Q&A

The best way to get a book deal? Write a story 19 million people want to read

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17-year-old Beth Reekles had a really good year. She published two books; appeared on national TV; sold the film rights for her first book, The Kissing Booth; graduated from high school and started college; and earned a spot on TIME’s list of the most influential teens of 2013, alongside household names like Malia Obama and Justin Bieber. And still she found time to watch five seasons of Gossip Girl.

How did such a young woman get so far so fast? When Beth was 15, living at home in Wales, she wrote a novel (“the kind of book I wanted to read”) and put it up on the story-sharing website Wattpad. 19 million views later, she won a three-book contract with a young adult division at Random House to publish that first book, The Kissing Booth, and two more, including the recently published Rolling Dice. That kind of transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing is rare — but her true-to-life stories of teen romance, sans vampires and werewolves, must have tapped a void that needed filling.

This much-in-demand writer has developed a routine that helps her stay focused. Beth likes to write alone with her computer and a cup of tea. (She avoids writing with others in the room, because she hates the idea that someone might be reading over her shoulder.) If she’s feeling blocked, she turns on background music — such as the soundtrack to Doctor Who or Pirates of the Caribbean — to help her feel more creative. “Something emotive and exciting,” she says. She experiments with form as well — on her Wattpad page, you can find short stories, chapters and novellas, including the holiday one-off “Deck the Halls.”

She’s a freshman at the University of Exeter now and plans to major in physics. She’s busy preparing for January exams and working on her third book. This summer, when classes end, she’s excited to spend her summer typing away, possibly working on a sequel to The Kissing Booth.

We talked to Beth via email about self-publishing, J.K. Rowling, and letting go of bad reviews. Our first question:

What inspired you to write a novel at 15? Here’s Beth –

I was looking for a high school romance that didn’t involve a vampire or werewolf – every teen romance seemed to have a paranormal element, and I was sick of that. So when I couldn’t find the kind of book I wanted to read, I decided to write it instead. That’s how I ended up writing The Kissing Booth.

What did you think when Random House called you up and said, “Hey, want to write a few more for us?”

I was thrilled! I’d thought about traditionally publishing my books, but I didn’t think it would actually ever happen, and certainly not like that! Sometimes I still can’t believe it.

A lot of people in the publishing world are wary of self-publishing. What is your take on it?

Self-publishing is making writing something that a lot more people take seriously now. It gives a lot of new and younger writers the opportunity to try and put their work out there quickly and easily, so it’s encouraging more and more people to write.

What are you writing now?

Right now I’m working on my third book for Random House, which is going to be another young-adult romance, called Out of Tune.

How do you come up with a new character or story? What’s your process?

I usually get the ideas for characters before I come up with a story. My characters seem to have lives of their own that I have to try and put down on paper. I’ve never been any good at planning stories; I often go with the flow and don’t know how the story will turn out until I’ve finished it!

Which authors do you really admire?

J.K. Rowling has always been one of my role models. I’ve loved the Harry Potter series since I began reading it as a child, and when I read about how she persevered despite all the rejection letters, it’s really encouraging and inspiring to me as a writer.

Are there any responses you’ve gotten from fans that have really stuck with you?

I get so many messages from young girls telling me that I’ve inspired them to write, or that they don’t usually read but tried my book and loved it. Those are the ones that really stick with me. They’re very humbling messages to receive, and they always make my day! It’s brilliant to hear that I’ve encouraged other girls to read and write more.

What is one thing you know that you wish everyone knew?

One bad piece of criticism can make you feel like everything you’re doing is a waste of time, but you really need to put it in perspective. Take note of all the good things people are saying!

This article is part of a series on young voices, exploring the spirit and wisdom of youth. Read the full series here.