Sitting Room Chat: With Author Karoline Barrett

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Karoline Barrett and I talk genre, being published, and getting published.

I am super excited to bring you the first of hopefully many sitting room chats!

I have been blessed with some talented friends, and it’s one of my dreams to have a bookshop where I can invite them to show off their wonderful works to the public. I haven’t got a bookshop yet, but it occurs to me that I have a blog that can stand for now as the sitting room for my salon, inviting in a larger audience than any sitting room that I could ever want to have to tidy or clean.

I know a lot of my readers are aspiring writers. Today, these questions are for you as much as they are for me and for my first guest, who I hope will be kind and patient with us as we hope to learn from her experience.

Today, I’m introducing Karoline Barrett. With a book out already, her second book—the first in her Bread and Batter series—is due in November.

Let’s start with the question that I know I most hate being asked. Pitch me your books. What are you writing? What are they about?

Thank you so much for inviting me to be on your blog, Kathryn! Right now, I’m writing book three (as of now unnamed) of my Bread and Batter cozy mystery series.

I came to write cozy mysteries at the suggestion of my agent. I was floundering around, trying to figure out what to write next, when she asked me what I like to read. I replied, “Mysteries!”  She suggested I write a cozy mystery.  I immediately began what is now named Bun For Your Life. I have to say it’s been a lot of fun, from getting to know my characters, to deciding where to place my series, to all the research.

Maybe I should explain a few things about a cozy mystery.  I’ve come across a lot of people who have no idea what that term even means.  Think Murder She Wrote. Cozies usually feature a female amateur sleuth who lives in a small town. Most of the plot takes place after the murder.  There is no profanity, bloody gore, or explicit sex.  There often is, however, a lot of humor, of which I am a big fan. And lots of interesting plot twists and turns!

My series centers around Molly Tyler, who along with one of her best friends, Olivia Williams, owns Bread and Batter Bakery in the small fictional upstate New York town of Destiny. Bun For Your Life centers on the death of local orchard owner, Calista Danforth. Strangled to death with a Bread and Batter t-shirt, Molly is named a prime suspect. Now Molly and Olivia must whip some answers quickly before the future of their bakery crumbles.  It’s due out November 2015 by Berkley.

Wow. You foresaw a lot of the questions that I’d had for you. I’ve heard the term “cozy mystery” thrown around, but I’ve never known what characterized the genre, so thank you for your description. You say that you weren’t sure what to write next. Was your first book a cozy mystery as well or were you working in another genre? Did your first book help you find your agent? Or did you have an agent before getting your first book published?

18515738My first book was The Art of Being Rebekkah and is women’s fiction. Yes, it did get me my agent; however, when she was unable to sell it, she formed her own publishing company (E-Lit Books) and published my book as well as others!

That’s fabulous. It must be fantastic to have an agent willing to go to such lengths to get you published. Does the “E-“ in E-Lit mean that her books are (and by extension your book, The Art of Being Rebekkah, is) currently available only in e-format?

I know a bunch of us are dying to know, how did you find such a dedicated agent? Did she also help you get your contract with Berkley for the Bread and Batter series or did you query Berkley on your own?

And too…“women’s fiction” is another of those genre titles that I’ve heard bandied about but for which I’ve never had a definition. What would you as a writer in the genre say characterizes women’s fiction?

My questions are coming hard and fast now, and I apologize for that, but you have answers to a lot of questions that I’ve wanted to ask. I hope you don’t mind terribly.

The Art of Being Rebekkah is available both in e-book and “regular” book form from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and you can also order it through Indie bookstores.

Finding an agent was a long process!  I had already queried 120 agents when I found her. “Her” being Frances (Fran) Black of the Literary Counsel. And yes, she is very dedicated to her authors. She is always very encouraging and inspirational!

Yes, Fran did get me my two-book cozy mystery book deal with Berkley. I’m working on book three of the series, so I hope everyone loves the first two, and Berkley asks for more!

Women’s fiction to me means books that focus on a woman’s life journey. The books are primarily written for women, although I’ve had two or three men read The Art of Being Rebekkah.

