Authors on the Verge: Meet Cynthea Liu, middle grade and YA novelist

Well, I debated if I should interview myself for my own column (I mean–have Snoop do it!! Woah, where did that come from?!)  And I decided I probably do owe everyone a little bit more about myself here on Writing for Children and Teens. Plus, my book is coming out in a couple of weeks … So … without further ado, here it is.  Snoop, ask me the tough questions!

( *Snoop clears his throat.* Ahem.)

Cynthea Liu (The airbrushed version!)
Cynthea Liu (The airbrushed version!)

This week we have our very own Cynthea Liu who spent her formative years in Oklahoma and Texas where she was a Whiz Quiz member, an Academic Decathloner, and a spelling bee champion. (Yes, she was very popular.) After attending college on the East coast, she worked at a corporate job where she mastered PowerPoint and racked up thousands of frequent flyer miles. Eventually, she traded in her suit for sweats to do the fun stuff-writing for children.

About Cynthea’s books

In THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA (Speak, 02/19/09), Chinese-born Cece was adopted when she was two years old by her American parents. Living in Texas, she’s bored of her ho-hum high school and dull job. So when she learns about the S.A.S.S. program to Xi’an, China, she jumps at the chance. She’ll be able to learn about her passion-anthropology-and it will give her the opportunity to explore her roots. But when she arrives, she receives quite a culture shock. And the closer she comes to finding out about her birth parents, the more apprehensive she gets. Enter Will, the cute guy she first meets on the plane. He and Cece really connect during the program. But can he help her get accustomed to a culture she should already know about, or will she leave China without the answers she’s been looking for?


In PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE (Putnam 06/11/09), Twelve-year-old Paris Pan’s life is a mess. She’s just moved to a tiny town in Nowheresville, Oklahoma; her family life is a comical disaster; her new friends are more like frenemies; and the boy she has a crush on is a dork. Things couldn’t possibly get worse, until she discovers that a girl mysteriously died years ago while taking a seventh-grade rite of passage-the Dare- right near Paris’s new house. So when Paris starts hearing strange noises coming from the creepy run-down shed in her backyard, she thinks they could be a message from the ghost of a girl. But while she has no plans to make contact with the great beyond, her twonew friends have other thoughts. Everyone who’s anyone takes the Dare, and now it’s Paris’s turn.

Now let’s start the interview. When you received your offer, what happened?

My agent called me and told me I had received an offer for PARIS PAN, I was pretty stunned.  We went through a year of submitting that manuscript together, and I thought the day would never come. There was much squealing and rejoicing to be had. Then I remember hearing “two-book-deal.” Which put me into total shock. And then “multiple offers.” I subsequently stroked. There was a small bidding process that went on for what felt like months. But I think it was only a week. And then I had to interview the editors before deciding. THIS WAS TORTURE because who wants to reject an editor? YIKES. After that was done, I thought I was done. But a couple of weeks later, Speak bought my S.A.S.S. book. (My agent and I had pitched that one a few month before).


What did I do to celebrate? I have no idea. The euphoria blocked out all memories until I got my revision notes. That’s when reality set in again.

So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side-on the verge of publication? What does it feel like to be official?

Well, I don’t think it’ll feel official until I see a book on the shelves! It is fun going to the bookstore though to figure out where my books will be sitting. I have to say, I am soooo happy my last name is near the wonderful Cynthia Lord. And the fabulous Lenore Look. And the lovely Grace Lin. And on the same shelf as Lois Lowry. They are all authors of incredibly stunning books for middle graders.

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

In short, it was painful, painful, and painful. Did I mention, painfuI? I distinctly recall holding a group scream over at the Blue Boards, which was very satisfying.

You know how some writers wait until they are, like Newbery medalists before they even send one thing out, and others start submitting as soon as they have something finished? Before I was agented, I fell in the latter category. So I’ve seen rejections for everything I have done, from picture books, to easy readers, to chapter books, to middle grade. Throughout that time, I took in the feedback, and worked and reworked and reworked my manuscripts. I focused so hard on my stuff that I couldn’t even tell if they were any good anymore. For PARIS PAN, I remember thinking, “Gee, maybe this version will do the trick. Otherwise, I just might have to quit.”  That’s when it sold.

And here’s our favorite question. How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for this book) before you landed your first major publishing contract?

• 0-10
• 11-25
• 26-50
• 51-100
• 100+

Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections and about one of your best.

Man, so hard to choose. There’s not one in particular that sticks out in my mind as being the worst. It was a combination of every rejection that led me to dye my hair purple once. What I distinctly remember was how different the rejections were for the same manuscript. Some would say they thought the premise was original, others not. Loved the voice, didn’t connect with it. Too scary, not scary enough. So you can see how anyone might lose it after a while. Oh, wait a second, I do remember one that really killed  because the editor called my writing “generic and lacking pizzazz.” She was right about the submission I had sent in, but still I didn’t want to hear it. Ironically, this lovely editor is my editor now! So she must not have really meant it. Right?

