Thriller 101

How to Enjoy Your Writing Journey and Write Through Rejections with Bestselling Author Catherine McKenzie

January 09, 2023 David Season 3 Episode 1
How to Enjoy Your Writing Journey and Write Through Rejections with Bestselling Author Catherine McKenzie
Thriller 101
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Thriller 101
How to Enjoy Your Writing Journey and Write Through Rejections with Bestselling Author Catherine McKenzie
Jan 09, 2023 Season 3 Episode 1

Send me a Text Message!

5 Minute Writer
Catherine's Website
Connect with Catherine on Twitter
Connect with David on Twitter


  1. Getting and implementing feedback that keeps your story
  2. Importance of surrounding yourself with people you trust
  3. Planning for your debut now

Have you wondered what project you should be taking on? Do you have multiple works in progress rolling around in your head (or on your computer)? You’re not alone. 

As writers it feels like we face so much rejection that we start to second guess ourselves. What’s going to sell? What’s going to land you an agent? 

In the end, you already know which project you need to be working on. But let’s have my guest today tell you why you already know!

Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. A graduate of McGill in History and Law, Catherine practiced law for twenty years before leaving the practice to write full time. An avid runner, skier and tennis player, she’s the author of numerous bestsellers including HIDDEN, FRACTURED, THE GOOD LIAR and I’LL NEVER TELL. Her works have been translated into multiple languages and PLEASE JOIN US and I’LL NEVER TELL have all been optioned for development into television series.

Her next novel, HAVE YOU SEEN HER, is releasing on June 27, 2023!

Tweet me @DavidRGwyn

Show Notes Transcript

Send me a Text Message!

5 Minute Writer
Catherine's Website
Connect with Catherine on Twitter
Connect with David on Twitter


  1. Getting and implementing feedback that keeps your story
  2. Importance of surrounding yourself with people you trust
  3. Planning for your debut now

Have you wondered what project you should be taking on? Do you have multiple works in progress rolling around in your head (or on your computer)? You’re not alone. 

As writers it feels like we face so much rejection that we start to second guess ourselves. What’s going to sell? What’s going to land you an agent? 

In the end, you already know which project you need to be working on. But let’s have my guest today tell you why you already know!

Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. A graduate of McGill in History and Law, Catherine practiced law for twenty years before leaving the practice to write full time. An avid runner, skier and tennis player, she’s the author of numerous bestsellers including HIDDEN, FRACTURED, THE GOOD LIAR and I’LL NEVER TELL. Her works have been translated into multiple languages and PLEASE JOIN US and I’LL NEVER TELL have all been optioned for development into television series.

Her next novel, HAVE YOU SEEN HER, is releasing on June 27, 2023!

Tweet me @DavidRGwyn



Catherine McKenzie: So have I gotten more efficient and streamlined? I mean, yes. And yet still every book is like, what am I doing, ? Why am I doing this again? Ugh, I'm never gonna be able to finish this. The middle is terrible. You know, it's all the same like emotional rollercoaster where you just have. Trick yourself into doing it again. 

David Gwyn: Have you wondered what project you should be taking on? Do you have multiple works in progress, rolling around in your head or on your computer? You're not alone as writers, it feels like we faced so much rejection that we start to second guess ourselves. 

What's going to sell. What's going to land you an agent. In the end. You probably already know which project you need to be working on. But I'm going to let my guests today give you some insight on how to think about your projects. 

I'm David Gwyn, a writer, querying, a finished manuscript while writing a new project and trying to navigate the world of traditional publishing along the way. During season three of the [00:01:00] podcast, I'm asking agents, book, coaches, and authors about the best way to write a novel. If you want the experts secrets, this is where you're going to find them. 

This is the first episode of season three of the writer lifestyle podcast. If you haven't yet checked out last season, you're missing out. Here are some highlights. 

Bryan Young: No matter how original or different you think you are, that whatever niche you find yourself writing in or working in, somebody's gonna respond to that. 

Katherine Ramsland: Reality isn't always entertaining and there is a way to, to use it. 

Jessica Payne: I'm not a self-published author, but I have a lot of respect for them, and I wanted to know what they did because that to me is what I could do to bolster my publisher's efforts.

