Claire Cook is the bestselling author of seven novels, including Must Love Dogs, which was adapted into a Warner Bros. movie starring Diane Lane and John Cusack, The Wildwater Walking Club, Life’s a Beach, and her latest, Seven Year Switch. Her reinvention workshops have been featured on The Today Show, and she has been a judge for the Thurber Humor Prize and the Family Circle fiction contest. Her books have been featured on Good Morning America and in People, Good Housekeeping, Redbook and more. She has two kids, seven brothers and sisters, and one husband. She lives in Scituate, MA.
Visit her website and find reinvention and writing tips at http://www.ClaireCook.com. Friend her on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ClaireCookbooks/. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ClaireCookbooks/.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Claire. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
Thanks so much for having me, Beyond the Books. Seven Year Switch is my seventh novel, appropriately enough!
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
I wrote my first novel, Ready to Fall, in my minivan in the parking lot outside my daughter’s swim practice during one long cold New England winter ten years ago when I was 45.
Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
Amazingly, it sold to the first publisher who asked to read it.
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
I think the trick to avoid rejection might be to procrastinate for decades and skip all those stages!
Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
Hindsight 20/20, if the first publisher you approach wants your book, you should get an agent fast! I only queried two agents, who were both so famous even I had heard of them. One wrote back: “Dear Claire, If your novel is half as funny as your query letter, you will definitely find someone, however it won’t be me.” I thought, ha, who needs an agent? So I submitted to Bridgeworks, the publisher who launched Tom Perrotta and Lorna Landvik, and they took it. I spent more on gas driving to the few stores who would let me do events than I made on the advance, but the novel did well enough to bring me to the attention of my agent, the famous Lisa Bankoff at ICM, and in her brilliant hands, my next novel went to auction – so it was all good!
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
I taught middle schoolers at the time, and I remember I brought the reply to my Bridgeworks query letter with me to school and opened it in front of my students. They were psyched and most of them immediately started cranking out their own books, figuring if I could do it, anybody could!
Q: What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?
I started workin’ it and haven’t stopped in the ten years since! I set up a website. I started an email list. I begged stores to host me.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
Yes. I would have taken the time to find a good agent first. It makes all the difference.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
My goal is to become a better writer with each novel. I work really hard at that, and I think I’ve done it.
Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
I don’t look back. I only look forward. This is the career I almost didn’t have, and I think the time it took me to get here makes me appreciate it all the more.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
Survival? It’s tough out there!
Most people would probably say my biggest accomplishment is the Must Love Dogs movie. It’s definitely the thing that has given me the most name recognition, which has really helped readers find my books. And it was a totally fun experience. Plus, even my kids thought I was cool for a week or two!
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
Ha! I chose quite a few of them! I taught physical education, multicultural games and dance, dance aerobics, open ocean rowing, and creative writing. I wrote advertising copy for a now defunct shoe company (not my fault!) and worked as continuity director of a radio station. All of these jobs later found their way into my fiction.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
I’m living my dream and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
Finally taking a nap?
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
It’s never too late! You just have to decide you’re going to hang in there for as long as it takes. And check out the writing page at http://ClaireCook.com, where I share everything I’ve learned with emerging writers.