Interview with author Karen Pokras

Interviews, Push to Publish 2015

With less than a week until the 2015 Push to Publish conference, the preparations begin for an exciting and informative day. There is still time to register! Click here for more information.

In the meantime, check out an interview between published author Karen Pokras, a panelist at the conference, and Philadelphia Stories intern Raven Eckman for some fun writing tips!

Karen Pokras writes both middle school and contemporary fiction. She has won several writing awards including two Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. Her books include the Nate Rocks series and The Whispered Wishes series. For more information about Karen, check out her website here.

Why Middle Grade Fiction and Contemporary Adult Fiction? They seem like such different genres. Do you favor one more than the other?

Yes, they are very different! My mind is constantly coming up with story ideas — some for children, some for adults. I enjoy writing for both genres, and love that I don’t have to limit myself to being just a children’s writer or just an adult fiction writer. It can be tricky shifting gears since I tend to jump quickly from one project to the next, and they are often so different. For example, I wrote two middle grade stories this summer and am now working on a legal thriller. However, I think I would get bored doing it any other way.

How do you know you’re finished with a book? Does it just feel right?

After I finish what I feel is a decent self-edited draft, it goes out to a group of beta readers who I hand pick. These are people whom I trust will give me honest opinions (ie – not my mom). Based on their notes, I will often make several rounds of revisions until I feel I’ve polished the story to meet their concerns. It then goes to my editor who works her magic. After another round of revisions, I can usually rename my document FINAL and feel confident about the finished product.

When was the first time you felt like you would make it as a writer?

A few months after I published Nate Rocks the World, my first book, I decided to enter it into a literary contest, not expecting anything to happen. To be honest, I forgot all about it. About six months later, I received an email saying I’d both won first place in the Children’s Chapter Book category and the Grand Prize overall. I sent the email out to my publicist at the time because I thought for sure I had read it wrong. Not only was this my first self-published book, but it was one that had been rejected by more agents that I cared to admit. It was a great feeling to know that maybe I actually could write something decent.

What was the most difficult of your books to write? The least difficult? Why?

Millicent Marie Is Not My Name was my least difficult book to write. I really connected to Millie right out of the gate, and I think it shows. She is my best selling book and my favorite character (sorry Nate!). The words really flew while writing her story. That book was supposed to be a one and done, but I get a lot of requests for a book two, so I am hoping to put out a second book next year.

The most difficult book to write was Holly’s Wishes, the second book in my Whispered Wishes romance series. I re-wrote it start to finish EIGHT times. As the second book in a four book series, I wanted to make sure it had enough to keep my readers interested enough to keep going. That’s a lot of pressure!

How do you manage to make your stories different and stand out?

I’m not just a writer; I’m also an avid reader, so I try to write things that I’d want to read. I hope that others will as well.

What is your best marketing tip to writers who are looking to get published?

Social media is a place to be social. Interact with your readers on a friendly basis. Get to know them. Think of it as a huge cocktail party. Talk about what you’re working on, but don’t shove “buy my book” down their throats. It’s a huge turn off. If you can build up your fan base before you publish, you’ll be amazed at the support (and sales) you get when your big day finally arrives.

What is the most important thing to remember when you are writing?

For me, if I feel myself getting stuck, I tell myself to just walk away. I know it will come — even if it’s at a time when I can’t sit down and work, I can still usually stop and jot down some notes. I’ll never try to force a story out. Nothing good ever comes out that way.

What is your favorite book? Did it help to inspire you to begin writing?

I don’t know that I have a favorite book. I love to read and love so many books. Judy Blume was and still is a huge inspiration for my middle grade books, and my desire to write books that encourage children to read more.

If you had to describe the entirety of your writing career in just a sentence what would it be?

An amazing experience that’s only just beginning.

How important are names in your book? How do you go about naming your characters?

I love names! When I picked my title Nate Rocks the World, I was inspired by the movie Good Will Hunting. I loved how the character’s name (Will Hunting) was used in the title but not necessarily as his name. In Nate Rocks, my main character is Nathan Rockledge, but he becomes Nate Rocks when he daydreams himself as a super hero. I knew I had to play on that in the title. I did something similar with Chasing Invisible (my main character is named Chase and was originally James until my publisher and I came up with the title) and of course Millicent Marie is not my Name is an obvious play on Millie’s name (which was completely random.) A lot of times when I get stuck on picking a character’s name, I’ll turn to Facebook, pick a friend and look through their friend list to find names. I’ll often mix and match first and last names … so watch out … you could be my next character!

Do you plot out your stories or write as you go?

I’ve tried to plot, but I’m definitely more of a write as I go writer. I think it’s more exciting that way, and I get to experience my book the same way a reader will.

What are you working on now?

I’ve got two projects going at the same time, both very different. I’m about ¾ done with the second book in a middle grade mystery that I started at the beginning of the summer, but I put it to the side to begin a legal thriller that I felt compelled to write. It’s also about ¾ done at this point, and I hope to have the first draft done in the next month or so. Welcome to my crazy brain!

Any advice you want to give inspiring writers that you wish you would have known when you started out?

I was very fortunate to meet some extremely helpful folks right at the outset who helped me get started. I learned that in this industry most authors are generous and happy to pay it forward. Readers are willing and able to buy more than one book. We are not competitors, but rather in this together – to both learn from each other and help boost each other up. I highly recommend joining the Indie Author Group on Facebook. It’s a great group filled with resources to help writers of all levels.

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