Wednesday, March 7, 2012

14 WOW Wednesday: Catherine Stine with Nine Lessons from Her Path to Pub

Today's WOW guest, Catherine Stine, is a wonderful talent both as a writer/illustrator and a YA and MG author. Her YA REFUGEES earned a New York Public Library Best Book. FIRESEED ONE, her 5-star YA sci-fi thriller, is illustrated by the author. Middle grade novels include A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND. You can find Catherine on her on her blog, on Twitter, on Amazon, on
Goodreads, and at her Fireseed One Facebook page.

Important Lessons Learned on my Path to Publication

by Catherine Stine

Today, I’m talking about my path to publication. I’m going to go backwards, first a list of my hard-won tips, and then my story. I’ll highlight where these tips fall in my story.

1. Don’t think that a meandering route to publication means you’re not meant to write.

2. Follow all leads you feel strongly about. Opportunity comes in surprising ways.

3. Making painful choices and taking calculated risks are sometimes the best moves.

4. Your mantra: focus, focus, and focus. Keep writing.

5. Do your homework! Follow submission guidelines. Research which agent is selling what, and do not submit high fantasy to someone who likes realistic fiction. DO take a look at going trends, at least to the point of knowing what they are. Not every agent is the right one for you, even if he or she does sell what you write.

6. Get in a trusted writing group. An MFA in creative writing is nice, but isn’t necessary.

7. Think about publishing traditionally AND indie. Doesn’t have to be either/or. But if going indie, you must have a professional team, and the manuscript must be flawless.

8. Build community but don’t let the blogosphere eat your writing time. Balance is key.

9. Have fun with it! Follow your passion.

Juko and the Sea Farm

Illustration copyright 2011 by Catherine Stine
My path to publication was a circuitous route. I was very involved with writing in high school, and art. I attended an art college, and ended up showing my paintings in galleries for a good ten years to some real success. But I was always writing children’s stories on the side. I assumed I’d get published first with picture books, as I’m an illustrator. Not the case. In a writing class that I took, someone announced that a publisher was looking for middle grade series ideas. I sent out my animal novel. They thought it was charming but not exactly what they were looking for. Almost a year later, I got a call from them, saying that they needed a writer for a series about kids who volunteer at a vet clinic, and since they knew I was good at “animal stories”, they thought of me.

Bingo! This was my first job, first real contract, and I had to write a chapter a day because those work-for-hire deadlines are manic. This proved that I could plot, could write fast, and it fired up my confidence and passion.

Next, I decided that to concentrate on writing novels, I needed to put a hold on my art career to focus on my writing—painful decision, but a good one. I figured I could always paint later. I got an MFA in creative writing at the New School in NYC, and sold my thesis, a YA called Refugees, to Random House! How did I make that sale? I met the editor at a New School forum, and pitched the idea. She took two months with it, and by that time, I had another editor interested in reading the manuscript. I emailed her with that news. That put a fire under her to decide. She called me in to an editorial meeting. The result? If I did revisions ON SPEC they might consider buying the novel. The dilemma? The editors couldn’t agree on how the story should go. I called my thesis advisor, crying. She laughed and said that this happened a lot, and I should use my intuition and only use the comments I agreed with! Great advice, I got that contract.

Skipping ahead a few years, I published more middle-grade stories and a novel. I got an agent, changed agents, and then got a new agent, who is better suited to me. Another lesson in following your gut feeling, but also in doing your homework!

Jumping way forward, I decided that I really loved speculative fiction better than realistic fiction. And I missed art. I was itching to synthesize my two passions. I wrote a YA futuristic thriller, Fireseed One, that my agent loved, and we sent it around. This was when the economy was in crisis, and every other YA was about vamps and werewolves. The editorial “no” letters we got sounded like wonderful book blurbs. “Inventive roller-coaster ride!” and “Just the kind of thriller I love!” I moved on to another novel, feeling frustrated, but writing through it.

All of this time, I was studying the market, and indie was booming. It was now respectable to consider this alternative, and some folks were selling a lot. This was when I decided to take a calculated risk and indie publish Fireseed One. I rounded up a professional team: book designer, proofreader, editor, cover artist, and the best thing? I decided to illustrate it. Following the publishing news, I saw a trending of the illustrated YA, and rejoiced. Finally, I could blend art and writing! We hope to sell my next project traditionally. It fits with the market, and it’s a great story. On the other hand, I do plan to write a sequel to Fireseed One, and that would probably be under my imprint. Here’s the thing, I firmly believe that it doesn’t have to be one or the other! Traditional publishers are great and so is going indie. Think about how musicians have labels but also do projects on their own, as the incredibly successful Foo Fighters just did (recording in their garage). All of this polarizing talk of either/or is a waste of time. Spend the time writing! Build up your blog and community, but balance your time. Good luck on your quest! Have fun with it. I do.

Want to know more about FireSeed One?

FireSeed One by Catherine Stine

What if only your very worst enemy could help you save the world?

In 2089, on a changed earth, Varik travels to a lethal desert with his enemy, Marisa, who’s destroyed the world’s crops, for Fireseed, a mythical hybrid that may not exist.


  1. Thanks for sharing all your experiences on your road to publication. You've definitely had a lot of them.

    And it's great that independently publishing a book is an option too these days. Good luck with your book.

  2. Thanks for the insight into your writing career. I like what you said too about traditional pub and self publishing--that it can be either or.

    I need to get your book to read. :)


  3. Wonderful tips and advice. Always good to be able to turn 'No' into your own 'Yes'

  4. LM, I couldn't agree with you more. You're certainly doing a great job of it!

  5. Thanks, Catherine. Your post was just what I needed. I have just gotten back into blogging, so I needed that reminder to not allow networking to eat up my writing time. :)

  6. Being a hybrid type of writer seems like a lot of passionate work, the kind I can really dig my heels into. I've got a ways to go to make any final decisions, but it is nice to have these options and I appreciate these tips as well.

  7. I'm glad I could provide some inspiration. Good luck with your projects!

  8. I enjoyed the interview very much.

  9. Great advice - and the key to all we need to do is focus and keep writing...we cant forget to keep writing. I'm also starting a book launch and try to write at least 500 words a day in the craziness of it..just to keep my novel in progress alive. Loved hearing your path to publication, Catherine. It reminds us that sometimes a turn-down can turn into a win later down the road!

  10. Donna, I applaud you for vowing to write 500 words a day through the duration of your tour! That's what it takes.

  11. What a process! Thanks for sharing. And how totally frustrating for you to have gotten such positive remarks from editors and yet you couldn't snag a book contract. Ugh! I like your cover, and your Fireseed summary sounds intriguing!

  12. Great to learn your path, Catherine. Wow.

  13. Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips. Terrific advice!

  14. I just love hearing stories like this! Thanks so much for sharing, and best of luck to you :)


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