April 1, 2011

Guest Post: Karen McQuestion

Filed under: Great Reads,The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:57 am


I am thrilled to welcome back initially self-published sensation Karen McQuestion to Suspense Your Disbelief. Karen wrote a Made It Moment last year and since then her sales have only soared, Amazon’s print publishing arm, Encore, has released a second book, FAVORITE, and now in the wake of Barry Eisler’s departure from SMP, Karen is back in the news again–Entertainment Weekly, no less–as one of the leaders of the pack in this brave new world of independence in publishing. Please read on for Karen’s update, in her own words. And then check out her new book, a creepy, tingly, one-day read, with a positively gothic mystery at its heart.

Karen McQuestion

I rewrote my young adult novel, Favorite, many times.

It started out as an adult book–a women’s fiction with a mystery element. The main character, Angie Favorite, was in her mid-thirties and had a father who’d disappeared when she was a child. Events in the book gave clues to what had happened to him. There was a crazy cast of characters, including her ex-husband, a rock guitarist named Elroy, her smart teenage son, Jason, and her brother, Bob, and his selfish wife, Carla (the couple had their own subplot). After I finished writing it, I had several writer friends review it and give feedback, then I made some changes and polished it up.

I got an agent for the book. He was new to the agenting game, but enthusiastic. He had some great suggestions for improving the manuscript and we did two rounds of revisions. He sent it out to twenty-some editors with the title Finding Angie. Two of them liked it well enough to take to their editorial committee, where it was promptly shot down by the marketing people. When my agent took a different job dealing with foreign rights, we amicably parted ways.

I sent the book out on my own and a few editors agreed to read it, but there were no takers. One editor didn’t want to buy it, but sent me extensive notes suggesting improvements. Her ideas would have required a lot of work. By that time, I was tired of the book, so I shelved it and moved on to writing a different novel.

A few years later, I got the idea to rewrite it as a young adult novel. This required making Angie a teenager. Her ex-husband became her father; her mother became her grandmother, and her son, her brother. The missing parent was now her mother. I made other changes as well. I dug out the letter from the editor who’d given me detailed notes. She’d disliked the ambiguous ending, (which I’d thought was true to life), so I scrapped it and completely rewrote it. Following her advice, I deleted numerous metaphors because they were distracting and unnecessary. I also eliminated the Bob and Carla subplot, because really, who cared?

I queried agents for this new YA version and one called with interest. We talked and she said she wanted changes. Her assistant emailed me notes, and I wrote my heart out for three weeks. I sent the revised manuscript back and waited. A month later, she sent a terse email saying it wasn’t for her, but thanks anyway. I was disappointed and puzzled. Shortly thereafter, she left her agency and started her own. I like to think that maybe she was caught up in the process of starting a new business and didn’t have time, but I’ll never really know.

I started to wonder if it was just a weird book.

I had another writer friend read it and she pointed out some areas in the story where I’d done more telling than showing. I fixed this problem and added 4000 words in the process.

In November 2009, encouraged by my mom who said it was her favorite of all of my books, I self-published the manuscript to be available as an e-book on Kindle. I found a great image on istockphoto.com and gave it the title, Favorite. I was overjoyed when my weird book starting selling well.

Based on sales and good reviews, it was acquired by Amazon’s publishing division, AmazonEncore, last year and will be rereleased on April 1st. Going with a publishing house required two rounds of editing, but this time around it was fairly painless.

I can’t wait to send a copy to the editor who was so helpful so many years ago. She may not even remember me or my manuscript, but I want to let her know that her efforts to help a new writer made a difference.

I’m happy Favorite found a publishing home with AmazonEncore, but I’m even happier that it’s now out of my hands and I can’t make any more changes. Enough already.

Karen McQuestion‘s essays have appeared in Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. She is the author of six books self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, one of which, A Scattered Life, caught the attention of an L.A. based production company and became the first self-published Kindle book to be optioned for film.  Her new book, Favorite, releases today, April 1, 2011, by AmazonEncore.  McQuestion lives with her family in Hartland, Wisconsin.

Leave a comment for Karen! You’ll be entered to win a copy of FAVORITE.


  1. Karen, you don’t know me but you are one of my publishing heroes! Your tenacity and the way your own publishing story has turned into such a positive one are both important to me. Thank you for sharing them!!

    Comment by Judy — April 1, 2011 @ 8:18 am

  2. Jenny – Thanks to the introduction to Karen!

    Karen, your story is an amazing one, and I wish you many years of continued success.

