Once upon a time, roughly 11 years ago, a 16-year-old named Sarah J. Maas re-imagined the story of Cinderella. Rather than sending Cinderella to the ball to dance with the prince, she made her Cinderella an assassin sent to kill him. Maas turned the idea into a trilogy called Queen of Glass, which she published on an online fiction website called FictionPress.com. The retelling became one of the most popular stories on the site. In 2008, Maas made the decision to take the story down and try to publish it through traditional means.
The story went offline, but Maas stayed on, updating her fans on her LiveJournal, giving them an in-depth look at her journey to be published. Four years and countless revisions later, Throne of Glass, the first part of Maas’ saga, was published by Bloomsbury. The second book in the series, Crown of Midnight, was released this month. Currently, the book rests comfortably on The New York Times Young Adult bestseller list at No. 9.
In some ways, Maas’ writing methods speaks to the new ways the Internet is making writers think about and write fiction. Used to instant feedback from publishing stories chapter by chapter online, Maas utilizes critique partners to review her work as she is writing. She is also in the process of co-writing a story on Tumblr called The Starkillers Cycle with critique partner and author of Something Strange and Deadly, Susan Dennard.
“We both like writing stuff together and we came up with this story that doesn’t fit easily into any boxes and might not work well in book form, but would be perfect for a FictionPress-style serialized story, so, we went back to our roots,” Maas said.
Perhaps because Maas started writing online, she doesn’t feel as tied to the traditional format and is more willing to experiment within the genre. For example, she recently sold a fantasy trilogy under the label of New Adult. For those unfamiliar with the category, that’s because it’s new enough that Maas feels unqualified to define it in her own words. She finds this definition interesting, though: “Young Adult is figuring out your place in the world and how you fit into it, and New Adult is once you’ve found your place in the world, what you do next.”
Maas is among a wave of Young Adult authors who have been influenced by the Internet. Lauren Donovan, a senior publicist at Random House Children’s Books, said she personally has observed a trend toward more authors getting their start online.
“As technology progresses, there is a new wave of opportunities for writers,” Donovan said. “I think we’ll see this happening more and more often, that people will put their work out there and get noticed.”
Maas wants to continue to utilize the internet to help other writers. One of the founders of Pub(lishing) Crawl, an online resource for authors and aspiring authors, she and other contributors who are agents, editors and publishers, discuss the general ins and outs of the business.
Alexandra Bracken, author of Brightly Woven and The Darkest Minds, writes an “Ask Alex” advice column on the site. Like Maas, Bracken got her start writing fan fiction (of the Star Wars variety). In her column, she tries to help give readers a balanced overview of what it’s really like to work in the publishing industry.
“I really enjoy writing posts for PubCrawl because it really is a conversation rather than just putting words out there in the universe,” Bracken said. “And it’s rewarding to pay it forward; we’re talking about the things we all wish we had known when starting out.”
Pay it forward: in a way, that is what drives all of Pub(lishing) Crawl’s contributors, especially Maas.
“I’m a big believer in paying it forward,” Maas said. “I got where I am today because one of my FictionPress readers emailed me out of the blue in like 2008, right after I pulled Queen of Glass off FictionPress.”
The email, from Prada & Prejudice author Mandy Hubbard, offered to help Maas get her book published.
“Without that kindness I never would have had what I have today, so it kind of instilled in me the sense of wanting to do that whenever I can,” Maas said.
Now on her second book tour, Maas is excited to introduce her sophomore novel to the world.
“I worked really hard on Throne of Glass, but this book, Crown of Midnight, I poured everything into it,” Maas said.
Once shy about public speaking (“Until last year, the thought of public speaking scared the crap out of me”), she has learned to embrace it. “I kind of had to sink or swim. I like talking to people now because it’s about something that I love.”
Crown of Midnight stays true to the original feel of Maas’ online story, but gives a more mature feel to the world of Cinderella-esque Celaena Sardothien, an assassin-turned-slave who now serves as the King’s champion.
“I wrote this as I grew up,” Maas said. “Now that I’m somewhat of an adult, I can look at this story with a different perspective and make it stronger, like take the strongest bits of the FictionPress version and transform them into the better version of themselves.”
Though Maas said there were a few fixed points from her original story that she wanted to keep, much of Celaena’s narrative was free game. For example, a recurring quote that was featured heavily in the online version was taken out, in favor of a catchphrase that Maas relates to more: “I will not be afraid.”
“It’s something that I wind up saying to myself when I get nervous, especially during my debut year when everything was so new,” Maas said. “Telling myself back then, ‘I will not be afraid’ — it was this thing that helped me center myself, and those reminders sometimes really help.”
Maas introduced the quote in one of Celaena’s five novellas, which were released during the time between the end of the edits for Throne of Glass and the actual publication date. The idea for the novellas came in order to give fans something as they waited for the book to come out.
“I felt awful saying: ‘OK, you guys need to wait another six months for the story,’ so we thought it would be a way to make fans excited again, and also to thank them for their support and maybe introduce some new readers to the series before the books came out,” Maas said.
Writing the novellas also allowed Maas new avenues through which to explore Celaena’s character.
“I’ve been writing Celaena for 11 years now. I know her character to the point where I trust my gut when it comes to writing the story, and if she’s telling me to go in another direction — even if I planned something else — I’ll listen to her,” Maas said. “Getting that chance to walk through a very dark period of her past with her really made me get a lot of stuff about her. I wound up changing a lot of my vision for the rest of the series because of what she went through.”
Maas said she feels blessed to be in the position today to do what she loves: write.
“When I was in, like, middle school and high school, the Young Adult genre was not nearly as big, and I outgrew it because I read pretty much everything that was on the shelves,” Maas said. “I think Young Adult now, thanks to The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter … all of these paved the way and made all the awesome stuff I’m doing possible, so I got very lucky.”
Despite her modest explanation, Maas’ journey to get Throne of Glass published took a lot more than simple luck. Now a New York Times bestselling author, Maas has come a long way since posting an early draft of Celaena’s story on Fictionpress. And, in order to get where she is today, she has had to trust in her character’s motto: not to be afraid, in order to achieve her very own happily ever after.