Inkpop Blog

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Publishing advice from Megan Whalen Turner

Posted by inkpop on March 14, 2010

The author of The Thief series talks about her “unreal” experiences of landing a book deal and winning a top industry honor

“I sat with the phone in my hand, trying to think who could be prank-calling me.”

That’s how Megan Whalen Turner reacted when she got a phone call from Greenwillow, asking to publish her book, Instead of Three Wishes, a collection of magical short stories, in 1995. Since then, she’s become best known for her award-winning The Thief, the first book in a series about a thief’s challenging journey to steal a treasure.

Shortly before Megan Whalen Turner’s live chat on inkpop Forums on March 14, 2010, the author talks about getting her start in a bookstore, her “lightning strikes” book deal, and her next book.

inkpop: The fourth book in your series, A Conspiracy of Kings, will be released on March 23? What’s it about?

Megan Whalen Turner: It’s about Sophos, whom we first met in The Thief, where Gen dubbed him “Useless the Younger.” Sophos is a very reluctant heir to the throne of Sounis. He’d rather read poetry and study natural history, than be a king, but he doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter—until the day his home is attacked and he is violently severed from all his responsibilities. When his kidnappers’ carefully laid plans unexpectedly go sideways, Sophos gets a rare opportunity to make some decisions for himself.

You worked as the buyer for the children’s section of a bookstore for about seven years before you became an author. What triggered you to start writing?

I read a lot of books while I was working in the bookstore—fortunately, I could pass it off as part of the job. I didn’t really start writing fiction, though, until I was about 28. That was the year my husband was awarded a grant by the Guggenheim Foundation. I quit my job, and we moved to San Diego so that he could do research for a book. I knew from previous experience that I would love being unemployed for exactly six weeks, and then I would start climbing the walls. It’s not easy to find a fulfilling job when you have to tell the people hiring you that you plan to leave again at the end of the year, so I decided to invest my restless energy in writing.

So that’s when you dove into writing Instead of Three Wishes. How’d you get it published?

As a bookseller, I’d never seen any collections of short stories for children, so I didn’t expect that they’d ever be published. I just thought that they’d be a good practice. In the spring of that year, my husband asked a crucial question for every writer, “How do you know if they are any good?” and I really had no idea. We decided to send them to Diana Wynne Jones and ask her advice. She gave me the name of her editor, Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow Books.

I sent my stories to Greenwillow and a wonderful person named Libby Shub wrote to ask me to send more stories. Then Susan Hirschman called to say they’d like to publish the stories as a book.

I cannot tell you how much this method of getting published doesn’t work. Really. Lightning strikes are more common. That’s pretty much how I see the process. I got really lucky.

The Thief won a Newbery Honor in 1997. What was that experience like?

Unreal. Partly because it was so unexpected. These days, people in the profession make predictions and post them on their blogs. They run mock Newberys, and anybody can find out what books the committee is likely to be discussing, even if they can’t know for sure what the committee actually has on the table in front of them. Back then, these things were shrouded in mystery. I had not a glimmer of a clue. I never even checked the ALA dates and didn’t know I had them wrong. The weekend before my husband had teased me about not getting a call and I had wept mock tears. Then, the next week … I got a call.

I was all the things you would expect. I was completely over the moon. I was also late. I was supposed to be driving from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. to take my son for his vaccinations. Newbery Shmoobery, I still needed to get him to the doctor’s office. So I drove off singing, got to D.C. and took the baby for his shots … and spent the next week dealing with a very sick baby. He had a bad reaction to the vaccines, and I was teaspooning sips of water into him while my husband was back home fielding congratulatory phone calls. This was before the days of cell phones. So it all passed in something of a blur, and I still look at the sticker on the front of The Thief sometimes and wonder, “When did that happen?”

What’s the most common question people ask you about your experience as an author, and what question do you wish someone would ask but hasn’t yet?

People ask pretty often how to get published. I am always embarrassed that I can’t tell them anything helpful. I can’t think of anything I wish they would ask instead, though. Maybe, “Can I buy you a latte?” And I would say, “Yes!” Only, that’s not so much about my experience as an author, is it?

Staying on topic—not one of my skills. Okay, I love it when people ask me what books and authors have influenced my work because then I can revert to my bookselling persona and pitch all my old favorites.

The inkpop blog is written by Amy Schroeder (aka inkpopAmy) Read. Write. Connect.

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