Readers often ask me about the writing process, and how I choose my subjects. These are some questions I’m asked most often, and my answers. If there’s anything else you want to know, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you decide on your subject?
When I am writing non-fiction, I ask myself if I am inspired enough to immerse myself in the main character or events. Then I find out if I can have access to extensive archives, or the subject of a biography. Without either of those, I’ll pass.
Do you think about who the reader will be?
Oddly, no. I think about whether the story is worth telling, and I hope readers will agree.
Do you worry about sales?
I leave that to a publisher’s editors and marketing staff. Publishers only choose to make an offer if they think the book has an audience.
Do you have to write an entire book before your agent can show it to editors?
No. I prepare a proposal that includes a summary, annotated table of contents, a couple of sample chapters, and such facts as number of pages, illustrations, and comparable books. The only exception was when I wrote my first novel, A Certain Summer. As it was a debut novel, editors wanted to see the finished book.
How long does it take you to research and write a book?
Usually two or three years. The book won’t appear in print for another year. By then, I’m well into writing the next one
What is your writing schedule?
I try to work Monday through Friday, from seven o’clock in the morning until about two in the afternoon. I have two offices at home; I use the smaller one to store research material, and write in the larger one, which is sunny and pleasant.
How much do you write every day?
I don’t stop until I’ve written 1,000 words, which will be three or four book pages. Some days I write as much as 2,500 words. At the end of a week, I’ve usually written between 5,000 and 7,000 words (the average length of my books is 120,000 words.) I’m a perfectionist and I keep editing until the book is finished.
Do you have rules about what you will or won’t write?
I never write about people I know I won’t like, or whom I consider malicious or immoral; and I don’t write about smarmy scandals. I only start a project if I believe it will continue to excite me for the two or three years it will take to write the book.
All your books, except one, are non-fiction. Did you like writing a novel?
I loved it! I used my research experience for the historical background and parts of the plot, but I invented the characters and the story. I already have ideas for four more novels. I hope my next book will be fiction—unless another non-fiction story I can’t resist comes along.
Your books are usually set between the late 19th century and the mid-20th Century. Any reason?
I am most interested in the period when my grandparents and parents were alive, and when I was young. I don’t feel that I have enough distance to choose contemporary settings. The themes are similar from one generation to another—people are affected by their times, but human nature doesn’t change.