Kiera Cass is a #1 New York Times bestselling author who writes young adult literature. Her works include The Selection series and The Siren. The Selection has sold more than 3.5 million copies world wide and was recently picked up by Warner Bros for a movie adaptation. Originally from South Carolina, she now lives in Christiansburg, Virginia. She has a B.S. in History from Radford University.
The first time I heard of Kiera Cass I was sitting down to dinner with her parents. We’d done this for several consecutive years at the time; our families are in business together and we always get together to celebrate during the holidays. I’d never met her personally, but the first time I heard of her was when my aunt causally leaned across the table to ask her mother if Kiera had “earned her first million yet.” Needless to say this piqued my interest, and her proud parents were happy to indulge all my questions regarding her daughter’s success.
Several months later when I found myself vying to get an interview with the esteemed Mrs. Cass, I felt nervous to say the least, having read several of her books and done my share of cyberstalking, it was exceedingly evident to me that Kiera Cass was a huge deal in the YA scene. I felt very presumptuous asking her for a favor in the middle of an international book tour, but the ever gracious Cass obliged to have an interview with me, despite her tremendously busy schedule. It is because of this busy schedule we agreed to do the interview via email.
Though I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting Kiera Cass in person, exchanging emails with her has offered me a clear perception of the kindness, charm, faith, and talent she possesses, and I look forward to seeing where her hard work and unrivaled success takes her career in the future.
You self-published The Siren before The Selection series was picked up by HarperTeen. What was the experience of self-publishing like contrary to the more traditional path you took with The Selection?
Self-publishing can be incredibly hard or incredibly easy, depending on your skill level, personality type, and the book you’ve written. When you self publish, you are completely in control of the editorial process, which means you don’t have to cut anything you absolutely love, and the timeline of getting your book on a shelf is much faster (say 6 months as opposed to 2 years). If you’re very disciplined and have a great editorial eye, and if you’ve made something that is very relevant to something current or has a small market, self-publishing can be a very positive experience.
For me, while I learned a lot, it was a difficult road. I like my work going through several sets of eyes, all working to make it the best piece it can be. For me, knowing I have a team makes the work so much easier. Also, though there are parts of my books that are difficult to scale back sometimes, they usually do make for a better story in the end. And while some people don’t care if their books are in stores or not, that was a big goal for me. I used to go look at the YA section where my name would fall alphabetically and dream! I couldn’t have made that happen through self-publishing.
Why did you decide to write YA as opposed to other genres?
Because my soul is seventeen.
As a writer for young readers, what advice do you have for young people who want to make a career from writing? And more specifically, undergrads?
I almost always hand out the same pieces of advice: One, read everything, even stuff you think you’ll hate. It helps you learn your own voice. Two, while you’re in school, absorb all that you can about grammar, style, and literary techniques. I studied History in college and, while it was helpful, I still wish I’d held on to more of the basics and studied creative writing. It can only make you better. Three, get a thick skin. The moment you share creative work publicly; people will be mean. Brace yourself now. And four, daydream often. You can’t create if you don’t give your mind room to breathe. Schedule it into your day if you have to, but daydream.
You’ve experienced remarkable success with your books, what do you think is the most challenging obstacle you and other writers have to face to get to this point?
I honestly have no idea. I’m not even sure why the books have gained as much success as they did. It’s one of those things you cannot predict, and no one thought my books would do this well. My release even got bumped back a season to not compete with someone else, and my editor prepped me to not be disappointed when I didn’t hit the list only to have The Selection debut as a bestseller.
Really, all an author can do is write the best book they possibly can. The rest is in the hands of the readers. They decide if it’s worth reading over and over and sharing with friends and demanding more details. It’s really the fans that makes these things happen. I suggest going into publishing with low expectations. It’s way more fun to be surprised along the way.
What do you consider to be the most rewarding part of your career?
Fan interaction. It’s getting harder because the numbers are getting so big, but I love hearing back from readers about what the books have meant to them. I had a girl write that it made her raise her expectations of how boys should treat her, and heard about a bunch of girls in a group home in Germany who read them all together. I know someone who read it when her parents were getting divorced, and another who read them after a miscarriage. I never set out to write high literary work. I just wanted to make a world you could get lost in for a little while. I think I’ve accomplished that, so I can’t ask for more.