Josh Stallings: As an ex criminal coming out of kind of the dark side of the world as a young man, they spoke to me. There were books that spoke to my life.

Rob Hart: The work gets done or it doesn't, as long as it gets done, you're fine. You, you don't need to set yourself these sort of arbitrary goal posts. 

Emmy Nordstrom Higdon: I almost guarantee you that like, if you can be the weirdest thing in my inbox at any given time, like that's the thing that's [00:02:00] gonna get looked at first. 

Bianca Marais: There were times in a scene where I lost track of who the hell's head I was supposed to be in, and I had to go back to the drawing board and say, okay, who's.

Got the highest stakes in the scene. 

David Gwyn: Today's guest Catherine McKenzie practiced law for 20 years before leaving the practice to write full-time. She's the author of numerous best-sellers. Her works have been translated into multiple languages and two of her novels have been optioned for development into television series. Catherine. And I talk about her writing process, taking breaks, managing expectations and rejections, and so much more. 

What a great way to kick off the season. Let's get straight to it. 

 Catherine, welcome to the interview series. Thanks so much for being here. 

Catherine McKenzie: Thanks for having me. 

David Gwyn: Yeah, I'm excited to chat. First I wanna say I read, please Join Us, which is your newest one that's out now. I loved it. Can you tell us what it's about? . 

Catherine McKenzie: Well, 

thank you. It's about a lawyer who thinks that her career is going along swimmingly and then something happens at work that puts her on the back foot.

[00:03:00] And just then she receives an invitation to join an anonymous networking group that promises to solve all of her problems. Because it's a thriller, she says. , 

of course you have to Right ? 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I Via short book. No, I didn't join at the end . 

David Gwyn: Yeah. It was such a fun read. If you're listening, I highly re recommend you check it out.

And, and so where did this idea come from? 

Catherine McKenzie: Well, I, I normally honestly do not base my books on true life events or things that have happened to me, but I did in this case, receive an invitation. While I was practicing law to join an anonymous women's networking group. Oh. And that was a bit, it was a bit different.

I was invited to apply and I wrote them back and I was like, well, who recommended me? Oh, well we can't tell you, but trust us. You know? And I don't know. I was like a board at work or whatever. So I started filling out the application and for some reason I mentioned it to my husband that night and he was, What are you talking about?[00:04:00]

That's a cult. I'm like, that's not a cult. This is a networking group. And, and he, you know, I'm like, oh, there's something in Idaho. He's like, you're not gonna Idaho with a bunch of strangers. Like, are you in Saint? And and I was like, no, it'll be fine. It's fine, it's fine. And, and then I was like, oh, I could just write a book about it.

Don't worry about it. And he was like, he was like, no. And I was like, okay, you're right. You're right. So the next day I, I deleted the email and then I got an email. A couple hours later, they said, we saw that you started filling out the application, but you didn't complete it. Oh yeah. Wow. And I was like, oh, hella creepy

So I deleted that email and I think they emailed me a couple more times and I was like, so no. Anyway, so I deleted it. I said, no, I did not join this group. Whose name I do not remember. . And a year, a year later on a date no one will remember. March 6th, 2020. I was in New York City. Doesn't sound familiar.[00:05:00]

No, I was in New York City meeting my new editor for the first time. and I had copy with my agent afterwards, my agent at the time afterwards, and I had to come up with a second book on this two book deal that I had just made. And I had this other book all outlined and I pitched it to her and she was just like, meh.

And and so I like flipped through my idea notebook you know, in a panic. And I was like, well, I did get this weird email once. And so she liked that idea and. There it was. It went from there. There it was, but I did not go. So everything is made up. It's only the email that's like partially true and my husband's reaction, I guess.

Yeah, . 

David Gwyn: So did you have to do a lot of research for this novel? I mean, what was that process like? 

Catherine McKenzie: I did some research. So the group that she joins is called Panera Leo. And it's based, that's the taxonomical name of Lions. So I did do, I did a little. Wikipedia dive into the, like how did they get their name and who was it?

And [00:06:00] because I ended up using a lot of those names, so somebody named LANs and there's a company named LANs, and it's a theme. that goes through the book. So I did some research on that for sure. And then I've never actually been to the area in Colorado where that part of the book is set. So I did some research on, on that, but not, not tons of research, honestly.

