Monday, March 7, 2011

Interview with John Flanagan

In December, for my final project for my English class, I had to write a 5-page paper on a topic of my choice.  The topic had to be in the form of a question regarding a dream I had.  Since I've always been a writer and my dream is to publish a book, I decided my topic would be "What is the Process of Publishing a Book?"

As part of my research, I needed to interview an "expert" in the field.  An "expert" would be somebody who has published a book successfully, right?  My mind immediately went to John Flanagan, author of the best-selling series "Ranger's Apprentice".

I did a Google search for him, and found his website.  Luckily, he has a "contact me" page on the site, which lists his email.  The assignment for interviewing an expert required me to write 10 open-ended questions, which would hopefully encourage more than just yes/no answers.  So, I emailed Mr. Flanagan my 10 questions and crossed my fingers that he would be nice enough to respond soon enough for me to finish my project in time.

When I checked my email the very next day, I found I had a response from the "Head Ranger"!!!  He gave me some excellent advice and he clearly put a bit of thought into his responses.  Below is a copy of the interview:

1.  How did you go about getting your story, “Ranger’s Apprentice”, published?
My agent sent it to a publisher. The publisher liked the story. They offered to publish it. That may sound simplistic, but that's the way you do it. There's no magic formula or system. There are no shortcuts. You send it to a publisher and hope they accept it. If they don;t, you send it to another publisher. and another. People who want to be authors keep writing to me, asking this question. They seem to hope there's some magic shortcut I can tell them to take. There isn't. It's a long hard grind.

2.  When you began writing your story, was your final goal to get it published?
As far as the Ranger's Apprentice series goes, no. I wrote a series of short stories for my son Michael. I never intended to make them into books. I was writing other material at the time and sending it to publishers ( see answer above).

3.  Would you mind telling me the hardest and easiest parts of the process of getting your story published?
There's no hardest or easiest to it. It's a simple process. It's just as hard, or as easy, to have a book rejected as it is to have it accepted. The process is identical. You write it. You send it off. They either accept it or reject it.
Rejection is a lot more unpleasant. And sometimes it's difficult, after a rejection, to try again.  

4.  After you completed the first draft of the story, what did you do to get it ready for publishing?
I read through it and edited it. My agent read it and made suggestions on ways to improve it or make it more marketable. I rewrote it several times, taking those suggestions on board. When I thought it was as good as I could make it, we submitted it.(See answer to question 1 to find out what happened then).

5.  What helps you to achieve success in the writing business, and what is your idea of “success”?
As to the firs t part, I suppose I've developed and honed my craft over a long period working as a professional writer and writing books in my spare time. So now I'm a good professional writer and story teller. Success is writing a book that lot s of people want to read and enjoy. The more people buy your book, the more freedom you have and th emore time you can devote to writing more books. ( without having to earn a living doing something else).

6.  What mistakes did you make that you wouldn’t have made if you could go back in time and give advice to yourself?
 It doesn't work that way. Writing is a developed skill. And it develops over a long period. The more you write, the better you get. To go back in time and advise yourself is  a nice hypothesis for an interview, but it doesn't make any  sense at all. It's like one of those shortcuts I mentioned earlier. You have to learn by your mistakes and if you don't make mistakes, you're not learning.

7.  If writing is your main source of income, how do you go about earning enough money to live on?
If you look at this question, it's pretty nonsensical. It assumes a level of control that just doesn't exist. For example, I've sold over three million books worldwide. Now, did I start writing a series thinking "I'll write some books that three million people will like"? No. I wrote a series that I liked. That's how you do it. The fact that three million other people like the books is good luck. Very good luck,in fact. But i can't make people like my books. All I can do is write them as well as I can.

8.  After you published one book, was it easier to publish another?

9.  What do you do to get a book finished by a deadline—especially if you encounter “writer’s block”?
I write to a schedule. And I stick to it. I don't get writer's block. Writer's block tends to happen to people who haven't planned their story thoroughly before they started writing - they're writing a stream of consciousness type of thing. If you've planned it properly, if you know how it starts, where it goes and how it ends, it's kind of hard to get writer's block. I believe writer's block is a convenient excuse for people who are too lazy to do the necessary preliminary planning.

10.  What advice would you give to someone (who has not been published yet) hoping to publish a book someday?
See the answer to the previous question. And then expect to be rejected. You probably will be. Keep trying and don't be depressed by it. It's only one person's opinion, after all.

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