Writer’s Corner

Multiple best-selling author Meg Cabot conquers all. YA, manga, romance, chick lit – you name it, she writes it. I managed to tear her away from her books and her blog and asked her to fill us in on what’s she’s up to now and where she’s going in the future. And stay tuned: For all of we romance-lovers out there, she has some very (very!) good news.

–Sandy Coleman

If Perez-Hilton didn’t already have that Queen of All Media title all locked up, I’d nominate you, Meg as the real…well, Queen of All Media.

Seriously, you don’t know how that compliment has touched me. I had to take perezhilton.com down off my bookmarks because I was literally going there every fifteen minutes to check for updates and it was disrupting my workflow so badly. I’m now allowed to check Perez only after I’m done with a chapter. So thank you.

Well, you are very welcome, Real Queen of All Media. You reign supreme in the adult and YA market. In fact, just to get this out of the way, according to your website you are the author of “forty books for both adults and teens, many of which have been bestsellers, most notably The Princess Diaries series, which is currently being published in over 37 countries, has sold over five million copies worldwide, and was made into two hit movies by Disney. In addition, Meg wrote the Mediator and 1-800-Where-R-You series (on which the Lifetime channel series, Missing, was based), two All-American Girl books, Teen Idol, Avalon High, How to Be Popular, many historical romance novels under a pen name she still hopes her grandma never finds out about, a series of novels written entirely in email format (Boy Next Door, Boy Meets Girl, and Every Boy’s Got One), a mystery series (Size 12 Is Not Fat/ Size 14 Is Not Fat Either), and a chick-lit series called Queen of Babble, about a young woman who talks too much, a personality trait with which Meg is completely unfamiliar.” Umm, so what are you planning for an encore?

Wow. I need to update my bio to include my summer releases! There’s also my new teen comedy Pants on Fire, which came out in May.

But coming soon, there’s Avalon High: Coronation, The Merlin Prophecy, which is my first manga, really just a long comic book, but shaped like a paperback novel. It’s very high on romance and high school drama as well as Arthurian lore (it’s about a girl who might be the modern teen reincarnation of the Lady of the Lake, who is dating a guy who might be the modern teen reincarnation of King Arthur). That’s out July 3, 2007.

Then there’s Jinx, which comes out July 31, 2007, and is about a teenage girl who is having a hard time adjusting to living with her wealthy aunt and uncle in their swank Upper East Side townhouse…as well as to the fact that she may have inherited a dead sorceresses’ powers (this is actually based on a real family legend of mine…my great-great-great-and-so-on grandmother was burned at the stake in England for witchcraft, and she is said to have passed on her powers to her granddaughters. So far no flying broomsticks for me, but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed).

Finally, there’s Queen of Babble in the Big City , which was released late last month. It’s the sequel to last summer’s adult chick-lit release, Queen of Babble. In it, my heroine, Lizzie Nichols, who has motor control issues over her mouth, attempts to conquer the Big Apple, looking for a job and a place to live, while also trying to get her boyfriend, Luke, to propose. Lizzie’s dream is to become a vintage wedding gown restorer, and besides being filled with zesty humor and romance, the book is also chock full of tips on how to find and maintain the perfect wedding gown, and actually has illustrations to go with the tips. I haven’t even seen the completed illustrations yet…I can’t wait to get my hands on a finished copy of the book!

““Wow!”” is the only reaction I have, surely a significant understatement of my admiration for your industry. Meg, you obviously haven’t lost touch with your inner surly teenager. (Okay, I was surly for about five years, so I assume everybody else was, too.) But, seriously, since you did start out writing romance novels how did you know that you had a real gift for YA fiction?

It started the way most things start: I was mad at my mom. True, I was thirty, but she’d just announced she was dating one of my teachers. Few people remember it, but this is actually how the story of The Princess Diaries opens (I just threw in the princess stuff to give the story of the girl’s mom and the teacher more of a plot). After I was done and I handed the manuscript in to my agent, she said, “I think this should be for children or teenagers.” I was kind of shocked. I had written the book for my thirtysomething year old friends.

The Princess Diaries went on to be rejected by just about every children’s publisher in Manhattan. That was before chick-lit for teens became mainstream. In fact, there are those who will say The Princess Diaries was the first “chick-lit for teens” book. An assistant editor at HarperCollins bought it for just $8,000 — her first hardcover buy ever — my first non-historical romance sale. I wanted to do a sixteen book series about Princess Mia, but my editor was only allowed to buy the one book…until after the movie was made and was a hit. Then she bought the rest the series, three books at a time. So I guess we figured out I had a gift for YA fiction together!

Incidentally, my mom and the teacher are still together and it’s still disturbing to me, but I’m getting used to it. They’re disgustingly happy.

As if all those books weren’t enough, you also write one of the most entertaining blogs out there. (I’m a big Henrietta the cat fan, by the way.) Blogs are obviously great promotional tools, but yours seems like a labor of love. So, is it? (Loaded question, I know.)

Aw, thanks for that! I have to admit, sometimes I wonder if anyone is even reading it (I’m not computer savvy and don’t know how to look up stats or anything — thank God or I’d be doing that obsessively all day). My editor (the one who bought The Princess Diaries for HarperCollins, and who recently left there to go to Scholastic, so I followed her — she can’t escape me that easily) ordered me to start a blog. If you read the first entries, you can see I was really P.O.’ed about it. I didn’t want a blog, I didn’t know what they were, I thought it was a waste of time…I was so mad at her.

Then little by little I started to come around (basically because I became convinced no one was reading it, so I relaxed a little), loosened up, and now I love it.

I’m still not entirely convinced blogs work as a marketing tool, though. I have had people come up to me at book signings and tell me to my face that they love my blog, but don’t read my books.

