How foolish I was to think I could go by a bestselling author’s book signing event at a local Barnes & Noble and ask him a few questions about how he learned his writing skills! When I got there, I saw over 200 people in line for his autograph, +/- about 75 kids. Luckily, I whined to his agent about not having access to him and she forwarded my questions to him the next day via email. I wanted to know specifics about how he learned to write well enough to become a bestselling author.
As far as I know, you can’t register for How to Become a Bestselling Author 101 at your community college, or any university for that matter. It’s a profession that has to be learned on the street. From conversations with another author I know, the book publishing industry has become insanely competitive lately because publishers won’t take risks like they have in the past.
Enough of my thoughts already. Below you’ll find five questions I asked Brandon, and his responses about he learned his “bestselling” skills.
1) Nobody “goes to school” to become a bestselling author; beyond what you learned about writing in school, how did you teach yourself to write so well?
Be a good observer. Practice putting what you observe into words. Keep a journal of interesting details. Read a lot. Pay attention to how your favorite writers write – how much description they include, how they start a scene, how they end one, what makes dialogue fun, etc. Write a lot. Practice crafting scenes. If you can write a good scene, you can write a good novel, which is simply a progression of connected scenes. Get feedback from smart people who enjoy books.
2) What DID the time you spent in college do for your writing?
I wrote for a sketch comedy troupe in college. That helped me learn to write tight dialog, and also helped me learn to write with my audience in mind. I wrote for the school paper. I took creative writing classes. It all helped. But it still all boils down to read a lot, write a lot, get smart feedback.
3) Did your stint at copywriting influence your fiction at all? If so, how?
It helped me examine my stories for marketable premises. It helped me think about how I would pitch my stories to publishers and readers. Publishers really like a marketable premise. It helps if you know how to pitch your stuff to your audience.
I can boil Fablehaven down to a sentence: It’s about a secret wildlife park for magical creatures. Usually when fantasy enthusiasts hear that much, they get what to expect. I can expand it to “Kendra and her brother Seth discover that their grandparents are the caretakers of a secret wildlife park for magical creatures.” Or I can expand the pitch to a paragraph.
4) What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your professional writing career?
I’m writing my stories for me AND an audience. Sometimes things I would want in there if I were writing just for myself don’t work for my audience. I want my books to work for adults, and also to be readable in a fifth grade classroom.
5) What do you think the most important thing is that you have yet to learn to promote your career?
I’d love to learn how to get on Oprah. Word of mouth has been the most powerful force in helping Fablehaven and The Candy Shop War spread. At the end of the day, if you write a book that excites people enough to tell friends and family about it, you’ll have a career. If not, it might be tough. The only way to find out is to try.
Thanks Brandon, for taking the time to answer these questions. Best of luck in all your writing ventures!