A Conversation with Christopher Paolini
By Dee Power and Brian Hill
first book, an extremely imaginative fantasy novel titled Eragon,
was initially self-published, then picked up by a major publisher
Knopf, and soon became a bestseller. What is especially remarkable
is that he began writing Eragon when he was just 15 years
old. Eragon, planned to be part of an Inheritance Trilogy,
is about a young man who meets his destiny armed with a mythic red
sword, and aided by a beautiful dragon named Saphira. The second
volume of the series, Eldest is now in bookstores everywhere.
. Christopher has been hailed as a fresh new voice in the fantasy
Dee Power: You are enjoying some very exciting
times. . .
Christopher Paolini: ““That’s a bit
of an understatement. I just walk around with my jaw hanging open
Dee: I can’t imagine you had any idea that the reception
to your book would be this great.
Christopher: “Not only that: I never even imagined
that the book would actually be published. I just wrote it to please
myself, and the fact that so many people have enjoyed it is just
Dee: You self-published first. How did you then place the
book with a traditional publishing house?
Christopher: “We were approached by Knopf. We never
submitted the book to any major publisher. We self-published for
creative and financial reasons. We were doing quite well at the
time that Knopf approached us. In fact, we were doing so well, we
could not even fulfill all the orders we were receiving. We were
shipping the books out by the truckload almost, certainly by the
mini-van load. So when Knopf approached us it turned out to be the
perfect marriage of marketing and timing.
“We were learning that we could not take the sales to the
next level without duplicating the process a large publishing house
uses—the distribution system, the marketing, etc. Once Knopf
had proven they were really serious about the offer, that they would
give the book the marketing attention we hoped for, we were happy
to have them take Eragon off our hands. It’s worked
out wonderfully for both of us.
Dee: With your dedication to promotion, how do you find
time to write?
Christopher: “It has been a challenge juggling the
promotion with writing. I’m still trying to figure out how
to strike that balance. However, the publisher is aware that if
they don’t give me time to write, they won’t get the
Dee: After the third book in the series is completed, do
you think you will be finished with the fantasy genre and work in
Christopher: “I don’t know. I have about 30
books plotted out that I want to write. They span all different
genres. I do have an affinity for fantasy, though. And if you’re
going to be trapped in a genre, fantasy isn’t a bad one to
be trapped in, simply because it’s such a broad genre. You
can do almost anything.
“I do want to try to write other types of fiction. Hopefully,
my fans will be interested enough in what I’m doing to follow
me from one genre to another.
“Fantasy, especially epic fantasy, is good training for writing
other things, because it requires you to write about so many facets
of life in order to create a realistic alternate world, that when
it comes to writing about this world, or some other genre, you’ve
already dealt with aspects of that in the larger epic’s work.
“And I’m young enough that I have to start from scratch
in another genre, it’s not something that scares me.
Dee: Some writers discipline themselves by saying they
have to sit there and write for three hours without interruption,
or produce 2000 words a day. What is your approach?
Christopher: “I just try to work as long as possible.
I’m not the fastest writer in the world, so I have to keep
at it consistently or I don’t get anywhere.
Dee: How do you feel about being on the Children’s
Bestseller List rather than the overall list?
Christopher: “It doesn’t really bother me,
especially since novels for young adults are selling so incredibly
well. But I don’t think of Eragon as a young adult
novel. I wrote the best and most mature novel I could at the time.
“Anyone who read Lord of the Rings or Harry
Potter and enjoyed those would enjoy Eragon.
“I think it was a marketing choice as well. By labeling the
novel ‘young adult’, then there is some difficulty sometimes
with reviews or attention for young adult books, but you have less
competition as far as making the bestseller list and with placement
in bookstores. It is sort of a tradeoff. Fortunately it has worked
out very well.
Dee: How did you find your agent?
Christopher: “When we were approached by Knopf,
we were in Seattle doing events; that was October 2002. I received
an email from my editor-to-be at Knopf. We were cautiously optimistic.
Then two days later we were approached by Scholastic with a competing
offer. Our first thought was that we could negotiate the deal ourselves.
But we changed our minds; we were smart enough to realize we didn’t
know what we didn’t know about publishing contracts.
“My father went online to authors’ chat rooms and publishing
lists and posted the information about being approached by two publishers
and asked, ‘Do we need to get an agent?’ One of the
people who responded to the post recommended Simon Lipskar at Writers
House in New York. My dad did what you are never supposed to do:
found Simon’s phone number online and called him directly.
He basically said, ‘You don’t know me from a hole in
the wall, but here’s what we’ve done, here’s what
my son has done, and we have these two offers. Are you willing to
“Ten minutes later, Simon called back. And said,
overnight me the book, and if I like it then YES! He turned out
to be a wonderful choice.”
Dee Power (Ms.) is co-author with Brian Hill of
The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors
and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them,
Dearborn Trade, ISBN 0793193087
Over Time, the novel, ISBN 0974075418
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