recap by Hadley, teen blogger
“From Draft to Finish Line” featured four authors from HarperCollins Publishers. The panel moderator was Kody Keplinger, well renowned author of The Duff as well as featured title Lying Out Loud. The other three authors were Victoria Aveyard, author of Red Queen, Alexis Bass, author of Love and Other Theories, and Virginia Boecker, author of The Witch Hunter.
Before Keplinger even got around to asking the prewritten questions for the panel, she started off by asking everyone what their Harry Potter house was. Both she and Boecker are proud Slytherins, while Bass is the sole Ravenclaw of the four. Aveyard stated that the Pottermore quiz sorted her into Gryffindor, but that she is forever in denial and is a Slytherin at heart.
The first question: “What was the process like to get your book published?”
Aveyard graduated from college before deciding to head home to her parents to focus on writing the first draft of her book. She spent six months working on it before using her connections with publishing and sending it off, where it eventually made its way to HarperCollins, where it was accepted for publishing.
Bass said, “I had a very funny idea of getting published. I was like, ‘I’m going to do all these other things and I’ll just get published in my free time.’” After she graduated with a major in marketing, she researched what it entailed to actually get a book published and took some online classes to get feedback and learn the writing process. She spent her free time writing and revising, since she spent most of the time at her full-time job, and ended up with one finished book that never got published. After that, she wrote Love and Other Theories.
Boecker started off by saying, “I never thought I could be a writer. I never thought I had anything to say.” Eventually, she decided to just go for it, not having in mind the idea to get published but instead to just simply write a book, as it was always a high-ranker on her bucket list. “I sat down and thought, ‘What kind of book would I want to read?’” She combined all of her favorite aspects of novels into one, saying she wrote it and it was terrible. She powered through and kept on writing, taking in advice from her husband and editing her work and realizing in the process that she really loved to write. Others pushed her to send her draft to an agent, who get her signed, and two years ago, it ended up in an auction, where various publishers fought to be the ones to publish the book. She ended up with The Witch Hunter being published by HarperCollins.
“When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up and when did you decide you wanted to be a writer?”
Keplinger stated that while she had always wanted to be a writer, it was among many others on the list of possible career choices she made in her youth. Also on the list were actress, first female president, and car salesman.
Boecker wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader as a child. Her first job was as a publishing assistant, before she moved into marketing and worked selling books for a while. “I always thought, ‘I would love to write a book one day,’ and one day I did. It’s still a shock to me to see my name on the cover of a book.”
Bass’ career sparked writing Jurassic Park fan fiction in middle school. She wrote “Jurrasic Park 3,” calling it “The Final Encounter.” Possibly even greater than her love for writing is her love for dinosaurs. “I was like, ‘Since I don’t want to take these courses in college, I’ll date someone who will tell me about all that is going on in the dinosaur world.” She made a joke, saying that all her friends were looking to date lawyers while she was scouting out paleontologists in science libraries. Keplinger added, “I can just imagine Alexis in the library talking in the library to people, like, ‘What’s your major?’ ‘Biology.’ She’s like, ‘Never mind.’” Bass finished by saying her fiancé is not a paleontologist. “And that is the tragic ending to the story,” Keplinger concluded.
Aveyard has loved stories ever since she could read as a child, and she still today is a big movie buff. Fanfiction was also her release in middle school, as there were no creative writing outlets in her school community. She said, “Even though my mom was an English teacher, she was never ever going to read my Legolas stories. And none of you will find them either,” she reminded the laughing audience. She applied for screenwriting at college, thinking, “I memorize movies, I might as well get a grade for it.” After four years of intensive writing for a translator, she ended up writing her published book.
“Has anyone ever given you a piece an advice that you came back to whenever you were preparing for your debuts to come out?”
Keplinger: “Always remember that writing is an art and publishing is a business.”
Boecker: “When I write, I don’t plot too heavily. I kind of have a general outline of what I want to do, but I find that the best ideas come from when I sort of pants it, which is where I go, ‘Okay, I’m going to go from Point A to Point B,’ but I’m not really sure how to get from Point A to Point M. I think sometimes not knowing that [outline] produces some of the best work. My editor points that out to me, saying, “You don’t have to know everything that’s going to happen.” I try to be really openminded, when I’m drafting but especially when I’m revising.”
Bass: “There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Let yourself be inspired. I think also good advice is to immerse yourself in the story and not worry about the future of it. I know that when I was first starting to get published, I thought you need to have a life and death element in your story. So I was trying to write these life and death [stories] and I write contemporary. I don’t know why I let that feedback really effect me. So it’s almost like ‘stay on your side of the curve’ kind of advice.”
Aveyard: “I have some advice that I always repeat from professors that I had, and one of them is, ‘Good luck is when you get an opportunity and you’re prepared for it. Bad luck is when you get an opportunity and you’re not prepared for it.’ Another one is, ‘The spider doesn’t know what part of the web will catch the fly.’ I take that to mean, ‘Write everything you can because you have no idea which thing is going to hit which person.’ Don’t write to a friend, or write what you think an agent wants to see, or what you think an audience wants to see, because usually you’d be pretty surprised. I went to school to write movies and a TV pilot got me a meeting and a book got me on this stage. On the technical side of stories, my PC professor said, ‘You can get an audience to believe one unbelievable thing and everything else must be realistic based on that.’ For me, everybody’s past is so different, especially in publishing. Everyone has a different way in and you’re going to see these websites that will tell you this is a step-by-step process. It doesn’t happen like this. Don’t freak out too much when you find yourself on a windy path while everyone else is walking a seemingly straight road.”
“When you guys write, tell me what your set-up is.”
Aveyard: “Ideally, I have a desktop and I have a laptop. The thing I need most is time. I need to know that I’m not going to be bothered all day, I’m not going to need to leave the house for anything, because I’m shut off essentially while I’m writing. I have Twitter open and my Word document open and I just go. I guess setup wise, yeah, desk, water bottles, toast, coffee.”
Bass: “I actually write anywhere and everywhere. I wrote a lot of Love and Other Theories on my phone waiting in line to get coffee. I kind of learned just to switch my brain real fast just because of time crunch. I try to do the thing where if something occurs to you and you don’t have time to write it down, you tell it to your phone and listen to it later and that always sounds like a really bad SML skit, every time. So yeah, anywhere and everywhere, but I guess ideally I’d love to be at a desk with coffee and maybe avocado toast. That sounds great. But really, when I think about where I’ve written the majority of words, I’m like, ‘Oh, I was at the car dealership waiting for them to fix a flat tire.’”
Boecker: “At home, I have this really beautiful desk set up. It’s got this big monitor and things I love on it and I never ever sit at it. I actually like to write outdoors, believe it or not. We belong to this athletic club, and I’ll just take everything outside. It’s pretty nice. That’s actually where I do most of my writing. When I’m revising and I’m super content, they’ve got conference rooms, which are really dreary and white and ugly and there’s sensory deprivation, which is great for me revising. At night, I just get in bed and work there, with my laptop and my pajamas.”
“I know you all are working on new projects now. If you could sum up your current project in one word, what would it be?”
Keplinger: “It’s getting very dark up in here. I like it, I like it. And, I guess if I had to do mine—I have a book coming out next year—mine would be friendship. Which is funny because it’s an unhappy book.”