That's why I right. Contemporary fiction because. Like, I don't wanna have to do a lot of research when I write my books. . 

David Gwyn: So to kind of shift gears here, we were talking before we started recording, you have mm-hmm. two releases coming out next year. What can you tell us about 

Catherine McKenzie: those?

So I have a thriller coming out next year called, have you seen her and Set in Yosemite in California? in the search and rescue community. The main character is a search and rescue worker, and she gets involved in the disappearance of a couple in the park. Of course, she has a past that she's running from, 

David Gwyn: Yes. 

Catherine McKenzie: The other book is, yeah, it's a romcom, I'm, I'm writing under a [00:07:00] pseudonym Katie Wicks, and it's called Hazel Fine. Sings Along, and it's about a woman who joins a singing competition, a reality singing competition, sort of her last chance to get the music career that she's always wanted, but she has a secret and.

That secret's probably gonna come out. There 

David Gwyn: you go. There you go. That's awesome. So I'll link to your website and everything so people can have quick access to that stuff. That's awesome. Yes. I'm, I'm curious, and, and like I kind of hinted towards this question maybe before we started recording, but I'm curious, can you talk a little bit about your writing process?

What, like, how much of it is planning, how much of it is you're just flying right through? What does that look? 

Catherine McKenzie: Staring off into the distance and scrolling Twitter. Yeah, I mean, I, I'm, I'm halfway between a pants and a plotter, so I know the beginning, middle end. And if it's we're talking about a thriller, I know the who, what, when, where, of, why, of whatever.

Deed is happening in the book before I [00:08:00] start writing, I think at the premise. And I start thinking about the sort of big events in the book and, and where that premise might go. And then I start thinking about the main character. And then at that point I start writing. And I tend to plot as I write.

As I write, I write the book kind of in thirds, and I'm plotting as I go, but I, but I'm always driving towards a solution that I know from the beginning in the romcom. And, and then in terms of writing, now that I write full time, I try and write Monday, Friday, I'll write on my thriller in the morning.

In general, that's my big think, like my better thinking time and my better drafting time. And, and then the afternoon I'll switch gears and, and use that for marketing bookkeeping and, and sometimes other projects, you know, and it's not a strict thing. But yeah, I, and, and that's sort of my Monday to Friday.

Schedule. Interestingly on my romcom, I did have an outline and I [00:09:00] have a second one that I'm two-thirds of way through writing and I did have an outline for that as well. I guess it's easier for me cuz there's like way less plot in romcoms. And it was funny when I got my editorial letter about Hazel Fine for my editor, she was.

This is moving too fast. It reads like one of your thrillers, you know? And I'm like, oh, like two pacey. Sorry, I gotta slow this down. And Wow. Add in some emotions. Yeah, yeah. . Oh, 

David Gwyn: that's funny. So funny. So did you, did you have to like learn how to write a completely kind of different genre, I imagine, 

Catherine McKenzie: right?

Yeah. Well I started off my first couple of books. Well, I thought it was Nick Hornby. But because don't, now you're gonna do a spit take with your water. But , but because I'm a woman, they said it was chicklet. So I did start, and, and if those books came out now that is what they would call them. They would call them romcom.

So I did start writing that. And. Much like [00:10:00] Hazel, my books always had a little twist to them, even back then, even before I was writing thrillers or mysteries. Because I think that's just the way my brain works is like if you don't flip the script, like what's the point? I kind of feel like, and, and that I know can be like, obviously in, in the ro romcom romance genre, you know, there are tropes and there are rules and there are things that you're supposed to do.

But I, I like mixing it up a little bit. So I think, but, but yes. I did have to like remember that I used to fill, I always had plots in my book, but I used to fill up the, the space with like more emotions and backstory and things like that. Which you don't have. Tons of room for, for, in a thriller. So I just had to, you know, be reminded of, of that

David Gwyn: Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. And so, yeah, as you, as you think now, I mean, you, you've got a bunch of books published here and you're churning out like two a year or so, right. [00:11:00] What is, has your process for writing changed at all from kind of your earlier books to now? Do you have like a, do you feel like you're more stream.

