1. My goal is to write a New York Times best seller someday. Do you have any advice?
Well, yes, but I’m guessing it’s not the advice you were looking for. My advice is to change your goal. Here’s the thing: becoming a NYT best-seller is an achievement that’s almost completely outside your control. It depends a lot more on unknowable factors (like the future demands of the market) and on uncontrollable factors (like how many other “big” books are out at the same time as yours or how aggressively your publisher decides to promote your book) than it depends on your ability to write a good book. Many, many good books never become NYT best sellers.
Your question makes me want to ask you a question: Do you actually want to write? Or do you just want to be rich and famous? Being a best-selling author is super nice — but it does NOT necessarily make you rich and famous. The book biz is NOT the movie biz. Shannon Hale, who is an award-winning and NYT best-selling author, wrote a great post once about the financial realities of being a writer. If you’re under the misapprehension that writing a best seller means becoming a millionaire or some such, you might want to check it out.
Also — I’m not going to sit here and pretend that things like being published or being a best seller are meaningless, or that they don’t feel good, or that they don’t have the potential to help you a lot and even change your life in a lot of wonderful ways. But they aren’t solid, rich, deep identities in and of themselves — at least, not the way writing is. Being a best-selling author, in particular, is more of a “thing that happens to you” than anything else. Writing is a way of life. It’s a kind of life you can choose to have.
Good luck to you. I hope you do get published someday, and that your books take off. It’s a whole lot more likely to happen if you focus on the writing, which is within your control, rather than on the post-writing stuff that’s pretty much out of your control.
2. I once heard someone say that if you aren’t happy as a writer before you get published, you won’t be happy after you get published. Is this true?
Well, I don’t know. I’m sure it’s true for some people and not true for other people. I can say that I was happy as a writer before I got published, and I know that it helped me get through some of the more stressful and even terrifying aspects of becoming published. It gave me a solid base; I could always remind myself that I loved writing, and doing all this scary stuff would help me continue to have time for writing.
On the other hand, there are new kinds of happiness that I’ve experienced as a published person that I don’t think I would have experienced without being published. In particular, I’ve met SO many great people — people at my various publishers, fellow writers, agents, people who have become true friends. Did I need to be happy before in order to feel that happiness now?
Happiness can be complicated, you know? Except for when it’s simple. I’m not going to comment on other people’s feelings or experiences. But if writing makes you happy, simply and for its own sake, then I think you’re a lucky person and you’re starting from a good place.
3. In the acknowledgments for Graceling, you thank “Liza Ketchum, who taught [you] to think like a novelist.” What does it mean to “think like a novelist?” What did she teach you?
Writer Liza Ketchum was my mentor during a creative writing independent study I did while I was getting my M.A. in children’s literature at Simmons. We met every few weeks and she gave me feedback on the pages I’d written so far. At the time, I was struggling through my first novel, which was middle grade realistic fiction… and I had a lot of thoughts and feelings, and characters in my mind, but I didn’t really have a PLOT. One day, her feedback finally sank in, and I came to our meeting with a page in my notebook to show her — a page on which I’d created a book plan of sorts — a possible plot to structure my novel. Liza took a look at it and said, “Now you’re thinking like a novelist!” Wow, did it feel great to hear that!
I think the moment I started to think like a novelist was the moment I forced myself to come up with a book plan, a clear story I wanted to convey to the reader — rather than just waxing poetic and trying to fit everything that had ever happened to me personally, and every feeling I’d ever had, into my book.
(That book, by the way, lives in my closet. I might rewrite it someday, or I might not.)
Some soon-to-happen thingeys:
On Saturday, October 16, I’ll be at the (FREE!) Boston Book Festival, along with writers Francisco X. Stork, Kathryn Lasky, and Noni Carter. Our event is at 4pm at the Trinity Church Forum. I plan to bring my messy notebook and yammer a little about my process. I think each writer will have a few minutes to talk, followed by a discussion, Q&A, and signing.
On Tuesday, October 26, I’ll be the keynote speaker at the Teen Volume Conference at the Chicago Public Library. The conference is entitled “Putting Passion into Library Books and Services for Teens” and is intended for librarians, teacher-librarians, teachers and reading specialists. I will yammer my heart out and also attend a bunch of the break-out sessions. More info is available here.
On Wednesday, October 27, I’ll be doing another event with the library and will post more info about that on my Appearance Schedule page as it becomes available.
On Thursday, October 28, I’ll be in South Bend, Indiana, where I’ll be doing a reading, Q&A, and signing at Saint Mary’s College. The event will take place at 4:30pm [ETA: NOTE THE TIME CHANGE] in Welsh Parlor, Haggar College Center. Yammering will abound.
That’s it for now!