Each year, NCWA member Kirk Kraft posts interviews with the agents and editors that will be speaking at the Northwest Christian Writer’s Renewal.
Kathleen Kerr is an Associate Senior Editor at Harvest House Publishers and has a passion for finding new voices. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter, where she can often be found hiking, writing, and creating chaos in the kitchen. www.quillsandquiche.blogspot.com
Books on writing she recommends: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. (Kathleen offers a note “they’re both a bit irreverent.” )
What’s been the most rewarding experience in your publishing career?
As an editor I think of myself like a stage manager in a play: If I do my job right, no one knows I’m there. I love helping authors refine their words while staying true to their voice. I love teaching as I edit. My most rewarding experience? When the second manuscript comes in even better than the first.
What keeps you engaged with a story? What does “story” mean to you in the context of a published work?
I regularly hear comments like, “This novel will teach readers to trust God in hard times” or “This book will give kids the courage to stand up to bullies.” Authors (and publishers) often embrace the mistaken idea that readers need to be improved. Nonsense. They need to be enthralled.
As a reader, I’m engaged by the same things that keep anyone engaged: a page-turning plot, characters to whom I can relate, humor, suspense, maybe a little unrequited love. What makes me throw down a book in despair? Moralizing and preaching. A Christian novel should be different, of course. It should point a reader to the greater Story. But in pointing your reader there, don’t try to teach a lesson along the way. Just tell a good tale.
What is the most frequent mistake you see new writers make in their submissions?
A couple mistakes to cover here, simply based on their frequency:
- Don’t inflate your platform. If you don’t have one, be honest and say that. Tell me how you’ll work to build your platform instead of telling me about the women in your Bible study who really liked your book idea. I’ll be more impressed by honesty than by self-inflation.
- Give me realistic comp titles. I want to know which current books in the marketplace are similar to yours for the purpose of estimating sales. Don’t simply list bestselling books on the same subject. While we hope that the book will be a runaway bestseller, we can’t budget for that. (For example, almost every children’s book proposal I get lists the Chronicles of Narnia as a comp title. Let me break the hard news to you right now: It is unlikely that you have written the next classic children’s book that will be beloved by countless generations and sell millions of copies. Possible. But unlikely.)
- Please, please, please never tell me that God wrote the book or gave you the title. People who say this always write bad books.
Could you describe the “It” factor you look for in a manuscript?
Of course I can’t describe it. It’s just like falling in love—you know it when it happens. But I can describe a few factors I watch for.
- A unique voice. I can often tell what books a new writer is reading by whose voice she’s imitating.
- Humor. Is someone going around to conferences and telling Christian writers they can’t be funny? Every time I tell an author I like a joke in her book she responds, “Oh, I was so worried you were going to take that out!” No way. Make me laugh on the first page and I am putty in your hands.
- Strong writing. A good platform and a cool hook will get your book on the shelf, but strong writing will keep it there.
- Properly formatted citations. I know, I know. Citations are boring. I get that. But not putting in the work is just lazy.
Ebooks, POD and e-readers continue to alter the publishing manuscript. What challenges do you face by these changes and what’s your outlook for the future?
Challenges? Come on—let’s call them opportunities! We’ve got new ways to reach new readers, and that means we get to think way outside our normal parameters. Ebook novellas to hook readers into a series? You got it. Enhanced ebooks to help kids explore a book’s fantasy world? Rock on. Interactive books where you can connect with a beloved author or play some kind of role in the story? Apps related to a nonfiction series? All good things. I think this is an incredibly exciting time to work in publishing—a time when everything’s changing and we get to do some exploring.
What’s your favorite book of all time? Why?
I’ve been trying to narrow this down for about six minutes and I just can’t. So here, briefly, are my top four:
- Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman. I have loved this book since I was ten years old, and true love lasts a lifetime.
- Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. This is a magnificent work of literature—and at the same time it’s a novel that grabs your brain with both hands and won’t let go.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. This book is like science for English majors. If you tell anecdotes you learned from it you will become popular at parties. (Seriously. This is how I make friends.)
- The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye. You know how at the beginning of The Princess Bride the grandfather says the book has “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”? The Far Pavilions has all those things, too. It’s the kind of epic you can get absolutely lost in. Have I been known to miss important appointments because I lost track of time while rereading this? Yes. Yes, I have.
Kirk Kraft has been gripped by the “Writing Monster” for many years. A husband and father of four, he’s instilled a love of reading in all his children while chasing his dream of publishing. His favorite genre for both writing and reading is epic fantasy. He has been a member of NCWA since 2008.