Interview with Katie Pierson, author of '89 Walls'

Katie Pierson freelances for local non-profits, using her background in public policy and grassroots organizing to overthrow the patriarchy one introverted step at a time. When she’s not writing fiction, she returns library books, makes soup, and tries to be cooler than she really is by hip-hopping at the YMCA. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in American History from the University of Pennsylvania (where she dabbled briefly in being a College Republican) and a Master’s in American History from the University of Minnesota. She grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and now lives with her family in a suburb of Minneapolis. ’89 Walls is her first novel.
For More Information
About the Book:
Title: ’89 Walls
Author: Katie Pierson
Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing
Pages: 240
Genre: Young Adult
Format: Paperback
College is not in the cards for Seth. He spends his minimum wage on groceries and fakes happiness to distract his mom from the MS they both know will kill her. It’s agony to carry around a frayed love note for a girl who’s both out of his league and beneath his dignity. 
Quinn’s finishing high school on top. But that cynical, liberal guy in her social studies class makes her doubt her old assumptions. Challenging the rules now, though, would a) squander her last summer at home, b) antagonize her conservative dad, and c) make her a hypocrite.
Seth and Quinn’s passionate new romance takes them both by surprise. They keep it a secret: it’s too early to make plans and too late not to care. But it’s 1989. As politics suddenly get personal, they find themselves fighting bare-fisted for their beliefs—and each other—in the clear light of day.

For More Information

Q: Thanks for joining us, Katie. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea to write your book, '89 Walls?
I never planned to write a novel: I just like to read them. But a conversation with a friend in 2006 about the pros and cons of potentially attending my 20th high school reunion brought to mind the random people you run into at those things: old crushes, old “frenemies.” I suddenly had the idea for Seth and Quinn’s reluctant romance in ’89 Walls.

