Like millions of readers worldwide, I fell in love with Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. So when she graced an online discussion forum sponsored by a group I belong to, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask her a question on behalf of all aspiring writers.
Water for Elephants
Gruen had two novels under her belt when Water for Elephants was catapulted to best-seller lists in 2006. Today the book is available in 44 languages, with over 10 million copies in print worldwide. It was made into a movie in 2011, starring Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, and Robert Pattinson. The film was directed by Francis Lawrence.
Gruen was widely recognized for Water for Elephants. She received the 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year Award, the Cosmo Fun Fearless Fiction Award, the Bookbrowse Diamond Award for Most Popular Book, the Friends of American Literature Adult Fiction Award, and the ALA/Alex Award 2007.
Sara Gruen’s Advice
As a member of Backspace, an online writers community, I participated in an online discussion forum attended by Gruen last month. She’s also a member of Backspace and she was invited as part of the organization’s 10-year-anniversary celebration. Here is her answer to my question.
Q: Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?
Sara Gruen: I’m going to guess it’s stuff you’ve heard, but it bears repeating. If you haven’t finished your book and you also work, set aside your writing time on evenings and weekends and keep it sacred. Don’t let anyone get between you and it (and in my experience it’s usually me!).
If you have finished your book, polish it until you don’t believe it’s possible to make it shine any brighter. If you have a few trusted writer friends, exchange manuscripts and critique each other’s work.
Very Important Note: These must be people whose own work you admire and who you secretly think are more talented than you (and they must secretly think the same about you), and you must make a pact to be honest with each other, but never brutal. Don’t forget to tell them all the things you love, as well as the things you think need work.
If you don’t yet have an agent, research who is making the best sales for the type of books closest to yours, and make that query letter sing. After that, it’s up to the gods and the stars and the furies, and you keep yourself busy by writing another book.
Writer Friends vs. Reader Friends
Sara Gruen: [On what kind of beta readers she has] Mine are all writer friends. For one thing, you can only return the favor if they’re writers. Also, they know how to analyze what’s not working and offer suggestions on how to fix it—not that you ever need to take someone’s suggestion, but sometimes just hearing an alternative will spark another idea. If you know someone is a good critical reader, there is no reason not to try to enlist them! But I would definitely include fellow writers in the mix.
For more information about Backspace, go to: http://bksp.org/
“Parasols” by Nina Fazzi. Copyright © 2014 by Nina Fazzi. All Rights Reserved.