Sarah Hollowell graduated from Ball State with a B.A. in English (with a Creative Writing concentration). At the time of this interview, she was working at Ball State as the Administrative Coordinator of the Department of Educational Leadership. Currently, she’s an internal copywriter at CopyPress. Her debut YA fantasy novel, A Dark and Starless Forest, was released on September 14, 2021. The novel depicts the dark tale of two siblings who have to confront a sinister force that lives in the forest. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Sarah will be reading selections from her work Ball State University campus (AJ 175) on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021 at 7 p.m.
What did you study while you were at Ball State?
I started out as an anthropology major for my first few semesters at Ball State, but I ended up studying creative writing in the English department.
What is your career now?
I have two! I’m a young adult author, but I also work on campus as the administrative coordinator for the Department of Educational Leadership.
What does a typical week in your position look like?
On the author side – a lot of writing. A lot of emails. I’m working on the first draft of my next book, but at the same time, my debut just came out in mid-September. When I’m writing, I’m focused on a new book, but my inbox primarily emails with my publishing team, booksellers, teachers, and readers about A Dark and Starless Forest.
On the day job side – Also a lot of emails! I provide administrative support for the faculty in Educational Leadership. That covers a wide range of tasks – covering the office, ordering supplies, putting through reimbursements, submitting various approvals, etc. Basically, my job is to make sure our faculty can focus more on their work than on a lot of bureaucratic paperwork.
What are the most valuable skills you learned in your major?
I always find this question hard to answer, because I feel like I should be able to point to specific classes or assignments when the skills I learned came from the whole of the experience. There’s the usual, like learning to think and read more critically, or how to communicate more effectively. Those are absolutely important, but the big one for me was learning how to value what I have to offer, and how to represent myself better. Maybe it’s the Midwestern in me, but I tend to downplay my own skills. I had many professors while in the English department who made me learn how to own my skills instead of hiding them.
What is your advice to other Humanities students?
Don’t let people tell you that your major isn’t worthwhile. Trust me, I’ve gotten loads of strange comments or polite smiles when I said I majored in creative writing. There’s a certain attitude that a humanities degree is less important than something in STEM or business, but they’re all worthwhile and all teach different skills. Don’t limit yourself to thinking that all you’ve learned is how to analyze literature or write an essay. There’s a lot more in you than that.
How did/do your language studies influence or contribute to your current occupation?
On the office job side – you might be surprised how much an office can value skills like writing or editing. I’ve gotten positions on the strength of my writing and communication before.
They obviously contributed quite a bit to the author’s side of things, but not just in terms of writing. I also learned how to be a better literary citizen, which has served me so well. The best advice I ever got was “be interested in other people” – instead of networking by only talking about yourself, be interested in what your peers and colleagues are doing. You’ll be much happier for it, lead a richer life, and make more genuine connections.
How does it contribute to your life outside of work as well?
The sappiest answer I have is that I met some of my best friends in the English department, who are still my best friends to this day. A slightly more practical answer would come back to the idea of valuing my own skills. That’s a benefit professionally, but also just as a human being trying to survive in this world. It’s hard not to feel helpless when the world is the way it is now. It helps to recognize what you are capable of doing, even on the smallest scale.
What advice would you give a student who is looking to become a published writer?
Learn everything you can about how publishing works, not just the writing-a-book part. Understand the roles of agents and editors and publishers, and how they work with writers. Be willing to ask questions, even if you’re worried it makes you look ignorant about the industry. Don’t jump at the first offer of representation or first offer to buy your book just because it’s exciting. Make sure it’s right for you! Even if you have the best agent in the world, you ultimately have to be your own best advocate.
The people you work with can only do so much if you aren’t willing to ask questions or be open about your concerns – and dreams! I am almost certainly never going to get to write a YA book in the world of Jupiter Ascending but I still let my agent know that if the opportunity ever came up, I’d want to try for it.
You’ll also need to find your way of dealing with rejection because it’s inevitable. Being a writer means being rejected, sometimes over and over. It’s not easy and everyone deals with it differently. I try to view my rejections, not as proof that I’m not good enough, but as proof that I’m still putting myself out there. Not everyone manages to even get that far, so if you do, be proud of yourself.