We’re thrilled to have Author Will Taylor on Cynsations today.
Congratulations on winning the Washington State Book Award! How has winning the award changed or affected your creative life? What hasn’t changed?
Thank you so much! I remember attending the Washington State Book Award ceremony the year before my first book came out and thinking “Maybe someday!” It’s truly wild that it’s actually happened.
Winning the award hasn’t changed my writing life, at least not as far as I can tell. The blank page feels the same, and the editing takes just as long, and the stories I want to write keep piling up. It’s an incredible honor, and I’m deeply grateful to have The Language of Seabirds (Scholastic, 2022), recognized in this way (especially given the circumstances queer kids’ books are facing across the country), but the thing that drives me the most is my hope that my very best work is still to come.
What appeals to you about writing middle-grade books? What are the craft challenges of writing for this age group?
I get asked this question a lot, and the simple truth is it never occurred to me to write anything else. The middle grade years were foundational for my love of reading and my interest in writing, so when I decided as an adult to pursue a career in storytelling, returning to that time felt like the obvious choice. It helped that I believed (and still believe) that some of the very finest writing ever done has been done for children. I genuinely think of kidlit as the height of publishing and can point to the work of so many of my contemporaries as proof.
As far as craft challenges particular to MG, I honestly can’t think of any, whatever that says about me! I’m trying my hand at both YA and adult fiction at the moment (just to see) and am finding both super difficult, so maybe my brain really is still eleven years old and MG is simply the most natural fit. I just love, love, love writing it.
What writers have influenced your writing the most?
Ursula K. Le Guin, for sure. She’s my favorite author of all time and I will spend my life trying to get to 5% of her character craft and stylistic brilliance. I learned a lot about ensemble cast romps from P.G. Wodehouse. Rosemary Sutcliffe is my queen of historical fiction who taught me to weave characters into vivid, challenging environments. My dad’s from the UK and I was raised on 20th-century British kidlit, so my imagination really was built around Richmal Crompton, Douglas Adams, Edith Nesbit, and Susan Cooper. More recently, Thanhha Lai, Brian Young, and Donna Barba Higuera are the authors whose work has sunk into my soul and changed what I believed was possible with the written word. All three are beyond brilliant.
What are you working on next?
That YA and adult I mentioned earlier are on my desk right now. Neither is going well. I tried to set myself up for success by making both cozy, queer, ensemble cast, romcom, mystery romps, but even with that head start I’m having trouble finding my rhythm for older readers. It’s a fun challenge, though! I’ve got more MG ideas than I likely have years left in my life, so I can always dig into one of those projects tapping its toe impatiently at the back of my mind if I need to feel capable again.
I have also started a sequel to Seabirds and am crossing all my fingers Scholastic will agree to take it. Readers ask for one every single week, and I hate having to tell them that I’ve got the first three chapters and a synopsis but their getting to read it all comes down to sales numbers.
I’m also slowly revising a very silly lower MG project I did with a friend of mine from the Great British Bake Off. Apparently our combined sense of humor isn’t what American publishing is looking for, so we’re having another go.
Do you have any tips for debut authors about balancing the roles of author and writer?
Ooo, this is a great question and sends my mind straight to book marketing. I’m actually putting together a free Marketing for Kidlit Authors class I’ll be teaching this winter through my local SCBWI chapter [Jan. 27, 2024, registration is free]. I do freelance marketing writing and strategy for my day job, and the more professional work I do the more I understand just how poorly the publishing industry prepares authors to market their own work. (I’d love to make the class a regular thing if there’s interest!)
My #1 tip is: Establish your own idea of “enough.” There will always be more promotion and marketing you could be doing, so protect yourself from that endless treadmill by deciding what you can comfortably do with the time you have. For me, this means checking off one bookstore contact, school contact, email contact, and social touch a month. Anything else I count as a bonus, and the nagging voice in my head stays mostly quiet. The reality is no one will ever tell you you’re doing enough in this industry. There are no gold stars. So become your own authority, meet your own expectations first, then consider doing more if you’ve got energy and attention left over. Those resources are precious. You should be the only one deciding how to spend them.
Will Taylor (he/they) is a reader, writer, and honeybee fan. He lives in the heart of downtown Seattle surrounded by all the seagulls and not quite too many teacups. When not writing he can be found searching for the perfect bakery, talking to trees in parks, and completely losing his cool when he meets longhaired dachshunds. His books include Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort (Harper Collins, 2018); Maggie & Abby and the Shipwreck Treehouse (Harper Collins, 2019); Slimed (Scholastic, 2021); Catch That Dog! (Scholastic, 2022); and The Language of Seabirds (Scholastic, 2022).
Suma Subramaniam’s interests in writing for children are centered around STEM/STEAM related topics as well as India and Indian heritage. When she’s not recruiting by day or writing by night, she’s volunteering for We Need Diverse Books and SCBWI or blogging about children’s books.
Her picture books include, Namaste is a Greeting, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Candlewick, 2022), She Sang for India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used her Voice for Change, illustrated by Shreya Gupta (FSG Books, 2022), and The Runaway Dosa, illustrated by Parvati Pillai (Little Bee Books, 2023). Suma is also the contributing author of The Hero Next Door middle-grade anthology (Penguin Random House, 2019) and What is Hope? poetry anthology (Pomelo Books, 2023) . Her poems have been published in Poetry Foundation’s first Young People’s Poetry Edition of Poetry Magazine. She lives in Seattle with her family and a dog who watches baking shows. Learn more at https://sumasubramaniam.com.