Journeying Through Traditional Publishing: An Interview with Karin Nordin.
Traditional publishing is something so many of us are working towards, yet it remains such an enigma. As someone who is always curious about this mysterious world, I was absolutely thrilled to interview Karin Nordin. Her debut novel Where Ravens Roost was published by HarperCollins this year, and she was kind enough to break down her publishing journey for us. A huge thanks to Karin for this in-depth look at publishing...and for sharing a little bit about her debut novel!
First things first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure! I was born and raised in the United States. My father was in the military so we moved around a lot. By the time I graduated high school I had lived in five states and attended at least six different primary and secondary schools. (I’ve actually been to all 50 US states!) I received a BA in English and a BS in Biology. After working in various educational and healthcare fields, I went to medical school, but I met my partner during summer vacation after the first year of my studies and made the wild decision to move to the Netherlands! There I pursued an MA in Scandinavian Literary Studies and later an MSc in Creative Writing, where I began the project which would become my debut novel.
Can you tell us about your debut novel, Where Ravens Roost?
Where Ravens Roost is the story of Kjeld Nygaard, a recently suspended homicide detective, who receives a mysterious phone call from his estranged father who has Alzheimer’s Disease. When Kjeld returns to his family home in the north of Sweden he discovers that his father claims to have witnessed a murder in the old barn on his property. But with no body, no evidence, and no help from local authorities, Kjeld has to investigate on his own before the truth is forgotten forever.
It’s a crime thriller, but with a very strong domestic noir aspect to it. Much of the book is focused on familial tensions, parent/child relationships, small town gossip, the reliability of memories, and the difficulties of returning home.
What was your journey to publication like?
I like to say that I had a somewhat non-traditional path to traditional publishing. I finished writing my book in 2019 and by the start of 2020 I was ready to query my manuscript. I had a very short list of agents (about 25 agents) I was planning to query and who I’d spent months researching. My list was short for two reason. First, I wanted to work with a particular type of agent who would support not only the book I was querying but other books I had planned to write in the future. There are other genres I hope to write in besides the crime/thriller genre and so I wanted to find an agent who would also be open to those genres as well. Secondly, I planned to use the querying process as a means of gauging whether my book (or my writing in general) was at the level it needed to be for publication. I didn’t want to waste too much time querying a book that there might not have been a market for or wasn’t publication ready.
Unfortunately, I started querying two weeks before the pandemic hit western Europe and so my timing was very unfortunate. I did receive a few full manuscript requests, but no offers of representation. And many of the agents I queried closed their doors to new clients because they had to suddenly work from home and take care of their families.
At this point I decided to rethink my book and my process. I had read about 100 books in my genre before I started querying, both to help me find agents and to see what was current in the genre, but also to find books that were comparable to mine. But when I did further research into the genre and books that were selling quite well I discovered that many of my “comparison” authors had submitted to publishers without an agent. At this point I was close to putting the manuscript aside and starting with a new story.
So, I decided to submit my manuscript it to a few publishers with open submissions in order to see what the response was. My plan was simple. If I didn’t receive positive interest from the publishers by a specific date, I would shelve the book and start with a new idea. When that date came around I sat down at my computer and started writing a new book. Five hours later I received interest from two imprints. I then made the difficult decision to pursue publication without an agent. Both imprints took my book to acquisitions and I had to make a choice between two very exciting publishers!
What were some challenges you faced while pursuing this path?
The biggest early challenge for me was learning how to navigate the path of publishing contracts without an agent. I basically had to be my own agent, in a sense. By submitting my book directly to publishers I had essentially taken myself "on submission." When they offered me a deal, I had to negotiate the contract myself. This meant telling the publisher the things I wanted changed or removed from the contract. And that was very difficult for me because I’d never really been in a position where I had to stand up for myself like that. Because I didn’t have an agent to offer me guidance I did end up hiring a literary attorney to help me understand the legal aspects of the contracts.
Knowing when to change gears was also a challenge I hadn’t really planned for. I knew I didn’t have it in me to query 100 agents. You hear about a lot of authors who do and then get lucky when #100 signs them. That kind of querying stamina is incredible! But I knew I couldn’t do that. And this was my first novel, after all. So, while I’d worked hard on it and wanted it to succeed, I was very realistic with myself about my chances. Still, deciding when to move on isn’t easy. Which is why I set a date for myself for when I planned to start a new project. I didn’t want to dwell too long on something that wasn’t working when I could be writing something better.
The biggest challenge I faced, however, was actually after I signed the contract. And it was a challenge brought on wholly by myself and my own fears and insecurities. After I signed the contract I had a lot of difficulty believing in my ability to handle everything on my own. Truth be told, you’re never fully alone in traditional publishing, even if you don’t have an agent, but I tend to put more weight on my shoulders than is necessary. Maybe this is a natural aspect of creative people. We want to do our best, but the moment our best is on display for the world to see and open to opinion and criticism it can be a lot of pressure.