120 queries shows a lot of dedication on your part. What advice do you have for writers beginning the quest for publication? How did you keep from becoming discouraged? Are there any resources that you found particularly helpful as you were starting out and looking to get published—or do you have favorite resources that you use now as you’re writing?

My advice to writers beginning the quest for publication is polish your work and don’t give up. Rejections are a part of being a writer, but don’t give up after one or two rejections. I started out writing short stories. I kept submitting them until they all found a home. Make sure you submit to the right publisher, or agent, for your work. If you have a young adult novel, don’t submit it to an agent who is looking for historical romance. Make sure you follow the submission instructions perfectly—it could mean the difference between “Hey, we love your work and we want to publish it” and “Wow, this person can’t follow directions.”

Feeling discouraged is also part of being a writer. The trick is not to stay discouraged! Sometimes, that means working on another writing project, or taking a day for yourself to unwind. Study other writers and their voice. What do you like about their writing? What makes it shine? Write something that is totally out of your comfort zone. I tried poetry for a while. It wasn’t bad, actually.

My biggest resource when I was starting out were the two courses I took from Long Ridge Writers Group. It’s a school in Connecticut, but you take the courses from home. I did their Breaking Into Print Course and their Novel Writing Course. They were both awesome and I learned so much. There are also tons of agent and writing websites out there that are immensely helpful. Right now, I keep it simple. I write in Word. Sometimes I outline, sometimes not.   

I didn’t realize that you’d published short stories before your first novel. Where can we find those? How long have you been writing? How did you find the writing and publication process for short stories and novels similar or dissimilar?

I started writing around 2001 (I think!!). I started with short stories then went on to novel writing. Here are a couple of my short stories if you’d like to share:

“Aunt Felicity and James Dean”

“Life Running By”

I find novel writing completely different than short story writing. I much prefer the novel writing experience. It gives you a bigger canvass to paint on. There is much more character development, more sense of time and place, and the reader is more invested in your characters.

How did you come to writing? What were you doing before? What was the worst job you had to do prior to finding your writing career? (This last question I’m borrowing from Writer’s Digest’s interview with Patrick Rothfuss because I found it really reassuring to hear that even a really successful writer had first to work an uncomfortable job.)

I’ve always been an avid reader and writing comes naturally to me. One day, I got a card in the mail for a class at Long Ridge Writing Group and the rest is history!

I actually don’t have a “before” my writing career. I am not making (yet!) enough money to stop working full-time yet, so I sadly cannot call writing my career. Someday, hopefully! My day job is being a pension administrator. I’ve been doing that for thirteen years now. Math is not my favorite thing, so don’t ask me how I fell into that! I don’t really have a “worse” job. My working history goes back to 1978, so I won’t bore your readers with all of that…

I think that’s one of the myths that get perpetuated among aspiring writers: “If only I can get this novel published then everything will be okay. I can quit that job I don’t like, and I won’t have to worry again about paying rent.” I’m hopeful—I think many of us are hopeful—that that’s how writing a book ends. Were you expecting that to be the case?

Now, you have an agent, do you also have an editor or do you handle all the edits yourself? How do you personally know when a piece is ready for publication?

When my first book was published – The Art of Being Rebekkah – I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did a lot of book signings and blog tours, but the sales haven’t been enough to let me quit my day job, unfortunately.  I hope my Bread and Batter series will do much better. For that series, I do have an editor at Berkley. I should be getting edits back for Bun For Your Life from her soon. I can’t exactly explain how I know when a piece is ready for publication.  For me, it’s instinct. Often, I write the ending while the story is still in the middle stages!

And I think I have just one more question for you: You’re on several social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, besides having your own website and blog. Several agents I’ve found want to know upfront what promotion you can do on your own for a potential book. Which sites have you found most helpful in promoting your books and why?

My favorite social media is Twitter because it’s short and concise. For my first book, I used Facebook and Twitter for promotion and did a few guest blogs and virtual book tours. Hoping to do the same for my mystery series.

Karoline, thank you so much for joining me! Thank you for answering so many questions for me.  And thank you especially for agreeing to be the first of my interviewees.

Readers, I hope this has been helpful for you all too. Support Karoline by following her on one or more of her many social media sites and hear more about her writer’s journey. Buy a book. Tell your friends.

We’ll do this again. I hope.

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