Catherine McKenzie: Am I more streamlined? I mean, I, I definitely, something that I don't do anymore, which I used to do, and I think all writers do at first, is I don't get lost in the first third of the book going over and over and over it again and again and again. Like I know. To move on, you know? And because you're never gonna finish if you don't do that.

I think I'd say I put my writing into like three phases. So when I first started, I used to write a lot at night after work, and yeah, I was younger. And I'm tired now and that does not happen very often. And then the sort of middle period where I was practicing law and, and writing my books, I mostly wrote on the weekends and on vacation.

, but what was interesting is when I stopped practicing law and I started writing full time, I've realized that that because I only rodee on the weekends, you know, I used to walk to work and I'd think about. The plot of the book and I [00:12:00] jot notes and, and then when I came to the weekend to write, I had my plan.

I knew what I was gonna do, and I'd write. You know, 2,500 words or two chapters or whatever it was that I said for myself and yeah. And when I started writing fulltime, I was like, oh, I needed that thinking space. So I, I quickly realized that I needed to like not write on the weekends to give myself time over the weekend to sort of process what I'd written that week and then even to take breaks, to build breaks in.

So this third writing process that I have, like I will take breaks between those thirds to. Cogitate on the story really. So I, I am writing more, but I'm not sure I'm writing my thrillers really that much faster than I did before. A Rom Com, I can write a lot faster. Again, I think because a lot of it's emotion and I don't have to be thinking that much about the plot.

And if I, if somebody's here at this moment, does that screw up something that's supposed to [00:13:00] 40 pages? , you can't go too fast when you're writing a thriller because you're just gonna have to do tons and tons and tons of, of, of changes afterwards. And even right now I'm in line edits for my thriller for next year and you know, it's, the documents is full of questions from my editors and it's like I have to sit and think about each one of those questions and.

No, that is answered on a different page. They just forgot. Or Oh, right. I should say something about that here. Or, oh, look, the answer's on the next page, you know, so . Yeah. Yeah. So that's a different process for sure. And, and I have to like, Stop myself. I have a maximum number of pages that I can even do in one day because I know, and it's not even a question of time, it's, it's a question of I will stop paying attention and mistakes will get through if I, if I go over what my maximum number of pages is in that process.

 So have I gotten more efficient and streamlined? I mean, yes. And yet still every book is like, what am I doing, ? Why am I doing this [00:14:00] again? Ugh, I'm never gonna be able to finish this. The middle is terrible. You know, it's all the same like emotional rollercoaster where you just have. Trick yourself into doing it again.

I think . Yeah. 

David Gwyn: It's funny, I, I hear that a lot from, from authors and I think it's mm-hmm. , one of those things that's really great for people to hear that are listening is like that. It's a process that you just get a little bit better at each time.


Catherine McKenzie: yeah, you get better. But I think also, for me anyway, I'm always trying to challenge myself with every book and write a better book. And so I don't wanna feel like I'm repeating myself and just phoning it in. And so I don't know that it's, that's ever gonna go away. , you know, when you start at the beginning of a book, like a contemporary fiction novel is, you know, 80 to a hundred thousand words.

Like, it's not a lot of words and it's a lot of things that have to happen in a whole world. You have to create and yeah, and it's fun that, that's fun, but it's also [00:15:00] challenging. And because I don't write in a series, you know, I have to reinvent that entire world each time. So I don't give myself any breaks, that 

David Gwyn: way.

No, that's true. That's a good point. Yeah. So let's, let's go back a little bit and let's talk about how you got started, right? I mean, I know you, you had a, you got a law degree, you practiced law for a while, but did you, I always kind of wanna be a writer in the, in the backdrop there. 

Catherine McKenzie: No. My big choice is, Were actress or Oh wow.

Lawyer. And I was like, actress, oh my God. Too stressful. . I could, I could be the best. And that because I didn't look the way they wanted, you know? I didn't like the idea of spending my life chasing something that I could have zero control over the results. Right? Yeah. And. I did, but I did always write, I wrote poetry growing up, but I, I really never thought about that as a career.

Or, you know, I had a friend in [00:16:00] high school who was like, I wanna write the next great Canadian novel. I, I don't think she's written a novel yet, but but I, I meet other writers who've always. Felt that way and had deadlines and like, I'm gonna write my first novel before I'm 30, or, and I really was not that person at all.