So, there were many moments when I overwhelmed myself with doubt. Especially when it came to writing the second book on my contract. I didn’t have the best balance between my writing and my personal life. As a result, I was much harder on myself than I should have been. It also didn’t help that the entire world felt like it was in flux. Honestly this will probably be something I have to actively work towards improving for a while until I find my rhythm, but acknowledging this challenge early has been key to helping me develop a better schedule for myself. And for prioritizing the things in my life that keep me in a healthy mindset!
What have been the benefits of traditional publication?
For me the most important benefit of traditional publication was that I basically just had to write. Now, of course, there are other things expected of authors. Your publisher will want you to promote your book to the best of your ability, engage with readers, do interviews, etc. But because I had a publisher I didn’t have to find an editor, copy editor, or proofreader on my own. I didn’t have to hire a cover designer or a publicist. I didn’t have to wear all of those other hats that are required of an author who self publishes. Which works for me because I’ve never really been interested in those things. I just want to write good stories and connect with readers. I don’t have the managerial and business skills that come with a lot of those other processes. Putting them in the hands of a publisher lowered a lot of my stress and allowed me more time to do what I wanted to do—focus on the writing.
But, truly, the reach of traditional publishers is by far the biggest benefit. They have the connections, the marketing prowess, the funds to support your book, and a reputation of publishing other great stories. From the very beginning they knew how to design my cover to fit it into the market. They knew how to write the copy to attract readers. And they had the ability to reach out to other established authors (and their agents) about reading the book and writing blurbs for it. I couldn’t have done any of these things on my own. (Nor could I have afforded to do so if I wanted to!)
What advice would you give to someone pursuing traditional publishing?
Patience is everything.
The traditional publishing path is slow. Mine was quite fast because I didn’t have an agent and I signed with a digital-first publisher. They’re known for pushing out books rather quickly. But generally it’s a slow process and from the day you sign with an agent it could be two years before your book hits the shelves. That’s just a fact of the process. You have to learn to be patient or you’ll make yourself crazy.
Research is also important. Know your genre. Know your contemporaries. Know who your peers will be. Know what tropes are popular. Know what came before you and what is looming on the horizon. The better informed you are about what you’re writing the easier it will be for you to pitch it to an agent/publisher. The difficulty with traditional publishing is that there are very discernible trends and it’s important to know what’s out there. Of course, if you’re passionate about an idea that’s not popular anymore, you should absolutely write it. But know where it’s going to fit in the market. Know who’s looking for it. Know your audience. Know as much as possible!
My biggest piece of advice would be to try to have as much of your second book done as possible. Especially if you’re writing a series, but even if you’re not. It’s very possible that a publisher will offer you a two-book deal and that second book will be on a very tight deadline. The more of it that’s done, the easier your second manuscript will be to write. My suggestion would be to start on your new project as soon as you send your first manuscript off. Don’t waste your time worrying what kind of response you’re going to get on your queries. Start your new project! Because when someone says yes (and they will say yes eventually) the process will start moving very quickly and you won’t have a lot of time. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you plan ahead and get that second idea down before you sign your contract.
Is there anything that has surprised you about your publishing journey?
Everything is harder after you sign the contract!
I don’t mean that to sound defeatist, but I think a lot of people believe that if you can get an agent or a publisher that the hard part is over. And that wasn’t my experience at all. It’s a bit like climbing a mountain only to discover that there’s another peak on the horizon. Some things become easier, while others become more difficult. And a lot of that is not knowing what to expect. Even though I had a good plan and process, I really struggled writing the second book. I wasn’t prepared for the sudden overwhelming nature of social media, expectations (mostly my own,) and the roller coaster of emotions that come with the process of debuting. The biggest thing I’ve learned is the importance of managing your time, both for writing but also for yourself.
A more positive surprise on this journey, however, has been the amazing outpouring of support from other authors! When my book was announced I was suddenly receiving messages from authors congratulating me and wishing me well. These were people who had been on my bookshelves for years! Some who even inspired me as an aspiring writer. And this sudden reminder that they were once in my position, too, was so incredibly motivating. I’m so grateful to all of the authors who took the time to reach out to me and remind me that I am capable of doing this professionally.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on my second book on contract. It’s a follow up to Where Ravens Roost which continues Kjeld’s story after the events in the first novel. It’s my hope that this will become a series of books. I just submitted the first draft of my manuscript to my editor so I’ll be starting on structural/developmental edits soon. The book is slated for a 2021 autumn release which is absolutely wild because that means, if all goes well, I’ll have two books out in my debut year!
Anything else to add?
Stay positive and don’t give up! Especially if you’re currently in the querying process or pursuing traditional publishing. Rejections can sometimes be a good thing. They can open your eyes to other opportunities for your story. One thing I tried to remind myself whenever I received a rejection was that rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your book is bad. It just means that particular agent or publisher isn’t the right fit for you and your story. And you want the right fit! You want to find the agent/editor/publisher who will be the best advocate for your novel. In essence, a rejection just means you’ve crossed off someone from your list who wouldn’t be the best advocate. Which means you’re one step closer to find the person who is!
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