Welcome to the sixtieth of my blog interviews with novelists, short story authors, poets, short story authors, bloggers, scriptwriters, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with YA author Karen Pokras Toz. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Karen. Can you start by telling us how you came to be a writer.
Karen: Well – I wasn’t always a writer. I enjoyed reading as a child and had many stories floating around in my head that I wanted to write. Unfortunately, I was not very good at writing, or at least I didn’t think I was very good. Math was my subject. I always believed you were either a math person or an English person, and so I never pursued writing. In school I studied finance, accounting, and law. My writing was always with numbers. Thirteen years ago, I heard a news story on television and began creating a novel based around this single event – all in my head, of course. I’m not sure what made me decide it was time to put pen to paper, but at some point last year I began writing. I am now hooked!
Morgen: Me too, there’s nothing quite like it. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Karen: My first book (which I am still working on), I suppose would be considered “chick lit”. However, I have discovered a true love for writing middle-grade fiction.
Morgen: I presented a 105,000-word chick lit novel to three agents recently and was told that it’s no longer a popular genre (although I can’t believe that people will stop reading it) so probably a good idea to have a back-up genre just in case (and children’s is always popular). I’m actually planning on splitting mine into short stories but with eBooks you can do what you like. What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Karen: My debut novel, NATE ROCKS THE WORLD, was released in July 2011. This is the first book in the NATE ROCKS series, about a quirky young boy who draws cartoons that come to life. NATE ROCKS THE WORLD uses humor and adventure to show how everyone and anyone can accomplish great things. The book is geared toward 7-12 year olds. I do all of my own marketing, which was/is quite a challenge. However, the Internet is a wonderful place filled with endless resources. You definitely need to be focused to self-market – it requires a lot of commitment, time, and energy.
Morgen: You do your own marketing, do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Karen: While I did query a few agents, in the end I decided to self-publish. Self-publishing seems to be growing in popularity in this ever-changing industry.
Morgen: That’s a trend I’m seeing.
Karen: I do see the value in having an agent, but for me, I wanted more control over timing and other decisions.
Morgen: Me too, and although I’ve not ruled out looking for an agent in the future, I’m going the eBook route for now for those very reasons.
Karen: Do I think having an agent is vital to an author’s success? Hopefully not.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process?
Karen: Yes! NATE ROCKS THE WORLD is available in many digital formats, including Kindle, Nook, Apple, Sony Reader, and others. I found the conversion to digital quite easy actually. Again – the Internet came to my rescue with many formatting guides and tips for a smooth transition.
Morgen: Ooh, maybe you’d like to do a guest blog on your experiences of it… Do you read eBooks?
Karen: I honestly have never read an eBook. I guess I am old fashioned, but I will probably give in at some point and pick up a Kindle or Nook or other type of reader. I am told that once you get hooked, you never go back to good old paper books.
Morgen: They say the same thing about going from a PC to a Mac (which I’ve done and totally agree with) but I don’t think pBooks (as they’re now called) will ever disappear – I read books at home but take my eReader with me on (rare) trips for convenience. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Karen: Well, right now I am working on getting my very first manuscript (the one that got me hooked on writing) ready for print. It is called invisible and is about a woman who finds herself suddenly famous and thrown unwittingly in front of the paparazzi. I also am working on book two of the NATE ROCKS series…
Morgen: Yay. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Karen: I do try to write everyday whether it be working on one of my books or posting on my blog. I find that morning is the best time for me to write … maybe it’s the coffee. I usually try to get up early, while my house is still quiet to write. Once the kids start waking up, I often lose my momentum. Multi-tasking is definitely not my thing.
Morgen: Maybe it’s just called ‘life’. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Karen: It depends. For NATE ROCKS THE WORLD, I just had an idea and sort of ran with it. But my first manuscript, invisible, was completely plotted out first. The NATE ROCKS book I am working on now is a combination of both. I have a very basic shell and am figuring out the details as I go along.
Morgen: What’s the most difficult aspect of your writing life?
Karen: Balancing. It is one of the reasons I get up so early to write. I don’t want to take away family time, although there are times where it can’t be helped – especially when deadlines are looming. At the moment, I am trying to find a comfortable balance between spending my time marketing and writing.
Morgen: Do you have any advice you could give aspiring writers?
Karen: The same advice I gave myself… dream big. I know it’s a cliché, but it is something I tell my kids all the time, so I figure I should follow my own advice, right? Just to be clear, I am not talking about money and fame. For me, success is not measured that way. You have to set goals – keep them reachable and then push yourself even further. Make as many contacts as you can: use the Internet, join critique groups, get a writing coach if possible, educate yourself, keep up with the industry, and just keep writing!
Morgen: I totally agree. Dreaming is good as long as you put it into action. What do you like to read?
Karen: This is always a tough question for me, isn’t that funny? Maybe because I love so many different authors! I’m mostly a fiction reader, although I do enjoy a good autobiography. My all time favorite book is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
Morgen: I have it (and a text guide to it) and started it but it’s one of a few that sit near my bed whispering to me to pick up and continue.
Karen: I also enjoy reading what my kids are reading. One day while helping my daughter with her homework, I picked up the book she was reading for school, a historical novel about the potato famine, called NORY RYAN’S SONG, by Patricia Reilly Giff. After the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up for hours reading.
Morgen: The mark of a good book. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Karen: Yes – having an Internet presence is so very important! I can be found on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Shelfari, and more. I also have a blog where I write about my daily life as a mom, writer, wife… basically it is just me rambling about whatever happens to be on my mind at any particular moment. Every week, I post a ‘Friday Five’ where I sum up what’s been going on in my little world.
Karen: My website is the best place to start: http://karentoz.com or my blog: http://kptoz.blogspot.com. I can be found on twitter (http://twitter.com/karentoz) and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/karenptoz. Also, on my website are links for readers to purchase both print or digital copies of my book, as well as a free download of the first chapter.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Karen: Yes – The importance of encouraging young children to fall in love with reading is so vital. I hope all who are young at heart will experience as much enjoyment reading NATE ROCKS THE WORLD, as I did writing all of his adventures. Thank you so much for having me today!
Morgen: You’re very welcome. All the best with your forthcoming projects.
Update June 2012: Just released… Book 2 of the Nate Rocks series: Nate Rocks the Boat – - The Adventure Continues…With fourth grade finally winding down, 10-year-old Nathan Rockledge is looking forward to a fun and relaxing summer at home with his friends. That is, until his mom decides he has to go to overnight camp with his annoying older sister. When his best friend, Tommy, decides to tag along, Nathan thinks maybe his summer won’t actually be so bad. After all, he does get to be away from his mom’s awful cooking for an entire six weeks. Amongst Color War competitions, a flaky counselor, and a bully named “No-Neck,” Nathan turns to his trusty sketchpad, transforming himself into Nate Rocks: 10-year-old extraordinaire. His speedboat ready for action, Nate saves the day time and again from the perils of floods, snakes, ghosts, and even the most wanted criminals. Join Nathan, Tommy, Abby, and a whole new cast of characters as Nate Rocks once again proves nothing can hold him back. Available wherever books are sold.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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