Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Interview with Karl Friedrich

Briefly describe your journey in writing your first or latest book.
My journey started when I was four or five years old. I was in my backyard in Tyler, TX. It was summertime, and for some reason my mother and I were rummaging inside an old shed, when she started talking about World War II military organizations for women. She most likely rattled off the WAAC and the WAVES—I was only half-listening—but at some point she mentioned the WASP, also known as Women Airforce Service Pilots. And suddenly I got the most vivid image of women with wings and stingers, buzzing about creating all kinds of havoc. That picture intrigued me far into adulthood; and in fact, I even did some research into the WASP.

Now jump forward to 1987. I was writing for an industrial advertising agency in LA and both the economy and the company had gone shaky, and I could see the writing on the wall. I’d already been a staff writer for a newspaper, magazines and several public relations firms, and found the work unfulfilling. What I’d always wanted to be was a novelist. So I decided I would gamble everything on becoming a good enough novelist to make a living. The next morning I got up early and started learning how. A few months later my agency job did end, and suddenly all of my mornings became my own.

I knew I would need a new occupation if I was going to follow this new path I’d chosen for myself, as advertising jobs are often unpredictable. So I found a staff job at a small law school, and that saw me through the writing of a novel. When it failed to sell, someone suggested I write about something that I knew something about, such as the WASP. Many years and even more rewrites later, WINGS A Novel of World War II Flygirls was finished and did sell. Happily, its April 1 debut was accompanied by some very good reviews, including one in Publisher’s Weekly ( and in School Library Journal

Did you query agents and traditional publishers?  How long before you got your offer of representation/your first contract?
I’d promised myself that my book would be traditionally published. So I queried agents, because I’d read that publishers only deal with agents.  And I got a lot of rejections, and I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. Eventually I did get an agent, who’s been around forever and who sells lots of manuscripts, but she couldn’t sell mine. Another year would pass before I was offered a contract; and that happened purely through my own efforts.

What factors influenced your decision to go with a particular agent or publisher?
Agents kept telling me they liked my story but they didn’t know where to sell the manuscript. Luckily, as it turned out, I knew someone who knew someone at several large publishing houses, and it was an editor at one of those houses that suggested I pitch smaller publishers that specialize in historical fiction. McBooks Press in Ithaca, NY, happened to be the first one that I queried, and they bought it.

I’m very fortunate. There are so many horror stories of editors switching houses and leaving their writers’ projects in disarray. McBooks is a mid-size house with a small, stable workforce; and my editor, Jackie Swift, is phenomenal. I’m guessing that most unknown debut novelists with the large publishers don’t get the service that I’ve gotten from McBooks.

Are you currently under a traditional publishing contract for future books or do you have manuscripts that you will publish directly for Kindle?
My contract is for one book, which is in hardcover and electronic formats.

What lessons have you learned being an indie author vs. being traditionally published?
I might have been published years earlier if I’d stopped concentrating on agents and started looking for publishers of historical fiction that will work directly with authors. Of course, the reason I didn’t do that is because I lacked information. So, like something lost in a maze, I kept butting my head until I finally located the secret door that lead to my reward.

Did you design your cover art?  If not, would you care to share your graphic designer’s information?
McBooks has a fantastic art director by the name of Panda Musgrove. She’s responsible for the art on the cover of WINGS, which shows fire and smoke reaching up for a lone, tiny WW II bomber that’s flying across a feminine background. 

As I understand the story, Panda was walking down a sidewalk in New York many years ago, and she came across a yard sale. One of the items she picked up was a sample book of wallpaper that had been popular during the forties, and it’s one of those samples that became the background for the little bomber. Panda’s great!

If you used a graphic designer/publisher’s designer, how involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
I tried to stick my nose into the process, was rebuffed, and fortunately was smart enough to go sit down, shut up, and let people who do this for a living do so.

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner publicity for your book(s)?
I’m on Twitter at least every other day, and on Facebook at least several times a week. My webpage/blog is A number of things are there: 1) the first two chapters of my book 2) a feature called Postcards From Portland, which is a collection of true anecdotes that range from trying to swap my Fiat for movie star Robert Wagner’s Ferrari, to being shot at on a Portland, OR, freeway and selling the investigating officer a copy of my book while we stood on the side of the freeway.

My publisher participated in a giveaway of 60 copies of my book to members of Goodreads and Librarything, and I plan to engage those winners in a series of dialogues.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
The independents, Barnes and Noble and museums are selling them.

What is the best advice you can offer new authors?
The same advice that everyone gives: keep trying, don’t give up. But I’ll add a couple of things. Once you’re well into the writing, hand some part of your manuscript to everyone; to strangers on the street, if you have to. I did that. More than one hundred women, many of whom I never met, got a look at my book as I was writing it. When they started asking for more (without any prompting—many of these were strangers, remember. Someone I knew had given it to someone they knew, and often then to someone else), I knew I was learning to write a novel. What I didn’t do was join a writing club. I didn’t care what would-be writers like me thought. I wanted feedback from readers, especially if they didn’t owe me anything.

I’ve already talked about my second piece of advice. Don’t become myopic. If your path isn’t getting you anywhere, try to find out why and find another path. If you have talent and skill and a story that readers want to read, chances are pretty good that eventually you’ll succeed.

What’s next for you?
I’m heavily involved in marketing my book. I spend a lot of time on the telephone and in front of search engines, because I want to write the sequel.