A couple of times I remember reading something I really liked and then being like, oh, I could write the next Fuco pendulum. And like I would sit down and start writing something and realized that no, I could not write the next Focal pendulum . And then I just at one point had this idea that wouldn't leave me alone.

And I really didn't know what it was like. Was it a film? Was it. . It was just bizarre. And it was Christmas holidays and I had my laptop with me. We were in the country and I don't even know why I had my laptop with me, honestly, because I don't think we had internet and so, It, like if there was a work emerge, and this was like in 2006, so before Blackberries or iPhones or people did not expect to be able to reach you over Christmas, but for whatever reason I had it with [00:17:00] me and I just felt compelled to start writing whatever this thing was down.

And so I did that and, and I never, I didn't tell anybody what I was doing and I, I did that for a couple of months off and on, and then, and it was, it was coming out in chapter format, but I still didn't think it was a book. I didn't know. Anyway, and then I met, I met an actress, ironically, I met an actress who lacked LA and moved to Montreal to, for a change of pace.

And she was writing her first novel. And so, Somehow, like she told me, I told her and then we started exchanging chapters. She tells a very funny story of me coming to her house the first time and apparently I was like clutching my pages, you know, which I had printed up to my body. And so we started doing that and that was great because.

I had a built in audience from the beginning, as did she, and immediate feedback and somebody saying, when's the next chapter? When's the next chapter happening? And I really don't [00:18:00] know if I ever would've finished writing that book if, if I didn't have that actually through that book and my second book as well.

So that first book lives in a drawer. It's my practice novel. I, I learned how to write a novel and I also got myself out of the way. Because you know, like most first novels it was semi autobiographical. And when I was done with it, I was like, okay, I can write about other people now. My life has not been that interesting.

And so I wrote a book that eventually was published and is called Arranged. And when I was finished with it, I felt like it was a good commercial sellable idea and I, I was happy with what I had done with it. And so I was like, okay, what, like, how do you sell a book? I had no contacts in publishing.

I didn't know anyone in New York. And so I did research. I made mistakes. I made like all the mistakes you can make. But anyway, I did, I think I fell for a scam or two and but I did my research and, and eventually realized, you know, I need to find an agent. I need to write a query letter. And I researched what that was and started querying agents.

And [00:19:00] after five months or so, somebody made an offer of representation. Yeah. And then she, she tried to sell that book for like two years. Oh, wow. And in the meantime, , I wrote another book called Spin, which is the first book that ended up being published. And that is the book that I gotta deal with in July of 2009.

So it took me like three years from starting to write fiction to get a deal in Canada. and then it took another two years after that for me to get a deal in the us. . So it was a long journey. Lots of projection, definitely moments where I was like, what am I doing? I'm writing books for my friends. That's super

Yeah, and I don't know, I mean, I had set a deadline. I had been like, if I don't sell a book by the end of this year, I think I'm just gonna stop doing this. Like, I can't, I can't do this anymore. Cuz it was like taking all my time [00:20:00] and literally what was I doing? And I dunno if I would've stuck to that.

I got a book deal two weeks later. So 

David Gwyn: So there's something to be said for making deadlines, 

Catherine McKenzie: right? Right. Yeah. It's like the opposite of manifesting, you know, , 

David Gwyn: I'm quitting. That's awesome. Yeah, right. Exactly. You listen, you're, you know, I'm sure you're talking to a lot of people who feel that way, have felt that way or some Oh, 

Catherine McKenzie: and I get it too.

I mean, I totally get it. I still feel that way sometimes, and I've had a lot of success and, and I totally get it. I, I, I don't think, I don't think I've ever encouraged anybody to keep writing if it's making the miserable. Yeah. Yeah. You know, there's lots of talented people I know lots of talented people who have never been able to publish a book or have only published a couple of books and not been able to publish again.

And, you know, publishing is not a meritocracy. And you know, I, the irony of me deciding to go into law and then ending up in the arts anyway , you know, I like, what, how did I do that? [00:21:00] That was silly . And but, but so I get it. And this business can be hard, you know, soul crushing. Because the book that, like Colleen Hoover and the person who sells 12 copy of their books, they put in the same effort, right?

