From Attendee to Published Author

Kimmery Martin knows a thing or two about multi-tasking. She’s a wife, mom, blogger, author, and—in her spare time—a doctor. OK, maybe that’s not the exact order of priority, but you get the idea. She’s a terrific example of someone who carves out time to write amid the chaos of everyday life. We hope she picked up some tips from one of her previous trips to the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference! Kimmery is an alum who we’re happy to welcome back as an attendee this year—especially since her debut novel, The Queen of Hearts, is out February 6th, 2018 from Penguin Random House. We chatted with her a bit about her journey to publication and why she’s coming back this year.

Q: Congrats on your upcoming novel, The Queen of Hearts! How would you describe the book?

It’s about two friends, a cardiologist and a trauma surgeon, who’ve been close since they were young. One of them harbors a significant secret from the days when they were training to be physicians that alters the course of both their lives when it is revealed during a professional crisis. It could fall under a lot of categories: women’s fiction, medical fiction, southern fiction, upmarket/book club fiction. I would like to stress that although I am a doctor, it is NOT autobiographical. (You’ll understand why if you read it.)

Q: Can you tell us a bit about how the process of getting published worked, as a new author? Maybe how you landed your agent, or the process of shopping your manuscript?

I had no idea how to go about it at first, because this novel was the first thing I’d written. It turns out I’m a dreadful query writer. Like many novice writers, I started querying too soon. I burned through multiple version of my letter, many of which apparently caused literary agency interns to stab themselves in the eye, thus rendering them unable to even send a reply.

I got help: I hired a great local editor to suggest some changes, I started attending conferences, and I made writer friends. Eventually I produced a query that garnered attention. After some excitement, I chose the agent who’d reached out to me first, Jane Dystel. She is marvelous, and she sold the manuscript right away.

 Of course I asked Jane and her partner Miriam Goderich why they fished my book out of the slush pile. Here’s what they said:

I think we both loved the voice, the building revelations, the lucid, entertaining way you write about medicine and medical procedure, and your very flawed protagonists who have a sense of humor about their own flaws.  I was on a panel speaking to unpublished writers this past weekend and I mentioned that all writers hate rejection letters that contain the phrase, “I just didn’t fall in love,” but, in fact, that’s exactly what has to happen when you read a manuscript.  It needs to keep niggling at you after you’ve put it down, making you want to get back to it as soon as possible, making you sad when it’s over.  So, all that.

Q: You’re a published author, but also a parent and a physician, so you must be a multi-tasking ninja. What are your tips for other busy people trying to carve out the time in their lives to write?

Sacrifice housework, hygiene, and email.

Q: How has the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference impacted your work as a writer?

It’s been a gift. I’m an information junkie, so I’m appreciative of the different tracks allowing you to pick and choose the subjects that interest you. For instance, I love the classes on craft, but one of the most compelling sessions I attended last year focused on insider information about how publishing houses market their titles. I also enjoy drifting into a class that has nothing to do with what I write: say, Dystopian World Building in Sci-Fi. Exposure to new ways of thought is a kind of brain jolt. And creative people need that.  

Also, I’d urge everyone to try the Pitch Slam. It’s great practice for the zillions of times people are going to inquire about your book; it forces you to be coherent and engaging and brief. And agents also ask you questions that aren’t necessarily going to occur to your friends or your relatives. Even if you don’t wind up signing with one of them, it’s a good experience.

Q: What would you say to people who might be wondering if a writing conference is right for them?

It is! One of the best things about being a writer is the opportunity to hang with other writers. Yes, we are weird and curious and offbeat people, but we’re fiercely supportive of each other. These kinds of connections can help you professionally in all kinds of ways, but they’re also fun.

Q: You also run a blog with book reviews and author interviews (kimmerymartin.com). How do you feel like this process informs your own writing?

Mainly it drives me mad with jealousy. I’d like to be the kind of author who churns out literary masterpieces replete with sociocultural significance and lustrous prose, but I’m not. My interviewees are amazing writers.

If I have any writing advice after having met many distinguished authors it would be this: Write what you want to write. You have a natural style and a message to share. People respond to authenticity, so go rogue and do not fret about “what sells.” I needed an editor to rein me in but I think my book is being published because of what makes it unique--not what makes it similar—to other works. Part of that is my knowledge about the medical field. Having said that, I am still very much learning how to write. It’s hard.

Q: Do you have a dream author interview for your blog?

Why yes, I do. Bill Bryson. He’s the least boring author I’ve ever read, meaning he transforms the most arcane information into material so riveting it makes people’s eyeballs explode. And he’s witty, which is my favorite characteristic in a writer. But I’d also swoon at Neal Stephenson, Michio Kaku, Maria Semple, Tom Wolfe, Chris Cleave, Ann Patchett, Helen Fielding, Michael Lewis, John Green, Hope Jahren, and Donna Tartt. And about a thousand others; I truly love to read.