    Your books sound terrific. I’d love to win a copy of FAVORITE, but if I don’t I plan on buying it. What’s more fun than a creepy, tingly Gothic novel?!

    Comment by Kaye Barley — April 1, 2011 @ 8:31 am

  3. Wow, what a story! I can identify. I would love to read your novel!

    Comment by Savvy — April 1, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  4. This is so heartening to read (even though I took note of the MANY, MANY, MANY revisions you slaved over)! Could you tell us one thing more, however?

    WHY did it become such a good seller, before Encore picked it up? Did you feel it was because of marketing things you did, or was it simply the story, a catchy cover—????

    Many thanks!

    Comment by Jody — April 1, 2011 @ 8:56 am

  5. Karen, congratulations on your release day! Thanks for sharing your story. I am more inclined to try self-publication after reading your narrative. The publishing industry seems increasingly irrational and fickle.

    Comment by Sara — April 1, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  6. Tenacity says it all. You did what everyone is supposed to do, only you did it better. Congratulations. You deserve big kudos. I was so impressed, I read it three times and will pass it on.


    Comment by Robert O'Hanneson — April 1, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  7. Karen, What an awesome story. I’m so glad I stopped by today and read this. I wish you continued success. You deserve it.


    Comment by Marja McGraw — April 1, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

  8. Jenny, what an interesting author you have today! Thank you for introducing Karen McQuestion. Karen, I can certainly relate to all the rewriting and doubting and wondering you faced in your endeavor to be published. Good for you for sticking it out, and the very best wishes to you on all your projects. I definitely want to read, Favorite!

    Comment by Coco Ihle — April 1, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

  9. What a great story. Tenacity often wins … the tortoise and the hare?

    Comment by shirley nienkark — April 1, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

  10. Karen, I read your Made-It Moment from last year, but this moment actually stuck with me more strongly. Your tale of finding a home for your one “weird” book is quite a journey, but with a happy ending (which is ultimately what we readers like to see at the end, isn’t it? ^_^). Reading about this moment of triumph for you has come at a time when I really needed a good pick-me-up to brighten an otherwise difficult month. I imagine this sounds familiar: I’ve been working on the same novel for almost a decade now, and I’ve had periods of several years in there where I didn’t write anything at all, or tried new ideas for other novels and eventually petered out on them. Now, I’m back at the original monster WIP, trying to finish a rough draft after spending most of the last year creating a new plot to give the story more interest beyond the characters and the setting. But I finally believe in what I’m doing, and it’s so heartening to see that you went a similar path with “Favorite”–that you revised it multiple times, changed the circumstances dramatically over various incarnations of the novel, and even set it aside for a while. I’m so excited that you found success with it on your own, and now it’s getting “formally” published by Amazon Encore. Congratulations on your perseverance, and I’m really looking forward to reading “Favorite” very soon!

    Comment by Becca — April 1, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

  11. Hi Karen,

    I see you all over the place and am so happy to see your success.


    Comment by Carol Wobig — April 2, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  12. Jenny, thanks so much for letting me tell my story and for hosting the book giveaway! I was out of town, so I didn’t get a chance to respond to all the comments until just now.

    Judy, your comment warmed my heart! Thanks so much.

    Hi Kaye! I appreciate your interest in Favorite, my weird book. :-)

    Savvy, I think most writers can identify to my story, at least to some extent. I have no idea why it has to be so hard.

    Jody, to answer your question–I’m not entirely sure why the book sold so well. I suspect the cover played a good part of it.

    Sara, “irrational and fickle” says it all! If you decide to self-publish, I wish you the best. It’s worked out for a lot of us so far and there’s room for more.

    Bob, thanks so much for the kind words!

    Marja–thanks! I’m not sure I deserve it, but I’ll take it.

    Thanks, Coco! I think the doubting is par for the course. Sometimes I wondered if I was being tenacious or delusional. Heh.

    Shirley, good observation! I’ve always been more of a tortoise than a hare. In this case, it paid off.

    Becca, thanks for sharing your story of a book that never quite gets finished. If it makes you feel any better, I once read that the author of Memoirs of a Geisha completely rewrote it several times over the course of a decade. Sometimes it just takes time. Keep the faith.

    Hi Carol! What a nice surprise to see you here. Thanks so much for leaving a comment.

    Comment by Karen McQuestion — April 3, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

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