I’ve wanted to write a book since before I could even write. I remember being so jealous of my older sister when she started Kindergarten because she could read and write and I couldn’t. I vowed at four-years-old to learn how to write and to be really good at it. When I was five and learned how to write, I wrote my first story called Mystery Bob. I’ve loved writing since then, but never attempted a book until the age of 31.
After graduating high school, I enrolled in college, got married and started having kids as early as age 20. I had originally majored in journalism, but switched my major to social work so I could graduate sooner and find a job that could help with the bills.
But my first book didn’t happen until I was 31. My middle child had nightly rehearsals for a community theater play and I would sit in the auditorium and browse YouTube. I became addicted to slam poetry videos and watched them for days. At one point, I was in the mood to read a novel and since slam poetry was on my brain, I tried to find one that centered around a slam poet. When I couldn’t find one, I started writing one.
I became obsessed with the story of Lake and Will and worked on the book day and night until it was finished.
I wanted my grandmother to be able to read it on her new kindle, so I researched ways I could transfer the word document to a kindle. That’s when I came across Amazon’s self-publishing platform. I uploaded the document and half an hour later, the story I wrote was for sale on Amazon.
I never tried to get it published before that because I didn’t know the first thing about publishing. But once people started downloading it, word started spreading. Within a matter of a few months, word of mouth got the book to #5 on the New York Times.
After that, I found an agent and began receiving offers from publishers. I chose to go with Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Since then, I’ve signed several more deals with Atria Books because I love them so much. I’ve also released a novel and a few novellas as an indie author.
I wouldn’t change a whole lot because I really love where my mistakes have brought me. But the one thing I wish I would have done differently is take more pictures and videos of my children.
My mother inspires me.
I think the word “fan” is awkward. But yes, there’s a reader group on Facebook called CoHorts. I’m very active in there and it’s a very positive place. You can join if you want!
I think my greatest weakness is my disorganization. I have a terrible memory and don’t use a calendar. I have little patience for organization, so I just avoid it. That’s also my greatest strength. Not worrying about disorganization allows me to be stress-free most of the time. I don’t worry about too much. I’ve messed up so much in life due to my disorganization that I just expect mishaps now.
I’m not much of an animal person. I like one of my three dogs (she’s a pom) because she isn’t demanding. And I’ll like my other two dogs (German Shepherd’s) when they get older and stop trying to climb through my car window and scraping the paint as they attempt it.
Not ugly cry. But a couple have made me tear up. I’m not an emotional person, but when I write, I get really attached to the characters and it makes me sad when they’re sad. It’s interesting, because I tend to take on the mood of my characters. If I spend the day writing a sad scene, I’m sad the rest of the day. So I always try to end my writing day on a funny note. It’s why I disperse a lot of humor into the sadness. It’s for selfish reasons. 😉
It might be a strange answer, but I relate the most to Daniel from Finding Cinderella. He’s very sarcastic and doesn’t take life too seriously. I put a lot of myself in him.
Shel Silverstein and The Giving Tree.
My titles almost always come first, or at least while I’m outlining. I tend to know what the book is going to be about before writing it and having a title helps me get started with writing.
Hopeless was a little different. The original title of that was “Fall Together.” But while writing it, the title became clear as characters were introduced. Now I couldn’t imagine it being anything else because the title ended up playing such a huge role in the book.
I like to choose names that are uncommon. Sometimes I pull names from readers and people on Facebook. Sometimes at signings I’ll write down names I come across that I like when I personalize books. I chose the name Layken because that was going to be my daughter’s name. But I ended up having all boys, so I never used it.
I actually hate pizza.
This is one of the most common questions a writer receives. And it’s always been the hardest for me to answer. I think a more appropriate question would be where do you NOT get your inspiration, because I find it everywhere. A sentence in a song, a conversation in a restaurant, a dream while I’m sleeping. There are constantly things happening every day that I want to write about, but I force myself to focus on one book at a time.
I’ve been very fortunate in my writing career. Because of this, I wanted to do something to give back. I honestly didn’t think The Bookworm Box would turn into what it has. My sister and I had talked about doing a subscription box for about a year before I finally got to a point between books where I could help her work on it. When we launched, we sold out of 400 boxes in 4 minutes. We now cap sales at 2,000 boxes a month and have been able to donate almost one million dollars to various charities since we began. If you want to read more about this, go here.