You. Right. No, it's a really good point. And so like , you know, and, and, and the 12 copies is a much more likely outcome of that effort than Colleen Hoover, which is just a, a lottery ticket, you know? So, and, and I, she'd say this herself too, and I think has said this herself, and it not take anything away from her and her success and lots of things that she's done amazingly in her career.

You know, imposter syndrome is real. And, and I I think we all, as authors have writers who we think are better than we are and, but don't get the recognition or the success or, or whatever. And then other writers who, you know, we wouldn't ever say who they were out loud, but we're like, [00:22:00] really? ? I get it.

You know? Yeah. So so yeah. It's, it's, it's, it's a, it can be a soul crushing. business. And that's not even talking about like people tagging you in their shitty reviews and you know, all the other things about being online and people writing you emails to tell you that they hated their bo your book or that had typos or whatever.

You know, like it's the human race is fascinating. . 

David Gwyn: You get to see all forms of it, I guess, right? Oh my. 

Okay. I want to pause there for a minute just to reiterate something Catherine said, no matter where you are in the writing process, it seems like you're always going to be facing rejection. 

Somewhere. Whether it's self-rejection during the writing process and you have to scrap an idea and start over or delete a chapter or more than one. 

Or trying to find an agent or an editor or a publishing house. 

The life of a writer is filled with rejection. And like I talk about on here all the time, writers need to rethink and reframe rejection. I really [00:23:00] any metric Catherine has had a ton of publishing success. Still, she goes through the feeling of self-doubt and rejection all the time. 

Just remember to enjoy the journey you're on. be sure to sign up for Five Minute Writer.

It's a series I'm doing to help you save. It's free weekly writing advice, providing five minute summaries of a longer article, podcast, book, video, or course. It's designed to give you the highlights without the fluff so you can gain the knowledge without wasting time, so you can get back to writing. Be sure to sign up and you get the first edition. Right now it's linked. 

And the next part of the interview, Catherine talks about finding an agent and her mindset as she works through her drafts. How to take feedback and more, let's get back to the interview. 

 Whenever I have authors on here, I like to ask them to give their agent a shout out. So you're rep by Stephanie Rostan? Yes. What made you wanna work with Stephanie ? 

Catherine McKenzie: I had been the same agent for a long time.

And I was just felt like I was at a crossroads in my career. And sometimes you just need to. [00:24:00] things up to make things happen. And so I made the difficult decision to leave her. And, and it's, it's a, an interesting business, unlike like a normal job where you could have your new job before you leave your old job.

That's not, like, that's not considered okay with agents. So you actually have to break up with your old agent before you can get a new agent. Oh, wow. Yeah. So and we parted as friends. It was, it was all fine and, and, , the, the, the good thing is in general, not always, but in general, when you have a a publishing track record, it is easier to get that second or third agent than the first one.

And, and people answer your emails , , usually. And so I, you know, did some research, talked to friends who had been through the process and. Reached out to several people, and I think I posted about this recently, but you know, Stephanie and I had a, a Zoom conversation that ended up going on for like two and a half hours.

And you know, it was kind of like a platonic first date that went really, really well.[00:25:00] And I think we just sort of see the world and publishing in a similar way. And she was very open to me wanting to do. Publish more, you know, to, to write more, to publish more and to help me find ways to do that, which is what I was looking for.

And and she actually went and read like most of my books, which was, I thought, super unnecessary and, and impressive at the same time. and So, yeah, so we signed together and, and since then she sold three books for me. So, you know, I mean, it's been working out well. That's great. 

David Gwyn: That's awesome. And so the, the people who normally listen to my podcast, who interact with me and chat with me are people who are really serious about making things happen in the writing world.

They're usually the ones who are on their, you know, second or third or fourth. Whatever that number is. Manuscript. And they put the other ones away. Yes. And they're really focused on, on making the one that they're [00:26:00] on now, the one that works and so, right. I'm curious if there's something that you could share that you do well, revising your novels, you know, whether that's that, that second or third draft, or however many you do, right.

As you're kind of putting those polishing drafts on, is there something that you think about that you go through when you go through? That you focus on that might help people as they're putting the kind of finishing touches on their own drafts? 

Catherine McKenzie: I mean, I think I would actually take a step back and say that the book you should be working on is the book that you can't stop thinking about and, and the idea that won't leave you alone.

