Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kaki Warner: The True Story of a Twenty-five Year Overnight Success

Ruthy here.

I first "met" Kaki in 2007 when I was the coordinator of the Barclay Sterling, a now defunct contest that offered a real bang for the buck. With the help of many Seekers, we were able to offer stellar judging in multiple categories and that's how Kaki caught my eye. I love good writing. Kaki's all that and more.

She double finaled in the Single Title category with Pieces of Sky and Open Country, first and second place respectively, and a bunch of us got a glimpse of something rare and beautiful: Kaki's writing. Seeing her now contracted, with Pieces of Sky newly launched makes me proud to have been part of that story, that road to her success. I brought coffee to jump-start the day after a weekend of partying and revelry, fireworks and some interesting late night activities it would seem. (Has ANYONE seen Bruce since Saturday???)

Grab a mug of joe, a quiet cappuccino or a cup of tea and allow me to introduce you to Kaki Warner, author.

I’m sure you’ve read the headlines:


It was an accident, of course. The thing was heavier than I thought and it kind of slipped out of my hands. Once they came to, we started reading it over. Page after page of itty-bitty writing with a lot of cross-outs and margin add-ins. Scary. I signed it anyway and was pathetically eager to do so. Twenty-five years is a long wait, after all.

Not that I wrote nonstop for the entire quarter century—that pesky family thing kept interfering—but like a hound dog with a dried-up snakeskin, I kept coming back to it every now and again, just to make sure it was still a dead issue.

Then one day a while back, my husband and I were throwing out junk—his, mostly—and I came across the manuscript and decided to give it one more read before I tossed it into the burn barrel. It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that good, either. So I dusted it off, did another rewrite, changed the name to PIECES OF SKY and entered it in several literary contests to get some feedback.

Contests are good for several reasons. The readers are experienced writers or published authors, and they might be able to offer insights you haven’t considered. Plus, the final judges are usually editors and agents, and if you’re lucky, they might ask you to send a copy of your completed manuscript for their consideration.

Which I was and they did.

So with the breathless anticipation of a timorous virgin at her first Tailhook Convention, I shipped out my beloved tome, then grabbed a sandwich and a lawn chair and sat down beside the mailbox to wait.

And wait.

It was thirteen months before one editor sent the standard rejection letter, and I never heard back from an agent who had truly seemed interested. Maybe he died. Probably keeled over from pure delight when he read my work. It could happen.

Undeterred, I bought the latest edition of Guide to Literary Agents and started sending out query letters. Three months later I had a brilliant agent, a discerning editor and a contract with enough heft to knock an entire family off its feet.
So…let’s see. Twenty-five years of worrying and hoping and rewriting=nada. Three months of research and sending out query letters=success.

You do the math.

Kaki, I love it! Kaki is giving away a copy of her debut novel "Pieces of Sky" to one lucky commentor. Be sure to leave your e-mail in your comment so that Kaki can contact you and grab your snail addy.

And Kaki, thanks so much for being our guest in Seekerville!


Belinda Peterson said...

What a great story. And humorous, too! My fam will probably fall over too if I (excuse me, when I) get a publishing contract. :) (I knew Missy would yell at me if I said if)
The cover is beautiful and I would love to read the story.
Have a great day here in Seekerville, Kaki. The people are amazing, warm, friendly. Well, you get the drift. Have fun.

Memawof2boys said...

Please enter me! This book sounds good!


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Kaki!! Mega congrats on your release and the three-book contract!!! I love those overnight success stories.
:-) And your lively sense of humor! I've got to read Pieces of Sky.

Ruthy, glad you can claim a part in Kaki's success. The Barclay Sterling was a great contest.


Sandra Leesmith said...

Good Morning Kaki, Welcome to Seekerville and congratulations on your debut novel. Love the cover.

I really chuckled when you pulled out the manuscript, dusted it off and thought "this isn't bad"

I've done that before and it always tickles my funny bone. I'm always surprised like did I write that?

Ruthy, where are you with the goodies? Guess I'll have to whip up some pancakes. I have maple syrup too. At least you remembered the coffee. smile

And I loved the Barclay Sterling. You did a lot of work on that Ruthy (and you were nice- smiling again)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Ohhh Kaki, Just read your author page on Amazon. Congrats on your book getting selected for book clubs. That's major.

