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‘Prepare for disappointment and don’t be afraid to change direction’

It took a seismic shift of direction and a lot of disappointment before Emily Henry achieved success as an author.

The 32-year-old has sold more than 2.4 million books and three of her most recent contemporary romance novels are being turned into big-budget films.

But the Cincinnati-based writer’s journey has been far from straight-forward, and she hopes her experiences can prepare other budding authors for what’s in store.

Dog-walking, car washing, and fast-food frier can all be found on Emily’s CV before her first young-adult novel, The Love that Split the World, was published in 2016.

Over the next three years she wrote and published a further three teen novels: A Million Junes, When the Sky Fell on Splendor, and Hello Girls with Brittany Cavallaro.

It was a labour of love, but an unrequited love at times as Emily reveals.

“I was recently thinking back to my debut in the young adult space, and how lonely that can be.

“You have this feeling the whole time, ‘I’m the only one whose dreams are being dashed’ or ‘things aren’t working out as well as I’d hoped’, or ‘my publishing team is too busy for me’.

“No one prepares you for what to expect.”

It is most writers’ ambition just to be picked up by a publishing company, but when the rewards for three years of work leave you unfulfilled and the enthusiasm is draining, where is there left to go?

For Emily, it was a complete change in direction, although she is quick to admit, purely by chance.

“I started writing Beach Read really, entirely for fun.

“There was no intention to try and publish it – I just wanted to be working on that kind of story.”

Emily’s story of two authors, living in neighbouring beach houses and both suffering from writer’s block, who end up swapping genres and falling for each other, sat in draft form for several months.

It was only when her own agent decided to retire and she was introduced to a romantic fiction agent that she plucked up the courage to send her Beach Read.

From coming-of-age teenage novels to adult romance may not sound like a great leap, but when you’re unsure of your new readership, it can be a shot in the dark.

Emily explained: “I tripped sideways into romance as both a writer and a reader, and I was just delighted to find out that I really love it as both a writer and a reader.

“I hadn’t been a tried-and-true romance reader, so I didn’t really know where my books fitted.

“I remember the joy of becoming a romance reader and the discovery of how many amazing books there are, and the pace at which your favourite romance authors tend to work and put out books.

“There’s just so much to read – you’ll just never run out of fantastic romance novels.”

Beach Read was an instant success following its publication in 2020, reaching number one in charts around the world.

The following year, People We Meet on Vacation (with a UK title of You and Me on Vacation), was released to critical acclaim.

Awards and chart-topping positions have continued with Book Lovers and Happy Place.

Emily Henry is today enjoying the successes that being an author can bring, but she’s not forgetting the struggles – and change of direction – it took to get here.

She added: “I’m now in a position where I have incredible support from my publisher.

“I don’t feel like I’m biting the hand that feeds me to talk frankly about how things work in this industry, and prepare people who were about to enter the industry, or newly in it, to know that the difficulties are normal.”

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