Without a doubt, it was having a support group. Lindsay and I created Scribbler for this very reason. It’s an enormous act of faith to write an entire book, edit it numerous times, and query first agents, then editors, and just hope that you end up with a book deal.
As part of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book” I had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria Scott and Lindsay Cummings, bestselling authors and co-founders of Scribbler, a thriving startup catering to novelists.
Victoria Scott is the acclaimed author of nine novels. Her books have been YALSA-nominated, have appeared on the prestigious Spirit of Texas Reading Program list and the Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of the Year list, and have been translated and sold in fourteen countries. She is the founder and CEO of Scribbler, a global company catering to novelists.
Lindsay Cummings is a #1 NY Times bestselling author of eight traditionally published novels. She published her first book with HarperCollins at the age of 19, and is the co-owner of a thriving editorial company. She is also the co-founder of Scribbler, a global company catering to novelists.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Victoria: I was working in marketing, and I realized my favorite part of the job was writing the ad copy. When the Great Recession hit, I was laid off and given 9 months of severance pay. Part of my severance package dictated that I couldn’t work for a competitor, so it limited my options. My husband asked me one day, over cheese enchiladas I might add, what I would do now that I had time to decide. My response was: read all day. Since that didn’t pay the bills, I moved to the next best thing: writing them.
Lindsay: I always loved reading, but writing books as a career wasn’t really on my radar. When I graduated high school, I got sick with Chronic Fatigue, and turned to writing as a way to cope. My body wasn’t able to do much, but my mind was limitless. That turned into a passion, and the rest is history!
What was (so far) the most exhilarating or fulfilling experience you’ve had as an author?
Victoria: My most memorable experience in my entire career was delivering a keynote speech to hundreds of aspiring writers. I had an out-of-body experience on that stage where I saw my younger self in the audience, looking up at me. Because I’d been there. I’d been that hopeful, eager writer dreaming of one day being the one holding the finished books, and a microphone. The path to publication is a tough one, but there are these glittering moments that make it all worth it.
Lindsay: Hitting the New York Times list. It was always a pipe dream, something that happened to authors I looked up to and admired…but never to me. I’ll never forget getting that phone call the day it happened, seeing my name on that list. It made my 120 rejection letters leading up to that moment totallyworth it!
What was the craziest, weirdest, wildest experience you’ve had as a bestselling author?
Victoria: I’ve had numerous super fans thatcreate fan art of my work, but one of my loyal fans creates fan art of me. As in, music videos with photos of me and my family shuffling through. My husband gets a kick out of them. Enthusiastic readers are the best part of the job. I’ve also had fans ask me to sign strange things: a sock (it appeared to be clean), an iPhone, a diaper bag, and — most recently — a dozen or more teenage necks at a high school appearance. You’re welcome, parents.
Lindsay: One time on a book tour, a fan brought me a mug with a map of her country on it. She was so sweet and excited about it, that I truly don’t think she realized the mug was covered in super inappropriate names and sayings. Poor thing! It made for a great memory, though.
What is the greatest part about being a successful, bestselling author? What is the worst (if anything) part?
Victoria: The greatest part is having readers waiting on your next story. When you’re just starting out in your career, the desire to have someone read your work, and to see it on bookstore shelves, is enough to drive you to madness. When it finally happens, you get this sense of relief. Like, okay, I did this. Now I can relax and die happy. But then this wonderful thing you didn’t expect happens — people actually buy your book, and love it, and want more.And suddenly your goals become larger to meet those expectations. The worst part of that is that many authors disappoint their readers because we are bound to publishing timelines. It takes publishers 18 months on average to take your next manuscript and get it bookstore ready, and that’s if they buy your ideas. There’s a middleman, and that’s tough on the author / reader relationship. A very good middleman, but still.