Rose said...


Congratulations on landing that three book deal!


RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

Virginia C said...

Congratulations, Kaki! What a beautiful cover! This is the right time for you to enjoy your success. It's a great time for your readers to enjoy your wonderful work! Please enter my name in the drawing.

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Walt M said...

Congrats on your book. The part of me that is drooling over what took you only three months is ignoring the part that says 25 years (which means more coffee is necessary).


Pepper Basham said...

Oh Kaki, love your writing already, just from your post. Your humor sounds a whole lot like dear Ruthy - so...
What's not to love, right? ;-)

I think my kids are tired of holding hands and praying around the computer every time I send off a story ;-) They sure are sweet though. Have lots more faith sometimes than I do.

My oldest (11) is always saying...
"When you get published, how much of the money do the kids get?"

I laugh and say, "Honey, that's where all the money goes anyway."

Pepper Basham said...

my address is

Patty said...

Kaki, thanks for giving me the boost I needed today--I have been writing for almost ten years. Not constantly because of that family thing you mentioned, but I always found myself going back to the writing.

This last six months, with my girls graduated and (kind of) out on their own, I've been writing every day. But I couldn't help wondering if I've waited too long, if my opportunity has passed.

But God is soooo good! Over the last few weeks, I've read more articles about people like you, who are a twenty-five year overnight success, that gives me hope and lets me know God can use even a slow-moving person like me.

Have a great Monday everyone!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Walt, isn't that hysterical???

If you look at the end product, it looks so dagnab easy, don't it?

Hey, Sandra!!! Giving you a shout out for the pancakes. I was working and couldn't get breakfast together, you know how it is. Kids, boots, jackets, spilled milk...

And we've got a reprieve on the Arctic cold and the snow, so now the driveway (HUGE farm driveway) and yard are turning into a sheet of ice, so I'm not sure that's better.

Real maple syrup, right Sandy-pants??? And I brought some Mrs. Butterworth's for you namby-pambys.

Kaki's on the West Coast and probably hugging a pillow still.

And no, I didn't mean to claim part of her success although that's exactly what I SAID, but it is so fun to see people you've worked with succeed. I'm still waiting for someone to realize that Cat Shield is amazing and fun (Audra, you raved over Cat's work in the Barclay) and several others who've wrangled the contest circuit while striving to improve.


And this just in...

My main squeeze, Derek Jeter, appears to be engaged to a sweet thang named Minka Kelly... Adorable.

Although I'm brow-furrowing the report of an early November wedding when Game 7 of the World Series is slated for 11/5...

Because no one wants to repeat a World Series win with the Yanks more than the Jetemeister. :)

Ah, Jeter... A moment of respectful silence, please.

Sorry, off task. But having fun!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Patty, welcome on board, sweetness and cleanse your mind of that questioning stuff right now, 'kay?

God's timing is perfect. Kids matter. A lot.

So I repeat. We don't give up, we whine a little (24 hour rule applies), we gnash our teeth, we roar (Where The Wild Things Are) and we stomp, then we plant our butts in the chair and start again.

Keep at it, woman. Persistence pays.


Cara Lynn James said...

Welcome to Seekerville,Kaki! great story! And congratulations on your contract.BTW, I love your name.

I had to laugh at your reference to the Tailhook Convention. A thousand years ago before military women were allowed to fly in combat aircraft, I landed on an aircraft carrier which qualified me to be a 'tailhooker.' Of course, I thought that was hilarious. (I was a Navy lieutenant at the time.)

But that allowed me to go to the convention in Las Vegas. So for 2 yrs. I attended with most of the guys in my squadron in San Diego.
Tons of fun! This was several yrs. before the Tailhook scandal.

Enough of the dark ages. I'd love to read your book!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pep, yes, you'd love her stuff.

And she'll love yours.



Julie Lessman said...

"Mornin' Kaki, SO glad to have you here in Seekerville!

What a great success story, and if humor is a part of your new book like it is in your wonderful blog, then, girl, I'm gonna grab me some "Pieces of Sky"! And what a FABULOUS name for a book! It was your original title, I take it, from what Ruthy said about judging in the Barclay? Very cool! Reminds me of another favorite title of mine, A Patch of Blue.

