Local young adult (YA) author Stephanie Hansen doesn’t just live in the Kansas City area, she bleeds her surroundings on every page she writes. Of the creation of the film which will soon be animated Modified propeller becoming an agent for the literary agency Metamorphosis, Hansen is still looking to make an impact on the city’s literary scene. This weekend, she and a number of her fellow authors are at Planet Comicon in Kansas City to talk to readers about their work. However, the troupe of writers also takes the opportunity to leave an imprint on promising authors.
We called Hansen to talk about how events like Planet Comicon provide a space for readers and writers to connect. She was happy to offer insight into the industry and invites more discussion on the Kansas City Convention Center’s exhibit floor this weekend.
The pitch: How has Kansas City influenced your writing? We would like to know how those around you have played and will continue to play a role in your process.
It certainly played a huge role in my Modified Propeller series. I draw inspiration from different places, and they are used fictionally in my stories. Also, another author, who will be at Planet Comicon with Metamorphosis, is Natalie Cammaratta, and her book is also based in Kansas City. So we have a huge love for the KC area and the culture here and have often incorporated that into our fiction.
Can you tell us how you diversified the list of authors coming to Planet Comicon?
I reached out to people I knew were local or somewhat local. So there’s Natalie, she’s in Lenexa, and there’s Tiffany Warren who’s in Parkville. These are specific authors that I wanted to incorporate, but we also have authors from Des Moines, St. Louis, Chicago, as well as JP Roth. It has a double objective. Not only is she an author, but she owns her own comic book business. JP is in comics across the country, so she’s from California, but she’s been in the comic world for about 10 years.
I would like to know how your writing process has evolved over the years. We think it’s easy to talk about your current process, but it would be interesting to know how you started and how you got here.
I have loved to read and write since I was little. My grandmother started teaching reading in a tiny town in Kansas. So she really helped me get inspired and enjoy the process as a kid. Then, during my teenage years, poetry was something I always did. Even when I worked in retail stores, I used extra receipt papers so I could write poems nonstop. I even decorated my parents’ basement wall with poetry. I don’t know why they let me do this, but they did, thank God. He evolved into writing novels, short stories and short stories. I think I was scared to do this, but I had a near death experience just over 10 years ago. You don’t fear the things you feared before after going through something like this. So I took the leap. I went ahead and wrote an entire novel. Now I can’t stop.
We wanted to talk a bit about your book, Modified Propeller, as well. Based on your Twitter bio, it looks like it’s suitable for animation. Can you talk about this project?
So it’s not the traditional animation that a lot of people think of. It’s more of a game, an animated game with choices. I hope one day I will also have a traditional animated show based on one of my stories, but right now it’s really in the gaming world. As a literary agent, one of the biggest revenue streams we saw last year was selling game app rights on behalf of publishers for multiple titles. If you had asked me 10 years ago if this is where the stories and the books would have ended up, I wouldn’t have guessed at all. So I think readers are adapting and also changing the way they like to absorb stories. The game is definitely very popular right now.
How involved are you in the process of setting up Modified Propeller to the realm of play?
I am very involved. I select resources and help write the scripts. Not all authors would enjoy doing this – it might be outside their wheelhouse. It’s a bit outside my wheelhouse. It’s definitely a learning curve for me, but I enjoy the process every step of the way.
Have you considered experimenting with other mediums when it comes to your work or the work of other writers you work with?
In fact, animation is definitely something we explored. It seems that different mediums suit different genres better. I’ve seen some YA authors have animation adaptations for their books, but for me personally, where I’ve found the most appeal is with my picture books. I’m unilaterally deaf and didn’t go for it, but I think I’m drawn to the stories, or maybe the writers are drawn to me, because I have my part in the community. So many of my picture book authors are very diverse. I just announced a picture book on cochlear implants. There is one with a child with hearing aids. I have another one too, but it is in negotiation. I also have two blind authors, and we have a blind agent at the agency. Many of them seem to pique the interest of animation producers. You know, I’m crossing my fingers.
Sometimes it also looks a little different from your traditional animation. When it comes to a picture book, the words are always incorporated and it is more about reading with children. So they are fully engaged and entertained, but it also teaches them reading. That seems to be my niche with picture books. It wasn’t what I intended to do, but it seems that’s where the interest and direction went.
We think it’s easier to give advice to authors who are just starting to get off the ground, but what advice do you have, not just for those people, but for people of all different shapes, sizes, and abilities?
Above all, write what you like. I think people sometimes jump on the bandwagon of what’s popular, but publishers try to acquire what’s going to be popular two years from now, and that’s constantly changing. I also feel like things go in cycles, so if something might not be in the market right now, I think it will be in a few years. For me, as an agent and, I think, as a reader, I can tell when an author really enjoyed what they wrote. I think it bleeds organically. So instead of jumping on everything popular, I strongly suggest that you write what interests you, what appeals to you, and what you like to write about. After that, you need to get other people to watch it, not just your mom or brother. You have to have someone who will see the plot holes. Someone who will see what’s not working and give constructive feedback that you can use to improve.
Some people go for publishers that they pay. There are local review groups. I used to be part of a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) review group in Lawrence. You know, there are definitely review groups that are free and things that are available. Libraries often have different things available. Obviously, it won’t be perfect because the editor will go through other processes. I also feel like writers keep getting better throughout their careers. So if you’re expecting perfection, you could be waiting decades. You will probably always find somewhere where you can improve something.
I also think people should have a portfolio, which with writing novels, where you write 100,000 words for each book, it can take a while. Some people still disapprove of self-publishing, but I totally agree. We represent subsidiary rights for some highly successful self-published authors. If you do that, then you don’t have an editor to format your book, you don’t have an editor to edit your book, all those things. Then you wear those caps. So it’s either you learn it and wear it yourself, or you hire someone to help you with marketing, advertising, etc. There are plenty of resources out there, but definitely do some research on anything you invest in. Unfortunately, with self-publishing becoming popular, I feel like some people are taking advantage of authors, and I never want that to happen.
If you don’t want to self-publish, if you want to go the traditional route, I suggest you get an agent. Of course, as an agent, I’m biased. I think you can certainly go to small presses. Even the big houses have windows that open that you as the author can submit a direct submission to. And whether it’s agents, lawyer friends, or whatever else you have access to, I strongly suggest that you don’t just quickly sign a contract if you get an offer. Make sure you’ve reviewed it and know what you’re sending.
Because we are in constant communication with editors, we often find windows that a single author might not find. As with anything else, there are positives and negatives no matter which path you take. Personally, I think working with an agent is best if you go for the tradition.
Is Planet Comicon a space where you invite up-and-coming readers and authors to come talk to you and learn how they can grow?
Oh yeah. I think it’s a great place. The other authors there will also be able to share tons of information. I might struggle because I think Planet Comicon might be a little loud, but that’s what I’m here for. I can also answer questions or give an email address and then respond via email as some people are a little more comfortable answering questions that way. I think it will be a bit of an experiment as it’s somewhat new, really bringing more of the book world into Planet Comicon. It’s always been around a bit, but I think it’ll be a great place for readers, authors, or people just interested in the industry to come and ask questions.
Is there anything else you would like to add to Planet Comicon, reading, writing or becoming a published author?
I think Planet Comicon has done a wonderful job of organizing everything, and I’ve been going there as a fan for the past few years. I love that Kansas City has something so popular that attracts big names and we have access to it. So, congratulations to Planet Comicon and everyone involved. It takes a lot of organization, and I know COVID has made it a lot more difficult, but they’ve done an amazing job of organizing it, keeping up with all the changes and adapting to them.