After reading Eileen Cook‘s new book What Would Emma Do? in one fun-filled weekend, I knew I had to invite her back for another interview. Fortunately, she consented to indulge my nosiness about her book, her writing process (or lack thereof) and the land of publishing. Please welcome Eileen, who has provided heaps of great information, seasoned with her trademark dash of humor.
Thanks for coming, Eileen! First of all, for those who haven’t yet read it, could you tell us a little about What Would Emma Do?
I think of WWED as a mix between The Crucible and the movie Saved. I think I’ll cheat and use the back copy blurb to explain it:
Thou shalt not kiss thy best friend’s boyfriend…again….
There is no greater sin than kissing your best friend’s boyfriend. So when Emma breaks that golden rule, she knows she’s messed up big-time. Especially since she lives in the smallest town ever, where everyone knows everything about everyone else….and especially because she maybe kinda wants to do it again. Now her best friend isn’t speaking to her, her best guy friend is making things totally weird, and Emma is running full speed toward certain social disaster. This is so not the way senior year was supposed to go.
As the blurb and the title hint, WWED addresses some pretty deep issues, but it’s also hilarious and suspenseful, which is no easy feat! Author Meg Cabot admitted that it made her laugh out loud, and I know my mind kept returning to it every time I set it down, since I wanted to know what happened. So how long did it take you to write it, from when you first had the idea to when the book came out?
It took me about a year to write the book. I was lucky in that my agent was able to sell it very quickly – in a couple of weeks. Once with the publisher it takes about a year. First there are edits, then when you think you are done there are more edits, covers need to be designed, and the sales team needs to talk the book up to bookstore representatives. I had no idea it took so long from the time you sell a book to the time it hits the shelves. Patience is a virtue for writers.
I can see how that could definitely be a surprise. Other than the slow pace of the publishing industry what are some big misconceptions many people have about writing and/or publishing?
I know what surprised me about the process. I was shocked after my first book came out that the world kept spinning along just like it always did. There were no trumpets, no parade, and Oprah didn’t call. I have wanted to write as long as I could remember and it had been such a journey to publication that it seemed that life should somehow be RADICALLY different when it actually came true. The truth is that I still spend most of my days writing in a stretched-out sweatshirt and drinking gallons of tea.
If anyone wants to organize something, I am still very open to the idea of a parade.
I’m sure lots of other people are curious about how publishing works, and you’ve probably gotten numerous questions about it. What are a few that you wish people would just stop asking already?
My two favorite annoying questions would be: You’re a writer? How come I never heard of you? and How much money do you make?
Wow! How rude. Well, as you’ve made your way through publishing, you’ve clearly learned a lot. If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning writer self, what would you tell her?
I would tell myself to hang in there. I had a knack in the early days for taking everything very personally. If someone told me they didn’t like my work it felt like they spit in my face. Then came back and pushed me down. I wasn’t prepared for how loooooong the whole process would take and how there would people along the way who enjoy tearing other people down for the sake of making themselves feel better.
I would tell myself to write the books I want to write and worry about the business aspects later.
It sounds like it all came out right, despite those difficulties — lucky for us, since now we get to read your books! What were some of the best decisions you made in your publishing career?
One of the best decisions I made was choosing to sign with my agent, Rachel Vater (Folio Literary). She has been an excellent business partner. In this business you need to have someone’s opinion that you can trust. I count on her to tell me honestly what she thinks of my manuscripts and advise me on details of contracts. Rachel has a huge enthusiasm for her clients and always picks me up on those days when I want to throw my lap top across the room.
I always stress to other writers to make the agent choice carefully. In the midst of the agent search it can be easy to think “I’ll take anyone. Someone just please sign me!”, but this is going to the person representing you. A good agent can have a huge impact on your career. It’s like marriage, so choose wisely.
I would also add to my “good choice” list surrounding myself with good friends and fellow writers.
What’s your writing process like? Do you tend to plot everything before you start or do you make it up as you go along — or something in-between? How about your writing schedule? Do you have one?
People have a process? I really should get one of those. I love the idea of having a set routine or process, but I find my life keeps getting in the way. Sometimes I write at home and other times I like to be in a coffee shop or at the library. I write in the morning, afternoon or evening — depending on when I have the time. The only consistent would be that when I am in the middle of the story I find I need to write at least a small bit every day or I lose track of the story. What I would tell new writers is to try all different types of approaches until they find one they like. There isn’t one routine that works — it is a case of what works for you. I used to be a total pantster. I won’t ever make it to true plotter status, but now I’m somewhere in the middle. I usually start with a bit of an outline, but leave myself a lot of room to wander where the story takes me.
You’ve captured the YA voice very well. Do you read a lot of young adult books yourself? What are some of your favorites?
I love YA books! Heck, who am I kidding? I love books period. I am a total author junkie. I love Meg Cabot, Judy Blume, Sarah Dessen, Jacqueline Mitchard, Meg Tilly, Elizabeth Scott, Lisa McMann — I could go on and on.
Anyone who writes (published or not) inspires me because it takes dedication to get the story down on paper and guts to put it out there for others to read.
What is one of the more memorable things that has happened since you’ve been published?
I’m not sure if it’s interesting — but it is funny. After my first book, Unpredictable, came out I was out in a public place and saw a random stranger reading my book. I was beyond excited. This is what I had always dreamed of — someone reading (and seeming to enjoy) something I wrote. I went up and said that I was the author of the book she was reading. We talked for a few minutes and then she asked me sign her book. When I took the book from her I realized it wasn’t my book, the cover looked similar, but is was another book. I signed the other author’s name and hightailed it out there. That was quite possibly the most embarrassing moment thus far — and also the most hysterical.
So what’s next, book-wise? Another YA or back to women’s fiction?
I’m soooo excited for my next book. It’s called Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood. It’s a tale of friendship, betrayal, revenge and classic movies. I had so much fun writing it. It will be out in either December or January.
I’ve also just heard that my proposal has been accepted to write a middle grade series, so that will be my next project. It is about a young girl who comes from a long line of fairy godmothers. She’d rather be normal. Mayhem ensues.
Those sound terrific! I’m especially excited about your middle grade series; the parnormal element can add such fun to a book! In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with What Would Emma Do? and Unpredictable, both of which are available now.