Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Q&A with author Abby McDonald

Please join me in welcoming today’s guest author. Abby McDonald has authored novels for both adults and the YA market, with titles such as Sophomore Switch and The Popularity Rules. She’s worked hard to develop a following and will not only share what’s new for her in the coming months, but also share tips on how writers can stay in the game.

Hi Abby. Can you tell us about The Popularity Rules?
Here's the official blurb: All's fair in love, war and popularity...Kat Elliot is no social butterfly. She's spent her life rebelling against phony schmoozing - and it's led her nowhere. Just as she's ready to give up her dreams and admit defeat, in steps Lauren Anderville. One-time allies against their school bullies, Lauren and Kat had been inseparable. Then one year Lauren returned from summer camp blonde, bubbly, and suddenly popular, and Kat was left to face the world alone.Ten years later, Lauren's back. She wants to make amends by teaching Kat the secret to her success: The Popularity Rules. A decades-old rulebook, its secrets transformed Lauren that fateful summer. And so, tempted by Lauren's promises of glitzy parties and the job she's always dreamed about, Kat reluctantly submits to a total makeover - only to find that life with the in-crowd might have something going for it after all.But while Lauren has sacrificed everything to get ahead, is Kat really ready to accept that popularity is the only prize that counts?

Okay. But what’s it really about?
Many things! It touches on social hierarchies, modern feminism, the every-day compromises we make to our beliefs and ideology, the allure (and truth) of the make-over myth... But, to me, the heart of this book has always been female friendship, specifically, those deep, intense relationships we have in our teens/youth which - however they turn out- affect all the interactions we have after in a profound way. Whenever I got talking to a female friend, they would always mention one of these, and how the end of it shaped the way they see and trust other woman. I wanted to take two women whose teenage friendship had pretty much determined the course of their lives, and highlight how unresolved their emotional issues were; how much they still needed each other, despite what they told themselves.

You’ve already had considerable success with YA. Why the move toward adult novels?
The move actually went the other way: I was writing adult lit for about 3 years before I was inspired to branch out into YA. I thought that the kind of books I love to write (commercial, pop-culture influenced, strong female characters) would work for a teen audience too, and it's been a lot of fun switching between the age groups. My teen books are much lighter, and more fast-paced, so it's a different challenge: making things immediate, and vivid, in a shorter format. With my adult books, the hard work comes with creating more complex relationships and layers to the characters, creating subplots and subtext that make the story rewarding over 100k, 120k words.

Congratulations on your success with Sophomore Switch. It received such great reviews. What was your inspiration in writing it?
Thanks! It actually came to me in a flash-- or rather, a traffic jam. I'd been working on another Oxford-based YA for a while without much success: editors loved the setting, but thought the murder mystery elements were too dark. So, I was joking along with a friend about the lightest, fluffiest Oxford-based concept I could think of, and the framework of Sophomore Switch was born. Of course, being me, I couldn't help but slip in deeper themes about feminism and identity along the way, but it's that balance that readers seem to enjoy, so I'm pleased with how it worked out.

Tell us a bit about your journey as an author.
Long and twisted, like most writers... A lot of people assume that because I'm relatively young, my career has been an overnight success for me, but the reality is far less glamorous. I wrote my first novel at 19 (an adult chick-lit book), signed with an agent, and embarked on years of rewrites and near-misses before finally putting it aside. It was disheartening at the time, but it served as a kind of apprenticeship for me: teaching me not just about the workings of the industry, but also the skills of editing and how to construct a plot. When it came to my next novels, I was much better equipped, and I like to think that I've grown a lot as a writer since that first attempt.

What advice do you have for writers starting out?
Perseverance and practice. It can be incredibly frustrating to work on a book for so long that is ultimately rejected, but sometimes you have to look past the goal of publication and remember that all the writing you do is valuable in the long term. So much of the industry is luck and timing, and factors out of your control. For example, that first book of mine not only coincided with a deadly slump in the chick-lit market, but also revolved around a blogging premise, so, once it was no longer a 'hot topic', it was essentially useless-- if I only judged it in terms of publication. But, I learned so much from the process, and hardened myself against rejection, which served me well when it came to my next adult book The Popularity Rules. When I think of all the chances I had to quit, and just walk away, I can't even count them. The saying is an old one, but so true: the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one, is that the published one didn't give up.

How does social media and technology enhance the way you connect with readers?
Since I'm based in England, it's pretty much been my only way of connecting with readers so far. Because teens are so web-based, I set up a dedicated website for the book at, with fun additional content like social network profiles, playlists, and a form for email. I also blog, and try to be prompt getting back to every reader who writes me (I love fan mail!), and I'm a big fan of twitter, which is a way of connecting on a more every-day level.

What else can readers expect from you in the near future?
A lot! In September, Sophomore Switch will be published in the UK (as Life Swap), and The Popularity Rules hits shelves. Then I'm busy writing for a while, before a hectic 2010: Sophomore Switch paperback in Feb (with a cute new cover), my next YA Boys, Bears & A Serious Pair of Hiking Boots published in April, and my next adult book, The Good Girl's Guide to Deception out in May.

How can readers learn more about you and your books?
My website is a good base, and then I blog at, and tweet at

Thanks, Abby! I appreciate you taking the time to talk about your latest news and upcoming releases.

Be sure to visit Abby at her website to learn more about her work.

Until next time….

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