Emily Henry (2012) has published six books, and her most recent novel, Beach Read, spent over 12 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. She spoke with the English Department recently and shared her insight on publishing, how failure makes you a better writer, and what her Hope education brought to her career. Check out her insights below!
What are you doing now?
I’m currently working on my third novel for adults! My first came out in May (Beach Read) and my second will come out next year. (Between 2016 and 2019, I published a few books for teens.)
How did your Hope English education shape you?
In so many ways. Firstly, on a very practical level, I was able to take a novel writing class at Hope that really prepared me in a way I’m not sure anything else could have. We followed the National Novel Writing Month model—each of us writing 50,000 words within a month, and that kind of unedited fast drafting, followed by slow rewriting afterward, is still how I work today. That class freed me from the kind of perfectionism and fear that makes it hard to finish anything.
But in a broader sense, I think having a liberal arts education was just good for me as a person and a writer. It taught me curiosity, and made me think a lot about the ways that everything is connected, and that’s what a lot of my work is about now.
What advice would you give to current English majors or students considering an English major?
I can’t imagine anything much more beneficial than studying books and writing. For any job, being able to communicate well—and understand other people—is so helpful. If an English degree is something you’re excited about, I’d definitely recommend it.
As far as advice, I’d say try everything you’re curious about. Give yourself a chance to figure out what you might love, things you wouldn’t have even considered. And don’t be a snob. There is no one right way to write or right thing to write about. Read widely. Write widely. Try it all.
If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?
I used to think I wanted to teach, and now I really, really don’t. So if I was going to, I would use my class as an excuse to trick people into reading romance novels because there is so much to learn about writing from a really great romance novel and there is so little credit and respect given to the genre. It would just be a glorified book club, and I’d call it Everybody’s Hot because I think people would sign up for that.
Favorite book read recently or in college?
Some recent favorites are Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Kerry Kletter’s East Coast Girls and Brittany Cavallaro’s Muse, which comes out in February.
Anything else to add (writing process, advice, managing expectations for success, etc.)?
My standard advice for anyone pursuing publishing is to fail hard and fast. Failure and rejection are essential parts of the job, and if publishing your work is important to you, your best bet is to not let fear of that failure slow you down too much. As far as managing expectations: building a career as an author is a slow, steady thing, and that’s okay. Even when you think someone was an overnight success, that’s almost never the case. Everything sustainable takes time!