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Wild Ink Interview Part III

February 18, 2013

Tags: You make a living writing nonfiction for kids and teens. How many hours does it take, and what tips can you offer about the business side of nonfiction?

• From my interview in Wild Ink: Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing in the Young Adult Market by Victoria Hanley

I probably put in 45–60 hours a week, including cleaning the oven and other feats of procrastination. More hours than that and my writing gets stale. If you start earning enough that it affects your taxes, get a tax preparer who knows the ins and outs of the tax code in regard to freelance work. You’ll be glad you did.

Much more importantly, cultivate a good relationship with your editors. Again, that sounds obvious, but too many writers view critical comments from an editor as a personal attack. It ain’t. Writing is usually solitary but publishing is a collaborative process. Once I got that, really, really got that, I was much happier and I started getting more work than I could handle. Want to win the devotion of an editor? The first response to any feedback should be, “Sure, I can fix that.” Later you can niggle about the details—in a thoughtful and respectful manner, of course. I’ve worked with editors that at one time drove me batty, but later became the ones I trusted most because they pushed me to do my best work.

In my experience, there are three “abilities” of any successful freelancer, or perhaps any successful anything. Ability—talent to write clear, engaging material. Reliability—the ingrained habit of getting quality work in on time. Likeability—the can-do character that makes an editor’s job easier, not harder. Rule of thumb is that if you can master any two out of those three, you’ll always have writing work.

How many rejections have your received in the course of your writing career? How did you deal with being rejected?

Rejections aren’t really an issue now since publishers are the ones coming to me. Believe me, I know how fortunate I am. However, my fiction is rejected consistently. It’s part of the game. I belong to an outstanding critique group of writers who keep me honest and encourage me at the same time.

Cool Quotes

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have dome them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

-Theodore Roosevelt

"The question is not what a man can scorn, or disparage, or find fault with, but what he can love, and value, and appreciate."
-John Ruskin

It’s a myth that writers write what they know. We write what it is that we need to know.
-Marcie Hersman

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.
- Paul Ehrlich

Nothing softeneth the Arrogance of our Nature like a
Mixture of some Frailties.
It is by them that we are best told,
that we must not strike too hard
upon others
because we ourselves do
so often deserve blows.
They pull our Rage by the sleeve
and whisper
Gentleness to us in our censures.


Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty
and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

“We are here and it is now. The way I see it is, after that, everything tends towards guesswork.”
-Didactylos in Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

"Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.

"You can do it."

-Sherman Alexie, from
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

"It is blissfully simple to strike a savvy, sophisticated pose by attacking someone else’s creations, but the old adage is right: Any fool can burn down a barn. Building one is something else again." -Martha Beck

"Live in the active voice rather than the passive. Think more about what you make happen than what is happening."
-William De Witt Hyde

"The soul of a child demands these mighty passions, opposition and adversity."
-Isak Dinesen

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, 'I'll try again tomorrow.'"
-Mary Anne Radmacher

"That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time."
-John Stuart Mill

"The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."
-Wade Davis

"It is so easy to be cynical. It's an accurate reflection of reality. It's much harder; it takes a philosophical point of view, to be optimistic. You have to work at it every day. One of the joys of working with children is that they are still unspoiled by cynicism."
-Yo-Yo Ma

"Story means pleasure, as distinct from art; it would rather gratify than edify.
But stories also protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the twentieth century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories—that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle, and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narratives—in many fields of knowledge—because it is impossible to live without them."
-Bill Buford, 1996

"Adulthood is the consequence of decisions made by a teenager."

"Kids are not stupid. They're just short." —Jack Prelutsky