It wasn’t until I was half done that I realized that the story was also a partisan allegory. Seth is the Democratic Party in the late 80’s: reactive, angry, without a compass. Quinn’s father, Tom is the Republican Party: optimistic, smug, still grounded in a true small government philosophy and underestimating the rising Religious Right with its creepy fascination with people’s private lives. Mr. Levine, the teacher, is the moderator who allows two strong points of view to talk it out respectfully.
Quinn is all of us, trying to find her way when tidy theories crash into reality.
Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?
I’ve heard others say that writing a novel is like opening a vein and letting it bleed. I agree. I’ve learned Hebrew and experienced natural childbirth. Writing this book was way harder. But that’s also what made it worth doing. When I kick it, my tombstone will say “Author.” I’m proud of that.
I tell closeted fellow writers that everyone feels like a fraud—it's not just them. All you have to do is print yourself a business card and put "writer" on it. When you claim the title you are one. 
Becoming an author is a different story. If my long and detoured road to publication taught me anything, it’s that you only get to call yourself an author when you put on your big girl pants and act like one.
Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?
How much time do you have?
I craved a traditional publishing contract for the usual reasons: an advance, high editorial standards, broad marketing and distribution, collegial support, and the all-important stamp of legitimacy.
My timing in seeking the above could only have been worse, however, if I’d attempted it during the zombie apocalypse.
I spent a humbling two years seeking an agent for my realistic historical young adult novel during an international economic collapse, the publishing industry’s subsequent version of its own Hunger Games, the e-print revolution, and the creation of special sections in bookstores for Paranormal Teen Romance.
Signing with an agent after five lonely years of writing and racking up rejections feels like sitting by a warm fire after circumnavigating the South Pole. This profound relief kept me from noticing for eighteen months that my agent’s priority was to build her own career—not mine.
By the time I figured out that her early-career priority was to prove herself responsive to a handful of editors’ tastes, the manuscript had already done its job (for her). At my insistence, she reluctantly followed up with half of the 35 (!) submissions. Then she stopped returning my calls.
Frantic Internet research revealed that I was not alone in my experience with this agent or agency.
In retrospect, it was like finding out that not only is your Prince Charming a pimp, but that he’s your pimp.
The editors who did respond rejected the manuscript. But they offered detailed, supportive feedback that amounted to, “Good writing, but I can’t sell the sex scene and teens don’t care about politics or the late Eighties.”
I disagreed. Since when did editors worry about selling sex to readers? It seemed, too, that they drastically underestimated the intellect and interests of the Obama generation. 
After another round of agent rejections, I received enthusiastic, detailed requests for revisions from two top dealmakers. I spent a feverish six months working with a freelance editor and making the suggested changes. I re-submitted to both agents. Neither responded to my multiple communications.
At this point it finally hit me that my own standards of professionalism were higher than those of the gatekeepers I’d been trying to dazzle. I understand from other authors that there are excellent agents out there: I just haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them.
As I began researching small presses, another agent asked for my full manuscript. She praised my writing, sent me pages of insightful editorial feedback, and asked for a revision. Before proceeding, I shared with her my experience with my first agent. She responded by withdrawing her conditional offer of representation and suggesting that I abandon ’89 Walls altogether. This confirmed my fear that my ex-agent’s promiscuous submissions on my behalf had branded my book as damaged goods.
Fury is a powerful motivator.
I submitted the manuscript to several small presses. One made an offer and two more expressed preliminary interest. After exhaustive online research and outreach to their authors, though, I couldn’t bring myself to sign a contract. I’d worked too hard and too long to hand over creative control and money-making potential to for all I knew were two guys with a software program.
It was a great day when it hit me that “making it” in traditional publishing—at least with this particular historical, political, realistic and slightly steamy YA novel—would mean lowering instead of raising my standards. I owed it to Seth and Quinn not to settle for mediocrity.
Determined to produce a book that could compete with Big 5 titles, I found a mentoring press to deliver the professionalism that I hadn’t been able to find in traditional publishing. Wise Ink Creative Publishing brought me back in from the cold.
Mentoring presses give authors access to a carefully-curated stable of talent, including professional editors, copy editors, proofreaders, cover designers, interior designers, and publicists. My cover designer’s day job, for example, is at Random House.
Several of my Big Five author friends admit that they loathe their books’ titles or cover designs. This sounds horrifying, like letting a stranger name your newborn. This process has taught me to trust my gut instincts: self-publishing gave me full creative control.
I studied Wise Ink’s extensive resources and read every book on self-publishing I could get my hands on. My resulting in a 15-page marketing and work plan has produce far more buzz for ’89 Walls than a traditional house could afford to generate for a debut author.
Wise Ink also helped me build my website and jump into social media. It put ’89 Walls into the regular distribution channels, and made sure it could hold its own among its Big 5 peers on the bookstore shelves.
There’s no advance. I assumed the financial risk but earn 100% of the profit. Speaking of, you can order ’89 Walls directly from Itasca Books Distribution or use this cool book store finder to buy it from (and support) a local, independently-owned store near you. It’s also available at Amazon. And please visit my website at
If there’s a moral to my publishing story it’s this: “when all else fails, raise your expectations.”
Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?
I had absolutely no idea how many steps were involved in a book’s production. But I was pleasantly surprised to realize how much I enjoyed the steep learning curve and making the creative decisions.
Q: Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?
My critics hate ’89 Walls in an interestingly passionate sort of way. They say I have an agenda. This cracks me up. Of course I have an agenda. As does everyone I’ve ever met. One of my characters says, “If you think you’re neutral, you’re kidding yourself.” ’89 Walls is about the choices we make in love, sex, family loyalties, politics and friendship. It’s a fast-paced summer read for older teens and anyone who remembers the 1980s. Message-wise, I’d describe it as pro-dialogue, pro-choice, and pro-young people.
Q: Do you have any final words?
Readers who experienced 1989 as teenagers may be surprised to discover how much went down that year: divestiture in apartheid South Africa, the Tiananmen Square protests, the Webster decision, the Iran-Contra scandal, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the savings and loan crisis, the growing AIDS epidemic, the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the premiere of Seinfeld.
Thank you so much for this opportunity. It’s been a pleasure.