Saturday, March 27, 2010

Learning From a Successful Teen Novelist

As a 10-year-old, Christopher Paolini started reading fantasy books, but became frustrated because he didn’t feel they were good enough. So at 14 he began writing his own book, but quickly found out he didn’t know what he was doing, so he began reading everything he could get his hands on about how to write.

At fifteen he wrote his first draft, which took him about a year. Then he took about a year to re-write it. His parents read it and thought he should publish it. They took a third year to prepare it for publication (proofing, typesetting, etc.) and self-published it through print on demand with Lightning Source. It’s name: Eragon (he took the word “dragon” and substituted an “e” for the “d”).

Here's the writing process in a bit more detail from Christopher:
“By the end of 1999, I had completed the first draft of ERAGON. At last I was able to read my own book from start to finish ... and I was dismayed by how amateurish it seemed. The story was fine, but it was mired in atrocious language and grammar. I was like a musician who has composed his first aria, only to discover that he can’t perform it because he has not yet learned to sing. I set out to rewrite ERAGON with the goal of raising the language to a professional level.

I did not entirely succeed. My second draft—which took a second year (2000)—was larger than the first and bloated with far too many words. At that point, I turned the manuscript over to my parents, both of whom are published authors.

Finally, I began to benefit from real editing. Editing and revision are two of the most important tools for forging a great book. With my parents’ advice, I was able to clarify my descriptions, streamline my logic, and quicken the pace of the story so that ERAGON read the way that I had intended it to. This consumed the bulk of 2001.

My parents and I had decided to self-publish ERAGON for financial and creative reasons.” ( )
But here’s where he deviated from most authors. Instead of sitting around waiting to see if anyone would discover his book, he went out and started selling it. I don’t get the impression that he did 1001 different things to market his book. He found one method that suited him and worked for him: doing a presentation in schools. And he worked hard at it.
“We started by doing book signings in bookstores, but quickly learned that no one shows up for an author they have never heard of. I was very determined, and would stay for eight hours straight and talk to every person who came in the store and try to sell them a book. On a good day, I might sell forty books. That’s not bad for a signing, but it’s a lot of work.”

I then learned that if I went into a school and did a presentation, in one day we could sell 300 books or more, and inspire students to read and write, so I concentrated on that. We also started charging a fee for the presentation, to help cover travel expenses.
He did most presentations dressed in a medieval costume.
"My dad and I made two trips to Houston, where my grandmother lives. I called numerous school librarians and spoke to them about my book and presentation. They didn’t know who I was, so it took a bit of persuading, but I managed to arrange to visit several schools, along with a few bookstores, that first trip. One of the librarians posted an enthusiastic recommendation of my presentation to an online teachers’ forum (pop quiz: so what does getting on this forum do for him? sm – that’s called a platform for other schools), so by the time we returned home to Montana, my mom already had a second trip to Texas planned, and I didn’t have to do any cold calls. That second trip was a solid month long, with three or four hour-long presentations every single day.”
He and his family ended up doing over 135 talks.

In the summer of 2002, American novelist Carl Hiaasen was on vacation in one of the cities that Paolini gave a talk in. While there, his stepson bought a copy of Eragon that he "immediately loved".[1] He showed it to his stepfather, who brought the book to the attention of the publishing house Alfred A. Knopf. Michelle Frey, executive editor at Knopf, contacted Paolini and his family to ask if they were interested in having Knopf publish Eragon.” Knopf re-edited it and published it in 2003.

He got two big-time reviews, but they were both rather mediocre, calling it formulaic, not that well-written, but hey, not bad for a young person. But the public voted with their dollars and Eragon placed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 121 weeks.

Then the movie came out in 2006. It tended to get lousy reviews by the critics, but I’m sure Paolini and the publishing company cried all the way to the bank since “the film’s $249 million total worldwide gross was the sixteenth highest for 2006.”

Today Paoloni continues to write books.

Takeaways for authors:

1) Take your time in writing your book. Writing is rewriting. Get input from professionals.

2) Writers without platforms can make it.

3) Market your book. I don’t think any of this would have happened had Paolini never contacted his first school to see if he could do a presentation.

(References:, ,