Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of novels including Night Road, Firefly Lane, True Colors and Winter Garden. She was born in Southern California and moved to Western Washington when she was eight. A former lawyer, Hannah started writing when she was pregnant and on bed rest for five months. Writing soon became an obsession, and she has been at it ever since. She is the mother of one son and lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.
Where were you when you hit the bestseller’s list and what went through your head?
You’re right that this is one of those memories that stick with you in life. The very first time I hit the New York Times bestseller list was in 2000. My husband and I were driving north on the Interstate when a girlfriend called and told me that she’d seen my name on the list. I didn’t hear it from my agent or my publisher for almost twenty-four hours, so I wasn’t entirely sure whether to celebrate or not. But then I decided, what the heck and had a glass of champagne.
How has becoming a bestseller changed your life?
Become a bestseller has changed my life in some ways, but not as many as you would think. On the positive side, list performance allows your work to be seen by a larger and larger audience, and that’s always a good thing. It certainly holds you in good stead with your publisher. On the down side, becoming a bestseller is kind of like taking a seat in the front of a giant roller coaster. Once you’re on, it’s a great ride, and you don’t want to get off. The pressure to continue hitting the list can be a little intimidating.
A combination of dedication, determination, hard work, and good old fashioned luck.
Who was your first mentor or champion?
In the very early days of my career, I joined a group called the Romance Writers of America, and found there an amazing community of published authors who were willing to help out new writers. They were incredibly caring and supportive and generous with their time. Two names come to mind as early mentors–Jill Marie Landis and LaVyrle Spencer. These two women really went above and beyond in offering me substantive support and technical advice. I learned a great deal from both of them.
Did you have a mentor who helped you? In what way did they help: craft or networking and introductions?
I have had two editors who were magnificent mentors with regard to the work itself. Ann Patty was the editor who really helped me move from genre to commercial fiction. She was absolutely dedicated to demanding the very best of me. She taught me more in a year and one book, than I had learned in all the years that came before. The mark she has left on both my work and my perception of it is profound. The other editor that has really taught me a lot is Jennifer Enderlin. She, more than anyone, has helped me to identify and clarify my vision. I think I’ve written my best books in the past few years, and Jen is a big part of that. Also, I’d have to mention my glorious agent, Andrea Cirillo, whose belief in me has been probably the most important single component of finding success in this career.
How has perseverance played a role in your becoming a bestselling novelist? In what area did you have to persevere the most: craft or marketing?
What, in your opinion, makes a book prone to hitting bestseller status?
Quite simply, it is everything. If I had to choose between talent and perseverance, I’d choose the second every time. Writing a novel is hard, hard work, and as a career, it is a minefield of rejection. You have to be able to overcome adversity and rejection every single day. You also have to stay on schedule and stay motivated during some difficult times.
Honestly, who knows? Luck? Publisher support? The right topic? A great book? I guess I would say that–in the broadest possible sense, and in a perfect world–the books that hit the bestseller list are those that speak to the greatest number of people. It’s a vision thing. I believe that we embrace and talk about books that mirror our own worldview.
What role did your agent play in your success?
I wouldn’t have had this career without my agent. She has been my rock, my guide, my friend, and my champion. When I was too tired to wield the sword, she picked it up. You can’t ask for more than that.
Has helping others contributed to your success? If so, how?
Yes, I think that I have “given back,” to young writers and I have certainly tried to be the kind of mentor that I was lucky enough to find along the way.
Is there a down side to becoming a bestseller?
In a word, pressure.
What advice would you have for other novelists who strive to get where you are?
The best answer is the easiest: Never give up. Writing is a career that will challenge everything that you are and demand the best you have—over and over again. You have to learn to let go of your ego and start over all the time. You have to believe in yourself when it is not easy to do and no one else believes in you. And most of all, you have to write. Every day, all the time, whether you feel like it or not. You have to write when you are having a good day and when your father has cancer and when the mortgage payment is overdue. A writer writes. It’s an old saying and true. If you’re always writing, and always learning, you will improve, and that is the start of the road.