Ally Carter on a decade in YA and her advice-driven new book Dear Ally
Having written a remarkable 19 books over 13 years, YA author Ally Carter is shaking things up a bit for her next project: a writing guide for her young readers.
Carter’s upcoming book is Dear Ally, set to be released next spring. It features questions for real teens with answers not only from Carter, but from other beloved young adult authors such as Cassandra Clare, David Levithan, Daniel Jose Older, and Marissa Meyer. Put simply, it’s got some of the biggest names in the genre behind it.
The book is among the firsts of its kind to come from a major publisher, catering to a younger audience and pulling from contemporary references that readers can relate to and recognize.
Check out the official cover for Dear Ally below, and read on for EW’s Q&A with Carter in which she shares her inspiration for the book, her writing process, and what is means to be a YA author. You can pre-order the book ahead of its March 26, 2019 release here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come up with the idea for the book?
ALLY CARTER: I was actually doing a tween book festival in Houston put on by the Blue Willow bookstore. We do three really big sessions in a gymnasium of a Houston school. Each session probably has like 500 7th–graders or so in it, and the very first question at every single panel was, “I’m writing my first novel” — this would be 11-year-olds saying that — “I’m working on my first novel and I was wondering if you had any advice?” It just occurred to me that these kids just really need this kind of book. They really need it in a physical book and they need to be able to buy it at the Scholastic Book Fair and so I came home and started working on the proposal and pitched it to my editor David Levithan and he really liked it, and so the rest, as they say, is history.
Can you speak a bit about your experience writing this one?
The biggest difference is that this one never felt like work. It felt like just kind of chatting with friends, because that’s really what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be a book of me answering questions kids have about writing. I never had to sit down and write a character, I never had to sit down and break a plot. I never had a plot twist. I never had to do all those things that I’m used to doing. I was able to just sort of talk off the cuff about stuff I’ve been learning for most of my life. It was very, very rewarding. It came together very quickly and I had so much fun doing it.
Why was it important to you to write this book?
My main goal was to have this book be the answer to [the question of how do you write a book]. There’s a sort of one-stop shop for kids or anyone really who’s wanting to get started.
How did you compile the questions from teenagers that you feature in the book?
That was one of the more interesting parts of the process. I actually collected them all via my website. I have a special form on the website where they can go in and write their questions and then they all sort of filter out through the website and I have a giant Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with all of them. We ended up getting over 1,000 questions. Then, it was my job to weed out [the yes’s and the no’s]. The biggest challenge, probably, was figuring out which version of questions we would get, because we got the “where do you get your ideas” question probably 100 times. Trying to figure out which one of those is maybe more nuanced, or what have you.
A lot of the questions were, “What do you do when you’ve written a book and your friends find out and make fun of you?” It never would have occurred to be to handle the confidence aspect of writing, and that’s a really, really important one, for especially young people who are starting out, because it’s kind of a scary thing to put yourself out there that way. I’m really glad I had those questions to draw on. I think they made the book stronger.
What’s one question that you really enjoyed answering?
The question that I was most relieved to be able to drill down on in this and give a very long, detailed answer to, was the question we all get, all the time, which is, “Can you publish a book if you’re only 13 or you’re only 12. How do we get publishers to take it seriously, we’re just kids.” That’s the kind of question that is really hard to get right on the spot, because you don’t want to give kids any negative feedback, but you also want to say, “they’re not going to care if you’re 12 or 13 if you’ve written a great book.” The key is to sit down and write a great book, and you may not be able to do that for a few years. So I was really glad to be able to give a detailed answer to that. Also, I was glad to be able to draw from some published authors who really did publish their first books when they were teenagers and they were able to talk some about their experiences, so I was really happy to be able to get that in there as well. It really helps round it out.
Kody Keplinger, for example, she published her first book I think when she was 19 and so she talked about how exciting that was, but how she basically had a full-time job when she was in college, so all of her friends were going out and enjoying being kids, and [she had] to stay [in] and do [her] copyedit. It’s a good thing for kids to be aware of.
What does this book offer that other writing books have not?
You go to a bookstore, you’re going to have a whole section of How to Write a Book books, but according to my research, at the time I sold this, there hadn’t been anything done specifically for the YA readership and there hadn’t been anything done between YA authors.
What would a book like this have meant to you as a teenager?
This book would have been amazing for me to have as a kid and that’s something I really kept coming back to whenever I would get a little confused or [find myself] stand[ing] at a crossroads and go, “Okay, so should I do this or should I do that?” I would always go back to what would have helped me the most when I was 12 or 13. I grew up on a farm out in the country and I went to a very, very rural high school, and especially at the time, the Internet wasn’t around, so we didn’t have these types of resources. I’ll never forget when I was probably 15 or so, I decided I wanted to be a writer and we were at a Waldenbooks at the mall and my mom saw my first craft book, and it was actually a screenwriting book. I read that cover-to-cover. I highlighted it, dog-eared it. I still have it today, and it just really set me on the track that I’m on right now. To be able to bring this to kids, hopefully the authors of some books that they know, and referencing contemporary things that they will be familiar with, and really put it out there on their level, I hope it will be very helpful.
What has it meant to you to be a YA author?
I feel really, really lucky that I’ve found a place in this community. I’m grateful every day that I broke in when I did and I’ve been able to sort of have a front row seat to the really cool things that have happened to the genre and there’s just so many wonderful people writing YA and so many incredibly talented people and I’m just hoping to stick around until they kick me out.