Prolific author and A+ human being Kim M. Watt shares her secrets on dragons, cats, writing, tea, and magic cake.
It turns out I have friends. (Yay, me!) And sometimes I interview them. This is one of those interviews.
Kim M. Watt used to be like me, i.e. unpublished. Now she has a magnificent tower of published books and, even better, they all have cats and/or dragons in them.
I can’t describe how hard I approve.
Here’s my interview with her, including all her own unedited words, and just a few extra paragraph breaks.
Do you want to start by telling me a bit about you and your books?
My first foray into the world of publishing was a (very badly) handwritten collection of ghost stories, which I also illustrated. The reviews were glowing, but it’s possible the reviewers may have been a little biased, as distribution was limited to my mum and dad. I also fear they may have made allowances for the fact I was only about nine at the time.
And that’s still not as embarrassing as the vampire novel I wrote at 16 and actually sent to agents. Thankfully that was – ahem – enough years ago that the final floppy disk containing my teenage masterpiece is probably corrupted beyond saving.
Hopefully. It’s hidden, anyway.
These days, I write funny modern fantasy and cosy/cozy mysteries with dragons, all of which feature snarky cats, strong friendships, and the healing power of tea, among other magics.
I actually have two books coming out in the second half of the year, the first being the third instalment of the Gobbelino London, PI series, about a feline private investigator and his human sidekick navigating the magical underworld of Leeds, in which dangerous books trying to tear reality apart, zombie chickens, and stolen unicorns are just the sort of thing one has to expect around here.
The other book, coming out toward the end of the year, is the fifth in the Beaufort Scales cozy mystery with dragons series. This takes place in and around Toot Hansell, a small village in the Yorkshire Dales, where the ladies of the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute are at least as terrifying as the dragons, and when combined they’re a formidable (if rather inefficient) crime-solving team.
I always have so much fun writing these, not least because this sort of mystery involves lots of cake, and research is important to make sure the cake is believable.
Wait. The story. The story is believable.
But the cake, too.
So, you’re kinda crazy prolific. Can you tell me a bit about your process? How much do plan your stories, when do you write, do you have daily word count goals, all that stuff? Is there a magic tea that will make me as prolific as you and will Amazon send it with two-day shipping? (Or magic cake. I could live with magic cake.)
I’m not sure about crazy prolific. I often feel I should be a lot more prolific than I am, given that I’m in the ridiculously lucky situation of being able to devote myself full-time to writing.
I actually intended to release six books this year, as I felt I could do that and still keep the quality where I wanted it.
Turns out, I could not. Or not if I wanted to be happy with what I was writing and, you know, have a life.
But I’d say the biggest boost to my productivity is reading all the writing advice, then ignoring most of it. I’m that person who wants to Do Things Right (TM), so I decided that my pantsing ways had to go, as Everyone Said you can’t be productive as a pantser. So I threw myself into learning how to plot. I used Beat Sheets, tried Plot Gardening, did some circle thing I still don’t quite understand, used a small business’ worth of Post-Its, and read All The Books.
I also did the write every day thing. I used timers. I tried to break off on cliffhangers so I’d hurry back the next day. And I basically did so much work on how I was meant to be writing, that I froze up and couldn’t do any actual writing.
So that was fun.
I think every writer has their own methods that work for them, and that’s the method they need to find and follow, not anyone else’s. I’ve found I work best with a starting point and an end point in mind, and then I just start writing.
Longhand is fun, or fast, messy typing with no editing as I go (these are both entertaining methods, as my handwriting is so bad I often have no idea what words are meant to be when I read it back, and my typing is so inaccurate that both autocorrect and I have instances of staring at it going, I got nothing).
I do have a Beat Sheet on my wall, and every now and then I’ll look at it and think, okay, I should be around mid-point now. Or, I need the all is lost moment to pop up soon.
But I don’t worry about it too much, because that’s for the rewrites. And there will be at least one major rewrite to come, sometimes more, but that’s okay – it’s still quicker for me than trying to plot, which just ends up with a stilted story and me plotting again at the end of each day because my story’s veered off the rails.
And I don’t write every day. When I’m drafting or doing big rewrites I do, with a goal of 1000 words for a drafting day (I usually do about 5000, but 1000 feels easy and means if it’s a bad day I don’t feel too bad), and two chapters a day for rewrites.
But between drafts I tend to have a lot of admin days, where I’m doing blog posts and newsletters and other admin-y stuff.
I think a lot of writing goes on when you’re not actually writing, when the story’s ambling around in your subconscious, picking up weird little quirks and foibles, so leaving time for that matters, too.
However, if there is a magic tea, I’ll take a case, because I’m still not convinced that this is the easiest way to do things.
When I talked to you a few years ago you were apprehensive about all the work and managing things that goes into self-publishing. Now that you have a lot more experience with it, do you think you were right to be worried? Or that you were right to be worried, but you were worried about the wrong things? What do you wish you’d known about self-publishing before you started?
I had such a shock last year when I released Game of Scones, the fourth Beaufort book. It felt like absolutely ages since I published the first one, but it had actually only been a year. Although I know I’d been debating self vs traditional publishing for a lot longer.
It’s been a massive learning curve, and I still feel I’m only scrabbling around at the bottom of the slope. I’d need a lot more experience before I could claim I know what I’m doing!
And I’m still worried about half a dozen things at any given time, but I don’t think many of them are different to what I would have been worried about if I’d gone the traditional route.
Yes, I have full responsibility for everything that goes into creating the finished book, but the thing that preoccupies me most is writing the best story I can, and that doesn’t change no matter how you’re publishing.
I’m not sure there’s any one thing that I wish I’d known before starting down this route. I knew it’d be a lot of work, which it is, and hoped it’d be rewarding, which it definitely is. I’ve been really lucky in that I have amazing beta readers and a wonderful editor, who I found straight off, and they help hugely to make things less overwhelming and scary, and give me a lot more confidence in the finished book than I’d have otherwise.
Actually, I wish I’d known to bulk-buy dark chocolate digestives. I didn’t realise how vital they are for stress-eating while formatting.
What’s your one biggest piece of advice for pre-published authors?
Don’t take advice from strangers on the internet? No. I mean, it’s true, but not very writing-specific.
I think the best suggestion I could give is: keep writing, and finish your writing. Try not to get too bogged down in the how you “should” be doing it, or if you’re writing more quickly or more slowly than others, or in comparing yourself to where others are in their writing and publishing lives. Just write the best story you can. Be open to feedback, be open to learning, but let everything feed into that. Write your best story, get it finished, and everything else can come later.
Choosing your publication path, finding agents or editors or cover designers, building audiences and writing newsletters and all the rest – none of that matters until you have your story. So worry about that first.
Accept that it’ll never be perfect, so don’t try and make it that way – that’s how you end up on draft No. 312, rewriting the dialogue on page 17 for the 302nd time and adding more dragons, only to delete it all again and go back to the original version.
At some point you have to stop and say, this is done now.
Finish your work, be proud of it, and celebrate every single draft and revision, because writing a book is huge, and you deserve to recognise that what you’re doing is something wonderful.
Also keep good supplies of caffeine and cake handy.
Thanks so much for coming to hang out on my blog, Kim! Hopefully with your advice we’ll all become a little bit more prolific and more awesome.
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