Author Interview: Karolina Waclawiak, Author of HOW TO GET INTO THE TWIN PALMS

It’s time to meet another debut author who got their novel published. Reading debut author interviews is a great way to see a writer’s path to success, so you can learn from them. This interview is with Karolina Waclawiak, author of HOW TO GET INTO THE TWIN PALMS (Two Dollar Radio Books, Aug. 2012), a novel Publishers Weekly called “a taut debut” in a starred review. The New York Times Book Review said, “At its most illuminating, How to Get Into the Twin Palms movingly portrays a protagonist intent on both creating and destroying herself, on burning brightly even as she goes up in smoke.”

Karolina Waclawiak is the essays editor of The Believer magazine. Find Karolina on Twitter.

 

Karolina-Waclawiak       twin-palms-Karolina Waclawiak

 

 

What is the book’s genre/category?

Literary.

Please describe what the story/book is about in one sentence.

How To Get Into the Twin Palms follows Anya, a Polish immigrant disconnected from both her heritage and adopted American culture, as she attempts to assimilate into the Russian world that surrounds her in Los Angeles.

Where do you write from?

I write from my apartment in Brooklyn and on my little notepad in the subways on my way to and from work.

Briefly, what led up to this book?

I had just gotten out of grad school and was working for The Believer. I hadn’t had any major publishing credits, and as a result, it was impossible to find an agent to take me on. I decided to look at indie publishers I admired to try my luck with them directly.

(Can you query be longer than one page?)

What was the time frame for writing this book?

I wrote the book in a year and a half during grad school and it was my thesis. I was extremely lucky to be guided by the amazing writers Christine Schutt, Sam Lipsyte, and Gary Shteyngart while writing this novel. Working with them at different times made me consider the novel through different lenses and I think that was really beneficial in shaping the book. When I was shopping it around to agents, many thought I needed to make sweeping changes – force a stronger plot, make the narrator likeable – but I was confident that this was the story I wanted to tell after my experience working with Christine, Sam, and Gary.

How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?

I do have an agent now – Kirby Kim at WME [William Morris Endeavor]. He’s great! However, I did not start working with him until after I sold my book. As I mentioned, I didn’t have any luck trying to find an agent and so I figured it must be just as hard to get a publishing house to respond to you. So, while I waited to hear back from agents I started querying publishing houses. I looked at publishing houses like Two Dollar Radio (who ended up picking up the book) and Akashic and wrote what I thought was a persuasive query letter.

 

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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

My biggest learning experience has been realizing how important it is for you, the writer, to be an active participant in spreading the word about your book. Two Dollar Radio has done an awesome job with my book, but I think writers today really need to be comfortable and active on social media and really develop relationships with other writers, book stores, bloggers, and readers. It’s imperative to keeping your book alive well past the publication date, especially in the indie marketplace. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know people via Twitter, especially. It’s been a really fun experience.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

I think not giving up was key. Because I didn’t have many publishing credits, I wasn’t really looked at as a good bet. I decided to get creative with how I approached the publishing world. I think it helped that I didn’t really know what the rules were and so I didn’t think it made sense to wait a year or two to hear back from agents. I decided to do research and try to be my own advocate.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

I think I probably would have spent more time on the road visiting bookstores and book clubs. It’s extremely important.

Did you have a writer platform in place?

I didn’t really have one, to be honest. I was on Twitter, but I didn’t have more than a couple hundred followers. I didn’t have a Tumblr. I didn’t have a Goodreads page. I think all these things are important and necessary. That being said, you have to strike a balance so you don’t turn into a promotion automaton. I’ve also met other writers and have put together group readings. It’s a fun way to meet new readers and really build a sense of community.

(How successful should a blog be before agents/editors will take notice?)

Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?

Do not give up. If you believe in your work, find ways to work around those impenetrable doors. There isn’t only one way way to break in, so explore all avenues. And be kind to everyone.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’ve been writing unproduced screenplays for nearly a decade, but this was the first book I wrote. I saw that adaptations were selling and decided to try my hand at writing a novel in the hopes of eventually adapting it.

Favorite movie?

Night of the Hunter.

Website(s)?

www.believermag.com, www.therumpus.net, http://lareviewofbooks.org/, The Treatment on KCRW, and Bookworm on KCRW.

What’s next?

I’m finishing up a novel about an aging trophy wife who develops a relationship with her would-be attacker in a Connecticut beachfront community. It’s called Invaders. I’m also finishing up a couple of screenplays.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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