Karen Simpson lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and holds a Master’s in Historic Preservation. Writing, fabric art, and history are her passions. She’s a quilter and has taught African American quilting for over twenty years. As a historian, Simpson has designed exhibits for museums and other historical institutions that deal with issues of cultural diversity and racial reconciliation. The subjects and themes for her fiction are taken from the stories she discovers while doing research. The 2011 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards recently recognized her novel Act of Grace as the gold medalist in the Young Adult Religion/Spirituality category. The novel also received a nomination for the 2012 Amelia Bloomer Project booklist, an ALA list for books with significant feminist content for young people.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Karen. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
A: Act of Grace is my first novel.
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
A: I am one of those rare writers whose first attempt at a novel was published. It took me ten years but I learned how to write by working on it.
Q: 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?
A: I believe my agent had about 20 rejections from traditional publishers before I was able to place it with a small press.
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
A: I was very lucky in that the rejection I received from agents and editor were usually nice or offered constructive criticism, so while I had rejections they didn’t sting as much.
A: Plenary Publishing published Act of Grace after my agent couldn’t place it with any of the traditional publishers. It has been a wonderful experience working with them.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
A: To be honest I thought my novel was dead in the water so I was shocked when Plenary requested the manuscript. I celebrated by having all of my best writer friends over for dinner. I was the first one of the group to be published. So it was a great party.
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
A: I made sure I had a well-planned launch party. I also worked with a book publicist to develop a good marketing plan for the novel.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
A: No I don’t think I would have. Self-publishing was not for me for a variety of reasons. Being published by a small press has been a great experience.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
A: I’m still working on my second novel. Writing Act of Grace taught me how to structure a novel. It also taught me more about the discipline necessary to do quality work.
Q: 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.
A: To be honest my only regret is that I didn’t start writing when I was in my 20’s or 30’s.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
A: I think my biggest accomplishment so far is that I won the 2012 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in the Young Adult Religion/Spirituality category. I am also happy that my novel received a nomination for the 2012 Amelia Bloomer Project booklist, an ALA list for books with significant feminist content for young people.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
A: I would be the director of a museum.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
A: No I don’t think I would.
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
A: I hope to have at least another three or four books published.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
A: My advice to new writers is if you are serious about getting published, work at writing as you would a career or job. Learn the craft by become a part of critiques groups, go to as many conferences as you can afford. Read all kinds of novels and writing books, but, in addition, read books and blogs about how to conduct the business side of writing. A good book to start with is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.