Lindsay: I feel super blessed every day that I get to do what I love for a living…that I’m living out my passion in life, that I’m not stuck in a job I don’t want to be in. It’s not an easy career. There are MANY ups and downs, and often you can feel deflated when a book doesn’t sell quite as well as you hoped, or maybe doesn’t sell at all. But at the end of the day, I’m living the artist’s life. And that’s a major, major dream come true.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?
Victoria: Without a doubt, it was having a support group. Lindsay and I created Scribbler for this very reason. It’s an enormous act of faith to write an entire book, edit it numerous times, and query first agents, then editors, and just hope that you end up with a book deal. Especially when we know how little most authors earn for their work. Without a support group, I wouldn’t have made it past my first few chapters on my debut book. My husband was my biggest cheerleader, but so was my sister, and a few writerly friends I found through Twitter. Lindsay was actually one of my very first writer pals, and we’re still friends to this day. That’s why, years later — when, after publishing seventeen books between the two of us — we said to each other, let’s create something for novelists so they can find each other, and stay motivated on this journey.
Lindsay: Perseverance and community for sure. I had SO MANY rejections when I first got started, but I refused to quit. I got involved with other writers (Victoria was one of the very first!), shared stories, and we all pushed each other to keep going. I think that’s why I love Scribbler so much. It’s a big community of writers who just want to make the dream happen, but they want it to happen for others, too.
Which writer or leader has had the biggest impact on you as a writer?
Victoria: Kiersten White, an accomplished novelist, was pivotal to my career. I’d been writing dark fiction with gloomy, somber tones. That style was all the rage a decade ago. I loved it, but I didn’t have the experience to match the tone. It wasn’t until I picked up Kiersten White’s Paranormalcyand read her snarky voice, imbedded in a dark subject matter, that I realized, ‘Oh, okay! So you can combine humor with dark undertones.’ Once I’d read that book, I started a new manuscript in a similar vein and it became my first published book.
Lindsay: In the beginning, it was Lauren Oliver, who helped champion my work and really push me to keep going. Later, it was Scott Westerfeld and his wife, Justine Larbalestier, who were always there cheering me on in the background, and sharing tons of career wisdom with me.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it?
Victoria: The biggest challenge in my career is similar to what many multi-published authors face: waiting on your next deal. The negative thinking sneaks up on you quick when you don’t immediately contract another book. You think, ‘So that’s it. I’ll only have X number of books, and that’ll be the end.’ After a while, you (mostly) get over that and realize this isn’t a race. It’s about art. It’s about writing for the love of storytelling. Not for the advance, or the recognition, or even the fans. It’s about creating something from nothing because you’re called to do so.
Lindsay: I actually had given up on writing when I wrote the book that hit the NYT list. I wrote the book of my heart, it never sold, and I wanted to give up on traditional publishing. I called up a friend, Sasha Alsberg, who is a youtuber and reader. I asked her to write a fun book with me that we would self-publish on our own…once we did, it hit #1 on the list. It just goes to show that you NEVER know what will lead to success, but you’ve got to keep trying new things.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career?
Victoria: My most successful book series, Fire & Flood, ended on a cliffhanger. My agent at the time advised me to end the second book on a cliffhanger to persuade the publisher to buy a third book. I did exactly as she said, and when the publisher — Scholastic — didn’t flinch at the ending, I thought, ‘Okay, so they’re definitely buying a third book.’ I think they thought at the time they would. Then things changed, and my readers were left hanging. And because like everyone else I had bills to pay, I had to take deals for other books, which left me zero time to finish the series on my own. It’s a huge regret for me. That I didn’t end each book with a complete ending.
Lindsay: I’ve learned in the past few years that I am not my career. I may call myself a writer, but at the end of the day, I’m ultimately ME, with or without my books. I used to let my sales numbers and book deals and reviews really get to me, so much that it was guiding my daily thoughts and really dragging me down. It made me hate writing for a while, because the business took a major toll on me. It’s hard not to let it do so, but eventually, I realized that while my writing is a big part of me, it isn’t ALL of me. And that’s so, so important when you’re depending on your art as your money maker. You’ve got to love it, and not get too caught up in the business side of it all.