It shouldn't be the book you think is gonna sell into the current market. You know, if those two things work together, fantastic. But it should be the book that makes you excited because I think that if it's making you excited, then it has a better chance of making somebody else excited. And so when you are going through the book, I would.

Just try and like, maybe even write [00:27:00] yourself a note before you start writing about, well, why did you write this I book? Like, what was it that made you excited about this idea and why did it stick with you? And then you should reread that note when you're going through it and just make sure that that's still there.

You know, I think people can work things to death. And I, I think I, I, I always have a couple goals when I'm going through a draft, you know, of Donald. Like if you took him literally my two 50 drafts of your novel. Right. In his methodology. But you know, what I, what I take from him or what I've taken from him, which I think is right, is, is that you should have certain.

Goals that you're keeping in mind when you're going through drafts. So, you know, is it setting, is it character, is it dialogue? Is it, so I'm usually doing many of those things at the same time. And what I'm looking for is something that feels seamless. So any time where I'm really struggling to get through a scene or a chapter, it feels like it's slowing down.

I'm trying to, to make it all feel like it moves with the same pace because I think, [00:28:00] you know what? A really good book is one where you can get lost in it, and anything that throws you out of the book is what makes people put books down. And so you can control a lot of that. I think by being conscious of that yourself.

Like if your chapters are all about the same length, they should take you about the same time to read. Right? But if it's taking you three times longer to. 2,500 words than the previous chapter. Something's not working in that chapter. And, and so that's what I'm, I'm looking to smooth things out so that the whole thing feels seamless by the end.

And I'm not saying I get that on the second draft, but . But yeah, I think, I think that and, and I don't think, you know, your book doesn't have to be perfect. First of all, notebook is perfect. It's not going to be perfect when you take it out to agents, but it should be as good as you can make it with the resources you have.

So it should definitely not be a first draft. It doesn't need to be a 50th [00:29:00] draft, but, somebody else should have read it. At least one other person doesn't have to be a professional, but . Other people will have read it to give you some feedback on what's working for them and what isn't.

And, and I think it's an important direction to give to people who you're asking for feedback. Also, like, tell me what's working, because that is often as helpful as what isn't working in the book, who just tell me the problems. And I, I can't, it all seems like it sucks and I'm just gonna throw it away, you know?

So I, I think that those are. Those are sort of the big picture things that, that I would say to do. 

David Gwyn: I, I love that. I feel like for, a lot of writers, I think hearing that, it doesn't have to be perfect, make it the best that you possibly can. . I think it just takes the weight off of shoulders in a lot of ways, and I think that's really a great message.

Catherine McKenzie: No, and look, I mean, every published book has a typo in it, you know? And, and think about how many eyes, professional eyes are on it. So obviously you don't want something riddled with typos, [00:30:00] but if there's a typo or two, it's not the end of the world. Like you have to learn to step aside and, and put it out there.

and see, and, and, and if you can get feedback, you know, some agents will give you feedback too. Like what is, what is the feedback if and, and take that to heart, you know? And that's, I think that's hard. Like, I think learning how to take, if you haven't been published yet, you haven't gone through that formal editorial process that is really.

like it's quite a lot., so this, have you seen her? It's my 14th slash 15th novel . Okay. Plus the one in the drawer. Right. And like plus another one that like, hasn't even been announced yet. Okay. So I kind of know what I'm doing, but I didn't turn in that first draft. I turned in a third or fourth draft , Where I had gotten some editorial feedback on two-thirds of the novel from my editors, [00:31:00] and then I got a whole editorial letter from two different people.

And I went through all of that and made all these changes. And now I'm doing line edits, more feedback, and then it's gonna be a copy edit, and then it's gonna be a proofread. So, you know, that process is humbling, right? Like you, you have to learn. That. You don't always have the best idea necessarily, but sometimes you do.

You know, it's, it's a process I remember when I got my first editorial letter, I was like, why did they even wanna publish this book? It's a disaster . And I've learned over time that, often less is more in terms of, of changes. Like, you don't need to throw out the whole manuscript, you don't need to rewrite 75% of it most of the time.

But you do need a little bit of time to think about it and think about how to find the solution. So the more you can learn to take feedback, well early in the process, pre publication, the better product you're gonna have. And I always, I have to [00:32:00] say, you know, over the years I've had so many people come up to me and say like, did they make you change things in your book?