I noticed on Amazon (where you have six stellar 5-star reviews already, I might add, and your book just released Jan. 1!!) that your publisher is Berkley Trade, a secular house. Does your story have inspirational elements and if so, did Berkley leave them alone or ask you to tone them down?


Melanie Dickerson said...

Cool story, Kaki! When the time is right (and after we've worked our butts off) things happen fast!

Congratulations on your dream coming true!

Debra E Marvin said...

As a former Barclay Sterling coordinator. Yes, this is scaring me Ruthy...I had to read this tale. Even now I love to think that contest was a launching pad to publishing a book.

One thing though, how does Ruthy deal up with your stoic lack of humor, Kaki?

CONGRATULATIONS!!! three book contract. Those three little words every writer wants whispered in their ear...

Charity said...

OO!! Sounds like a very interesting book:) I would love to read it. Will have to put it on my wish list.


mariska said...

A wonderful story Kaki.
hey, do you know that Kaki is mean foot in my language ? :)

i'm sure that your foot has bring you to the right path ! congrats for the contracts !

uniquas at ymail dot com

Susan Anne Mason said...


Thanks so much for sharing your story! It gives us 'mature' writers hope! Actually that's what I love about the Seekers - I don't feel ancient!

Would you care to share what kind of research you were doing those three months that landed you an agent and a contract? Just curious.

Best of luck with your career.

sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

Rose McCauley said...

Kaki, if your book is half as humorous as your blog post, I know I will love it, so please sign me up for the book giveaway. crmcc at setel dot com

And thanks for the encouragement to persevere. It came at a good time for me as I begin yet-again another re-write. I've been writing almost 10 years now, so there's still time for me to be a "late-blooming baby-boomer success", right?

I have 3 questions for you--how did you get the name Kaki and how do you pronounce it? And do you have a website or blog where I can read more humorous posts? thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi everybody! Kaki here, joining you from the snowy mountains of the great Northwest. What wonderful comments to wake up to! Ya'll are soooo nice. Seekerville is a wonderful website--great articles, great information, great fun. (Sorry to sound so unoriginal, but Ruth is right--I did just wake up and the coffee hasn't hit the bloodstream yet, but I'm wildly guzzling.) Thanks for having me join in today.

Belinda and Pepper--family should come first. In fact, they'll give you all the inspiration you need to keep going. Oh, and angst, too. When mine got impatient I just told them if they let me write, I'd put them in The Will. It worked for the first fifteen years.

Patty and Sandra--don't give up. I have no regrets that I waited so long to get this done--I wasn't smart enought to write it until now.

Cara Lynn--a Tailhooker! Sounds perfect for a writer! Escpecially if you write romance.

Julie--I was lucky. PoS went directly to the copy editor and the only changes I had to make were those ding-dang commas and general stuff.

Mariska--Kaki means persimmon in Japanese. But I like "mean foot" better. More apt.

And thanks everybody for kudos on the cover. I, as the lowly author, had no say in it, but I think they did a wonderful job. The cover of book 2, Open Country, is along the same lines. I was so afraid they'd put on something I'd be afraid to pick up at a bookstand. But I got lucky.

Finally, other than some great help from Barclay and other contests, most of this success has come from my deals with God (see latest post on my blog at

Anonymous said...

I'm not really anonymous. I know who I am. I'm just not completely awake yet.

Rose--Kaki is pronounced like Khaki (pants). It was supposed to be Kathy but when I was born my 2 year old brother couldn't say "th" and my parents thought that was so adorable they kept it. Bless their hearts. Sadly, it fits.

Susan--what research? I caught up on my reading, family and ate sandwiches by the mailbox. I should have had more faith. Once the offer from Berkley came in, I had three months to finish the second book (I had only 50 pages written), so I got to spend 16 hours a day in front of the computer. Oddly, in many ways, it's my favorite of the three. Go figure.

Renee said...

Kaki, what a wonderful story. I went over and read the excerpt of Pieces of Sky and love it. Congratulations on such a fabulous deal.

reneelynnscott at gmail dot com

Vince said...

