UNO Grad Christie Cognevich Talks About Being an Author & What English Majors Can Expect in the Real World

UNO+Grad+Christie+Cognevich+Talks+About+Being+an+Author+%26+What+English+Majors+Can+Expect+in+the+Real+World

Author and teacher Dr. Christie Cognevich is no stranger to UNO. Having earned a BA in English as a Privateer in 2010, she returned to finish an MA in English. Most recently, she earned a PhD in literature from LSU and can add author to her resume. Her book “Depression: Insights and Tips for Teenagers (Empowering You)” comes out this October. The English lit and creative writing maven who now teaches AP English/creative writing teacher at Mount Carmel Academy spoke to Driftwood about the book, how one gets published, and just what an English major can expect career-wise.

 

What inspired you to write this book?
I have taught English at both the university and high school level for ten years, and watching my students has been incredibly inspiring and motivating. I struggled with depression through my adolescence without a lot of emotional tools or even a name for what I was going through. Seeing my students today be so much more willing to de-stigmatize and talk about mental health than ten or fifteen years ago is amazing, but it also highlights just how much more work we need to do in this area. There are still so many teenagers who are suffering in silence or being told they don’t have real problems.

Do you think technology plays a key role in how young adults view themselves?
Absolutely, and in very positive ways. In interviewing a number of young adults for the book, so many of them talked about finding their communities online and how validating that experience can be. It was important detail for them to emphasize that even though there’s so much hand-wringing over how technology causes a human disconnect, they’ve really been able to find others who share their passions. That might be a hobby, a fandom, a sexuality, or just people who have shared similar experiences, but technology enabled that encouragement to embrace their own identity and passions. I did an interview with one young woman who really found herself through filmmaking and taught herself the digital tools for film editing; she’s much happier than she once was because she has an outlet and a community online.

When I was 14, I taught myself basic HTML code and graphic editing, put together a website, and called it an online magazine. I put my writing and my friends’ writing up on that site for a surprising number of years. Even all those years ago when the technology was still pretty basic, that really enabled me to have a voice and consider myself a “real” writer even when I was struggling with depression and anxiety.

How does one go about getting a book published?
The process of book publication (non-self-publishing) differs wildly depending on whether your book is fiction or non-fiction. I write both; I’ve gone through the process both ways.

While there are some special exceptions out there, for fiction writers, getting a literary agent is almost always the only path to publication. It’s a long road of writing novels, querying agents with your novel pitch (after it’s written, not before), getting rejected, and getting better. The literary agent is the one who will ultimately pitch your book to acquisition editors at publishing houses, so it’s also important in this whole querying process to find an agent you trust and like—someone you would want to work with closely for a long time. (It’s a lot like dating.) I don’t currently have a literary agent, and it’s probably something I’m going to get back to once I finish writing one more non-fiction book.

For a non-fiction book, the process is different because you can deliver a book proposal to the acquisition editor at the publisher before you write it. In this case, I wrote a book proposal addressing depression in young adults. The proposal gives an overall summary of the book, a breakdown of each section, and a timeline for completion. I emailed that to the appropriate editor at the publishing house and a few months later, they indicated they were interested and sent a contract. After I finished my manuscript and sent it to my editor, there was still a long process ahead—things like providing captions for pictures/illustrations, answering questions about section organization or formatting, etc. I’m lucky that my book didn’t require much in terms of adjustment/editing on their end, because there can be some back and forth of fixing the manuscript if it needs a lot of content changes or grammatical intervention.

Whether fiction or non-fiction, the process requires a lot of patience.

What advice would you give to anyone considering writing a book?
Let yourself write and remember that what you produce doesn’t have to be gold-plated. This is advice coming from a perfectionist; I never want to let a sentence out into the world unless it looks right and sounds right. That habit can make writing an agonizing process when it doesn’t need to be. Write first, edit later… and good enough is good enough. I’m not saying I take this advice myself, but I wish I did because it’s true.

What career advice would you give students who are just graduating with an undergrad degree in English in this job market?

Don’t underestimate the power of your communication skills; reading analytically and writing expressively will take you far. The same goes for the empathy and thoughtfulness the humanities engender. Emphasize your ability to work with others effectively, edit communications, or give oral presentations articulately. Many “soft skills” you possess like creative thinking, listening, and communication are hard to teach, and they’re desirable pretty much across the board in most professions. Often job-specific “hard skills” can often be acquired through hands-on experience and training, so show off what you already have and your willingness to acquire more skills. Make sure your cover letters and resumes emphasize those abilities.

When I graduated with my BA in English, I tried on a range of job opportunities and liked a lot about all of them—textbook editor, intensive literacy tutor, even a job as an office manager—before I decided on graduate school and teaching. I have friends with English degrees who took all kinds of very cool paths: law, museum curation, publishing, library sciences, PR/marketing. All of them agree their degree gave them a good foundation for their later work.

 

For more information on Christie Cognevich, visit her website at christiecognevich.com.