Authors Experiences

This article is dedicated to my grandfather, Alvaro Porras. He was a very well known author in Costa Rica. I’ve wondered how he worked with publishers and couldn’t imagine how hard he worked to get a book published. To understand this process better, I’ve asked four authors to share their experiences. They are young adult novelists: Sarah Ockler, author of Fixing Delilah, Chanel Cleeton, author of I See London, Jennifer Echols, author of The One that I want, and Ksenia Anske, author of Siren Suicides Series.


Porras: Can you describe your passion for writing books?

Ockler: This is a tough question to answer! I have always been a story teller, and from the moment I learned how to read, I knew I wanted to find a way to write my own stories, too. The stories are in me to tell, so that’s where the passion comes from. Then, it’s sustained by seeing those words come to life on the page, and hearing from readers who’ve connected with them.

Cleeton: I’ve always loved books. When I was younger, I read all the time. I can’t think of a childhood memory that doesn’t involve books. I love the ability to escape in a story, to explore other time periods and other worlds. I started writing because I love telling stories and as soon as I started, I was hooked.

Echols: I think everyone who wants to be a novelist is an avid reader first. If you think books are the most wonderful invention ever, you naturally want to be a part of that.

Anske: It’s very simple. When I write, I’m happy. Nothing matters. I forget my worries. Time ceases to exist. There is only me and my story, and I love it.

Porras: How do you feel about working with publishers?

Ockler: I’ve had wonderful experiences with both of my publishers, so my feelings are generally positive and hopeful. Positive, because it’s already been a great experience, and hopeful, because I see my publishers trying to support their authors while weathering the rapid changes of the industry. My publishers have gotten my books on the shelves, gotten them into libraries and into the hands of readers all over the world. I will always be grateful for that.

Cleeton: Publishing a book is definitely a team effort. It takes a lot of people (marketing, editing, cover department, etc.) to make a book a success. You want to be in a partnership with your publisher and to work with them to build a successful launch.

Echols: Everyone I’ve encountered working for publishers—all my editors, publicity people, and so forth—have been extremely smart, nice, and fun. It’s scary to submit your work to publishers, but you have to remember that there are probably people just like you working on the other end.

Anske: I haven’t really worked with any publishers to have any feelings about them. But even without having worked with publishers, publishers are awesome people who are striving to bring the best stories out there to readers, and for that I love them.

Porras: What is the most challenging thing about writing?

Ockler: The most challenging thing about writing, for me, is the first draft. After the initial shiny excitement of a new idea wears off, the real work begins, trying to put together a cohesive story with authentic and compelling characters that readers will connect with. It’s a challenge to show up at the page every day and get those words out, to accurately gauge whether a plot point is working, to decide what needs to go off in a new direction, and most importantly, to let the words flow even if they’re not polished and pretty yet. I much prefer the revision process, where I feel the real story comes to life.

Cleeton: It can be difficult in the beginning to build the discipline to write even when you don’t feel like it or you’re having a bad day or the words aren’t flowing. You really have to treat writing like a job and be present and ready to work even on the days when you don’t want to be. Creativity is a funny thing and it’s not always easy to predict when it will strike. Working through the tough days makes you a stronger writer and once you develop the habit, it really takes you far.

Echols: I really hate ending one novel and starting the next. When I’m in the middle, I don’t have problems, but I have a hard time launching a new one.

Anske: Believing that I can do it. I constantly have to battle my self-doubt and my perfectionist little voice that keeps telling me, this is not good enough, not good enough, you’ve got to write better. Who writes like this? This is awful. And on, and on, and on. Getting that voice to shut up and to start writing every day is my biggest challenge.

Porras: How do you feel about the publishing industry/business?

Ockler: The publishing industry is going through rapid changes right now, some of which include the consolidation and closure of many brick and mortar bookstores (leaving Barnes & Noble as the last national chain bookstore in the United States, with many independent bookstores struggling to stay afloat), the rise of self-publishing as a viable and profitable option for authors, the ongoing debate over ebook pricing, library budget cuts, and many other fluctuations. I think the industry on the whole has been slow to adapt to these changes, and as a result, many publishers are scrambling to figure out better ways to support authors and to make money (they are, after all, a business). But like I said in the question about working with publishers, I’ve had good experiences despite the ups and downs, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the publishing industry ultimately evolves.

Cleeton: I’ll be completely honest, it can be a tough industry. It’s competitive and at times it’s hard to predict where the market is and how a book will be received. That said, everyone is incredibly supportive and passionate about what they do. I feel fortunate to be a part of it.

Echols: I’ve learned over the years that it’s just that: a business. Whatever happens with your book, whether it’s successful or not, you can’t take it personally. Your publisher’s decision about whether to buy your next book has nothing to do with you and everything to do with money.

Anske: It’s changing, and changes are painful. I think the publishing business is going down the same route that the music industry did. Books are becoming promotional material for authors just like CD’s became for musicians. I believe the future of publishing is in the readers supporting authors directly as artists. The walls have fallen down. There is nothing that stands now between a writer and a reader. A self-publishing writer can write a book, publish it on Amazon and within hours it will be live in the store and the readers can read it on their Kindles. It’s truly revolutionary.

Porras: What are the positive and negative aspects about being an author?

Ockler: This answer could fill an entire book. For me, some of the positives of being an author are getting to do what I love––tell stories––or a living (which includes other fun perks like staying up late and working in my pajamas), hearing from readers from across the globe who’ve read those stories and who’ve been touched by them, connecting with other authors, and freely and regularly exploring creativity and the creative process — something that many jobs don’t encourage. On the other hand, once you start writing for a living rather than just as an art, there’s a shift in that it does become more like a job than just a passionate pursuit. The negatives here include things like dealing with criticism and negative reviews, feeling like many things are out of your control (for example, Barnes & Noble may decide not to carry your book, which means new readers won’t discover it by browsing the store, and existing fans may have trouble finding it), having to take time away from actual writing to focus on the administrative side of the job (things like checking royalty statements and contracts, tracking business expenses for tax purposes, managing health insurance options, negotiating new deals, managing an often unpredictable pay schedule, answering interviews and emails, marketing, social media, and a ton of other non-writing things). But, with all of that said, I wouldn’t trade this job for anything! There are pluses and minuses to any career, and even with all of the challenges of being an author, I still get to work for myself doing the thing I love most.

Cleeton: I love getting to do something I’m passionate about. I’m never bored and each day feels like a new adventure. I also love being surrounded by people who feel the same way. Like I said before, publishing is a tough industry. You’ll face a lot of rejection throughout your career so it’s just something you have to be prepared to push through. It can be frustrating and demoralizing, but at the same time, when you’re doing something you love, that makes the challenges worthwhile.

Echols: I love working by myself, without a boss. But that can be a negative, too—I can go for days without talking to anybody in person except my own family.

Anske: There is really only one big positivity in being able to write books for a living. Yes, there are emotional struggles writers go through, to write a book, but they let us know we’re alive. I haven’t experienced such full range of emotions since I was kid. I cry and laugh every day, when I write. Perhaps the only negative aspect to writing is that there is never enough time in the day, to write more. My body gets tired and I need to sleep, when all I would want to do is to keep writing.

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