the end of December.
The second book, we’re looking at calling it Wake World, will be a continuation of this book. We’re looking at a trilogy, even though there are two contracted books, I’m planning a trilogy.
JG: Before this deal came through, did you ever consider self-publishing?
KS: I hadn’t. I know I need a good editor. I like to have a team. I didn’t want to spend all the time that is required for formatting and self-marketing. I like having the professional team that I have now. It’s awesome.
JG: Is there any advice you’d like to give to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?
KS: I would say a couple of things. First, the writing is of primary importance. Keep writing. Write lots. Don’t be scared to revise and rework and make sure you have some good critique partners.
And it’s really important to build community. Twitter is awesome for that. Book country is a great place to find critique partners and get excellent feedback and learn from reviewing other people’s books.
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