My best rejections came from an editor at Putnam. She was always prompt and specific with the feedback, doling out encouragement along the way. She rejected an earlier version of PARIS PAN and is now the editor for it!

Moral of the story? Everything is very subjective. And try, try, again.

How long did it take to sell your books, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer?
• 0-3 months
• 3-6 months
• 6 months to 1 year
• 1 year – 2 years
• 2 years – 3 years
• 3 years+
• The manuscript has been around longer than I have.

Prior to selling your books, you were …
• Working a full-time job in the writing industry
• Working a part-time job in the writing industry
• Working a full-time job unrelated to writing
• Working a part-time job unrelated to writing
• A stay-at-home mom or dad
• A freelancer
• Retired

I do other stuff, too, but prior to the sales, writing was my main gig.

Now that you’ve sold some books, you plan to …
• Not change a thing
• Quit the other stuff to become a full-time writer
• Reduce the number of hours I’m working at my current occupation

I have other responsibilities outside of writing, but I hope one day, I will wake up and think, I have nothing else to do today but write. Then I’d got straight to my TV and watch every episode of American Idol. (If you all don’t know by now, I am a superior procrastinator.) That would be sweet!

What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?

Like so many other authors, I hope my books will be well-received by children and teens. The industry has pretty much shown me that adults don’t know what they’re doing. 🙂 I’m kidding!

Ultimately, the real test comes when the books are in the hands of my intended audience!

If you’ve already begun or have finished the editorial process with your publisher, let you us know what that’s been like.

My editorial process was not the smoothest for me. Mainly because I was working on PARIS PAN and S.A.S.S. at the same time. It was difficult to switch between novel-length works and try to get back into them each time I switched. I can easily hop between picture books and novels. But two novels at once? No thank you. It also didn’t help that I had some scary deadlines during the very last rounds. Let’s not talk about that. I’m still shaking from the experience.

Describe a typical day in your writing life.
My baby crows for me. I get up, fumble my way to her crib, potty her, feed her, play with her, potty her. She naps. I answer emails, take care of stuff that has nothing to do with my writing. Baby wakes up, repeat routine, she naps. I sit down to do something productive, then the phone rings … Oh wait a second, I’m supposed to be talking about my writing life? Somewhere after my baby sleeps, and the world is quiet, I do some writing, if I’m still coherent and awake.

I also do have part-time help which allows me to be here with you today!

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Read this website. Ohmigoodness, that’s all I can say. Don’t waste time wondering about this or that. Just take the crash course if you haven’t already, or check out my top articles. Many questions will be answered. If not, ask Snoop!

(*Snoop nods* I know everything.)
What is one of the biggest myths in children’s book publishing that you wish aspiring writers would just forget about?

The biggest? That you need to have kids or that you have to like them, to write for them! Not true. (Though I do have a kid and yes, I like them!)

Actually, now that I think about it, having children makes me less qualified to be a writer because now I am crazy, always pressed fo time, and can’t remember much of anything.

I think what is true is that you probably should be able to think like a child or teen to write for them.

Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS<—shameless plug, are there any other books on craft you recommend?

Stein on Writing, Elements of Style, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Those were my main go-tos when I started.

Finally, Snoop wants to know: Do you really think I can talk?

(Snoop says, that’s right, people. I’m real. LOVE ME!)

This concludes our interview with our latest author, Cynthea Liu, a.k.a. Snoop’s slave and co-host of this website. To see what Cynthea is up to these days, you’re in the right place, or visit her blog at She’s also on Facebook.

Thanks, everyone!


Snoop (and Cynthea!)

11 thoughts on “Authors on the Verge: Meet Cynthea Liu, middle grade and YA novelist

  1. YAY! This was a fun read! And congratulations on all your success! It’s awesome! Plus I also Heart your website. I’m glad you interviewed yourself, it was so cool. Ooh, and good luck with baby… LOL! Been there, done that..6 times. And I still love babies–must be magic.

  2. Hi Cynthea – Nice job. Of course, you should be interviewed. I really enjoyed reading it, too. I have to agree about what you said about having kids and writing. I wrote both of the stories that sold prior to having a baby. I don’t when I would have the time after. My first free-time desire for so long was SLEEP!Congratulations. The multiple book deal and bidding war – fantastic. That’s really impressive. All best, Samantha

  3. Cynthea,

    I have to admit, I strayed away and looked another message board – Verlakay. Couldn’t get my head around it! Give me yours anyday.

    Another positive days production. Still can’t wait for your book!

    By the way, you do a GREAT interview, it’s true.

    Talk to you.

    regards, Fiona

  4. Hi,

    Tried to view any other comments but had a little trouble. Any news?

    I have tried to search for a specific agent on children’s writing in Ireland but it has proved fruitless. I am receiving rejections from publishers which is the usual “no news is good news” but I where do I go from here?



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