Auntie SparkNotes, aka Kat Rosenfield, wrote a novel! We've read it, and IT RULES. (But don't take our word for it—check out Publisher's Weekly rave.) To celebrate this momentous occasion, we interviewed Auntie, via g-chat, about her book, her agent, and the publishing process. Read on!
YOUR BOOK IS OUT TODAY!!!!!!!
How do you feel?
Like I just puked up a unicorn. So, amazed and overwhelmed and thinking, "Whaa? Where did that come from?!" But also slightly sick to my stomach.
Why sick to your stomach? Nervous about reviews?
A little bit, definitely. But it's mostly just so, so strange to imagine the book out there being read by people, making friends, going places. I think it's, like, a literary version of the nervousness parents feel when they send their kid off to school for the first time. (Will people like him? What if somebody is mean?!)
Tell us what your book is about.
In short, it's a coming-of-age story and murder mystery about a tragedy in a small town.
How old is your protagonist?
Becca (the protagonist) is 18 and has just finished high school; the story begins on the night she graduates. And there's also the title character, Amelia, who is already dead when the book begins but is nevertheless significant; she's 22.
Were you at all inspired by the Sparklers as you wrote?
Absolutely! A lot of people say to picture your ideal reader as you write, and mine was a smart, passionate, literary-minded teenager who wasn't afraid of a little grit. So, basically, a Sparkler.
(If you're reading this, I wrote this book JUST FOR YOU.)
You write for a living—for us, for MTV, for other places. How did you find the time and mental energy to work on a novel, too?
Mostly, I just didn't give myself a choice. Although it helped that I had written large parts of the book before my career really took off—I had the pressure of feeling like I was responsible for telling this story, for finishing it and doing it justice. And of course, I sacrifice other things so that I can write all the time. Like, y'know, showering. And eating complete meals. There were many, many days during the process of writing this book where my nutritional intake consisted entirely of Cheez-Its.
Do you turn down fun stuff in order to write? I have this theory that male writers have no problem cloistering themselves away to get work done, but it's harder for female writers to do that because of guilt, or embarrassment at their own presumption ("I can't come out because I'm trying to be a writer"). Basically, that the male ego makes it easier to write (I can't tell if I sound like a feminist or a caveman).
I think you sound like a feminist caveman. Or cavelady.
I've definitely said no to things I would've otherwise loved to do because I was in the midst of a chapter and really on fire... I wouldn't say I found it hard to cloister myself, but I also don't think I ever admitted that that's what I was doing. I'd be like, "Oh, sorry, my dog is sick..." And then spend all night furiously typing away on a revision.
It's hard to admit you're working on a novel, right?
It is! Even just saying it, "I'm working on a novel," makes you sound like every dumbass stock character who's "trying" to be a writer. And adding insult to injury: in the movies, the person who's "working on a novel" never gets it published, and more often than not, they're not even working on a novel at all but just using it as cover for cheating on their girlfriends.
Which is something I have only just realized, but now that I have, I'm really cheesed about it. What the HELL, movies.
It must feel SO GOOD to know that you can now say, "I'm a novelist." You're no longer doing something that sounds implausible!
Yes! Now, I would have no problem saying, "I'm working on a novel."
You did it!
I did! And nobody can ever say I didn't!
OK, so, you wrote this book, and there it was on your computer in MS Word. Then what?
This part is a little weird: then, I pretty much commenced standing around like a giant self-defeatist douche canoe going, "Why did I even WRITE this, it's AWFUL, I'm just going to DELETE it." Because once it was out, I had no idea what to do (and this was the height of the recession, so most literary agents had completely stopped accepting unsolicited queries, which is what you'd normally do with a book once you've finished your first draft.)
Stephen King threw Carrie in the actual trash! So you're in good company. (His wife fished it out.)
He did?! Oh, man, that makes me feel so much better. And funny enough, I have a similar story: my husband, who worked in publishing, said, "Well, why don't I take it in and give it to an editorial assistant, and she can read it and at least you'll have another opinion on whether it's good." And I said no, a billion times. But eventually, he convinced me to let him take it in—with the ironclad promise that he would only show it to someone on the absolute bottom rung of the publishing ladder. And of course, he then promptly took it in and gave it to the PUBLISHER, i.e. the most important person in the office. And I wanted to kill him. BUT, she liked it and thought it had promise, and so we began emailing, and she asked me to do a revision and send it to her. Which I did—which ended up being almost a complete rewrite of the entire book—and a year later, she liked it enough to buy it. Which is the point at which you get to call everyone up and say, "I'm being published!," even though the actual publication is still a long way off.
Did she give you specific suggestions for the rewrite?
She gave me some great guidance, but revisions are more about broad strokes than specific problems—so she gave me a lot to chew on in terms of themes, character development, really revealing the book's potential, that sort of thing. It was more, "I want you to think about x" than "I think you should do y."
You have an agent, right? Was she involved in the money part? I think if I were negotiating on my own behalf, I would wind up being paid in Skittles.
I actually didn't have an agent at the time that I sold the book to Dutton, since I'd been dealing with Julie (Strauss-Gabel, the publisher and my editor) directly. But fortunately, they paid me in Skittles AND Doritos, so I feel pretty good about the whole thing.
Sounds like you got a great deal! I hope you didn't eat your entire advance at once.
Uh.... er. NO OF COURSE NOT. (Madly wipes Dorito crumbs off couch.)
But that's the other backwards part of this, in that I used my book deal to get an agent rather than the other way around; once I was getting published, it was a lot easier to get agents to take me seriously. And she's fabulous, and she'll be involved in anything I write going forward, so that in the future I can be paid in Doritos and Skittles AND MONEY.
Did you have to decide between two (or more!) agents?
I just put them all into a gladiator pit with some weapons and a bunch of mutated beasts and let them fight it out for the privilege of representing me.
Wait, sorry, that was The Hunger Games.
Actually, I had a few possible leads but ended up signing with the first person I officially met with because she really impressed me.
She's like a shark. An amazing business shark with really pretty hair and great shoes. And I'm not really a business-minded person—strategic thinking is something I'm terrible at—so it was very necessary that I get an agent who could kick a lot of ass and not be sorry about it.
Did you have any input into your amazing and sexy and creepy book cover?
Not a single solitary word of it. And yet it is amazing and sexy and creepy! Which just goes to show that good things can happen even when they're totally out of your control.
Were you so excited when you saw the design?
I was. There was a lot of delighted squealing that day. Maybe a little excited peeing, too. I don't know, it's all a blur.
What about the title? I've read that authors have little control over the titles of their own books, which seems dreadful.
Honestly, I'm so terrible at coming up with titles that I wouldn't have minded at all if someone said, "Hey, I think we should call the book [insert brilliant other title here]." But that wasn't my experience; the only conversation we had about the title was when my editor said, "So, is this title THE title?," and I said, "I dunno, do you have a better idea?," and she said, "Not really."
The title is perfect. Do you remember the moment you came up with it?
Yes! It was actually the subject line I used for the one email query I sent to an agent, way back when I had the first draft. Because I wanted to make sure it jumped out in someone's inbox. And then I never came up with anything I liked better, so it just... stayed.
Final question: Are you going to read your reviews on Goodreads?
For right now, the answer is yes. But I reserve the right to change my mind. (So if you were going to write something about how I'm ugly and smell bad, just know that I'LL BE WATCHING.)
How excited are you to read Auntie's book??? If you have questions for her (about publishing, writing, Doritos, etc.), leave them in the comments, and we'll do another post!