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Up Close and Personal with YA Author Kimberly Sabatini

I met Kimberly Sabatini at the NY SCBWI Conference this year. She's fun, she's young, she loves life, and she's the author of the YA novel, Touching the Surface.

Kimberly Sabatini     Touching the Surface
You were a teacher, right? What came first, the teacher or the egg, er, I mean writer?

The teacher came first, before the act of being a writer, but not before the desire to be one. The truth is, I never believed myself capable of being something so mysterious and wonderful as a legitimate writer. Contemplating a writing career was like asking if I wanted to grow up and be a unicorn tamer some day. It didnt feel possible. But teaching was something very familiar—I’d spent my whole life in classrooms observing the job and the people who did it. I don’t mean it to sound as if I didn’t love being a teacher. I loved those kids like crazy and I was particularly good at working with kids with behavioral challenges, but I’m not sure I would have chosen that profession if I thought being a writer was within my grasp. Now when I do school visits, one of my biggest jobs is to show kids that they have access. Working hard for something is very different than not being capable.

Do you always write YA?

I don’t always write YA. Typically I write whatever comes out of me. I’m the kind of person who makes sense of my world through words. One day it’s a picture book, another it’s a poem. After collecting enough humorous stories from my boys, a chapter book or a middle grade isn’t out of the question either. I tell the story I need to tell and then try to figure out the best vehicle for it. But even though it feels like I’m all over the place sometimes, that gives me room to grow. When I get stuck writing one thing, I have the space to write another. Not all of it is even for public viewing, but it is all instrumental in me being a better writer and a better person.

Why do you write YA?

It just so happens that I had some publishing success with my YA project. And I like the wide open space the novel format gives you to explore big thoughts and feelings. And the audience in YA is amazing and I love writing for them. I also think I got a little emotionally stunted in my young adult years. I was ready to blossom into this articulate person who thought in a much more divergent manner and I squelched that in order to fit in. It gives me a lot of peace to go back and explore thing I buried when I was in the middle of it. 

Touching the Surface addresses a number of different issues including the idea of reincarnation and second chances. What inspired you to write such a book?

My dad died. And the funny thing is that I didn’t even make the connection between the book and his death until after it was written and revised a million times. I mean—it was a book about a teenage girl—not my father. But when it was done, and someone asked me this very same question, it was if a light bulb went off in my mind and I could see it all so clearly. He was gone and I'd needed to understand what I believed had happened to him—I just had to come at it without making direct eye contact because loss is hard. And it’s even harder to manipulate your mind to find the gift woven into the tragedy.

You wrote your book, then what?

There was a long period of revision because I had no idea how to revise. (I’m not kidding—I didn’t have a clue.) Luckily, I was going to conferences, connecting with great critique partners and reading books on craft. Eventually my skills improved. Then there was also the "trying to find an agent thing" which took about two years. There is a learning curve involved with that adventure also. Then it was finding the right publisher/editor and selling the book—followed by all the crazy, wonderful, scary, joyful steps of being a debut author. Then, just when you have it all figured out, *snort* you have to do it all over again. And here’s the kicker—it isn’t any easier the next time. It’s crazy—really, really crazy. But I believe if your inner compass is pointed in the right direction, you're dedicated to the art of writing and you have a willingness to use rejection as a platform—good things will happen.

Were you involved in contract negotiations or did your agent handle everything? Did you research sample contracts? How long did the process take?

Blessedly, my agent handled everything. I am not the best negotiator. Me: You want to publish my book? Them: Yes we do. Me: Yay! Them: And we’d like to pay you this much to do it. Me: *jumps up and down* Whatever. *runs across meadow singing silly publishing song* Agent: Pay no attention to the twit in the field. 

You sent off your baby to the editor. What happened next?

From the time you sell until the time you publish there are peaks and valleys. One day you are on the biggest high of your life, the next day—nothing much is happening. First there were multiple rounds of edits. And one of the earliest and best things I did was to join the debut author groups the Apocalypsies and the Class of 2k12. If I can recommend you do one thing as a debut author, joining a debut author collective is a MUST. I never would have made it without these friends to support me. We still all stay in touch and help one another out. I also was spending lots of time preparing blog interviews, sending out post cards to indie books stores and libraries, getting my website set up and blogging. If I could do one thing over—I would have written more of my next project. I think one of the wisest things you can do in the middle of the whirlwind is put your head down and keep writing the new stuff. Reality check: there is no bottom to the well of social media. You can market yourself 24 hours a day and it will not be enough and it’s hard to see that when your in the middle of it. You must be a savvy social media user and an even smarter writer. Balance is very important and having people to help you sort through all of it is important too. 

How did you handle the criticism? Did you take all the editors advice?

 I was kind of worried about this. I usually STINK at taking criticism. It’s not like I’m confrontational—more of a weeper—a real head case. I take it all too personally in real life LOL! But much to my surprise, I’m pretty good at this type of criticism/rejection/advice. Maybe because I’ve rarely thought of it as as a knock down. Instead I’ve always felt I was gaining something through the process. Being open to that has helped me to write better books.  

