Career Builder & Giveaway: Janet Lee Carey

photo of Janet Lee Carey by Heidi Pettit

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Janet Lee Carey was raised in the redwood forests of California. In the whispering forest, she dreamed of becoming a writer.

She is the award-winning author of eight young adult novels including Dragonswood (Dial Books, 2012) which received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. School Library Journal calls her work, “fantasy at its best–original, beautiful, amazing, and deeply moving.”

Janet’s other books include Stealing Death (Egmont USA, 2009),
The Dragons of Noor (Egmont USA, 2010), Dragon’s Keep (Harcourt, 2007), The Beast of Noor (Atheneum, 2006), and
Wenny Has Wings (Atheneum, 2002).

Janet links each new book with a charitable organization empowering readers to reach out and make a difference. She tours the U.S. and abroad, presenting at schools, book festivals and conferences for writers, teachers, and librarians. 

How do you define success?

I wrote for many years before my first book came out, so for a long time, writing success meant one thing—publication. Hooray!

“Wenny Has Wings”

After my books launched I began to measure success through sales, reviews, awards and movie deals (like the “Wenny Has Wings” movie (Sony Japan, 2008).

Now I define success in terms of personal and community connection. Personal success can mean a good writing day when I make some deep connection with the story and something magical happens on the page, or it can be the moment when I hear back from a reader whose life was touched by one of my books—a truly beautiful and humbling experience.

I also define success is in terms of community connection. It’s wonderful to be a part of the children’s/ YA book community these days. We have great organizations like the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and blogs like Cynsations that support and connect the children’s/YA community.

If I’m feeling out of touch with the book world all I have to do is read articles and interviews on blogs like Cynsations to feel connected again.

In 2007, I was lucky enough join three amazing authors and serve as a founding diva for the groundbreaking group readergirlz.

Photo of readergirlz by Heidi Pettit

Here are the founding divas at my Dragonswood Masquerade party. Left to right Justina Chen, moi, Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover.

Finally, for the past two years, I’ve been speaking out for the book world by spreading the word about the importance of libraries on my blog Library Lions. We interview youth librarians twice a month and roar for the outstanding programs in schools and public libraries across the U.S.

Librarians and libraries play such an essential role in the book world. They deserve a mighty roar!

Do you have a publishing strategy? If so, how has it worked and/or changed over time? If not, why not? And how has that worked for you?

I have to start with loving what I do and putting energy in every part of the process to write the best book I possibly can. When it’s time to launch a new title, I curl up in a chair and brainstorm in my journal. The key thing I’m searching for is connection.

Is there a charity that connects to the story theme?

I usually donate to a charity to celebrate each new tale and link the charity to the Giving Back page (see top nav bar) on my website. The page is designed for readers who want to reach out when they’ve finished the book.

For Stealing Death, which takes place in a drought-ridden country, I connected with Water for People and helped spread the word and raise funds for clean drinking water in Africa.

For Dragonswood I brainstormed in my journal again and kept coming up with the word “refuge.” Dragonswood is a refuge set aside to protect the dragons and the fey folk from extinction. This led to seeking out and finding Defenders of Wildlife. We adopted a snowy owl and an arctic fox in celebration of the book launch.

My publishing strategies have definitely changed over the years. I used to read marketing books with long “to do” lists and get a splitting headache over the hundreds of ways I was told to promote the book. (Um . . . when am I supposed to have time to write?) There are even more ways to promote books now.

My advice to new writers is to pick promotion you enjoy and build on that. If you’re a school visit person, go for that. If you love to travel, bring your book with you and get to know the booksellers on your trips. Highlight them and their stores on Twitter, Facebook or your blog as you visit them.

Here’s a peek into all the things I do when a new book is about to hit the stands. First, I work alongside my publisher to get the word out. I’ve already picked a charity by that point and posted it to the website. I connect with some great blog tours like Kari Olson’s The Teen Book Scene, and do interviews and book giveaways.

This year we made our first book trailer for Dragonswood, a real family enterprise. I sing in background and my husband plays the Turkish saz.