What are the 5 things a writer needs to know if he/she wants to become a bestselling author?
– Know what your character wants most in the world and what stands in their way. Ex. a kid who wants to be the fastest in their class and win the year-end race to gain their father’s approval, but there’s another kid who’s always been the fastest, and the main character’s history project grade might keep them from competing.
– Love your novel so reviews don’t affect you. The fastest way to write one book and never write another is to read reviews of your work. The easiest way to dismiss those reviews if you do decide to read them is to love your story so much that you don’tcareif anyone else likes it.
– Read outside your genre. My work was starting to become cliché, and I learned that it was because I was reading too much in the genre I wrote. I sounded like everyone else. If you write adult SciFi, read YA contemporary. If you write romance, read horror. Every genre offers something they excel in, so use all those parlor tricks in your own MS and you’ll be regarded as an original inside your genre.
– Work in as many twists in your story as possible. End sections on them, for certain, but try to even end your chapters on small twists. The goal is to constantly (as in, every few paragraphs) give your reader a reason to keep going. A twist is anything the character didn’t innately expect to happen. So, as you’re writing, ask yourself what should happen next. The answer will most likely be the one a reader will expect too. So make yourself choose a different path whenever possible. Sometimes, going against your instincts works!
– Don’t be afraid to pivot in a big way. If your career has stalled, try a new genre, a new pen name, or a new audience. Hell, change to screenwriting or music writing. Just keep writing!
– Don’t quit. (I got 120 rejections on my first novel until an agent finally said yes.)
– Put the hard work in. (If you want the dream, you’ve got to spend time perfecting your craft).
– Don’t try to make it happen too soon (let the book marinate. Edit like your life depends on it!)
– Read a LOT (it sounds obvious, but reading will continually inspire you and refill your creative well).
– Learn the industry, but don’t let it rule your life.
What are you most excited to work on next? Most excited to read next?
Victoria: Right now my brain is on two things: promoting my most recent release, We Told Six Lies, which just came out a few weeks ago, and continuing to grow Scribbler.My days are spent at book signings, doing interviews, and pushing my book to my readership online. But I also have to balance running Scribbler — which has become a full time job — and ensuring every box we send to our subscribers is both teaching them how to write better, and inspiring them to push onward on that hard road to publication. Oh, and working in time for family and friends. I sleep very little these days. I’m most excited to read Inspection, Josh Malerman’s next book (he wrote Bird Box).
Lindsay: I’ve got a single title coming up in 2020 called Blood, Metal, Bone, and it’s the book of my heart, truly. I’ve been working on it for 5 years, and I’m diving back in this week to put the finishing touches on this draft before it goes off to my editor.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Victoria: In one of my books, The Collector, I wrote about a charity where, to receive assistance, you had to first help someone else, even if it was a small act of kindness. I’ve always liked the idea of this circle of giving. I’m also an advocate for female equality. We hire predominately women at Scribbler, and hope to continue the trend. Most of our customer base is female, and we want to represent them. But there’s also the simple fact that Lindsay and I are female bosses, and want to provide opportunities at the ground floor of our company for other women, so as Scribbler grows, they do as well.
Lindsay: I actually believe Scribbler sets a great example. It’s heavily run by women, besides Victoria and me, and I think it sets a great example to other young women that have an idea and want to make the dream happen!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Victoria: Just a general shout out to every writer out there reading this. Keep the faith, Scribbler. And just. keep. writing.
Lindsay: Writers…you can do it. Just keep pushing, keep learning, and lean on each other. It’s not a sprint, it’s a very very long marathon, full of ups and downs. Every moment, whether it’s tough, like a rejection, thrilling like an agent saying yes, or just a small victory like a great writing day…they’re all amazing parts to YOUR unique journey. You’re a Scribbler, and your story matters.
Thank you so much for these great insights!