How long between signed contract to publication?

I signed in February 2011 and TOUCHING THE SURFACE was published October 30, 2012.

Did you spend a lot of time on social media pre-publication?

I think I may have implied that social media is a gift to the writer AND a black hole of doom. But it’s all about how you use it. You’re a healthy social media user if you’re making time for your writing and you enjoy your time online. The key is authentic personal interaction. If you can say yes to these things you’re probably a balanced and healthy person. :o)

How much time do you spend on social media post-publication? And what platforms do you use? Where can we find you online?

I post on my blog on Tuesday/Thursday. I used to do it on M/W/F but it got to be too much because I also blog once a month at YA Outside the Lines and I’m a member of the Bookanistas and blog once or twice  a month for them. I also help mentor at Adventures in YA Publishing/First Five Pages. I’m regularly on Facebook and Twitter and I also keep a presence on Tumblr, Google +, Linkedin, Pinterest, Goodreads, Wattpad, and Figment.

Do you participate in many events? What type of events and who schedules them?

I love to do school visits. So far I’ve done all local events and one Skype where my cat jumped on the desk and started throwing up in front of the book club I was talking to. *head thunk* I’ve also done some bookstore events, and book fairs. Almost everything I’ve done I’ve arranged personally or coordinated with friends. 

Do you try to stay local or are you willing to travel?

As of right now, because of my three boys, I’m mostly local. If there is an event on the weekends I have more flexibility or I can Skype. I’m also trying to expand into writing conference faculty. It can get a little overwhelming at times. I remind myself that I still need to be writing and having genuine interactions as I attempt these things. I’m learning that publication is a marathon—not a sprint. 

What's your event calendar like since your book release?

Periods of craziness and periods of vast emptiness. Very typical publishing typical ups and downs. 

Do you receive sale updates from the publisher? If so, how often?

 My publisher has an on-line one-stop-shop to help me share info with readers, view some aspects of sales and stay on top of anti-piracy activity. My agent is in charge of the rest. Additionally, I'm in touch with editors and marketing support as needed. 

Were you in a critique group before publication? Are you in one now?  

Yes! Critique partners are a must. My main group is not local—we see each other as often as we can, but we work on line. I also have other writer buds who are local and online—a wealth of support. 

You’re a busy person. Describe your typical day and how do you find the time to write?

Right now my days are anything but typical. I just moved in January and my kids recently had a horrible experience being kicked out of their previous school district.  It’s been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. But we are starting to find ourselves on more level ground again.

Weekdays I'm up at at 5:45 to get my 13 yo on the bus at 6:40. Then I drop the other two boys off at 8:15. I’m back to pick them up at 3. So in between I try to balance writing, exercise, the never ending unpacking, new house related activities and then all the cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping etc… Once the boys are home it’s after school events, homework, reading together and they even demand I feed them. Sometimes I have a bigger chunk of my day for writing and sometimes I get it done while sitting at a jujitsu place. And unfortunately there are some days where the other stuff takes over and I’m only plotting and daydreaming in my head. BTW—this still counts as good stuff.

Any tidbits of wisdom you would like to part with?

I am loaded with tidbits—I am the tidbit queen. But you don’t have all day, so I’ll pick my best and share them with you.

*Read a lot of books in your genre, outside your genre and related to craft. There should never be a time when you are too busy to read. If you have to or in my case love to—get an audiobook and listen in the car or while you’re folding laundry. READING INFORMS YOUR WRITING.

*Put positive messages out into the world. Don’t spend all your time telling the universe that you want a book deal. All you’ll end up with is a lot of want. Instead picture where you want to be and then run that movie through your mind at least once a day.

*Make goals that you can control. Instead of saying I’m going to sign with an agent by the end of the year, you should say—I’m not going to quit until I’m good enough to get an agent. There is a big difference between these two statements.

*Writing the next big thing means writing something different. Writing something different means that, odds are, a huge amount of people are going to think you’re nuts—until you are the next big thing.

*Most overnight success never happens overnight.

*Know what your purpose is as a writer and as an author. I call that my inner compass. YOU WILL GET KNOCKED OFF COURSE OVER AND OVER AGAIN DURING THE PUBLICATION PROCESS. You can always find yourself again and get back on track if you know who you are and what your purpose is.

*The best success is always born out of failure. Today is the day to understand that you are the only one who controls if you quit.

*Love what you do.

Inquiring minds want to know, what projects can we expect to see in the future?

 I’m currently working on my 3rd YA and planning out my 4th. I’m also writing all those other crazy things that come to me.

Here's where you can find out more about Kimberly Sabatini:

Adventures in YA Publishing:

**It's really a shame that we can't find Kimberly Sabatini ANYWHERE:)  Go Check her out!

Thank you so much for having me on the blog—it is such and honor.

Well, I loved having you and here's a chocolate bar for the drive home:)

Write on,



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