The thing is…blogs don’t actually pay an author’s bills…books do. People sometimes seem to forget this. People think, “Oh, it won’t make a difference if I don’t buy her books.”

But it does. I make it a point to buy the books of authors whose blogs I read. Even if I don’t read their books, I give them to friends, or donate them to libraries or women’s shelters. Because I know what it’s like to lose a book contract due to low sales. I got fired in the middle of two series I’d started (The Mediator and 1-800-Where-R-You) because no one bought them. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. Believe me…book sales make a huge difference.

So, Meg, since I’m on the loaded question track, a number of authors out there who started in romance and found later mainstream success seem to go to a great deal of effort to separate themselves from their romance roots, thereby pissing off a whole lot of romance fans, frankly. You haven’t done it. Do you think there’s more than a small element of sexism in that desire to dis their romance background?

I don’t know. Is it sexism or more that they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the tough guy male authors? Or is that the same thing? I have to say, I’ve never made a secret about my romance roots, and no one, male or female, in the industry has ever been anything but nice to me about it, or made a snotty comment…and I’ve been to the Edgars (I had a book nominated for one once), a place you’d think would be very male-dominated and macho, but everyone there was super sweet to me. Well, they were mostly drunk, but still.

The most I’ve ever gotten is wondrous envy from a few literary authors when I’ve mentioned the average print run of a typical mass market romance (Ours, 200,000. Theirs, 5,000).

I owe so much to my romance roots. Everything I know about publishing I learned from RWA or from lurking at At The Back Fence here at AAR or other romance sites. I don’t always have time to contribute (OK, hardly ever) but I am so grateful for them…I can’t even imagine turning my back on the romance community. I so often find myself listening to YA or mystery writers talking about their confusion over a contract or lack of publicity plans for a book, and I’m able to explain it to them or come up with some idea for something they can do to get their book out there, and when they ask me, with wonder, how I know about that, the answer is almost always, “Well, I learned about that through the Romance Writers of America,” or, “I saw that online at AAR.”

And I’ll always consider what I write romance…even if my readers may not necessarily agree!

The movies made from The Princess Diaries really were terrific. Do you have any apocryphal Hollywood tales and, just as important, did you ever get to meet George Clooney? Huh?

Sure, I met George Clooney. In my dreams!

I stick to Ernest Hemingway’s advice about selling your book rights to Hollywood (drive to the border of California…throw your book over it…grab the check….drive away as fast as possible). Maybe it’s different if you sell your film rights after your book is a hit, but I sold mine before….

Garry Marshall is a sweetheart, and I did get invited to the premiere of the first film and got to meet all the cast members, including Mandy Moore, Anne Hathaway, and of course Julie Andrews. All of them couldn’t have been nicer (Anne Hathaway also read the first three books in The Princess Diaries series on CD/Tape and did a brilliant job). Although the second movie wasn’t based on anything that happened or will ever happen in the books, they still paid me for the right to use the characters, so that was OK by me!

And here’s a tip for all you aspiring authors out there: if you ever sell your film rights, and they tell you that you’re going to get a percentage of the gross net deficit, what that actually means is that you’re going to get…nothing. The Princess Diaries movies have yet, according to my bi-annual statements, to earn a profit.

Oh, and authors don’t get DVD sale money, either. At least, I don’t! Remember, I was a nobody when I was negotiating my film contract…so it was sort of take it or leave it. I took it. And I don’t regret it. Thanks to those films, a lot of kids who might not otherwise have picked up my books did so, and I will always be grateful for that! (It’s hard not to be when you get letters every day that go, “Deer Meg, I never read a book before until I saw your movie The Princess Diaries. I loved it so much I bought your book of it. Now I can’t stop reeding. Just to let you know, though, your book has a lot of mistakes in it. In the movie the dad is dead. In the book he’s not. You should fix this. Love, Brittany”)

So, we’’ll keep an eye out at AAR for Brittany! So, what multiple releases are next for you? And do you ever think you might tackle a sort of conventional contemporary romance like the fabulous She Went All the Way?

Thanks for the SWATW shout-out! It’s being re-released with a new cover, so look out for that. After Queen of Babble in the Big City, I have Big Boned, the last book in my Heather Wells mystery series (which includes Size 12 is not Fat and Size 14 is Not Fat Either) due out this November. Right now I’m working on Queen of Babble Gets Hitched, which will be out next summer and will be the last book on my adult book contract for Avon, so I do have to figure out what I’m going to do next. I have this new Scholastic contract for my first middle-grade series (Allie Finkle’s Rules For Girls —the first book, Moving Day, will be out next March). I’ve got Princess Diaries 9, Princess Mia, due out in December 2007, and the last book in that series, Forever Princess, will be out in December 2008.

After that? Well, I have two new teen series that I pitched to Scholastic…Abandon, which is a modern re-telling of the myth of Persephone, very heavy on the romance, which should be out in the summer of 2008. And Airhead, a teen dramedy about a girl who…well, if I tell you, I’d have to shoot you, because it’s top secret at the moment.

As for what’s next, adult book wise, I’m much more likely to head back to mainstream romance than anything else. I’m know I’m definitely not doing anymore chick-lit (unless it’s about an adult Mia Thermopolis…but I don’t know about that) or mysteries (murders are really hard to solve, but even harder to write). And no offense to anyone who is of demonic parentage, but after my bout with lyme disease, I just can’t do vampires or anything else that involves blood being sucked.

So what does that leave? Good old-fashioned romance!

Well, okay, probably not old-fashioned. But definitely romance. I just don’t know who, what, where, why, or how yet.

But I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.

(An earlier interview with the author)