Have you ever wondered exactly how to become a successful author?
How would you measure the success of an author? By being published? Receiving a coveted spot on the New York Times bestsellers list? Having your work adapted into a movie? Well, Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series and more recently, Carve the Mark, has done it all, and she’s still in her twenties. So, who better to give advice on improving yourself as an author and becoming published and successful than Veronica herself?
Literacy is important. Statistics Canada says, “Traditionally, literacy has referred to the ability to read, understand, and use information.” It also says, “Strong literacy skills are closely linked to the probability of having a good job, decent earnings, and access to training opportunities.” Why does Veronica think literacy is important? “Books have an inherent good in them,” she said on the matter.
A good place to start when it comes to writing is with an imaginative mind, a love for literacy, and perseverance; all traits which Veronica had when she realized she could turn her hobby into something more. “One day it occurred to me that the things I was imagining, I could write them down. And I didn’t think about that it was maybe a weird hobby to have. I just gave it a try and worked at it for a while,” said Veronica.
Veronica worked hard to get to where she is today, she advises anyone else who dreams of one day being where she is to do the same. “I mean, it was a dream-come-true. It was a lot of work, but dreams can be work too,” she said. She also mentioned that research is a key part of being a successful writer and using tools like Google can make a world of difference. “Just google it! ‘How do I get published?’, ‘How do I get an agent?’, ‘How do I submit to literary magazines?’” said Veronica.
Doing that research will show you that being published by one of the big guys is not the only route. “There’s by yourself publishing, there’s small presses, there’s all kinds of different paths.” She also noted that in order to become published with a publishing house, you will first need to find yourself an agent to represent your work. “Which is something a lot of people don’t know when they first start out. To get an agent, you have to have a finished manuscript,” said Veronica. “So, you finish your book and you polish it and you make sure it’s as good as it can be. Then you write a query letter, which is a pitch, a one-paragraph summary of your book, that makes them want to read it. It has to be really engaging,” she noted. Veronica also made sure to mention that there can be a lot of rejection involved in the process. “So, perseverance is key.” A good story takes more than one draft to be written. “I did a lot of revising also based on critique-partner feedback. I think it is important to get feedback before you try to get an agent,” she added.
The process of getting the Divergent series published was an eye-opener for Veronica. “My query letters for Divergent were the most boring summary of Divergent that has ever existed. I also included some sample pages with it and I think that’s why the agents asked to see it. But it was really only one agent that was interested. She made an offer and she sent me seven pages of notes, single-spaced. I added about 35,000 words to the draft. It was about half as long as it is now, which is the finished version. Then she took it to a bunch of editors who she thought might be interested in that kind of book to let them read it.” Veronica’s editor called her back within a couple of days, which is quite unusual in this process. Veronica explained hat “Sometimes editors can have your manuscript for up to a year before they will say anything to you about it.”
During Veronica’s writing process, she admits that sometimes she becomes worried she has forgotten how to do it, but she knows that she never wants to give up. Perseverance has gotten her to where she is, after all. She advises others to keep their old notebooks, since the idea for her newest novel came when she first began writing. “Just follow your gut when you have writer’s block,” she notes.
Veronica also had some advice to share on the do’s and don’t’s of writing, citing clarity as one of the hallmarks of good writing. “Sometimes you encounter writing and it’s really poetic but everything is kind of overwrought and you’re not really sure what the person is trying to say. That’s not particularly good writing. There is also sometimes when you can tell when a writer doesn’t have a good command of language. I’m not going to say what book it’s in, but there is one quote from a book that I read once where it talked about someone getting beaten up, ‘The blows rained down like hammer strikes.’ That is a mixed metaphor, because punches don’t rain, that’s not a thing. But if they did, it wouldn’t be like hammer strikes. You know? Either it’s a hammer or it’s a rain cloud, it can’t be both those things at the same time. So, be clear on what you’re trying to say, of course, and also have intention in your story,” said Veronica.
These days Veronica is inspired to write by what she sees in the world around her, “The world is a huge and complex place and you can read a lot of books about it and you can go on a lot of adventures in it. So, I like to take inspiration from the things that make me curious and I read a lot of non-fiction.”