Local young adult (YA) author Stephanie Hansen doesn’t just live in the Kansas City area—she bleeds her surroundings onto every page she writes. From authoring the soon-to-be-animated Altered Helix to become an agent with Metamorphosis Literary Agency, Hansen is always looking to have an impact on the town’s writing scene. This weekend, she and a number of her fellow authors are at Kansas City’s Planet Comicon to speak with readers about her work. However, the troop of writers is also using the opportunity to leave a mark on hopeful authors as well.
We gave Hansen a call to talk about how events like Planet Comicon offer 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 show floor this weekend.
The Pitch: How has Kansas City impacted your writing? We’d love to hear about how your surroundings have played a part and will continue to play a part in your process.
It definitely played a huge role in my Altered Helix series. I’m inspired by different places, and they are fictionally used in my stories. Also, another author, who will be at Planet Comicon with Metamorphosis, is Natalie Cammaratta, and her book by her is also based in Kansas City. So, we have a huge love for the KC area and the culture here and often incorporate it into our fiction.
Can you talk about how you’ve diversified the lineup of authors coming to Planet Comicon?
I reached out to people that I knew were either local or somewhat local. So, there’s Natalie, she’s in Lenexa, and there’s Tiffany Warren who’s in Parkville. They were definite authors that I wanted to incorporate, but we also have authors coming in from Des Moines, St. Louis, Chicago, as well as JP Roth. She has a dual purpose. Not only is she an author, but she owns her own comic company. JP is present at comic cons around the country, so she’s coming in from California, but she’s been part of the comic-con world for around 10 years.
I’d love to hear about how your writing process has evolved over the years. We think it’s easy to talk about what your process is now, but it’d be interesting to hear about how you started, and how you got here.
I’ve loved reading and writing since I was little. My grandma actually started teaching reading out of a very small town in Kansas. So, she really helped inspire me and enjoy the process as a child. Then, as I went through my teenage years, poetry was something that I always did. Even when I worked at retail stores, I would use 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 that, but they did, thank goodness. It has evolved into writing novels, short stories, and novellas. I think I was afraid to do that, but I had a near-death experience a little over 10 years ago. You don’t fear the things that you had feared before after going through something like that. So, I took the leap. I went ahead and wrote an entire novel. Now, I can’t stop.
We wanted to talk a little bit about your book, Altered Helix, as well. Based on your Twitter biography, it sounds like it is being adapted for animation. Can you talk about that 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. Hopefully one day I’ll have a traditionally animated show based on one of my stories as well, but right now, it’s really in the gaming world. As a literary agent, last year one of the largest sources of income we saw was selling gaming app rights on behalf of publishers for multiple titles. If you had asked me 10 years ago if this is where stories and books would have ended up, I wouldn’t have guessed that at all. So, I think readers are also adapting and changing how they like to soak in stories. Gaming is definitely very popular right now.
How involved are you in the process of bringing Altered Helix over to the realm of gaming?
I’m very involved. I’m picking assets and helping write the scripts. Not every author would enjoy doing that—it might be outside their wheelhouse. It’s kind of outside my wheelhouse. It’s definitely a learning curve for me, but I’m enjoying 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 authors you work with?
Actually, animation is definitely something we’ve explored. It does seem different mediums fit different genres best. I’ve seen some YA authors have animation adaptations for their books, but for me personally, where I’ve found the strongest interest is with my picture books. I’m unilaterally deaf, and I didn’t set out for this purpose, but I think I’m drawn to the stories, or perhaps the authors are drawn to me, because I have my part in the community. So, a lot of my picture book authors are very diverse. I just announced a picture book about cochlear implants. There’s one with a child with hearing aids. I have another, too, but it’s in negotiations. I also have two blind authors, and we have a blind agent at the agency. A lot of those seem to be garnering interest from animation producers. You know, fingers crossed.
Sometimes that looks a little different from your traditional animation, too, though. When it’s a picture book, the words are still incorporated, and it’s more of a read-along with kids. So, they’re fully engaged and entertained, but it’s teaching reading too. That seems to be my niche with picture books. It wasn’t what I set out to do, but it seems to be where the interest and direction went.
We think it’s easier to give advice to authors who are just getting their feet off the ground, but what advice do you have for, not just those people, but people of all different shapes, sizes, and abilities?
First and foremost, write what you love. I do think people sometimes hop on the wagon of what’s popular, but publishers are trying to acquire what will be popular in two years, and it’s constantly changing. I also feel like things go in cycles, so if something maybe not be in the market right now, I think it will be in a few more years. For me as an agent, and, I think, as a reader, I can tell when an author really enjoyed what they were writing. I think it organically bleeds through. So, instead of hopping on whatever’s popular, I highly suggest you write what interests you, what calls you, and what you love writing. After that, you need to have other people look at it, and not just your mom or your brother. You need to have someone who’s going to see plot holes. Someone who’s going to see what’s not working and give constructive feedback that you can use to improve.
Some people go and find publishers that they pay. There are local critic groups. I used to be part of an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) critic group in Lawrence. You know, there are definitely critic groups that are free and things that are available. Libraries often have different things available. Obviously, it’s not going to be perfect because the publisher is going to go through other processes. I also feel like authors continue to improve throughout their entire career. So, if you wait for perfection, you could be waiting decades. You still will probably find somewhere you can improve something.
I also feel like people should have a portfolio, which, with writing novels, where you’re writing 100,000 words for each book, that can take some time. Some people still frown on self-publishing, but I’m all for it. We represent subsidiary rights for some very successful self-published authors. If you do that, then you don’t have a publisher formatting your book, you don’t have a publisher editing your book, all of those things. Then you wear those caps. So, it’s either you learn it and wear them yourself, or you hire someone to help you with marketing, publicity, what you have. There are plenty of resources, but definitely research whatever you invest in. Unfortunately, with self-publishing becoming popular, I feel like there are some people taking advantage of authors, and I don’t ever want to see that happen.
If you don’t want to self-publish, if you want to go the traditional route, I suggest getting an agent. Of course, as an agent, I’m biased. I think you can definitely reach out to small presses. Even major houses have windows that open up that you can, then, as an author, do a direct submission. And whether it be agents, lawyer friends, or whatever you have access to, I highly suggest you don’t just quickly sign a contract if you receive an offer. Make sure you have it reviewed, and you know what you’re sending over.
Because we’re in that constant communication with publishers, we often find windows that an author on their own might not find. Just like with anything else, there are positives and negatives with whatever path you take. Personally, I think working with an agent is best if you’re going to go traditional.
Is Planet Comicon a space where you invite readers and hopeful authors to come talk to you and learn how they can grow?
Oh yeah. I think that’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 I’m here for it. I can also answer questions or give an email address and then answer via email because some people are a little more comfortable answering questions that way. I think it’ll be a little bit of an experiment because it is somewhat new, really bringing more of the book world into Planet Comicon. It’s always been there a little bit, but I think it’ll be a great place for readers, authors, or people just interested in the industry to come ask questions.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Planet Comicon, reading, writing, or becoming a published author?
I think Planet Comicon has done a wonderful job organizing everything, and I’ve gone as a fan in years past. I love that Kansas City has something that is so popular that it brings in big names and we have access to that. So, kudos to Planet Comicon and everyone involved. It takes a lot of organization, and I know COVID has made it much more difficult, but they have done a wonderful job organizing it and keeping up with all of the changes, and adapting to it.