V.E. Schwab Gets First Goodreads Choice Award for 'Vengeful'

Posted by Cybil on December 4, 2018

The seventh time's the charm for V.E. Schwab.

After racking up seven different nominations for the Goodreads Choice Awards in the past decade, she clinched her first win this year with Vengeful. As Schwab herself has declared, Vengeful "was made for 2018" with its powerful female leads, including "a woman who can ruin anything."

Schwab's not only a smashing success at crafting complex science fiction; she's also a bestselling author of young adult and children's books (publishing as Victoria Schwab). She has more than 79,000 followers on Twitter and a seven-figure deal for future books. Oh, and she's only 31.

Just don't call her an overnight success. She bristles at the term, noting that it minimizes the very real struggles that are vital to success and gives hopeful writers the false impression that their careers hinge on one book. Also, it's inaccurate: Schwab wrote her first novel in 2006, during her sophomore year of college. She says it "had no plot" and never sold, but was good enough to land her an agent and give her a taste of her own potential, which she’s spent the past 12 years developing.

Reached by phone in Edinburgh, she talked to Goodreads contributor Kerry Shaw about how she's managed to do more in a decade than most people dream of doing in a lifetime. Their conversation has been edited.

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Goodreads: Congratulations on your award! And for winning after multiple nominations. It shows other authors that they can keep going and win.

Victoria (V.E.) Schwab: That's the thing! It's growth. I see so much interaction and growth in my audience from being in the awards, not from just winning one. Also, I love everything about the awards. I love losing to people like Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling. It's quite fun to be like, "Oh, I came in second, but it was to Neil." Plus, I get a huge amount of my reading list for the year from the awards. It's so cool to see what people are reading.

GR: Let's talk about your reading list. I know you say it's part of your job description as an author to read, but how do you finish 100 books a year?

VES: About three or four years ago, I set myself a goal to read 100 books in a year. Before that, I had been reading maybe 20 to 30 in a good year. The uptick that I saw in my craft from reading those 100 books in a year was all of the proof that I needed to do it again.

Obviously, it's not simple. I write three to four books a year, and I travel most of the year, but I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Whether I’m doing errands or I'm at the gym, I am listening to an audiobook. And I listen at one-and-a-half to one-and-three-quarters speed, so I can go through a book in a day. I know 100 books seems like a very daunting number, but if you break it down into the day by day tasks, it’s manageable.

And I try really hard to read broadly as well.

GR: Do you have to finish a book once you start it?

VES: I do, I am so bad about it. I wish I were the kind of reader who could let go of a book. One of the reasons I force myself to finish books is because, as a writer, I want to understand why something doesn't work for me.

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GR: You mentioned that reading so many books has helped you grow. Is there anything specific you can say that you got better at?

VES: I don't think it's "If P, then Q," like, "Read a lot of fantasy books, become better at writing fantasy." It's more that I have an internal story monster—we all have one—and the more I read, the better it becomes at telling good from bad, in terms of pacing and plot.

Of course, anyone who looks at my Goodreads chart will notice I read a ton of nonfiction, specifically memoirs. I find them to be wonderful examples of what makes a person feel like a person instead of a character. When you read a book dedicated to someone’s life, from that person's perspective, you're learning about voice, you're learning about the complexities that make a person feel whole.

GR: Was there one celebrity memoir that gave you the realization that this would be a really interesting genre for you to read?

VES: Yeah. I go back to thinking about Just Kids by Patti Smith, which I read about a decade ago, but each year I find one or two that really just surprise me. This year, the two that I loved and got a lot of insight from were Bryan Cranston's A Life in Parts and Busy Philipps' This Will Only Hurt a Little.

Selfishly, craft aside, I'm curious about how they handle things that I—and I think most authors—struggle with, in terms of having a public persona and a private life.

GR: How do you balance a public life and a creative life?

VES: Badly. [Laughs] I've been in the public eye, one way or another, for about a decade. My first book came out in 2011, but I got my first book deal in 2009, and from there on, I set out to have a platform. I was quite young—22—and I noticed that there was almost no transparency in the creative community.

As a young creative, I was discovering that 99 percent of the time, everything was hard. But I felt like I was doing something wrong because everyone else seemed so happy all the time. Then I went to a writing retreat with about 20 other authors, and everyone there was talking about how hard the writing was, how hard the industry was, how alone they felt. And I marveled at how the truth that they portrayed in person was so different from the truth that they felt pressure to portray online and in public.

I understood why they were doing it, but I could've really used some transparency when I was starting out. And so as my platform began to grow, what I really focused on was being as truthful as I felt I could about the highs and lows of creativity.

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GR: Did you have a big following at the time?

