Career Builder & Giveaway: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Margaret with young readers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio, and is a graduate of Miami University of Ohio.

She worked as a newspaper reporter and community college instructor before her first book was published in 1995.

She has since written more than 30 books for kids and teens, including the Shadow Children series, the Missing series, and the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her two newest books are Torn (the fourth book in the Missing series) and The Always War. In fall 2012, she looks forward to the release of Caught (the fifth book in the Missing series) and Game Changer. Margaret’s publisher is Simon & Schuster.

Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status; the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and more than a dozen state reader’s choice awards.

Margaret and her husband, Doug, live in Columbus, Ohio, with their two teenaged children.

How do you define success?

Margaret as a young reader (with furry friend)

My definition has changed dramatically over the years. In the beginning, my goal was simply to get a book published–at a time when I was receiving nothing but rejection letters, publication alone seemed like the pinnacle of achievement.

Then I sold my first two books just as my husband and I were starting a family, and the equation shifted. With so many other demands on my time, finding time to write seemed like too much of a selfish luxury unless it also paid off financially.

(In retrospect, I realize that I should have looked at the big picture: Writing helped keep me sane—or, semi-sane, anyway–during that challenging early-motherhood phase, and there’s no way to put a price tag on that.)

But the first time my editor offered me a contract for a book that I would be paid to write—not one that was already finished—I felt like I had truly arrived.

Then my goal became to do well enough with my writing that I wouldn’t have to go back to a full-time “real job” when my kids started school. I was writing to buy time to write, but also to buy control over my own time, so I had enough flexibility that I could be a PTO room mother and a Girl Scout leader and a Sunday school teacher and a volunteer in my kids’ classrooms—which conveniently also gave me a lot more material to write about. This arrangement seemed ideal.

Now I’m about to send my youngest off to college. He’ll start just a few days before my thirtieth book comes out (Caught, on Sept. 4), and I have the luxury now of being able to be a lot more philosophical about how I define writing success.

I hear a lot from parents who tell me, “I couldn’t get my kid to read until he read one of your books, and now he’s reading like crazy” or from kids who tell me, “I used to hate reading, but now, because of your books, I love it,” or from kids/teachers/parents who tell me specific examples of how specific aspects of my books have helped specific readers navigate real life.

And all of that seems like the truest definition of writing success.

How have your marketing strategies changed over the years? Could you tell us about one strategy that worked and why you think it was a boon to you?

I have spent many years resisting the notion that I have to have “marketing strategies,” because I would always, always, always rather write another book than do any marketing. But I do realize that the internet makes marketing much easier and more effective, even as internet-related changes makes self-marketing more necessary.

I finally got around to starting my own website
only when it began to seem that Harper Lee was probably the only other
living author who didn’t have one.

My then-fourteen-year-old daughter
was actually the person who set up my Facebook fan page,
because she deemed it “embarrassing” that I didn’t already have one.
For the first year or so, my husband maintained that page for me because
it was a time when I was overwhelmed with other work. Then his own job
became overwhelming, and he passed it off to me.

that time, the Simon & Schuster online marketing department told me
they could link my Facebook fan page to another fan site, and suddenly I
had the potential to reach more than fifteen thousand readers with a
single post. Even a lazy, reticent, marketing-averse writer like me can
grasp that that’s a wonderful thing.

By Kerry Madden

I would still not say that I am good at using any type of social media to its fullest advantage, but I am getting better at it. I fully realize that authors nowadays have to take some responsibility for their own marketing (unless they are, you know, Harper Lee), and the internet does make that relatively easy and painless.

I know this is hardly ground-breaking, but I have been trying to do a better job of using the Facebook fan page and website together. For example, I’ll put a full list of my upcoming appearances on my website, and then post a mention of it on the Facebook page, so people will know that I’ve made the update. Or, I’ll post the new cover art for my next book on the Facebook page, and tell people that they can go to the website for a description of the book or for answers to FAQs.

It’s amazing to me how much response I can get to something like that, almost instantly. I am coming to appreciate having the ability to quickly announce something on Facebook, but also have a place where I can direct readers for ongoing information.

Did you ever consider giving up? What happened? What kept you going?

I did. After a few small, early successes with my fiction—and four years of working as a reporter for a metropolitan newspaper—I went through a two-and-a-half-year spell when I was concentrating much more on writing fiction and trying to get it published and having no success whatsoever.

