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In this final installment of the Toonari Post’s interview with renowned fantasy author N. K. Jemisin, she discusses her relationship with the Altered Fluid writing group as well as her path to landing representation.
Toonari Post (TP): You are a member of the Altered Fluid writing group, correct? What do you like best about the experience of being in a writing group?
N.K. Jemisin (NKJ): For one thing, I have deadlines. I’m one of those people who works better with deadlines than without. But I also like having another group of people that I can commiserate with over the lifestyle issues of writing. I can talk with them about the difficulties of trying to date while being a writer. Dating as a writer can be awkward because when you get involved with someone and they’re like “I want to spend time with you,” but you’re like “well, I have 1,500 words to write.” My writing group also does an annual retreat where they rent a house in the boondocks somewhere, and we just spend four or five days hanging out with each other and quietly writing.
TP: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of input you receive?
NKJ: Not really. I will say that when I do novel critiques with them, it is a bit overwhelming. There’s so much material, there are so many different reactions, and I’m so close to it—I tend to get invested in novels in a way that I don’t get invested in short stories—and people are telling me that my baby is ugly. Hopefully they’re telling you how to make your baby less ugly, but it can still take a while to deal with that. When I get a novel critique, I take all the material and set it aside for a few weeks, and then I start using it to revise the novel.
TP: What do you do when you’re presented with wildly divergent opinions? How do you decide how to proceed?
NKJ: No, actually. That’s what makes it work, as far as I’m concerned. If I’m in a group and one person says “I hated this character,” then what I need to do is figure out if other people feel the same way. If multiple people are saying the same thing, then maybe something’s wrong. Maybe there is something I’ve done that is making this come across wrong, and that’s definitely something I need to fix. But if one person says “I loved this thing that you did here” and someone else says “I hated it,” well, that’s normal. Like with the sex in the Inheritance Trilogy, some people loved it, some people hated it. And then some people hated it because it was too much, while others hated it because there wasn’t enough. You can only do what pleases you. You can only do enough to satisfy yourself. The question is, are you doing it in a way that is getting across what you want to get across? And if what’s coming across is not what you want, then you need to tweak it. But if you intend for it to be a certain way and people just don’t like it, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just may mean it’s not their taste.
TP: Could you tell us a little bit about your journey toward becoming a published author? How did you go about finding your agent?
NKJ: I did a traditional agent search. I did some basic research, and I started reading Locus which has a section dedicated to deals and deliveries and things like that. You can see that Author Blank sold Book XYZ to Publishing House ABC using Agent Bob. So you can see which authors are selling to which publishing houses using which agents. I tracked Locus for about six months and looked at whether or not authors were selling to publishers I cared about, and then I looked who their agents were. Then I looked up those agents and looked up their requirements. Then I prepared a set of ten packets and mailed those out. While I was waiting on those ten packets, I researched ten more and sent those out. But then I got a request for the full novel from two of those agents. One of those later recused herself because she’d just gotten pregnant, but the other one was still very interested. We met and I liked her, she liked me, and at that point it was a deal.
TP: That’s impressive that you managed to get an agent after only sending out twenty submissions. Many authors end up sending out dozens and dozens of queries before they get representation.
NKJ: Well, it’s six of one, half-dozen of another. I ended up getting that agent a good five years before I actually sold the book. Other people take a long time finding the agent and not that much time selling the book, but for me it was the other way around.
TP: What are your thoughts on the debate between self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?
NKJ: I think both traditional publishing and self-publishing will continue to be good and viable markets. I have chosen traditional publishing myself largely because I am incredibly lazy, and I do not want to do the marketing, and I don’t want to spend hours agonizing over what print type of paper quality I want. I just want to write. As you said, I have two full-time jobs, and the more time I spend trying to figure out ebook production, the less time I have to write. I think that as long as there are lazy people like me, there will always be room for traditional publishing. Then again, there will always be people who don’t want a middleman. Of course I do make less money from traditional publishing, but I do get something for that money. That money isn’t being lost, it’s being spent to pay a series of really good professionals who are going to do a really good job making my work look good.
Image Courtesy : Robert Hoge