Hi Kaki:

Do you believe your experience demonstrates the need to make multiple submissions?

It seems writers often allow a miniscule number of people to determine their future as published authors. Truly outstanding material is rejected so often that it has become a cliché to talk about how many times bestsellers were tuned down by other publishers.

I think there needs to be a way to bring works to the attention of all publishers and agents, cheaply and in one place, so that industry professionals can scan the material in an effort to find exactly what they are looking for at any given time.

Your cover looks great.

BTW, could you please give us an idea of what kind of book “Pieces of Sky” is? Thanks.


Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Kaki and thank you for sharing your story with us.

Fresh pot of java is now on for all you second serving folks.

Clara said...

Kaki is hilarious! I would love to go to one of her book signings, I bet she's just as funny in person! Best of luck on the book sales...It looks like a winner!

Anonymous said...

Good points, Vince. Since the agents and publishers have all the power, it can be a bit intimidating for a writer to put their stuff out there. A lot of the "Big Guys" even expect you to query them one at a time, since THEIR time is too valuable to spend reading something that might be in the process somewhere else. Sorry to them, but I don't have THAT many years left. So, in complete disregard of those edicts, I sent out 35 agent queries on the first day. A week later I got some "send more" emails, and a week after that I got my phone call and agent. If I'd "behaved" I'd still be sitting beside the mailbox, eating and waiting on query responses. So do what you have to do to get your stuff out there.

As for what kind of story it is, PoS is being marketed as an historical romance (48% of the book buyers are romance readers), so that's good. But it's also a family saga and a western, and I hardly ever mention body parts, although there is a strong love story. As I tell my male friends, "There's a few pages of mushiness, but I tried to offset it with a lot of cussing, killing and manly stomping around." So far, they've liked it.

Vince said...

Hi Kaki:

Way to go!

I checked and “Pieces of Sky” is available on eSony’s site. Bravo! It says there that the hero, Brady Wilkins, is “a man strong enough to carve out a home in the wilderness, brave enough to fight for his own, and passionate enough to restore her faith (the heroine) in herself-and in her heart.”

Sounds like one strong hero to me.

I enjoy visiting the old stagecoach stations out west. I was at a Butterfield station not long ago in New Mexico. When you look at the barren countryside, you just know those old timers were really tough. I can’t wait to read how your heroine, just from England, is going to react to such wild country.


Vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

Edna said...

I would love to win a copy of this book, I just really love books,


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kaki, Julie will love your story because she sent out over 40 agent queries to land Natasha (or maybe it was forty plus rejections), but anyway, you guys are in sync.


Teenster, thanks for the coffee, I'm in desperate need of second shift caffeine and hey, guys, I've got some chips and salsa we didn't tap into from Tina's first sale party the other night.

So fun.

The salsa ISN'T Allen Arnold hot, but it IS good, although I eat mine on stuff.

Never drank the stuff, for real, I cannot imagine how you'd even do that, but he's a boy. That says so much.

And there's a full tea service being wheeled in by Sandra and Audra. Notice how they keep bumping one another?

Fighting over Tina's hut.

Oh my stars, her hut wasn't all that great. Seriously. Well, it DID have a great view of the port where Navy ships liked to weigh anchor and send the boys ashore.


That could be clincher.

Kathleen L. said...

I can see why your voice grabs a reader, Kaki! Love the snake skin analogy. : ) Apparently, your story had some bite left in it!
Do you feel that 25 years of writing had a wee bit to do with your publication? I mean, querying is only as good as your craft, right? Sounds like time well spent.

Thanks for the encouragement today, as I begin revisions of book #2. *sigh*


Karin Kaufman said...

Thank you, Kaki. You have a great, if long (!), road-to-publication story. And it's an inspiration to all of us "late bloomers."

Joanna said...

Don't enter me in the contest--I've already read it and it's fantastic!

Just wanted to stop by and share in the Kaki-goodness. She rocks!

Kathleen L. said...

BTW, I've been a closet writer for 20+ years, too, and only recently (two years ago) sought out the fellowship of other writers. Thank GOD for the internet! :D

Gina Welborn said...

