Lara Bergen is the author of numerous children’s books, which include everything from Disney Princess storybooks to movie novelizations, to middle-grade fiction and her original “Sophie” chapter book series. A native of Alexandria, Virginia, she graduated from Princeton University, and worked as a children’s book editor before becoming a writer, full-time. She lives in New York with her husband, a son in high school and a daughter in middle school. Oh, and two cats. (She is a writer, after all.)
Lara graciously offered some time recently to share some advice for my daughter.
What is it that you do exactly? What are you working on presently?
I write books for children, and I’ve written for just about every age: board books for babies, activity and picture books for toddlers, easy-to-read books for beginning readers, chapter books for independent readers, and novels for middle-graders. I’ve even written nonfiction, including a few biographies and a field-guide for leaves for early readers. These days I’m working to finish and hopefully publish two new projects: a middle-grade novel and a potential chapter book series.
What skills and characteristics are needed to be successful in your field?
Well, (no big surprise) you need to like to write! And it certainly helps to know the basic mechanics and rules of writing, so that what you do write is readily readable to others. You also need to have the discipline to finish what you start (which, if you’re like me, is a lot harder than it sounds!), and then to revise, revise, revise, because “writing is rewriting,” as many an author has been quoted.
The great thing, of course, about writing is how many genres there are to choose from: If you like to make up stories, there’s fiction (for any and every age); if you’re passionate about nature, or history, or in how much, really, is a million, there’s nonfiction; and then there’s the freedom to combine the two if you happen to find yourself fascinated by both.
You will need to have a thick skin, though, because there are a lot of other writers out there, which is not to say there’s not room for more. It simply means there’s a lot of competition for attention, so try as hard as you can not to let attention be your primary goal. The most successful writers are the ones who write because they enjoy it and because they feel they have something important to say, and I do believe that before your work can mean something to others, it has to mean something, truly, to you.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? What are the challenges you face?
Okay, so you know what I just said about not seeking attention? That doesn’t mean that when you do get it, it’s not great. Still, that’s not what I most enjoy. What I most enjoy is knowing that something I’ve made and put out there has been enjoyed by someone else. I love getting letters from readers, not because they say “I liked your book,” but because they say it made them laugh, or made them think, or made them want to read more. And I love visiting schools, not because of the minor celebrity treatment (though who doesn’t get a little thrill from posing for pictures with the Principal?), but because it’s a chance to get kids even more excited about reading—and maybe about becoming writers themselves one day.
As far as challenges go…well, there’s the competition I also mentioned, plus simply coming up with new ideas. By far my biggest challenge, though, is advocating for and selling myself. Unfortunately, among all the hackers out there, I don’t think any are agents or publishers trying to get into the Word files on my computer and spam me with a six-figure book contract. Valuing your work is essential—and not easy.
You are also a parent of two children. What advice would you offer to someone who is starting out as a parent?
Slow down, be in the moment, savor every single hug. And when you forget, which you will, steal an extra hug to make up for it. I say this because my children are teenagers, and I’m painfully aware of how wonderfully, horribly, exponentially independent they’re becoming. It’s impossible to know that your day-to-day parenting days are numbered when you’re just starting out as a parent…but they are, I’m just saying.
What is one motto that has served you well in your life and career? Why?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I simply can’t think of any instance where this doesn’t serve you perfectly, in life or work. Can you?
But I’d also like to suggest something which is neither a motto nor something that served me especially well, since I’m only just getting the message now: “Don’t be afraid to ask a question.” Why? Because I spent all of school and my first job as a children’s book editor believing I was expected to know all the answers. I thought I was acting smart; but talk about dumb! If I’d only asked people more questions, I know, without a doubt, I would have gotten so much more out of both.
Thanks, again to Check out Ms. Bergen's website here for more information on her books, including the Sophie series, and links to purchase them!