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2016-05-13 08.13.52Did you know there is an entire convention dedicated to books? Book Con is the public part of Book Expo of America, or BEA. Professional authors, publishers, book sellers, book buyers, etc. come together to share must-read books, delve into upcoming market trends, and build relationships with other literary professionals. There are panels with authors from all genres and a showroom full of major, indie, and niche publishers who sell or give away their books. (FREE BOOKS!) I went for the first time this year and came home with some amazing advice and insights from bestselling authors, including Naomi Novik, Pierce Brown, and Sarah J. Maas. And I’ll share them with you below! (My paraphrased versions unless specifically quoted.)

Justin Cronin signs my book. (Photo by Emily Lewis)

Justin Cronin signs my book. (Photo by Emily Lewis)

On Writing Process

  • Scott Sigler (Generations Trilogy) outlines heavily before writing (as in 45-page outlines). He likes to make sure everything ties up neatly before he starts a draft and notes that in this way, he often doesn’t see many big changes from the first draft to the next.
  • Justin Cronin (Passages Trilogy) is also a planner and believes in tapping into the subconscious part of the brain, where plot problems are solved, by doing something like running every day. “From as early an age as possible, find a process that works and stick with it.” In other words, being ritualistic can be an important part of your writing, as is making sure you get it done regularly.
  • Naomi Novik (Temeraire series) opens an online chat with other writer-friends while she writes so they can chat about their work in progress. She gets beta feedback 2-3 times a week this way. “That kind of back and forth is integral to my process.”
  • Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass series) acts out scenes and dialogue while watching her expressions in a mirror behind her desk.
  • Laini Taylor (The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy) can’t write fast first drafts. “I have to edit as I go. The moment I feel it’s gone wrong, I have to go back and fix it or I lose my investment in it.”
Line for Pierce Brown signing.

Line for Pierce Brown signing.

On Daily Word Quotas

  • Justin Cronin shoots for 1000 words/day.
  • Namoi Novik doesn’t have a word quota and prefers to write whatever is grabbing her that day, even if it isn’t what’s on deadline.
  • Scott Sigler needs a “crushing, regimented deadline” to keep him on track, so he often aims for 3000 words/day. He admits that’s incredibly hard to keep up with and will be lowering that quota for his next project. He also uses a digital timer in 15 minute increments.
  • Pierce Brown (Red Rising Trilogy) doesn’t have a word quota but he does use an hourglass in two-hour increments to keep him on track.
  • When starting a project, Sarah J. Maas goes on 10,000 “word-binges,” which aren’t always good, but are necessary for her to “get the bones” of a story in place. Then she crashes and can’t write for a week before going back and editing.


Amazing picture book discoveries!

Amazing picture book discoveries!

On Getting Started or Getting Past Writer’s Block

  • Naomi Novik: If you’re stuck, talk out a conversation between your characters that might happen in the last scene you wrote. “It’s usually the last scene that’s the problem.”
  • Justin Cronin: Use a whiteboard. Standing up to write on it, work things out there, really helps.
  • Sarah J. Maas: “If I’m not absolutely obsessed with a character, I don’t write them.”
  • Victoria Aveyard (The Red Queen series): “Pay attention to escalation, [i.e.] ‘I can’t top that so I have to save that for later.’”
Book Con Showroom

Book Con Showroom

On Beta Readers and Editors

  • Naomi Novik encourages all aspiring authors to be beta readers for other writers. She does it and it helps her to internalize the editing process as she’s writing her own books. “As a beta reader, you’ll learn what you look for in other people’s work and how to look for that in your own.” When choosing beta readers for your work, “Find people with whom you’re extremely compatible.”
  • Pierce Brown: “Be good at giving advice and find beta readers who are interested in telling your story, not theirs.”
  • Justin Cronin doesn’t use beta readers. He writes until he feels he’s exhausted everything he can do with his book before giving it to his editors.
  • Scott Sigler reminds us that editors help us to see when we haven’t covered something, especially when we think we did. “Often, the ‘paper story’ doesn’t fall in line with the one in your head, and that’s what editors are for.”
All the free books I got!

All the free books I got!

On Making Space and Finding Time to Write

  • Pierce Brown is on a war against short attention spans and warns us to stay away from activities like social media and emails before we’ve had our writing time. “The hardest thing is taking the distraction away and allowing myself to access the part of my brain that really has something to say.”
  • Naomi Novik: You are allowed to be “selfish” and take the time you need to write. “I don’t answer emails all that often. Things often fall through the cracks.” This idea is “…important for women especially, who feel like they have to always be taking care of others.”
  • Justin Cronin: “The deeper I am in a book, the smaller my social life becomes.” Justin also warns us that “Too much time can be a problem.” Less time to be productive means you have to really be more You have to use your time effectively. So sometimes having a part-time, or even full-time, job outside of your writing pursuits can help provide the structure and deadlines some writers need to stay on track. 
Naomi Novik, Scott Sigler, Justin Cronin, Pierce Brown

Naomi Novik, Scott Sigler, Justin Cronin, Pierce Brown

On Advice for Aspiring Authors

  • Naomi Novik: “Finish a lot of stuff is my main piece of advice for new writers.”
  • Justin Cronin: “You’re not a writer because you start things. You’re a writer because you finish things.”
  • Scott Sigler: “Write a whole book… Learn to finish a book.”
  • Victoria Aveyard: “Put your butt in the chair. Finish your draft. I don’t care if it’s crap. It’s so much easier to edit once you’ve finished the draft.”
  • Sarah Maas: “Anytime someone tells you your can’t do it, tell them, ‘Watch me.’ Don’t let anyone stop you from trying.”

I see some common themes in that last topic.

If you’ve heard some great advice or insights on writing or illustrating from someone you admire, share it in the comments!


(Book Con Photos by Sarah Parker-Lee unless otherwise attributed.)

Sarah Parker-LeeSarah Parker-Lee is managing co-editor of Kite Tales, reviews books for Dwarf+Giant, & writes for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs. She also writes YA alt. history & sci-fi. Her humor blog, Dogs and Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, shambles towards your tasty brains Summer-ish 2016. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel