Career Achievers: Daniel Kraus on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing YA Author

Learn more about Daniel Kraus.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

In YA writing, maintaining an active publishing career is arguably an even bigger challenge than breaking into the field.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

The the only bumps of note have revolved around me figuring out what kind of life I wanted to live inside of publishing.

It only took me one book to realize that I’m not someone who’s going to make a second career of attending conferences and schools, and doing every single blog interview on offer, and so forth.

I’ve seen friends go down that route and be swallowed by it, good writers who hammer and hammer away at so-called promotional opportunities when they could be writing a second or third book.

That’s where I’m comfortable: at the desk. You might consider me prolific, but I see myself as someone who decided where to focus his energies and has kept to that.

If you had it to do all over again, what—if anything—would you do differently and why?

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There are two minor compromises I made with my first book that still irk me. One was a structural thing and one was a single sentence that I didn’t think needed to be there. They hardly ruin the book, but to this day, they bother me. And so I don’t do that anymore.

I’m entirely open to editorial suggestion, but I’ll never agree to something I don’t believe in. It’s not worth it if it’s still going to still be depressing to me when I’m old.

The field and body of literature are always evolving. For you, what have been the stand-out changes in the world children’s-YA writing, literature and publishing? What do you think of them and why?

There have been the obvious demographic shifts that, while still small, have been encouraging to see. Beyond that, I don’t see a lot of change.

The best-seller list is still a mixture of great books and middling junk food. The most daring books still rarely get noticed. The pervading opinions that YA lit has to offer a positive message or avoid immorality are still boringly in place.

What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?

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I probably did some large-group events where there were only white authors. I wouldn’t do that today.

What do you wish for children’s-YA writers (and readers), looking to the future?

A lot of lip-service kudos are given to books and characters that occupy moral gray areas, but I still feel like a lot of adults who read YA (not the kids, mind you) can’t really take it when it gets hot in that particular kitchen. Their what-about-the-children alarms go off.

That’s not a great environment for innovation or expression, and certainly not transgression.

In an area of publishing that likes to think of itself as open-minded, it often feels fairly closed-minded in this regard. This kind of hesitancy, however, does present prime opportunities for small presses and self-publishing, and so I expect those two areas of the lit world to continue to thrive and become even more important.

As a writer, what do you wish for yourself in the future?

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Time. I need much more of it. I have a dozen projects I want to write and the fact that I won’t get to them all before I die — yes, I’m thinking about death — has really started to hit home.

I also want to help writers who are talented but maybe not well known for a variety of reasons, maybe because of where they come from or what they choose to write about.

This kind of assistance is largely done quietly, behind the scenes, and is almost always more gratifying than publishing a book myself.

Cynsational Notes

Why Do You Write Such Dark YA Fiction? by Daniel Kraus from Cynsations. Peek: “Sure, you’ll lose readers who find your story irredeemably smutty/horrific/ludicrous, but those readers who have been searching for someone who writes as if possessed will recognize you instantly as one who fears nothing but mediocrity.” See also New Voice Daniel Kraus on The Monster Variations.

The Survivors Interview Series offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children’s-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.