Friday, February 4, 2011

Interview with Josh Berk Part II

by Jodi Webb
Today Jodi and Josh pick up on their conversation from Wednesday...

BDWN: Can you give us the 30 second story of your road to publication? Agent? Sending directly to publishers? Winning a contest? Friends in the business?

JOSH: I started out extremely clueless in the business! I sent a manuscript to one agent at a time and waited to hear back. (This was on my previous, unpubbed manuscript.) One of them was kind enough to say "you write well, so even though I'm going to pass on this project, let me know when you write something else." When I finished the ms. that would become HAMBURGER HALPIN, I promptly sent to to her and just waited. It turned out that she wasn't an agent anymore! I felt crushed, but was advised by a writer-friend to send it to a bunch of agents at once. It seems like obvious advice now! So I used to find any agent interested in YA and polished up my query letter. I got a lot of interest, and coincidentally ended up signing with a young, new agent at the agency that sent me that original "let me know when you write something else letter" on the first manuscript. He then submitted it to editors he thought would like it, and found me a good home.

BDWN: So you do have an abandoned manuscripts hidden in your desk drawer?

JOSH: HALPIN was my third attempt at writing for teens. My first, technically, was an adult novel that I tried to morph into a YA book after taking a class on teen lit. (And, after realizing that the part about the young people in the book was the strongest part anyway.) Then I decided to start out writing a teen novel, and it was better, but not really ready for publication. Then HALPIN was my third one. Sometimes I fantasize about digging out those old ones, but they're probably hidden in desk drawers for a reason.

BDWN: Can you tell us the biggest obstacle you faced when trying to get your book published? If you could share one tip about publication what would it be?

JOSH: The biggest obstacle for me was my own internal struggle. I so often felt like a "faker" like I wasn't a "real" writer and that all published authors had some magic something I didn't have. I was afraid to even send things out. Once I bucked up and realized that authors are just people, and once I realized that publishing is more or less like any other field, it became less scary. You just have to be professional, courteous, and even though you might hear "no" a lot of times and feel like crumbling into a pile of tears, you just have to keep that vibe of professionalism while you submit your next one and your next one and your next one...
I'd also say to do your research on agents and make sure you find one who is dependable, reliable, and a good match for you. An offer of representation can be so exciting that you might be tempted to jump at any agent who comes along, but the goal should be to find the "right agent." It's a business partnership as well as a creative partnership and should be treated as such. The business side of it can be very stressful, exciting, etc., but ideally the agent should handle most of that stuff so we as writers can focus on what we're here to focus on: the writing.

BDWN: And our final question...what's next?

JOSH: Thanks for asking! I'm very close to finishing the revisions for my second YA novel. It's another funny/crime/high school story, albeit with totally new characters and setting. It's called GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR and tells the tale of a guy (named Guy) who joins his high school forensics club and stumbles on a real crime scene. He also crushes on girls, fights with his friends, and comes to terms with the loss of a loved one in his family. So it's crime/comedy/coming of age. All the things I love!
And then I recently sold the first two books in what will (hopefully) be a long series for younger readers (ages 9-12 or so). These books are also mysteries, with a sports focus. Lenny Norbeck and his goofball friends ("Mike" and "Other Mike") solve a series of baseball-related crimes and have a lot of fun along the way. I'm an obsessive Phillies fan, so this is a dream come true.
Josh Berk photo by Olaf Starorypinski

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