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From Debut Novelist to Bestseller: Inside the Mind of Kiersten White

Posted by inkpopbecki on October 20, 2010

We have to admit it, there are a lot of books on the shelf at your local bookstore. So how does a debut novelist make her (or him) self stand out enough to become a bestseller? Kiersten White is here to discuss her experience. Want to hear more? Join us for a live chat today at 7 p.m. EST at the inkpop event forum.


Could you describe the process of selling your first novel?

I wrote my first YA novel in June of 2008.  I edited it for a month, then queried 50 agents for three-and-a-half months before signing with my fabulous agent, Michelle Wolfson.  That book went on sub to editors in January of 2009, which is also the month I wrote Paranormalcy.  After a while it was clear that the first book wasn’t going to sell (age issues with the main characters), so I spent a few months editing Paranormalcy.  I was more than a little nervous to send it out, but we put it out on sub at the end of July and HarperTeen pre-empted it a little over two weeks later!

What does it take for a debut novelist to hit the bestseller list? What did you do to really help promote Paranormalcy?

It’s always an interesting thing to watch which novels hit the bestseller list and which don’t, and it’s nearly impossible to predict.  For a debut novelist, the only thing you can have going for you is buzz since readers don’t have anything else of yours to kind of advertise your writing for the next book.  So, I would say there are three elements that need to come into play for a debut novelist to hit the bestseller list.
1)    Publisher support.  This can’t be emphasized enough.  HarperTeen was immensely supportive and did a phenomenal job of getting books out to bloggers, independent booksellers, and people in the book industry.  No one can talk about a book they haven’t read, and we were able to generate great pre-publication buzz.
2)    Online platform.  I have a very active blog that I’ve been keeping for over three years now.  It was never meant to be a marketing or publicity tool—which is why it helped.  People came to my blog, got a taste for my writing, liked it (or me), and decided to give my book a try.  It was almost like offering a daily free sample of what they could expect if they bought a book from me.  Blogging isn’t for everyone, but it’s something I enjoy doing and people seem to respond well to it.  Through blogging and twitter there were a few thousand people who heard about my book that never would have otherwise.
3)    A very good book AND luck.  This is why I will always say write the very best book you can!  Harper getting ARCs out wouldn’t have made a difference if no one liked the book.  It was a perfect combination of people hearing about the book and enjoying it that led to such great pre-pub buzz.  It didn’t hurt that Paranormalcy got picked up as an Indie Next pick, or that Barnes and Noble decided to do a floor display for it.  All of these little things combined with a book that people responded to created a perfect storm situation, culminating in a surprise spot on the bestseller list!

Paranormal is such a popular area right now, how did you come up with an idea that you felt was original?

I think one thing that helped is that I didn’t set out to capitalize on the popularity of the genre.  When I wrote Paranormalcy I actually had a different type of book on submission that I assumed would sell.  Paranormalcy was very literally just for fun.  I decided to be playful, really aim for a different take on popular paranormal tropes.  I think that the book and the ideas in it are unique because I wasn’t trying to make it like anything else, or take advantage of any market.  I let the characters, the humor, and the story be their own!  My advice is always to tell the story you want to tell.  Don’t try to “make” it anything because you think that’s what is or will be popular.  Good writing and real storytelling will always be popular!

Want to hear more? Join us for a live chat today at 7 p.m. EST at the inkpop event forum.

One Response to “From Debut Novelist to Bestseller: Inside the Mind of Kiersten White”

  1. I love Kiersten White! She’s always got really informative information to share on her blog and she’s got a great sense of humor. Great interview!

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