If you’re currently querying or submitting, then this interview with debut thriller/crime writer Karin Nordin is for you. Karin offers submission tips into how to write a cover letter and how to approach agents AND publishers. Karin took the alternative route of submitting directly to publishers after she had no luck with literary agents. Mind you, she was submitting during a pandemic, which has been the worst time for many writers out there hoping to secure a deal with an agent! But Karin gained attention from some of the Big 5 publishers who she submitted to, which leads me to think that her novel Where Ravens Roost, a Scandi crime/thriller must be really, really high quality fiction. And it’s almost out! Karin is a joy to follow online and her novel looks and sounds eerily awesome. Snow, small town, isolation, family drama… I’m so excited! AND she’s been a writer since she was a child, so we know how much Karin wanted this.
How long have you been writing?
Since I first learned how! I wrote one of my first short stories for school when I was about eight years old. I still have it and, honestly, I have trouble reading it until the end because it’s hilarious! It makes me laugh until I have tears in my eyes. But that story is a good reminder to me that writing has always been my passion. And it often makes me wonder how I ever fell off the writing path when I was older because it was clearly something I was meant to do from a very young age. I really have to thank my teacher for creating that homework assignment because ever since I was introduced to writing it has been a constant companion in my life. When I was in high school I would come up with any excuse imaginable to replace an essay assignment with a creative writing project. Later I minored in creative writing during my undergraduate degree and eventually went on to pursue a master’s in creative writing. And even though my writing style and stories have changed dramatically over the years, I can safely say that writing has been an aspect of my everyday life for as long as I can remember.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
When I first started querying I was very strict with myself. I had a very short list of agents I was willing to query. I think it was about 25 agents. I spent months compiling that list because I really wanted a specific type of agent to represent me and my work. I also wanted to use the querying process as a means of gauging whether my book (or my writing in general) was at the level it needed to be for publication. Unfortunately, I started querying two weeks before the pandemic hit western Europe and so my timing was very unfortunate. I did receive a few full manuscript requests, but no offers of representation. And many of the agents I queried closed their doors to new clients because they had to suddenly work from home and take care of families. As a result, I had to rethink my book and my process. I felt there was a home for my novel somewhere, but I didn’t know where. When I did further research into books that were comparable to mine I discovered that many of those authors had submitted to publishers without an agent. So, I told myself I would submit it to a few large publishers with open submissions and see what the response was. I made a plan. If I didn’t receive positive interest from the publishers by a specific date, I would shelve the book and start with a new idea. When that date came around I sat down at my computer and started writing a new book. Five hours later I received interest from two imprints. I then made the difficult decision to pursue publication without an agent. Both imprints took my book to acquisitions and I had to make a choice between two very exciting publishers! This was an incredibly challenging decision to make on my own!
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
I received my first full manuscript request from an agent twenty-four hours after I submitted it. But, of course, there were many agents who took weeks or months to respond to my query. And many didn’t reply at all. Which is difficult for any writer in the querying trenches because you just want to know! But that’s the nature of the process. The publishers I queried all responded within the guidelines on their websites. I believe the two imprints who were interested in the book took about three weeks. An editor from one of them sent me an email in the middle of reading the book to tell me that halfway through they already knew they wanted to have a conversation!
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
Because I didn’t go through the normal submissions process with an agent this was quite different for me. I submitted to five publishers with open submissions policies; three were imprints of the “Big Five,” one was a substantial mid-level publisher, and one small press. My first rejection was from the mid-level publisher and then from one of the Big Five. Then I received simultaneous interests from editors at the two other Big Five imprints. At that point I withdrew my submission from the small press.
It was the middle of the summer when this happened so a lot of people on the publishing team were on holiday. One imprint took me to acquisitions very quickly and came back to me with an offer within a few weeks. The other took a bit longer, but also resulted in an offer. Because I didn’t have an agent I hired a literary attorney to help me understand the legal aspects of the contract. Once I made a decision about which imprint I wanted to accept there was another longer waiting period for people who had to sign off on the contract to return from holidays. All in all, the process was a grueling few months of not being able to tell anyone what was going on because I wanted to wait until it was official!
