K.L. Going is the award winning author of five YA and MG favorites including FAT KID RULES THE WORLD, ST. IGGY, KING OF THE SCREWUPS, THE LIBERATION OF GABRIEL KING, and THE GARDEN OF EVE. She has written short stories for several anthologies, and her nonfiction book, WRITING AND SELLING THE YA NOVEL, stands as the most current and definitive book on the subject. K.L. was kind enough to field some questions about writing great fiction, and what it takes to build a career as a YA author. Read more about K.L. Going and her books at http://www.klgoing.com/
What's the best writing advice you've gotten?
My best writing advice is something I've learned from life experience. It's one of those truths that I often forget and have to relearn over and over again. But here it is: Life is more important than writing. Living my life, to the fullest, experiencing the world, traveling, tasting, seeing new things, loving my family and friends, learning interesting skills...this is where success lies, not in being published. The beautiful twist is that these are also the very things that will infuse my writing with heart.
What's the biggest mistake new writers make in trying to market their
books and/or grow their careers?
Perhaps it's underestimating the emotional toll that these things can take. Marketing and promoting are very self-centered activities, so it's easy to let the ego get caught up in them.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of establishing
yourself as a Y.A. writer?
The most rewarding part of being a YA author is producing books that I wanted to write, and then hearing from teens who connected to my characters and the truths within the pages. Isn't it amazing to think that both can happen? When I wrote Fat Kid Rules the World I was convinced that no one but me would like or relate to that book, but I wrote it anyway, and it's been an amazing journey to find out that others also connect with
At the risk of being cliche, the most challenging aspect for me is marketing. I am not a self promoter and never wanted to be a public speaker, so that whole part of being an author often makes me want to leave the business and simply write as a hobby.
Can you think of a time in your writing career when you went against
advice/conventional wisdom? How did it work out?
I'd say my whole career has gone against conventional wisdom. I write every other book for a different audience, alternating between middle grades and YA (with a non-fiction book and two picture books thrown in) and that alone is a sales nightmare. Every book is very different, and we live in a world where the cookie-cutter is a marketer's favorite tool.
I know I've paid a price (figuratively and literally) for my choices, but the opportunity to write what I want has also been what's kept me at it for this long.
How important in the scope of a writer's career is the second novel?
What should a debut author think about when writing it?
I had terrible writer's panic with the second novel -- so much stress and such huge expectations of myself. So do as I say, not as I did! I'd advise anyone else to try not to worry about the book's reception and think only of the story itself. Hahaha -- way easier said than done.
The importance of the second novel depends on a lot of factors -- how well your first novel did, how committed your publisher is to your work in the long term, and what kind of career you want. It can be hugely important or a blip on the radar, depending on how these line up.
What new issues came up for you in writing St. Iggy (as compared Fat Kid
Rules the World)?
With Saint Iggy there was less humor to lighten the tone of the novel, so it was a challenge not to let it get too dark. I had to work hard at integrating color and light into that book. Iggy was also my follow-up YA to Fat Kid, since my second book - The Liberation of Gabriel King -- was a middle grade novel, so it was almost like having to go through second book syndrome twice.
Your books have won so many awards and have been recognized widely by different organizations. Which ones have meant the most to you?
Each book means a lot for different reasons, but The Liberation of Gabriel King is the most personally nostalgic. Plus, I get letters from kids who write down their fear lists and send them to me, which is so moving and amazing. And of course, Fat Kid means a lot since it was my first book and I have such fond memories of the time surrounding its sale and publication.
I may have misinterpreted the question... if the question was which awards and/or recognitions have meant the most than by far, it's the Printz Honor. Any time anyone recognizes my work it's humbling and fun and exciting, but that experience probably won't be surpassed, and it's made such a difference in my career as a whole.
As someone who has written YA and MG, are there different considerations
Probably, but I don't spend a lot of time doing promotion. I do the basics -- have a website that's as kick-ass as I can make it, Facebook, Twitter, a few giveaway items for kids I meet or kids who write to me, an occasional contest... but by and large, the marketing departments at Penguin and Harcourt have handled promotion.
How involved has your publicist been? Have you used freelance
I don't have a publicist -- never have!
Any difficulties from from being a female author with male lead characters? Does it ever come up with kids?
No difficulties, but it always comes up with both kids and adults. People ask me why I tend to write male lead characters, but I don't have a good answer. I think it's just curiosity. Plus, guys are so vulnerable because they try harder to hide their vulnerability, and that makes them compelling and sympathetic. Good qualities for lead characters.
Any thoughts on time management for authors trying to juggle writing, and maintaining an online presence (blogging, social networking, responding to emails, etc.)? How about those things plus raising children? Or holding down another job?
I need someone to give ME advice about these things! I just had a baby boy eight months ago and it's been so difficult to maintain any writing schedule. Not that I was very disciplined before, ha. But now... my only solution has been to prioritize and not beat myself up too badly when I don't get things done.
As for holding down another job, that's a journey I know well. I was working full time and commuting two hours each direction when I wrote Fat Kid and Liberation. Then I worked part-time. It's only been within the last few years that I've been able to write full-time and now I have a baby, so there goes that!
What's the most effective thing you've done to get the word out about
This is probably not the answer you'll want to hear, but the most effective thing you can do is to write the best book you possibly can. Nothing else I've done has made as much difference as a good review, award buzz, or a book fair pick. In fact, I'm usually amazed at how spectacularly difficult it is to get the word out on my own. I envy people who have a talent for it.
Do you think Y.A. writers have any special responsibilities?
I think every writer has a responsibility to write to the best of their ability and to choose material that has integrity for them.
What do you think new writers worry about or focus on too much? What
should we do instead?
I hate to say it, but in my opinion... marketing. Think about craft. The only thing you truly have control over is whether or not you write a good book.