Author Interview, Kristen Tracy, Lost It
Readers obviously love Kristen Tracy's writing―her first novel, Lost It, has over 90,000 copies in print. But she didn't stop there. To date, Kristen has 11 books published with Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Disney-Hyperion. What's her secret formula? Well, she doesn't really have one, other than writing, writing, writing. It's all about the writing for Kristen.
Read her full author interview below.
1. The titles of your published books (include publisher and year published) plus your author website/Facebook page links.
Young Adult Novels:
Lost It (Simon & Schuster, 2007)
Crimes of the Sarahs (Simon & Schuster, 2009)
Field Guide For Heartbreakers (Disney-Hyperion, 2010)
Sharks & Boys (Disney-Hyperion, 2011)
Death of a Kleptomaniac (Disney-Hyperion, 2012)
Hung Up (Simon & Schuster, 2014).
Middle Grade Novels:
Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus (Random House, 2009)
The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter (Random House, 2010)
Bessica Lefter Bites Back (Random House, 2012)
Too Cool for This School (Random House, 2013)
Project Unpopular (Random House, 2016)
Project Unpopular: Totally Crushed (Random House, 2017)
Author website: www.kristentracy.com
2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?
Lost It is my first published novel. It’s a Young Adult novel about a girl who has her first romantic experience underneath a canoe. I wanted to write a funny romance that also had good bear safety advice in it. The first book I ever wrote, Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus, was published in 2009, but it was on submission for over a year. Essentially, I based it on a time I fell underneath my own school bus.
3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
When I wrote Lost It I had to teach myself how to write a novel. I started out as a poet, so writing something as long as a novel felt really challenging. Figuring out how to create an emotional character arc for all my main characters and at the same time having a plot unfold felt pretty impossible.
4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
When I wrote my first novel, I wasn’t in a critique group. I showed it to a good friend in my yoga class, Ulla. She became my first reader for my first six books. She’s impatient. So I had to write them quickly to keep her happy. I submitted my first novel to an agent. I kept writing. I gave her my second novel. My agent sold my second novel right away. My first novel sold almost a year later. So my second novel, Lost It, came out in 2007. And my first novel, Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus, came out in 2009. I’ve published one or two books a year since then.
5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
I’ve worked with a variety of editors and they all have a different style. The great thing is that each one was truly invested in making the book its best possible version of itself. All the advice I’ve been given in the editing process I’ve found incredibly useful. I’ve worked with Wendy Loggia at Random House on six books, and I truly love her brain. When the edit letters arrive, it’s always a little depressing, because deep down I’m hoping for a letter that says, “Kristen, you’ve nailed it. This novel is perfect. Congratulations! You’re finished.” But the letter usually starts with what the editor likes and the moves into a series of questions that feel incredibly challenging and make me feel doomed. But once I’ve read the letter over and over, I start to feel energized. And the idea of cracking the manuscript open and improving it feels possible and exciting.
6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?
I’m a meticulous first-time drafter. So by the time I finish a manuscript I’ve rewritten it eight or nine times. I don't think I’ve ever turned in a book that’s needed to be rewritten in the most aggressive sense of that word. (Knock on wood.) I have to address issues. I’ve got a weak scene. My timeline is screwed up and I have two Fridays in a row. Things like that. I usually take my editorial letter and go through it top to bottom. It takes me about a month to do a round of revisions. My editor and I usually go through three rounds.
7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers)? What did you get out of that?
Early on, my friend Ulla read my books and I found it useful in terms of finishing the work. I had to get chapters to her every week. It helped my set a schedule and complete a book much quicker than I would’ve done otherwise. I have shown my work to readers, but I feel like I’m a good reader, and so I work really hard to please myself.
8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
I’m not sure who designed all my covers. I’ve lost track. I did become friends with Helen Dardik, the artist who created the cover for Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus. She’s so brilliant! For the most part, my editor asks me to write up a character description for the main protagonist and then pick out some scenes I think are important to the story. Then she usually asks if I have any ideas. I think I’ve always been shown the cover while it’s in development and I’ve usually really loved them. Once, I got a cover I didn’t like, and they scrapped it and made a new one and I felt very lucky and also thrilled. I love the cover they eventually came up with. I feel like I have really good cover luck.
9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?
I like telling stories. It was inevitable. I never took the rejection personally. I didn’t let those initial ‘not for us’ slips stop me.
10. How have you marketed your first book?
I did some readings. I went to ALA Midwinter and spoke to a group of wonderful librarians and brought bear paws that my mother made out of potholders and gave a lecture about bear safety. For the most part I focus on writing the best book that I can and then letting it find an audience.
11. How was the initial feedback from readers?
I think my first novel was an official hit. It went into its twelfth or thirteenth printing and has over 90,000 copies in print.
12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
I don’t follow sales closely. I really keep my focus on the craft. I try to read a lot and write the best story that I can.
13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
This isn’t the kind of question I think about. I don’t know.
14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
My publisher is in charge of all pricing.
15. What made you decide to write more books? How were those experiences (writing/editing) compared with your first book? Did you do anything differently?
I’ve been writing and selling books, overlapping, since 2007. Some years I’m more productive. The more I travel and promote, the less I write. So I’ve had to find a balance with that.
16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
It’s been pretty straightforward. I get an idea. I write a book. I sell the book. I get another idea.
17. When did you consider yourself a "writer"?
I started writing that I was a poet on my tax forms when I was in graduate school. So I guess after I got my MFA, which is silly. I was a writer long before that.
18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?
Deadlines. And my need to finish. I’m a goal oriented person. Finishing gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I’m lucky that way.
19. What do aspiring authors ask you?
How do you get an agent?
20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, publishing, and marketing?
If you want to see your story live in the world, you need to write it down. Carve out enough time in your life to finish it. Once you finish, revise it. And once you revise it, find an agent who really appreciates your voice and your work. Focus on the writing. That’s what’s going to sell your novel. A good agent will help steer and build your career. But don’t forget to read. Writing a good book requires having read several hundred. They show you how it’s done.