Gordon Korman has written more than 70 middle-grade and YA novels over the past 25 years, and with total sales of more than seven million copies, he has obviously accumulated quite a hefty fan base. His latest novel, Ungifted, will be released by HarperCollins’s Balzer + Bray imprint with a 75,000-copy first printing. The story centers on Donovan, a middle-school student who accidentally gets placed in the gifted and talented program and shares his own distinctive gifts with the other kids in the program.

“I do a lot of school visits, which is great market research,” says Korman of his inspiration for Ungifted. “I’ve seen how the word ‘gifted’ is often kicked around. Kids who make it into those special programs are certainly proficient in some ways, but in other ways they may lag behind other kids in the school. I was wondering what would happen if a kid who was not academically gifted suddenly got thrown in that mix. Perhaps a person like Donovan could show everyone else how to have a good time and let their hair down, and get a better education than they otherwise would ever get in a gifted program.”

Korman, who grew up in Ontario, was close to Donovan’s age when he got his start as an author in 1976. Calling his writing debut “a happy accident,” he explains that his school’s track coach was drafted to teach Korman’s seventh-grade English class due to a teacher shortage. “He’d never taught before, and when it came to teaching writing, he didn’t know what to do,” the author recalls. “So every day from February through June, we had a class period to write whatever we wanted, so I wrote my first novel. It was a classic middle-grade novel set in a public school—a genre that I happened to love reading. I realize now it was the only thing I could have written at that age.”

Using an address on the back of a school book club flyer, Korman sent the manuscript to Scholastic Canada. It made its way to an editor there, who signed up the book, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!, which was published in 1978. The novel was reissued by Scholastic Paperbacks in 2011. The fifth book in Korman’s Swindle series is due out from Scholastic Press, and he says he’s “kicking around ideas for what I’m going to do next.”