VES: I had, like, 1,000 Twitter followers. And I thought, "Well, if one other aspiring writer sees that they're not alone in it feeling difficult…"

I had quite a rocky start to my career. And surprisingly, because I was as honest as I could be as it was becoming rocky, my readers and friends and fans online supported me, and they became a community in a way that I don't think many authors get to have. As I became more successful, that readership grew with me, but their support always felt incredibly intimate. So when I’d hit the New York Times list or go on tour and meet people, they wouldn't say just, "Oh, it's so nice to meet you." They’d say, "I'm so proud of you. I know what it took to get here."

GR: What's the hardest part of writing for you?

VES: Everything between the initial idea and the final pass is pretty awful. I have a really contentious relationship with my creativity. I come from, like, a math and science background, and I always wanted to be the next Neil deGrasse Tyson. Like, I actually went to college for astrophysics, and ended up switching my major six times. But my strongest subjects all through school were everything from calculus to physics. I love things that have a concrete, correct answer, which is why writing is the worst industry possible for me: There's no objectivity; everything is subjective.

That part of my brain is very hardwired, and I am an extreme perfectionist, so most of my pleasure comes from the execution, not the discovery. I have this really romantic honeymoon period with an idea, where I'm just brainstorming and plotting, and then there's a long stretch in which I'm drafting and it feels inadequate. Then I'm revising and it feels inadequate, and I become convinced that it's never going to be good.

That lasts all the way through revision until, in the last pass of my revisions, like the final tweaks, something happens where I start to read it as a reader and not as a writer. It finally becomes clean enough and close enough to the original idea that I start to think of it as a reader. And once that moment of detachment happens, where it no longer feels like mine, I'll look at it and be like, "How did I make this thing?" I'll have no memory of all of the work that went into it.

GR: The first book you published was written in the second semester of your senior year. So you basically mastered goal-setting at a very young age.

VES: I am definitely anal-retentive.

GR: Can you talk about your bullet journals?

VES: I should preface this by saying I'm a terrible bullet journal user. I literally only use the habit tracker. And one of the reasons I do that is because I have really severe anxiety. When you have anxiety and depression, you can lose time really easily if you're not careful. An hour can become a day can become a week can become a month, and it can be really overwhelming. With my habit tracker, I want to show myself that even if I had a bad day, it was just a day and I can start fresh again the next day.

If I start to have a bad spell—where for a week it's looking pretty grim—I will reset and I will start a new habit tracker for a new window, so I don't even wait for the beginning of a month to reset if I feel like I'm going off course. I do everything I can to break down everything I do into the smallest bites possible.

GR: Can you walk me through a typical day when you're in writing mode?

VES: Most days I try to write in the morning. I get really bad insomnia, and if I write in the evenings, I can't detach and I'll end up lying awake half the night, thinking through whatever problem I left on the table.

So I get up, I have a cup of tea and some breakfast, watch some episode of television. Right now it's Gotham. And then I try to write until lunchtime or maybe like 11, and then I'll go for a long walk, stretch out, get some lunch, come back, do more work until 2 or 3. At that point in the day, I start doing either interviews or edits or administrative tasks. So I really only write two to three hours a day. I notice that my efficacy and my energy and the quality of my work tends to fall off if I actively write for more than two to three hours.

Something that I feel strongly about is when I say that I'm writing two to three hours a day, I mean that I'm typing two to three hours a day, but I'm writing all day. I'm making notes on my phone. I'm brainstorming. I'm thinking about it on the treadmill or along the beach or at the pool. I am constantly planning, and then the two to three hours are like active typing it into my computer time.

GR: You grew up in Nashville, and your mom is European and your dad is American. How do you think this mix of cultures has shaped your perspectives?

VES: That, I think, formed me less than the fact that we moved quite a lot and the fact that I hadn't figured out myself. I was totally closeted. I didn't really address my sexuality. As keen as I was on observing everybody else, I really wasn't very good at self-reflection.

When I was a teenager, about 13 or 14, I was taken out of California, where I was a competitive soccer player, intent on going the distance in sports, and dropped into an all-girls Southern preparatory school in Tennessee about a week before classes started. It was a highly conservative, highly religious, basically debutante environment.

I was a quintessential outsider in every way. And I think that’s a theme at the core of almost every single one of my books, this idea of what it means to be an outsider, what it means to not belong.

GR: What advice would you give to people who want to be authors?

VES: Oh, man. I'm such a cynic, my cynical answer is: If you can think of anything else that would make you happy, do that. No, but in truth, it's to not be afraid of rejection. So often, aspiring authors are turned off by rejection. They'll get rejected one, three, five, ten times. And I think it's so important to remember that rejection is a part of this business.

It is designed to test not only whether your craft is ready, but whether you are ready emotionally to move through the next door because rejection never goes away and judgment never goes away. You'll first be rejected by an agent and then an editor. And then once your books are on shelves, they're constantly being critiqued by readers. And at each threshold, rejection and critique and feedback are there to test your emotional state and make sure that you're standing on even ground, ready for the next hurdle.