Thanks, Kaki, for sharing your story of...well, I was going to say perserverence, but your story is more than about perserverence.

You had to do the market work. Submit. Get outside the writer's box of hoping an editor will spontaniously hunt you down to buy your book.

Note to self: Put in practice what Kaki did. Continue to ignore Ruthy's Jeter-obsession.

Kaki said...

Again, thanks for all the kind words.

If I had two usable pieces of advice to give aspiring authors, it would be: 1.) Never give up. and 2.) Write your story in your voice the way you want to.

Maybe it won't sell--but in the process, you will have learned a lot, gotten that first story out of your system, and made you smarter about writing books that will sell.

I can't tell you how many times I heard things like "but where does it fit?" and "what exactly is your market?" and "who reads western anymore?" All good questions. And I still don't have the answers.

But ultimately it's your story and if you want it to ring true, you have to tell it the best way YOU know how--no matter what the market says. I got lucky. I was able to write MY story AND get it published. And I truly do believe a disproportionate and unfair part of success in this field is due to luck. Or prayer. Or faith.

Just don't quit. Step back and re-evaluate, but don't quit.

Myra Johnson said...

Kaki! Greetings from another Quarter-Century Club member!!! Though our journeys took different routes, I so relate to the 25 years of trying, hoping, and praying, until at long last one wonderful editor decided to take a chance. Just imagine if we'd ever given up!!! It doesn't bear thinking about!

Debby Giusti said...

So good reading your story today! Enduring the long haul takes grit! Good for you!

I hate when writers stop writing. Often the very good ones, the ones who are so close to publication chuck it all, and that breaks my heart. A couple gals I know don't write anymore. Such a shame.

Thanks for sticking it out! We're all very grateful for your talent, your perseverance and your recent sale!!! Thanks also for being with us in Seekerville today.

No island hut for you, right?

Kaki said...

Thanks, Debby, and thanks to all you kind and supportive people at Seekerville for inviting me to spout off today. It's been fun.

Sorry to hear of any writer calling it quits. Maybe when he/she gets get old enough (like me) he/she'll have the time and will to give it one more try. You never know...

And Vince, you're right. My hero is a strong fellow. He's also a bit of a doofus at times, and then other times he finally gets it right, and I just want to hug him until his mose bleeds.

Then I remember he's not real.

Anybody else have that problem, or is it an age thing?

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

A big congrats to you Kaki!
Thank you for sharing your story!

Heather Bernard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather Bernard said...

Awww...what a great ending. Like Walt I am only focusing on the three month part. Kaki congrats and can't wait to read your book.
Thank goodness there is salsa and chips left, I brought guacamole to add to the mix.

hchristinebernard at yahoo dot com

Anonymous said...

Please enter me...would love to read this one! Thanks!!!

kaki said...

That would be the other "anonymous". I already have a copy.

Missy Tippens said...

Thanks for joining us today, Kaki! I loved hearing your first sale story. You cracked me up! Do you have humor in your books? I imagine you must. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Lindi, you bet! I won't let you use negative talk! :)

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Great interview with Kaki. I laughed so much when reading it. The advice was so timely, too. I sometimes get discouraged with no significant results from efforts to pub a first novel. But today I learned that I was a runner up (2nd place)in the "out of the slush pile" contest and then I read Kaki's words here. I now feel energized and empowered. Thank you. All the very best, Kaki, with your debut novel. I'd love to win a copy of it.

Jessica said...

Wow, what a cool story! Thanks for sharing. I love the cover of your book too!

Sharon said...

Thanks for making my "Impossible Dream" frame of mind seem a bit more possible.

kaki said...

And thanks to all of you at Seekerville for making my FIRST chat so much fun. I wish all of you good luck in your writing and will be looking for news of your debut books!

Keep writing! And thanks for allowing me to visit today.


robynl said...

how wonderful that you gave the script another try(dusted and polished) so to speak and it worked. Yay!!! I love the cover and the title is interesting.


Casey said...

Hope I'm not too late. Congrats on the book finally being published!


Pam Hillman said...

Loved reading about your sale, Kaki. Congratulations!

Tina Pinson said...

I smiled really I did. But it's hard to laugh with a migraine. Please enter me in the drawing