Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Interview with YA Author, Karen Sandler

Today, I'm pleased to have Karen Sandler as my guest.  Karen is promoting her recent YA novel, Tankborn.
1.     Please tell me how long you've been writing, and why you decided to become a writer.

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was in the fourth grade (I was 9). Although I wrote poetry, short stories and screenplays for years, I didn’t write full time until about 17 years ago.

2.     Are you a full-time writer or a part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing time?

I don’t have a job other than writing. I used to write in the mornings, get my pages done and do other stuff the rest of the day. Now it’s working best for me to work an hour or two here, and hour or two there throughout the day.

3.     What influences your writing?

I admire good writing of all kinds and all genres. Stories with wonderful characters captivate me, whether in a novel, short story, a movie, or on television.

4.     Is this your first published work?  What other types of writing have you done?

This will be my first published young adult book. Before I sold TANKBORN, I’d published 17 adult romances and one middle grade book.

5.     Why did you choose to write a children's story?

I had been reading some young adult books and realized wow, these are great. I really enjoyed how fresh they were and how well drawn the characters were. I’d toyed with the idea of writing for a younger audience and decided it was time to make the plunge.

6.     What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final published book?

Well, the initial germ of the idea for TANKBORN was born way back in the mid-‘80s when I wrote a film script called ICER. When I started thinking about writing a YA, my first thought was how I could take ICER’s story and transform it from an adult-focused story to one for teens. The only thing I ended up preserving from the original script was the concept of genetically engineered slaves and Kayla’s name (the heroine).

I wrote the synopsis in April 2009, then finished the first draft of the manuscript around November 2009. I passed it on to my younger son to be my beta reader. He’s a doctoral candidate in economics, reads widely in science fiction, and has a critical eye. He gave me a thorough whomping, critique-wise. The re-write required extensive surgery. I kept joking with my son that my book was lying on the operating table, cut to pieces, and I had to figure out how to put the darn thing back together.

I’d already started querying agents because I’d thought my book was more finished than it turned out to be. I’d had one request for the full and had to contact them after finishing the extensive re-writes (in January 2010) to let them know I had an updated version of the manuscript. Luckily they were glad to see the updated version.

I ended up with two agents interested in representing me and went with Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger in late February 2010. Based on Matt’s notes (and those of his assistant/junior agent Lindsay Ribar) I did another extensive re-write (with much back and forth with Matt & Lindsay). The book went out in early April 2010, we got an offer for Italian rights in early May (seemed very unusual to sell foreign rights before U.S.), then the offer from Lee & Low in late August. TANKBORN would be one of three launch books for Lee & Low’s new YA/MG imprint, Tu Books.

Once the contract with Lee & Low was in place, there were two more extensive re-writes based on my editor, Stacy Whitman’s, notes. Along the way, we discussed cover art and Stacy also commissioned an artist to draw a map of Svarga, the main continent on the planet Loka where the story takes place. Stacy also had an expert in Indian culture read the manuscript to be sure I didn’t commit any major faux pas.

7.     What are your thoughts on traditional versus self-publishing?

Although I think self-publishing is a viable option these days (particularly if you’re e-pubbing), every writer needs an editor. Whether you ask writer friends for feedback or hire an editor, if yours are the only eyes that look at that manuscript, there are going to be problems. Even as an extremely experienced writer, I make mistakes, whether of the typo or grammatical variety or in story structure. A writer who is just beginning would have an even more difficult time creating a well-written book.

Many published authors are self-pubbing their out of print books as e-books, which I think is a fantastic idea. I’d like to do it myself, but haven’t yet taken the time to do what’s necessary to take that route.

8.     What is your marketing strategy?

Keeping my blog, website and Twitter feed up to date. Doing school visits, book signings, attending conferences. If television or radio interview opportunities come up, I’ll be glad to do them.

9.     What are your thoughts about children's writers needing an agent or not needing one?

Honestly, I’m so new to the children’s market, I don’t know if I can be authoritative on this. I do know that it’s hard to get a publisher to look at a manuscript without an agent. If you’re still unagented, but have a completed book to sell, I’d say attend as many writer’s conferences as you can. You’ll have access to editors and agents there.

10.  Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

On my website, http://www.karensandler.net, my blog, http://karensandler.wordpress.com or my Twitter feed, @karensandlerYA.

11.  Do you have any tips for writers who are new to children's literature?

Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Take writing classes to improve your craft. Attend writer’s conferences. Form or join a critique group. Read-read-read children’s literature.

12.  Please give us a brief synopsis about your current book and when and where it will be available.

Best friends Kayla and Mishalla know they will be separated when the time comes for their Assignments. They are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, and in their strict caste system, GENs are at the bottom rung of society. High-status trueborns and working-class lowborns, born naturally of a mother, are free to choose their own lives. But GENs are gestated in a tank, sequestered in slums, and sent to work as slaves as soon as they reach age fifteen.

When Kayla is Assigned to care for Zul Manel, the patriarch of a trueborn family, she finds a host of secrets and surprises—not least of which is her unexpected friendship with Zul's great-grandson. Meanwhile, the children that Mishalla is Assigned to care for are being stolen in the middle of the night. With the help of an intriguing lowborn boy, Mishalla begins to suspect that something horrible is happening to them.

After weeks of toiling in their Assignments, mystifying circumstances enable Kayla and Mishalla to reunite. Together they hatch a plan with their new friends to save the children who are disappearing. Yet can GENs really trust humans? Both girls must put their lives and hearts at risk to crack open a sinister conspiracy, one that may reveal secrets no one is ready to face.

TANKBORN will be available in September 2011.


  1. I've got an idea for a children's book and so this interview is most helpful. Thank you, Penny and Karen.

  2. I admire your dedication, Karen. Tankborn sounds like quite an imaginative story. Best of luck with it!

  3. Joylene, thanks for stopping by. Glad you got some ideas from Karen's interview!

  4. Pat, I'm sure Karen appreciates your kind words. Thanks for commenting.