And if, if that's where your head's at publishing is not for you, Because I always say yes, and that was a good thing.

 It's a better product because other people who are professionals of what they do gave me their insights. I didn't, I don't necessarily take every single suggestion, but I take most of them. And when I haven't done it, I have really, really good reason and I can explain it and I can convince .

Whoever it is who's saying to do X, you know why I'm not gonna do it. So I think however you get to that place is a critique group or, other writers, family members, whatever. That's something you should be seeking early on is feedback. Cuz I, I think it's helpful. 

David Gwyn: Yeah. And so I, I think, again, such a helpful thing for people to hear.

 If you could have one thing that people think about as they kind of leave this conversation and, and carry on with their day as, as someone who's, who has success in [00:33:00] a, in a career and in a field that, that they hope that they can achieve some at some point.

Right. What is that kind of one thing that you hope that an aspiring author takes? 

Catherine McKenzie: I hope that I'm kind of an inspiring story because I, I literally didn't know anybody in publishing and I don't have an MFA and I've published a lot of books and done well, and, and I was plucked outta the slush pile.

It can happen. And it did happen to me and I know lots of other people that that's happened to as well. But you need to be smart about that, right? You need to know what the rules are. So like, if I'll, I'll use something. Benign. Your manuscript when you submit. To an agent should be in times new Roman 12 point font, write in whatever you want, but that is what your manuscript should be.

I always tell people that publishing has a million reasons to say no, and there's only so many things that you can control. And so the things you can control are learning the rules and learning. when to use quotation marks and where the commas go and all that stuff. You can control that [00:34:00] stuff and the rest of it is out of your hands.

So, but yeah, don't give up, but give up if it makes you miserable . 

David Gwyn: I love that idea too, of like focusing on the things you can control and trying your best to let go of the things you have no control over, I think is a really healthy practice in a. In a realm where there's so much rejection and there's so much passing and there's so many nos that like you have to 

Catherine McKenzie: think that way.

 I can't say that I am always amazing at that, but what I will say is that I have had. The rejection that continues after you publish. So, you know, I've been dropped a bunch of times by different publishers and I could have easily just been like, okay. Out . Right, right. I, I had a whole other career.

I made a good living. Yeah. I didn't need to do this. And so I think, you know, one of the things I'm proud about myself is that I didn't let that defeat me in the end. But that's because I still enjoyed more things about [00:35:00] writing than the bad things about writing.

 But it, it shouldn't be torture, you should enjoy it. . . 

David Gwyn: That's great. So my, my last question for you is, where can people find you? Where can people look? 

Catherine McKenzie: Yeah. So my website, catherine I'm on Instagram and Facebook as Catherine McKenzie author, and if you want my political opinions on Twitter at CE McKenzie, one with occasional book news.

David Gwyn: That's awesome. So I'll link to all that stuff. So if you're, if you're looking to, to connect with Catherine and find her books, which I highly recommend that you do definitely go into, the notes here, and go to those links, and connect with her. Catherine, this has been so much fun.

I really enjoyed, I learned a lot. It's been a blast. So thank you so much for taking the time. Thank you. 

So there you have it. 

Catherine was so much fun to talk to, and really did an excellent job of pulling back the curtain on a publishing career. It's a lot of revision and rejection and you have to find joy in the process. So go out there. But before you do. Do me a favor and share this episode. Whether [00:36:00] it's on Twitter or with someone that, you know, as a writer, 

I'd really appreciate it. If you just forwarded this along to someone you think would benefit from hearing Katherine story. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe to the five minute writer series. It's a free series. I'm doing where I share some lessons on storytelling without all the fluff so that you can get back to writing. 

There's a link in the description. Next time on the podcast, I'm talking to literary agent Helen Lane. 

Helen Lane: There is something, whether that is in the style of writing or the way that the character is presented there is something that will speak to you and right from the start you will. , I don't know, relax and sink into it and forget that this is the start of a new book. 

David Gwyn: If you're on Twitter, her name might sound familiar. She shared so much of her agenting process. And I got to talk to her about how that went. Why she chose to do that? And why she's closed for queries. You're going to love it. I'll see you next week.