At one point when I was distraught over receiving yet another rejection letter, my husband tried to comfort me by saying, “You know, there are people who spend their entire lives trying to get published and never succeed. If it turns out that you never get published, are you going to be miserable your whole life? Isn’t it enough to have a good life otherwise? Why write if it’s just going to make you miserable?”

Our joke now is that he told me I should give up, and I got published right away just to prove him wrong. In reality, it wasn’t that simple (or quick). But I do remember letting myself imagine what he described: giving up, collecting the rejection letters for everything I had out at that moment and not sending anything else out, not writing anything new, stomping out every new story idea instead of exploring wherever it might lead… and that seemed totally wrong.

The words playing in my head were, But I’m a writer. I write. That’s what I do. That’s who I am.

There may have even been some religious overtones to my conviction: Why would God make me feel so strongly called to be a writer if that isn’t what I’m supposed to do?

So I ignored my husband’s advice and I kept writing and kept submitting and kept collecting rejection letters. And eventually I did succeed.

Recently I read Madeleine L’Engle’s first Crosswicks Journal, A Circle of Quiet, and I came across a passage where she describes her moment of deciding to give up: when she received a rejection letter on her fortieth birthday, after a whole decade of discouragement.

And a second later she was imagining the next thing she wanted to write—which made her realize that no matter how much the publishing world rejected her, regardless of anyone else’s opinion, she couldn’t stop being a writer. And I felt like she was describing exactly the same epiphany I’d reached.

And I am so impressed that she could still feel that way on a dismal fortieth birthday, after ten years of discouragement. And I am stunned that the books she was having rejected were two that had a huge, huge impact on my childhood, and probably played a large role in convincing me that I wanted to be an author: Meet the Austins and A Wrinkle in Time.

What’s the secret of your success?

I mostly feel like I’ve done a lot of things wrong over the course of my career. I have not been particularly good at marketing or self-promotion or navigating the publishing world or, at certain points, even staying up to date with what’s going on in the publishing world.

But I guess a large part of the reason that I’ve succeeded, to the extent that I have, is that I always kept writing, and always considered that the most important part of my job.

I wrote my second book before my first book was published; whenever I finish a book, I usually start the next one right away, even if I’ve told myself, “Now you need to take care of all those other things you’re supposed to be doing.”

And it’s not because I’m such a virtuous person (if I were that virtuous, my office would be much neater) but because that’s what I want to do. What mattered to me in the beginning was writing stories that felt true and important to me, and writing them as well as I could, and that’s still what matters the most to me. If I stopped feeling that way, I think I would have to stop writing.

The other big factor that has helped my books and my career is that I think I have gotten very good advice and support from my editors and agents over the years.

Probably the biggest boost my career ever got—the change that bumped me up from one level of success to another, much higher up—was when I continued my book Among the Hidden into a seven-book series, the Shadow Children.

And that wasn’t my idea at all—David Gale, my editor at Simon & Schuster, suggested it, and even when I kept saying, “I guess that’s a good idea but I can’t see how it would work,” my agent, Tracey Adams, kept calling me back and saying, “What about doing it this way? Keep thinking about it—don’t say no yet.”

I had very little faith in my ability to continue Luke’s story past the first book, but David and Tracey did, and they essentially nagged me into developing a vision for the series and having the courage to follow that vision. And I am very grateful that they did.

Cynsational Notes

Discussion guides for the Shadow Children series and The Missing series from Simon & Schuster.

The Career Builders series offers insights from children’s-YA authors who written and published books for a decade or more. The focus includes their approach to both the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape of trade publishing.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of five sets of Margaret’s classics: Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey and Leaving Fishers (both Simon & Schuster).

From the promotional copy of Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey:

Things are so bad, I feel like I’m going to explode if I don’t do something…

Everyone has to keep a journal in Mrs. Dunphrey’s English class, but the teacher has promised she won’t read any entry marked “Do not read this.” It’s the kind of assignment Tish Bonner, one of the girls with big hair who sit in the back row, usually wouldn’t take very seriously. But right now, Tish desperately needs someone to talk to, even if it’s only a notebook she doesn’t dare let anyone read.