Next I throw a whopping great party and invite everyone I know to celebrate with me. Here’s a party photo from the Dragonswood Masquerade Party.

photo from Dragonswood Masquerade Party by Heidi Pettit

Along with the blog tours, I do school visits and present at children’s literature festivals and writing conferences throughout the year.

(Okay take a breath. Ah….)

After I’ve done all that, I have to let go of the outcome. Ultimately I have no control over how my book will be received.

The best antidote to the hubris of a great review is – work on the next book.

The best antidote to the sting of a bad review is – work on the next book.

It’s time to listen to the whispers that wake me up at night. Once I welcome new characters into my head, there’s no stopping the chatter. They talk to me when I’m showering or shopping. Sometimes I’m so absorbed in a new story idea I leave my shopping cart in one part of the store and fill someone else’s cart (oops!). I brainstorm, plot and plan and pretty soon I’m too absorbed in the process of birthing a new novel to look back.

How have you grown as a writer? What skills have you seen improve over time? What did you do to reach new levels? What are areas that still flummox you at times?

Being a writer means growing all the time. I have some of that green slimy stuff (what is it called, quick-grow?) in my garage to urge plants on. Writing is like guzzling that stuff. Every new book requires research (I learned more facts about witch trials and grizzly medieval torture methods for Dragonswood than I ever wanted to know).

Every new book also demands a sharper skill set. Just when I’ve mastered some aspect of the craft, I see the next mastery level lurking in the shadows, luring me onward.

Right now I’m working on smoother transitions. Leaping to the next thing less like a kangaroo and more like a ballerina.

Another challenge is to more deftly weave description and background info into action and dialogue to break up narrative chunks which gum up the story.

Writing is word weaving and the masters bring all the threads together in beautiful, rich story patterns. I plan to get better at that.

I’ve learned to trust the work to tell me what my next challenge will be, but I also rely on what I gather from my resources. First and foremost, I learn from fellow authors as I read their brilliant books. Writers read a little differently. We can’t help but notice how another author tackles a sticky plot point, reveals the finer emotional gradations of a character, writes a riveting scene or describes an outdoor setting so sumptuously you smell the tangy air.

There are a few authors like Ursula K. Le Guin that I read again and again. Lately, I’ve also been reading a lot of Juliet Marillier’s historical fantasy novels.

C.S. Lewis talks about the joys of reading a book the second or third time when you’re no longer turning pages just to find out what happens next, but to be in that world on the adventure again with the characters you’ve grown to love. The second or third read also allows me to flag pages with Post-it notes when I want to take special note of the writer’s exquisite storytelling.

What advice do you have for the debut authors of 2012-13?

Janet, age 4

First of all congratulations! Cherish the fact that your hard work
has paid off and readers all over the country, perhaps all over the
world, are reading your beautiful book!

You’re likely going crazy with
promotion for your launch and doing all you can to get the word out for
your book.

When the long launch is over, my advice is to
let the next story whisper to you (if it isn’t driving you mad already)
and get back to writing. If you’re stalled out, play a little.

The creative process is wonderful and mysterious and life giving. Fiction is a faith walk. As you journey into your next book and your next, fellow writer, walk well.

Cynsational Notes

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 Giveaway

Enter to win a signed hardcover copy of Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey (Dial Books, 2012) and a bookmark! Eligibility: U.S. From the promotional copy:

In a dark time when girls with powers are called witches, Tess escapes the witch hunter and hides with a mysterious huntsman until magical voices draw her deeper into Dragonswood where she learns the secret of her birth. 

Caught between love and loyalty, Tess chooses the
hardest path of all, her own.

“A fairy tale for those who have given up on believing in them, but still yearn for happily ever after.”

–Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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3 thoughts on “Career Builder & Giveaway: Janet Lee Carey

  1. How do we enter the giveaway?

    Great interview! I love those costumes. I'd love to dress up every day if I could. 😉 No wonder I work in an elementary library

  2. I love how Janet says success is has become more than finally getting published. It seems that keeping that in mind would give authors something more to look forward to after they've become published.

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