We first heard about Rachel Yu’s book “How To Be a Supervillain” towards the end of 2011, when it spent most of the Holiday season dominating the Kindle Comics and Graphic Novels best-seller chart, regularly beating titles like Watchmen, and Batman: Hush. The big twist? Yu isn’t a writer in DC or Marvel’s stable, churning out the latest high budget, well marketed superhero epic. Nope, she’s just a regular sixteen year-old girl who decided to start publishing her own books through the Kindle.
Let us reiterate: a sixteen year old is now regularly outselling Watchmen. Take that, you crazy beardo Alan Moore.
Name calling aside, this certainly peaked our interest, particularly as the book was priced at a reasonable ninety-nine cents for over one hundred pages of (delightful and well written, by the way) story. Where and how was Yu succeeding where big corporations like Warner Brothers and Disney were struggling? And once we headed over to Rachel’s website, the mystery deepened, as it turned out this wasn’t a flash in the pan: Yu has written nine books, with more on the way.
To find out more, we chatted with Rachel about her inspiration (surprise! its other comics), why she started writing, and her advice for other young writers out there:
MTV Geek: Okay, Rachel: how did you get started? Were you reading comics, or books, and just thought, “Hey, I could do that!” Was there one (or more) books that particularly excited you enough to strike out on your own?
Rachel Yu: Well, my first story was actually an old homework assignment. My dad found it and thought that it was pretty good. He started researching how to self-publish, and it became a summer project. I redid my old story and we gave it a try. I’ve always loved reading books and comics. Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkholm was especially influential. For my later books like How to Be a Supervillain, comics like X-men, 1602, Astro City, and Green Lantern were really inspirational.
Geek: How DID you start? Plenty of people write their own work for class, or fun, but few actually try to publish.
RY: My family was very helpful and supportive. My dad figured out the technical stuff while my mom worked with me on the editing.
Geek: What was the response like to your first book? Clearly it was good enough that you wanted to try more…
RY: It was very encouraging. The response was better than I had expected.
Geek: Have you gotten any negative criticism? If so, how did you deal with it – and by extension, how would recommend other authors and illustrators deal with it?
RY: There has been some negative criticism, but I don’t think too much about it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I would recommend others to not take negative criticism too harshly. They should first be able to be proud of what they’ve done, and then to be open to helpful criticism.
Geek: You work with other illustrators… What’s it like collaborating for you?
RY: Working with the illustrators is very fun. I write brief descriptions of some scenes, but the rest is up to them to interpret. They’ve done wonderful jobs and its great collaborating with them.
Geek: Let’s talk about How to Be a Supervillain, which was suddenly a huge hit over the holidays. How did you find out that it was outselling big publisher’s titles, and what was that like?
RY: My dad keeps an eye on the sales and the top sellers lists. We were all very excited with how the book was doing. I’m glad that people are enjoying it.
Geek: How did you market the book? Was it just word of mouth?
RY: We didn’t really do any marketing except for our Facebook page and by telling our family members.
Geek: Hm, maybe DC or Marvel should try that… What, if anything, do you think the big publishers could learn from your approach?
RY: I don’t really know. There are a lot of really great books I love from big publishers.
Geek: A big issue in the publishing industry today is price point. You’re selling your original books for 99 cents, and doing great… Do you think that’s the magic number? Why is that the right price for you?
RY: I think it’s a reasonable price for my books as they’re self-published. The price is low enough so that people looking for picture books will give it a try even if it’s not that well known.
Geek: Where do you think this is going… Do you think you’ll keep trying to write books, or is this just a fun experiment?
RY: I think I’ll keep trying to write books. It can be tough coming up with ideas, but it also helps with my college fund, so I’m grateful.
Geek: For other young writers out there, what advice would you have for them if they want to publish their own books, too?
RY: My advice for other young writers is to read. Reading is a fun way to get the feel, or sense, of writing in your head. It gives you a lot of ideas.
Geek: What’s next for you?
RY: Well, I’m working on a new book about a space cop superhero. It’s basically a funny, light take of comics like Green Lantern or the Nova Corps. Also, I’m finishing up finals and have to study for a Bio test next week. For dinner, I’m going to have chicken and rice. Too bad there are no more ice cream sandwiches…
You can check out more about Rachel’s Books at her website.