Debut Author Interview: Elizabeth Kiem, Author of DANCER, DAUGHTER, TRAITOR, SPY

It’s time to see how another debut author broke out and got their first book published. Our guest today is Elizabeth Kiem, author of DANCER, DAUGHTER, TRAITOR, SPY (August 2013, Soho Teen). The novel is an IndieNext Pick for the Autumn, in addition to the Amazon pick and Indies Introduce selection.

Elizabeth Kiem studied Russian language and literature at Columbia University and lived in Russia for four years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her nonfiction work can be read all over the world wide web. Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy is her first novel. She lives in New York.

(Can you re-query an agent after she’s rejected you in the past?)



daughter-dancer-traitor-spy-book elizabeth-kiem-writer-author



What is the book’s genre/category?

Young adult thriller, mystery. Historical fiction (since the Cold War is ancient history to most teens!).

Please describe what the story/book is about.

A young Russian ballerina must flee the Soviet Union after her mother disappears.

Where do you write from?

My perfectly lit and spotified office in Brooklyn. Though much of DDTS was written in a cabin in Virginia off the grid. No music. No Internet.

Briefly, what led up to this book?

In 2009 I reached out to an old acquaintance when I had trouble finding an agent for a different middle grade novel I had written two years earlier. It turned out that this acquaintance had just started a YA imprint and was looking for manuscripts. He turned down the one I was shopping (it was not a mystery), but he claimed to like my voice enough to sign me on for an as-yet-unwritten mystery. Who was I to say no? I wrote 30 pages on spec and scored a contract to write a novel about the psychic daughter of a mobster.

What was the time frame for writing this book?

I wrote it in a rush during July and August 2012. Revisions were finished by January 2013.

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

How did you find your agent?

I don’t have an agent because the contract came straight from an editor with enormous faith in me. I’m very lucky in that respect. Going forward, I know having this novel published will help me get an agent for other works, but I’m not sure whether I will ever consider an agent as necessary as I once did. I have four books in various stages of publication right now, and I am not represented on any of them.


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

• You are your own fact-checker! Get those 1980’s airplane models, obscure subway lines and Russian nicknames right the first time! Don’t guess – ask everyone you have to!

• Blog tours are important! Bloggers are the Hearsts, Grahams, and ‘Who’s Who” of the 21st century!

• Oh – and through a funny glitch in logistics, I got a private tour of the factory that is making my book. I would say watching the full production run of the Christmas boxed set of The Hunger Games on sixty year old technology was definitely a highlight of my publishing education!

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

I asked for help from the people with experience. It took many years, believe it or not, for me just to reach out and say “I’m not sure what to do from here.” That solicitation is what led to my first book contract. Now I feel unstoppable!

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

I would be more persistent. I would be more patient.

 Did you have a platform in place?

I do. I rather dreaded the publicity portion of publishing, but in fact I found that developing my website was a delight. I love having a place to include all of the inspirations for the novel that did not make it into my story. I’m still a bit of a social media introvert (I don’t think I have more than 12 people following my blog) but I whisper the Field of Dreams mantra for comfort: “If you build it, they will come.”

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

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

Reading voraciously is not the same as writing diligently. But it’s a good start.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m also the author of a children’s picture book (in rhyme); a history of the American Soda Fountain; a ghost-written expose on the underground biological weapons market; and a non-fiction series about Coney Island carnies.

Favorite movie?

Moonrise Kingdom.


What’s next?

A reunion trip to Moscow and a sequel to Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy.



Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:



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