And if you're someone for whom all it takes is one, five, ten rejections, this isn't a good industry for you. You have to plant your feet and be ready to listen and accept and grow.

People are always like, "How do you handle getting revision letters?" or "How do you handle being told to constantly rewrite and revise?"

For me, it's very simple. Once my book is a book, I can't change it, so I want to do everything in my power to put forward the strongest book possible. That means listening, that means getting better, and that means being willing to rewrite and revise. I rewrote my 15th novel, Vengeful, from scratch earlier this year. It was a gruesome and grueling process, but I think it's why it's so important to remember, no matter where you are, that rejection is proof that you're participating. It's necessary.

GR: I'll bet editors love working with you.

VES: I mean, I definitely cry and lie down on the floor for several days, but then I get up and do it all again.

Check out all of the 2018 Goodreads Choice Award winners! And be sure to add them to your Want to Read shelf!

Comments Showing 1-33 of 33 (33 new)

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message 1: by Ziggy (new)

Ziggy Nixon Congratulations, very much earned and deserved!

message 2: by Mimi, Goodreads employee (new)

Mimi At last congrats!!!

message 3: by Demi (new)

Demi So deserved!! Congratulations!!

message 4: by Anna (new)

Anna Congrats!!!

theauthorisaliar I’m so proud of her.

message 6: by Marlene (new)

Marlene Hansen Congratulations :0)

message 7: by Edward (new)

Edward Green Vengeful was my first Schwab book. I’m hooked and a new fan. I’m back teaching to read darker shade of magic and gathering of shadows.

Congrats on the win. More to follow, at your pace of course.

message 8: by Lilia (new)

Lilia López Congratulations, I love your characters. I wish you all the best

message 9: by Nicola (new)

Nicola Rose Huge congratulations, well deserved x

message 10: by Danika (new)

Danika Lindsey Ginormous Congrats! You are the best author. Well deserved.

message 11: by Yashaa (new)

Yashaa Bajracharya Congratulations :)

message 12: by Lydia (new)

Lydia YAY, for one on my favorites!!!

message 13: by Unkindness (new)

Unkindness Congratulations indeed!

message 14: by Danika (new)

Danika Lindsey V.E Schwab is the best!

message 15: by Lu (new)

Lu At last!! I am so happy for this and congratulations!!!!

message 16: by A.J. (new)

A.J. I just discovered you this year through reading Vicious, and was able to chase it with Vengeance. They are a great read. Congratulations on your much-deserved win!

message 17: by Mansi (new)

Mansi Nikam Congratulations♡

message 18: by Dami (new)


message 19: by Beta_Critic (new)

Beta_Critic You are awesome I loved ur villains series iam looking forward to read shades of magic

Moravelle Corinne Congrats :) I really enjoyed Vengeful. Will there be a third book (maybe, next year)? I also like your other books (Shades of Magic trilogy and Monsters of Verity duology). Congrats again ;)

message 21: by Danika (new)

Danika Lindsey I love all your books! (Shades of Magic trilogy, Monsters of Verity duology, Vengeful and Vicious) You the best. Again Congrats :)

message 22: by Sarah (new)

Sarah S Congratulations! I am SO HAPPY for you!

message 23: by Sunny Lemonade (new)

Sunny Lemonade I am so proud and happy! My favourite author :)

message 24: by Sunny (new)

Sunny the Sassy Congrats to my favorite author! You really deserve it! <3

message 25: by Bidisha (new)

Bidisha Das So inspiring! <3333

message 26: by Judy (new)

Judy Dapolito Congratulations! Love your books.

message 27: by Mayara (new)

Mayara She is awesome! My goal is to read again Vicious and read Vengeful for the first time next month. =)

message 28: by natalia (new)

natalia Congrats!!! I love all the books that I've already read by you, and I'm sure I'll love all your books on my to-be-read pile!

Pia | thelibrareads ♧ This hit me really hard. Its always the realest people who have the most impact to others. I love her even more!!! She's just a strong and motivated person. Ahhh she's so inspiring!!

message 30: by Amy (new)

Amy VE Schwab is my patronus.

message 31: by Hannah "Hale" (last edited Jan 16, 2019 08:44AM) (new)

Hannah "Hale" Myers Everything this woman says is so interesting and inspiring. Her life itself is a book I, and many others, enjoy reading.

message 32: by Magda (new)

Magda If I loved her before, now I´m awestruck! She´s simply wonderful, inspiring and strong. Nominations and win are so well-deserved. Congrats!

message 33: by _nmlchamb (new)

_nmlchamb Extremely well deserved :D VES is a must-buy author on my list!!

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