An Interview With Sara Connell
Be open to new ideas as you move along. Books always need editing, and it can often take significant changes to ensure that your message is conveyed in the best way possible. Closing yourself off from insight and advice from others can severely limit your ability to successfully execute your idea.
As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anya Costello.
Anya Costello attends Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, Massachusetts. She enjoys graphic design, music and math, and writing.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?
I grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, where I still live with my parents and my sister. Starting at a young age, I was always encouraged to read through many trips to the library and bookstores. No day was complete for me without reading! I read more books than I could count, and I soon realized that I wanted to develop my own stories. A box in my basement still holds numerous notebooks filled with short stories and attempts at novels.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?
I was always drawn to fantasy stories when I was young. During middle school, I began to read dystopian books. The survivalist challenges of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the fantastical elements in Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard intrigued me. These books undoubtedly influenced me as I started to pursue writing more seriously, sparking my interest in creating my own dystopian world. Animated discussions about these books with my friends at school were the foundation for my novel being published this month.
What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
During elementary and middle school, I received Stone Soup magazines, which featured stories written by young authors. In one particular issue, I noticed that Stone Soup and Mackenzie Press were holding a novel-writing contest with the prize including a publishing contract. I immediately wanted to participate! The Shadow Hour had been a project of mine for some time, and I was ready to seize the opportunity. I had always been hesitant to share my work but looking back I’m thrilled that I took the chance to put my work out there, as now so many more readers can experience my book The Shadow Hour.
What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?
I first started writing The Shadow Hour to help me improve my own writing skills. When I received a publishing contract and began editing, however, I knew that my story had become part of something bigger. There are so many talented young writers who may not have the courage to share their work or may fear that they won’t be taken seriously. Through the process, I realized that my experience could show them that sharing their stories could be rewarding by opening them up to feedback, connecting them to other writers, and even inspiring others with the messages they share.
Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?
To be honest, when I initially received the publishing contract at the age of thirteen, I didn’t know what to expect. Since this is only the beginning (The Shadow Hour’s will be published later this month), I’m hoping that my story will reach an audience of young writers with their own stories to share.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.
When I first won the writing contest, a story ran in the local newspaper about my book. I remember my mother received a phone call from someone inquiring about a young author in their life looking for an opportunity to share their manuscript. Right then I knew the message was getting out that there was a place for teen voices thanks to Nancy Gee and her new For Teens, Written by Teens imprint dedicated to the work of young authors.
What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?
Given that the official release is only days away, very few people have read the final manuscript. I gave an earlier version to a friend who read it with her parents, and I remember their surprise at the fact that it was a “real” book. As I kept my story relatively private in its first drafts, I think many of the people who I first shared it with were shocked, as they didn’t know to expect a full-length novel from a thirteen-year-old. I’m looking forward to hearing feedback on the published novel, as my book has changed so much from those early drafts I shared with friends and family.
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?
One of my most fulfilling experiences was traveling to Germany for the Frankfurt Book Fair, where my book and the For Teens, Written by Teens imprint were announced. It was overwhelming to see so many books and displays in one place, and it revealed to me just how complex it is to publish and advertise a book. There were hundreds of booths dedicated to promoting their books in numerous genres and languages. The book fair was a turning point in my time as a writer as it allowed me to see the industry, I was becoming a part of through my first published book.
Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?
I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced any negativity thus far, though I do anticipate that criticism will come. It is impossible to write a book that appeals to everyone, as books are subjective. Criticism or feedback for authors, though, is not always something negative, as learning and developing your skill is far from a negative experience. I look forward to hearing what people think — both the good and the bad — as I know that I have many more years to take on new writing projects and apply what I have learned. In terms of contributing to change, I don’t see anything negative about being part of a new imprint that gives voice to young authors. These teen authors have unique perspectives that many people could benefit from hearing, and I hope to see their work promoted in the upcoming years.
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
Books are powerful in that they allow for a very personal experience. Individuals can read a book at their own pace, leaving ample time for reflection. Readers can really absorb the meaning conveyed by a writer by taking their time to analyze and contemplate as they go. Reading is an immersive experience that allows people to understand a message in a uniquely profound way, giving them the chance to imagine the impacts of the author’s ideas on the world.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I’m not a bestselling writer yet, but something that has helped me in submitting a winning manuscript and editing my story over the past years has been keeping my writing schedule dynamic. I draw inspiration from other books, music, art, and conversation, and I always break up my writing and editing with activities like playing an instrument or reading. I don’t typically sit down and write for several hours straight, as I find that being in a prolonged fixed state can make my writing less engaging. This type of writing schedule doesn’t work for every author, but for me, it keeps ideas constantly fresh in my mind.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?
When I first started writing, I was always very private with my stories. I didn’t share any of my work with family or friends, including the initial manuscript of The Shadow Hour that I sent to the contest when I was twelve. Looking back now, I realize that I could have improved The Shadow Hour before even submitting it by allowing family and friends to read it. Taking in different perspectives is critical in editing a book, as it gives an author the insight necessary to make their story appealing to various audiences. Over the editing process, I became much more receptive of criticism and learned to appreciate it rather than stress about it, which is one of the central ways I’ve changed as a writer over the past years.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers need to know if they want to spark a movement with a book?
1. Be passionate about your idea. It is incredibly difficult to spend hours writing and editing a story that doesn’t resonate with you. In the past I have often let go of stories because I realized that I was losing interest, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do the idea justice. It’s okay to move on from an initial idea and to continue the search until you find the story that you know you will be able to dedicate yourself to.
2. Communicate with others. This can be other authors or simply people whose opinions you value. I often think about how much I could have improved The Shadow Hour in its earlier drafts if I had discussed the story with others. Many of the most significant edits I made to my book were sparked through conversation.
3. Be confident in sharing your message. To spread the message about your book, you will need to talk about it (as I’m doing right now!) It’s difficult to promote your own work, but writing a book is something you should be proud of. To be part of a movement, you have to show, as an author, that you believe you have something valuable to share.
4. Be open to new ideas as you move along. Books always need editing, and it can often take significant changes to ensure that your message is conveyed in the best way possible. Closing yourself off from insight and advice from others can severely limit your ability to successfully execute your idea.
5. Movements don’t happen overnight. Take your time in developing your message and your story. My book was initially intended only to be published as part of the contest I entered, but the movement has grown with time into the For Teens, Written by Teens imprint which will help many more young authors in sharing their messages.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?
I think it’s incredibly important to educate and support kids and teens, as the future relies on their decisions and actions. In the United States, civics education is lacking. It is critical to teach students how to be active members of society and to help them learn how their government functions. I believe that a coordinated and nationwide movement to provide students with a civics education can cultivate a new group of leaders prepared to actively participate in their community and pursue so many more meaningful causes in the future.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can follow my book The Shadow Hour on the following platforms:
Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.
Author Anya Costello On How To Write A Book That Sparks A Movement was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.