I received initial interest from my publisher the first week of July and I finally signed the contract in October.
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
Do you research! Writing a compelling cover letter is just as important as writing a compelling book. There are a lot of resources out there. The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook was essential for me. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, YouTube is an amazing resource for aspiring authors. There are so many AuthorTubers looking to share their stories, their advice, their successes in their journeys, and their pitfalls. And a lot of them will share their cover letters. I used Will Dean’s cover letter for Dark Pines as a starting point for writing my own cover letter. Alexa Donne is another great author who has numerous videos on what makes a successful cover letter. So, my biggest tip would be to find cover letters that were successful in obtaining an agent/publisher and learn from them!
I also gleaned a lot from reading the acknowledgements sections at the back of books in my genre. (This can also be an excellent way to find an agent who might be suitable for your manuscript!) Likewise, it’s also really important to know your book and where it fits in the market. This is so essential when it comes to adding comparison titles in your cover letter. We all want to compare ourselves to the biggest name in our genres, but that might not always be the best comparison title for a story (or the most useful.) And I think doing a little extra research into this aspect of the cover letter can go a long way. (Both of my first calls with editors brought up the comparison titles I used in my cover letter during the discussion about where they saw my book being marketed.)
I think a lot of authors struggle when it comes to synopses even though a lot of agents claim not to read them until after they read the writing sample. I think a Joe Friday mentality (‘Just the facts, ma’am’) is the best approach to writing a synopsis. Leave your beautiful prose and your witty voice to your novel and (maybe) your cover letter. The synopsis is meant to demonstrate you’re capable of writing a story with a definable arc and conclusion. It’s okay if it reads a bit like a ten-year-old’s school book report.
But as with all things—practice, practice, practice! Your first cover letter is not your best cover letter. Same with your synopsis and your pitch. Spend time on each of them. Think about them. Edit them as you did your novel. And make sure you put the correct agent name at the top before you send your query!
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
I wasn’t really surprised when they offered the contract, because at the time I didn’t realize that an editor could express interest in a manuscript and then later be turned down by their team at acquisitions! (Later I realized just how lucky I was to get through that stage as well!) So, my first reaction was more when I received the almost simultaneous responses from the two imprints both expressing an interest in publishing my manuscript and wanting to schedule Zoom calls to talk about our ideas for the book. I was in shock because I had honestly made the decision that morning to shelve the book forever and work on something completely different. I think I stared at that first email for twenty minutes. When I’d opened it, I’d assumed it was going to be another rejection. When it wasn’t I couldn’t believe it! It was definitely one of the most surreal moments of my life, full of so many conflicting feelings—excitement, joy, fear, elation, pride, relief. I think I went through the gamut of emotions all within the period of a few minutes.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the follow-up to my debut novel, Where Ravens Roost, which will be book two in my Scandinavian crime series. I just turned in the first draft of the manuscript and I’ll be starting structural edits in the coming weeks. This was my first book on contract and it has revealed numerous challenges that I hadn’t anticipated when I wrote my debut. It’s true what they say about “second book syndrome!” It’s not easy and it’s going to need a lot more work than my first novel, but I’m confident that it will get where it needs to be in time. And I’ve learned a lot about my writing process while working on this new novel, which will only improve my ability to write on contract in the future. This book is slated to release in the autumn of this year. And hopefully, if things go well, it’ll lead to an opportunity to continue this series with my publisher.
Readers of Jo Nesbo will love this and I am really looking forward to reading the sequel to this, following our lead detective, Kjeld Nygaard. I love the stories of authors who were just about to give up and then someone offers a contract, or asks for the full manuscript. Karin proves again that you can make it there, if you are determined enough to keep going.
And thanks for stopping by,