I read almost all books on my phone, so I read in spurts now. I’m too busy to carve out actual reading time so I usually read when we’re in the car or I’m in a waiting room or on an airplane. (Or the bathroom.)
But I honestly don’t think I’ve just picked up a book and sat down somewhere comfy to read it in at least two years. I read in the in between.
Definitely one horse-sized duck.
I don’t NOT believe in them. But it’s hard for me to believe in things I’ve not had personal experience with. It is a bit ethnocentric to think we’re the only planet with life.
To go out to eat.
I have no process. Every book has been a completely different experience. Sometimes I outline, sometimes I pants it. I don’t like to put a schedule on my creative side so I tend to just write when I feel like writing and where I feel like writing. I do have an embarrassing ritual. I HAVE to wear a new pair of socks on writing days. Brand new. I don’t know why.
I would get tattoos of all the things she hates.
Not a single thing.
There have been a lot of significant moments, but there was one day in particular that really made me think about what type of person I wanted to grow up to be.
My younger sister has a different mother than me and my older sister. Her name is Lindy and we were visiting her and my father for Christmas break. Lindy took my sisters and I on an outing where we spent the day doing secret, random acts of kindness.
We got a bag of quarters and went and filled parking meters. Then she took us to antique stores and we would walk around and listen to the customers talk about things in the store they wished they could afford. When the customer would walk away, we would grab the item and take it to the register and secretly pay for it and leave it for them.
After that day I knew if I ever grew up and had extra money I would do things like this and I would teach my kids to do things like this.
I often hear people saying that acts of kindness should always be done in secret. Because if they aren’t, it’s self-fulfilling.
I believe this to an extent.
I learned a big lesson that day that kindness and generosity don’t have to be flaunted all the time, or even rewarded. But it does need to be taught. Had Lindy not taken us out on that adventure and allowed us to see her random acts of kindness, I wouldn’t have learned anything. There are times I’ll do things and tell no one, but there are also times, especially in CoHorts, where we share and talk about our random acts of kindness. And these acts inspire more acts and it’s a beautiful thing to see. So don’t be afraid to show people that you do kind things. But don’t be boastful about it and don’t share every act you do. Share the ones that need to be shared, but remember that kindness should always be given without expectation or a need for acknowledgment or reciprocation.
I’m sure this answer changes on my mood, but right now it would be STRESSED OUT by Twenty-One Pilots, Graveyard Near The House by The Airborne Toxic Event and February 7 by The Avett Brothers.
Justin Trudeau, Harry Connick Jr and Twenty-One pilots.
I would make movies! Produce, direct, etc. I might do that one day. I’m still young. (Age is a matter of perspective.)
I still feel like I’m learning and have so much more to learn. I don’t feel I’m in a position to give advice. But I’ll list some things that have helped me navigate the industry better and might help someone else.
1) Do not compare yourself to other authors. If you’re focused on how your book didn’t sell as many copies as “so and so’s” book, you’ll begin to resent your work and your career.
2) Write for yourself. If you try to write what you think people want to read, you won’t be able to put your whole heart into it. Write the story you would want to read. The more interested you are in your own words, the more honest your book will be.
3) Don’t write to get rich. The chances of a book finding an audience large enough to pay a bill, or even recoup your publishing costs, is slim. Write because you love to write, not because you need to.
4) Many disagree with me, but I let go of all expectations when writing a book. If I expect to hit the NYT or sell a certain number of copies, I will be setting myself up for possible failure. And then if those goals aren’t met, the joy of writing the book is overshadowed by a sense of failure. I’ve had many friends who started out this way, with high expectations for their books, and then became so jaded by the industry that they hate writing now. If you write a book and finish a book, that is a HUGE accomplishment. Let that be your only expectation—to write it and be proud of it. And then if something happens beyond that, it’s icing on the cake.
5) Google is your best friend. If you have a question, Google has the answer. Research, research, research.
Yep. Visit the Shop.
Have a question for Colleen? Send us a message in the Contact Us area and she might add it to the Q&A.