In our Interview with an Author series, Writer’s Relief asks professional writers to share their tried-and-true secrets for publishing success.
Amanda Kabak believes in hard-earned happiness and the ultimate power of the written word. She is the author of The Mathematics of Change and Upended, her latest book published July 2021 by Brain Mill Press. Amanda has been a recipient of the Al-Simak Award for Fiction from Arcturus Review, the Betty Gabehart Prize from the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, and the Lascaux Review Award for Fiction. Her stories have been published in Tahoma Literary Review, Midwestern Gothic, Sequestrum, The Laurel Review, and other literary journals.
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Every writer has to learn how the publishing business works. How did you do it?
Despite getting my MFA, I knew next to nothing about the business until my first book went under contract—and even after that, I was still somewhat ignorant! I’d read a number of articles in industry books or on respected websites about how rights worked, what I was actually selling, and the general steps of the publication process. Still, I count myself lucky to have had a friend who is an agent and who could help me navigate the contract for The Mathematics of Change—not only understanding what it meant but advocating for the best terms for myself. Now, my second book is out, the third is under contract, and I’ve learned a great deal from working through the process again with the understanding of what I wanted to do differently from the first book’s release. I’m also much more involved in the marketing and promotion side than I had been in the past.
What has been the biggest stumbling block or frustration for you so far, and how did you overcome it?
Honestly, publishing is hard. A month prior to signing the contract on my first book, I was close to tears, drowning in rejections, and wondering what I was doing, spending all this time on writing when it wasn’t ever going to “go anywhere.” It’s important to be mentally prepared for the potential long road to writing success—and to be clear what success means to you. For me, the key is always to just keep writing. Writing is a joy, a puzzle, and an end in and of itself. I know that if I continue to put pen to paper, I’ll eventually come out with a story I love, that I think other people will love, and that I’m excited to put out there in the publishing world to see what they think.
Fill in the blank. Rejection is ____________.
Inevitable. Sometimes it’s a sign that a piece isn’t ready, but most often, it means that you haven’t found the right editor at the right place at the right time for what you’re submitting. I have stories that accumulated over fifty rejections before landing in great journals. I’ve sent out well over a hundred query letters to dozens of agents across multiple projects, and I still haven’t signed with one. You can’t take it personally, even when it hurts—especially when it hurts.
What role did social media play in staying connected to readers, building an audience, and getting noticed by the publishing industry?
I was lucky that I got away without being active on social media prior to my first two books going under contract. I’m not a huge fan of putting myself out there, but I’ve changed that a little in the lead-up to the release of Upended. For literary fiction writers, I think the jury’s still out how much a social media audience translates to book sales, but I think the equation can be quite different for essayists or genre writers. For me, though, I now see it as an opportunity to be part of the larger conversation around writing and publishing, which has been both interesting and motivating for me.
Will you tell us more about your latest book, Upended?
Upended starts with a violent attack on the main character, Madeline, but the story is all about its aftermath. The book follows four intertwined characters: Madeline; her brother, Ethan; her business partner, Joe; and Zoe, an acquaintance (and crush) from Madeline’s neighborhood.
Madeline Sawyer is a driven entrepreneur who, despite a lifelong obsession with the truth, lies to police about her attempted rape for a multitude of reasons: she’d been drinking, walking alone at night, not paying attention…and her attacker knew she was gay. She emerges from the ordeal not just physically injured but emotionally bereft—afraid and ashamed and certain she is not who she always thought she was. Lies and subterfuge are everywhere, but when she tries to pull her historically aimless and malleable younger brother, Ethan, into her web of deceit, he resists, unwilling to accept this upheaval in her personality. She is unrecognizable in her anger, but he knows he must find a way past his own uncertainty and do something to help.
Upon seeing Madeline beaten and broken at the hospital, Joe, her business partner, is flooded with new and impossible feelings for her, and he begins a secret campaign to pull their company from the brink of failure with extreme measures that could jeopardize everything he’s worked for—including Madeline. Around the edges but itching to get closer, longtime acquaintance Zoe Doolittle witnesses Madeline’s struggle with the truth and sees clearly the lies in her own life: the fake relationship she has with Troy—her family-function rent-a-date—and the slow abandonment of her artistic passion.
All the while, the attacker is still out there, and he might come after Zoe next. Not only must Madeline heal, but she must change. And so must everyone else too.
What patterns, habits, or motivational techniques have best served you on your journey to success?
I write for the writing, not for the publishing. Writing is a daily practice that I prioritize over a lot of other things. I write to uncover the story, to find authenticity in my characters, to excavate an emotional experience for potential readers. The writing is the king. Then I submit. A lot. I try to keep a pretty full queue of short stories out for submission, knowing that the vast majority of those submissions will end in rejection. Through it all, I try hard to cultivate patience.
In one sentence, what’s your best piece of advice for getting a book published?
Do the work. That applies to every step of the process. Read a lot. Write expansively. Edit your work until the sight of it makes you want to gouge out your eyes. Rely on experienced readers. Then submit, submit, submit. Do the work.
In Upended, Madeline, a driven Boston entrepreneur, finds her world thrown into disarray when she survives a hate crime and, in the aftermath, must come to terms with her true professional dreams, her changing relationships with her beloved brother, her business partner, the ex-girlfriend she can’t forget, and a new potential love interest on the horizon.
Praise for Amanda Kabak’s Writing
“Amanda Kabak is a writer to watch. She’s an old-fashioned storyteller whose sharp eye is trained on a changing world.”—Tayari Jones, author of Oprah’s Book Club pick An American Marriage
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.
For more information about Amanda Kabak, please visit her website.
Great interview! And very inspiring for this all too often on-again-off-again writer. “Do the work.” Just no getting around that!! Can’t wait to read Kabak’s books.
This interview gives me hope that I’m on the right track with my book and stories. Submitting is key. They have to be out there in order to get noticed, and published. There is a publisher for my work. I have to do the work to find them.