As Tish’s life spins out of control, the entries in her journal become more and more private…and dangerous. Is she risking everything that matters to her by putting the truth on paper? And is she risking more by keeping silent?

From the promotional copy of Leaving Fishers:

Dorry is unbearably lonely at her new high school until she meets Angela and her circle of friends. 

She soon discovers they all belong to a religious group, the Fishers of Men.

At first, as Dorry becomes involved with the Fishers, she is eager to fit in and flattered by her new friends’ attention. 

But the Fishers make harsh demands of their members, and Dorry must make greater and greater sacrifices.

In demonstrating her devotion, Dorry finds herself compromising her grades, her job, and even her family’s love. 

How much is too much? And where will the cult’s demands end?

Publisher sponsored. U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter to win one copy of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Torn (Simon & Schuster, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Still reeling from their experiences in Roanoke in 1600, Jonah and Katherine arrive in 1611 only moments before a mutiny on Henry Hudson’s ship in the icy waters of James Bay. 

But things are messed up: they’ve lost the real John Hudson, and they find what seems to be the fabled Northwest Passage—even though they are pretty sure that that route doesn’t actually exist. 

Will this new version of history replace the real past? Is this the end of time as we know it?

With more at stake than ever before, Jonah and Katherine struggle to unravel the mysteries of 1611 and the Hudson Passage…before everything they know is lost.

Publisher sponsored. U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter to win one copy of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s upcoming release Caught (Simon & Schuster, 2012)(see cover above). From the promotional copy:

Jonah and Katherine come face to face with Albert Einstein in the fifth book of the New York Times bestselling The Missing series.

Albert Einstein

Jonah and Katherine are accustomed to traveling through time, but when learn they next have to return Albert Einstein’s daughter to history, they think it’s a joke—they’ve only heard of his sons. 

But it turns out that Albert Einstein really did have a daughter, Lieserl, whose 1902 birth and subsequent disappearance was shrouded in mystery. Lieserl was presumed to have died of scarlet fever as an infant. 

When Jonah and Katherine return to the early 1900s to fix history, one of Lieserl’s parents seems to understand entirely too much about time travel and what Jonah and Katherine are doing. It’s not Lieserl’s father, either—it’s her mother, Mileva. And Mileva has no intention of letting her daughter disappear.

Publisher sponsored. U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

50 thoughts on “Career Builder & Giveaway: Margaret Peterson Haddix

  1. Wow! This is definitely one of my favorite interviews ever! Margaret, your comments about giving up brought tears to my eyes, because that's exactly where I am as a writer. {I am a writer, but I was a Shadow Children-addicted reader first.} I keep wondering if I've reached the end, and I keep thinking, "No! I have to write! That's what I do, that's what I'm called to do!" So your comments were very encouraging, as was your story about Madeleine L'Engle. I hadn't heard that about her…wow. Just wow. Anyway, thanks so much, and I can't wait to read TORN, CAUGHT, GAME CHANGER, and THE ALWAYS WAR {which are, I'm pretty sure, the only books of yours that I have yet to read}. 🙂

  2. Thank you for the Margaret Peterson Haddix interview. My 6th grader loves her books and has me hooked on several of the series also. Haddixs' books a great way to introduce kids into tehe sci-fi/fantasy genre and fuel their imagination.

  3. I have yet to find a Haddix book that I did not enjoy. I have actually been reading the Among the Hidden Series aloud to my students for years. I can usually get through the 1st two books, but most of my students read through the entire series by the end of the year. I love the books and would love to see a movie made from them!

  4. My kids and I love Margaret Peterson Haddix's books!! We can't wait to read these new books!

  5. Exciting! Margaret Haddix has become one of my very favorite authors over the past couple years. I have read every one I can get my hands on and 63never yet been disappointed by one of her books, and wouldn't mind building a collection of my own, so this giveaway is awesome!

  6. Love the Shadow Children series. Waiting on our library's wait list for the last 3 books. Looking forward to starting the missing series w/my daughter (she got me hooked on the Shadow Children Series)

  7. I really enjoy reading the Missing Seris I started reading it in 4th grade and haven't stop since. I can't wait but am also really sad for the last Missing Seris book to come out 2014. I will be starting high school still reading:D I also enjoy reading the Missing Children seris. I loved how it ended. I think M.Haddix is a WONDERFUL aurthor and writes WONDERFUL, CAN'T STOP READING books!!!! I also admire how its a SERISS<3 I recomend M.Haddix to ANYBODY who LOVES seris and FUN reading:)
    Amber (D.)

  8. This is so inspiring! I love reading about authors who considered giving up but pushed through. This isn't an easy road we've chosen as writers, but it's our road to travel . . . Potholes and all.

  9. What truly awesome giveaways! I also so enjoyed the itnerview. it is interesting to see what Margaret thinks writing success is now that she is looking from a different vantage point. I have read the Shadow Children series and just love it. I have also read some of her other books. I would love to win any of the books you are offering. I know my co-author uses Margaret's books with her 5th grade class in reading groups and for read aloud.


  10. I love inspirational posts like this. It's always encouraging to read abouth authors who considered giving up but persevered. The road isn't always easy for writers, but it's our road to travel . . . potholes and all. And like any road, it is what we make it to be.

  11. I love inspirational posts like this. It's always encouraging to read abouth authors who considered giving up but persevered. The road isn't always easy for writers, but it's our road to travel . . . potholes and all. And like any road, it is what we make it to be.

  12. I've loved Haddix since middle school, and she was one of the few authors I got my younger brother to read. It's a great inspiration to me as a young writer to see that giving up costs so much more than to keep going. I mean, we'd be missing a lot of great books if Haddix or other authors got discouraged at one little rejection.

  13. Wonderful interview, and thanks for the chance to win!
    Liene @ LLucane at yahoo dot com

  14. I enjoy Haddix's books! I have read almost all of them and own the the shadow children series and the missing series all except for Caught, I would love to have it cause I loan out my books to friends who I know would enjoy them!

  15. *facepalm* I have not read anything by this woman. I seriously need to!! I feel so behind. She sounds like a brilliant author.

  16. My favorite author Margaret Peterson Haddix has helped me starting to read books. I only read goosebumps but her books inspire me to write and read different books.

  17. Absolutely love her writing! I've read every single one of her books to date. A friend introduce Running Out of Time to myself and my older sisters when I was only 8 years old. Since then, my entire family has fallen in love! Even my siblings who won't read much else, love your work.

  18. My children aren't big readers, but I can always get them to read books by Margaret Peterson Haddix. That's invaluable from this book-loving mom's perspective!

  19. I love her books. She is possibly one of my favorite authors to read and take advice from. Met her at the LA conference years ago and she's so warm and personable. Thank you for a fantastic interview!

  20. This is a fabulous post. I always find it intriguing to look at the writing process because I have no talent at all for original writing. I have many of her books in my library and they are rarely on the shelves. The Missing series has been particularly popular – my kids will be clamoring for the last book as soon as school starts. It would be a thrill to give them a copy directly form the author!

  21. Awesome post! And thanks so much for the giveaway! I love Margaret's books. My sister and I took turns reading her Shadow Children series about a year ago, and my sister (who hates reading) LOVED them and actually finished the series.


  22. I really love Ms. Haddix – all the books! And I'm an adult who works in education – my daughter does too – can'lt wait to ready Caught.

  23. I love Maragaret Peterson Haddix! She is one of the best authors I have ever read. I consistently recommend her books to the youth I work with.

  24. Love Haddix's books!!! My favorit are Running Out of Time (AMAZING) and Just Ella. I'm very excited for Caught!

    Endurance and Victory, Marisa M.

  25. I just absolutely LOVE MPH! Her Shadow Children Books are some of the best books ever, In my opinion. I have always wanted to meet her, but getting a signed copy is close enough for me. But I'd still want to meet her! 🙂

  26. I absolutely adore Margaret Peterson Haddix. Her books are very special to me because I had gotten my grandma to read them as well and we would talk about how wonderful the stories are. We would go on and on talking about all of the shocking twists and great endings. My grandma and I were working on The Missing Series together and we couldn't wait for the next book "Caught" but my grandma passed away last month.

    She was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer last year. I knew she didn't have a lot of time left but I was not expecting her to pass so soon. But she's in a better place.

    When I read "Caught" I hope my grandma will be watching over my shoulder and reading along with me so we can continue to read these books together. She was a great book buddy.

  27. Thank you for your great interviews–and for having these contests! I love finding out about new books that I can't wait to read. Lillian

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