|Margaret with young readers|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.