On February 25th, at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in downtown Lexington, author Kimmery Martin graced her audience with a big smile and a few tales about how her successes and struggles as a published writer. Kicking off in the theme of her second novel and the book in celebration that night- The Antidote For Everything– she shared,
“I’m scared of microphones. I taught a writing class with a guy who had one of those clip on microphones, and he forgot to turn it off when he went to the bathroom (audience gasps). It was a course for teaching doctors to write, and there were quite a few urologists in the crowd. When he got back, he got a round of applause.”
From here, she dished about her first book tour with The Queen of Hearts, her nerves about public speaking, and the amazing experiences she’s had traveling around the country to discuss her book. She also shared about her previous experience in the medical field that serves as a muse for her novels.
In my other job, I was an ER doctor. I do love the practice of emergency medicine. There is something so deeply rewarding about being able to make an immediate impact in the life of another human being who is ill, injured, or suffering. I also really like the pace of the field, the procedures, the technical challenges, and the camaraderie. But in my secret fantasy life, I was also a writer, because all my life I’ve been a devoted fanatical, obsessed reader. I probably read 3, 4, sometimes 5 books a week, and I just wanted to try my hand at something that has given me so much pleasure throughout my life.
Martin also enlightened her crowd on the world of publication…
I think a lot of people reach a point in their life where they are itching to try something new. There is something really deeply gratifying about putting yourself out there, taking the risk to try something new, to follow a passion whether it’s a career, hobby, or a cause. There’s something interesting about challenging your brain to try something without any guarantee of succeeding. And, I can tell you, if there is any field with no guarantee of succeeding, it’s becoming a novelist.
I’ve seen this often quoted statistic that maybe 80% of Americans would like to write a book. It got me a little curious about how many people actually write a book, so I looked it up. If you are curious about how many books are published in the United States- if you’re talking about traditional publication through a big publisher, that’s about 500 thousand in the US, and if you add in self published or hybrid presses, that’s about 1.8 million books per year. And we’re not even the biggest producer of books- China publishes more than we do. So there’s a ton of competition out there, and you’re really not competing just with other books because of the entertainment options that were have out there now.
So, it isn’t a total shock that fiction book sales have gone down in the last decade. I read that one of the most impactful factors in whether of not someone buys a given book is the name recognition of the author. For most authors, that makes things really difficult.
The average sales for a book in the United States is somewhat less than 2000 copies. If you take out the really high earning, bestseller authors (Rowling, King, Patterson), the median income in 2017 according to Publisher’s Weekly is a little bit over 6000 a year. Your chances of being stocked in the average bookstore is pretty low, and for every book you see on the shelf, between 100-1000 other books competed for that spot.
That being said, if you are a writer, there are a multitude of things you can do to get your message out there. We have more options than we’ve ever had before. I mention all this not to be discouraging, but I really want to encourage everyone to continue to support literature, the written word, bookstores, libraries, and authors.
… her writing process…
If you want to get published by one of the five big publishers out there, you have to be represented by a literary agent. I talked a lot about this on my last book tour because it was fresh in my mind, but also because it was such a long, humbling road for me. To get a literary agent to meet with you, you have to write this one page letter, called a “query letter”, and describe the book in a couple of paragraphs, and describe yourself, and my letter to literary agents was rejected more than 100 times before anyone even read my manuscript, and before anyone agreed to represent me.
My agent did eventually sell the book fairly quickly, once I had an agent, and it went on to be published by Penguin Random House, and it was reviewed in the New York Times, and it got national publicity. It changed my life, but it was more than five years from the time I finished writing it until the time it was published.
… and how her novels came to life.
Under my contract, I have to write a book with a female lead character who is a doctor- so that’s very niche-y. I think most people that I know are genuinely surprised when they hear what the topic of this new book is.
Writing a second novel is really hard. The first time around I was unburdened by any knowledge of publishing or writing, so I was very freeing and I did what I wanted. The second time there is a whole lot of deadlines and baggage, and expectations from the publisher. They did not like the book that I was working on after The Queen of Hearts because it was too science-y, then they didn’t like the first and second drafts of this book, mainly because I was trying to kill one of the main characters with a brain tumor (audience titters). But, they did like this book that we have here today.
Then, Martin got to one of my favorite parts of author events- where the readers get to learn about the inspiration behind the book, and why they wrote the story.
As a doctor, I’m very interested in the intersection of medical care with cultural, political, and legal realities. Who gets to make decisions about medical care? The hospital administrators or insurance companies? Politicians? Or doctors and patients? Now you all know that I’m biased, you probably know exactly what my opinion is on that. But there is this overlapping issue about it being legal when it comes to a decision about firing somebody.
I do think that many people are shocked to learn that in much of the United States, it is not illegal to fire somebody (due to sexual orientation) if they are gay. It is not illegal to refuse housing to someone on the basis of their gender identity. And under certain circumstances, it is not illegal to refuse medical care on the basis of those two things.
Two of Martin’s own coworkers had to deal with this similar situation, which inspired the central conflict behind The Antidote For Everything.
There were two real-life people who influenced the selection of this topic- one is a beloved friend of mine who shares an uncanny number of similarities to Jonah. I say uncanny because I actually didn’t know him when I had written part of this character, and he was a sensitivity reader for me. We became incredibly close, so if you read the book, know that there is a sort-of Jonah running around out there.
The other person who influenced this topic for me is a friend I’ve had most of my life, a college, a doctor, who was in fact instructed to stop treating transgender patients. She refused to do that, and she was fired. She went through a lot of personal, professional, and financial suffering because of that, so this story was loosely inspired by a real life circumstance, although I changed all the specifics in the book.
The book is not intended to tell the story of a transgender patient. That would not be my story to tell, clearly. I did think that much of this story’s plot line revolves around this really profound friendship between the two main characters. I think that Georgia and Jonah have that kind of magical and definable chemistry that sometimes you sort of stumble onto with another person who just gets you. Between them I would say there is no artifice, no self sensory, they don’t need to filter their personality through any socially acceptable lens- they just love and get each other.
After sharing more about her characters (no spoilers here folks, you’ll have to read the book for those!), Martin spilled the tea about a THIRD novel she’s working on.
The Antidote For Everything is actually a second book in three-book contract with Penguin Random House. I mention the one I’m writing now because it has become extremely and weirdly timely. The publisher is pitching it as a cross between The Hot Zone (by Richard Preston) and Sophie’s Choice (by William Styron). The main character is an infectious disease doctor, and traveling in southern Europe when a viral pandemic breaks out, and it’s a brand new one. Both of her children become deathly ill, and she has to pick which one of her two kids will receive the only available dose of an experimental antiviral medication. I know that sounds really far fetched by I based that idea off a story I read about the real life Ebola outbreaks. Something similar to that did in fact happen.
I really enjoyed the evening and getting to see some of my fellow local bookies, as well as getting to talk to Martin. She is so genuine, smart, and funny, which made for lively discussion and plenty of laughs! I hope you all enjoy the insight on the event, and give The Antidote For Everything a read.
Categories: Author Events