Friday, October 14, 2016

K.A. Barson and Cori McCarthy: Sophomore and Junior Books

K.A. (Kelly) Barson and Cori McCarthy teamed up to launch their new books this year, and I attended their event at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor. I wondered how this book launch was different than their debut experience, and what we could learn from them. And because they're so generous, they took it from there. Please welcome, Cori and Kelly.

Cori: I’m excited to interview someone I’ve had the pleasure to know since 2009. Kelly and I met at grad school—VCFA’s MFA program in Writing For Children & Young Adults. We graduated together in 2011 and set off on our publishing careers shortly thereafter. Our debut novels were published in 2013, and this past spring, Kelly’s second book, CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT, and my third book, YOU WERE HERE released only a few weeks apart. 

So let’s compare and contrast the debut season and the sophomore and junior release! 

Q: Kelly, I found debut season to be a nightmare. It was much like being a clueless freshman. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I should go or who I should talk to, and I spun in a bunch of circles. How did you find debut season?

KA: I actually loved the debut season because I was part of several groups—the Lucky 13s (very large group) and the Class of 2k13 (only 20 members). We navigated the waters together, asking questions, comparing situations. I felt like I had support. Plus, I liked learning about the process. Being a newbie gave me a safety net to ask questions and not feel dumb. 

Cori: My sophomore book did much better than my debut title, which is a very bittersweet fact. I even had several bloggers and reviewers try to “redub” me as a debut author, and I had to scramble around to make sure that people didn’t think I was trying to pull a fast one. All in all though, I found my sophomore release and plugging season to be much more relaxed, and I finally started talking to classrooms (something I had feared too much during my debut season), and I realized that I LOVE talking to young writers. I now Skype with classrooms all over the country as often as possible. 

Q: Kelly, what have been some of the differences in your release season for CHARLOTTE from your debut release season for your first book, 45 POUNDS (More or Less)? Have you enjoyed it more? Or less? Oh, I swear I didn’t mean to pun…☺

KA: Ha! Again, my experience was the opposite. Because of the debut groups and promo push from my publisher, 45 POUNDS got more buzz. I also did more speaking, both with the groups and smaller subsets of the groups. My editor left my publisher shortly before CHARLOTTE was released, so I felt kind of orphaned. It hasn’t been that long, though, so I’m still hoping readers will find CHARLOTTE. 

Cori: One of the great upsides of being on my junior novel release is that things are starting to feel a bit more normal. When YOU WERE HERE came out in March, I got right to business on scheduling talks and panels at all the bookstores I’ve enjoyed attending. I took care of the blog tour. I made some swag, and I disappeared from my family and my writing for almost every weekend for nearly three solid months. Something new for this third book, I started working with a freelance publicist to help me think “outside of the box” when it comes to marketing ideas. (I work with Kirsten Cappy at Curious City, and she’s fabulous!)

Q: Kelly, tell us about your latest release season and how you’ve tackled publicity. What are some things that worked really well in helping get the word out about a book, and what things have not worked out?

KA: I have a tendency to accept nearly all invitations for speaking and/or signing. Some have been more successful than others. I find that making appearances with other authors—like you—are more successful. I also find that bookmarks are the best swag. I have both book covers on my latest bookmarks, and they come in handy when visiting libraries and bookstores. Or even when I run into teachers and teen readers. Handing out bookmarks feels like I’m giving them something, but really it’s keeping my books in their sightlines. 

Cori: Looking forward now to NEW books! One of the great things about my publisher is that they’ve supported my books even though they are vastly different from one another. My second book was genre YA and my third was contemporary with mixed format (including graphic novel and word art poetry). I’m currently in the editorial stage on my fourth book, NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, which will come out in April 2018. I’m already starting to scheme some potentially bigger release ideas including music videos and a cross-country tour (and by scheme, I mean start to save $ for). I’m excited and scared. There is so much pressure on the first weeks of a book release, and it took me several titles to figure that out. 

Q: Kelly, what do your future writing plans look like? What have you learned over the first two books that you will bring to the third one? Do you have new goals or priorities now that you’re a couple books deep?

KA: Starting in October I’ll be teaching a Writing the Middle Grade Novel class for UCLA Extension Writers’ Program online, so that seemed like the perfect time to write a middle grade novel that’s been tumbling around in my head for a while now. I still have YA book ideas, so I’m sure I’ll return to them, too. I’m planning to go kind of underground for a while and focus on writing. I’ll think about promo when I have something more to promote. 

Thanks for the discussion, Cori. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my limited experience it’s that nothing is predictable. Every author’s experience is unique. It’s best to focus where you have control—on the work—and not where you don’t—publishing, marketing, and bookselling.

Cori McCarthy studied poetry and screenwriting before falling in love with writing for teens at Vermont College of Fine Arts. From a military family, Cori was born on Guam and lived a little bit of everywhere before she landed in Michigan. Learn more about her books at

K.A. (Kelly) Barson earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She and her husband live in Jackson, Michigan, surrounded by kids, grandkids, unruly dogs, a cat, and too many pairs of shoes. She feels most like herself when her hair is purple.  Learn more at

Thanks for sharing your time and experience with us, Cori and Kelly!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: SCBWI-MI Fall Retreat Recap and a new Writer's Spotlight - it could be you! Did you notice our new blog banner? Learn more about the artist, Bradley Cooper, here.

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Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz