Karen Harrington is a Texas native who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. Her writing has received honors from the Hemingway Short Story Festival, the Texas Film Institute Screenplay Contest and the Writers’ Digest National Script Contest. A graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, she has worked as a speechwriter and editor for major corporations and non-profit organizations.
She authored and published There’s a Dog in the Doorway, a children’s book created expressly for the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Foundation’s “My Stuff Bags.” My Stuff bags go to children in need who must leave their home due to abuse, neglect or abandonement.
She lives in Dallas, TX with her husband, two children and two sneaky dogs.
JANEOLOGY is her first novel.
Welcome to Beyond the Books, Karen. Can you tell us whether you are published for the first time or multi-published? Can you give us the title(s) of your book(s)?
My debut novel is Janeology and it’s my first published work.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
I wrote a novel years ago called Going Native about a soldier who switched dog tags with a dead man and chose to stay behind in Vietnam, allowing his family to believe he had died in the war. John Irving said that the first novel is really an experiment to see if you can actually write a novel. That was true for me. I felt a great deal of satisfaction in completing this first novel. I don’t know that I’ll ever try and have it published, though I do sometimes toy with the idea of rewriting it, incorporating the current political environment and changing it from Vietnam to Iraq.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
There were probably somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty to forty ‘no’s’ before I got a ‘yes.” At least half of those were from agents.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
Kinda heartbroken at first. I loved having my manuscript out for consideration because I could always hope that someone would find it and respond to it. If I had a mailbox full of no’s I just turned around and sent it out again so I could keep that feeling of hope. Instinctively, I knew not to take it personally. I don’t like every book I’ve ever read. Everyone’s tastes are different. And I always repeated to myself “God is my agent.” Really! I knew when it was the right time, it would happen.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
My book, Janeology, was just published last month by Kunati Books. Of course, I sent this manuscript to a lot of publishers. The wonderful thing about getting published by Kunati was that I really understood why it was THIS publisher that responded. All of its books are bold and provocative – that’s not just their slogan. So when I was accepted there, I remember thinking, “My book is in the right place, the right home.”
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
Don’t you find that most celebrations of this kind involve food? For better or worse, mine do. My friends took me out for fajitas and margaritas the day I signed my book contract. Like all wonderful achievements, publication meets the expectations you had, but then it has other elements you didn’t expect (under the heading of “Oh, I wish I’d known that before!”)
What was the first thing you did for promotion when you were published for the first time?
First, I set up my website so I could begin blogging, posting excerpts and having a “store front” to direct people to. Second, I created a bookmark to use as a business card. Sometimes it’s simpler to hand someone a card with a brief description and your website than describe a whole book. Like most writers I know, I’m naturally shy so this step has been invaluable.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
No way. I’m a firm believer that the universe conspires to place you where you need to be at the moment you need to be there. At the same time my book was coming out, a good friend of mine had his book coming out from a big New York publishing house. We’ve traded experiences from my small press to his large company. Certainly, there are key differences in what each firm can accomplish. But one of the key differences is that I’ve had almost daily contact with my publisher – ranging from news and advice about the industry to specifics about my novel. I honestly cannot think of a better first-time author experience.
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
No, my second novel hasn’t been published. Funny thing, I thought it was ready to be submitted months ago. But the way I’ve grown reflects the fact that I now understand why and how it’s not ready, how I can refine it even more, how I’ve discovered ways to up the ante on this story. And more importantly, I can now better see my own writing as a “reader.” That’s a gift I wish I had years ago.
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
I don’t think I could have sped up the process. I had to grow and learn. But the single biggest thing I did to help myself was to hire a professional editor to review and edit my manuscript. Once I saw her edits and the questions she asked to make me go farther into the story, I knew my story was rising to the next level. And it did. Two months after I completed those edits and sent the revised manuscript out, two publishers called.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
Putting to use the business acumen I developed in corporate America. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last five years, which is a wonderful job. But now, I am bringing back many of the skills and talents I once used everyday and putting them to work for myself.
If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
I worked as a speechwriter for a number of years. I find myself missing that role from time to time. If the opportunity every presents itself, I might return to it, especially in the political arena. Speechwriting is such an interesting art form. I’d almost like to see what I could do with it now that I’ve been writing fiction for so long.
Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
Boy, I’m running the risk of sounding very corny, but the answer to that is this: I don’t think one can give up being an author anymore than she can give up being brown-eyed. If you have a drive to write, you write whether it makes you a living or not. Maybe that writing will be done for a company or a fictional story, but you’ll always be a writer.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Interestingly, I have discovered that the fourth or fifth novels of my favorite writers were their masterworks. In ten years, I’d like to think I’m on the same path of those I admire. And, I wouldn’t mind being on that path, say, near the ocean.
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Trust the moment when you know instinctively you are on to something in your story. You will have to return to that day many, many times to keep going.
Hire an editor as least once. It’s like taking a master’s class on your novel. You may be good, but she can make you better.
Keep sending out your manuscript. Always have it out there for consideration.