“I’ve always been online and available to my fans,” says 26-year-old Sarah J. Maas, and she’s not exaggerating. She first put her work on the Internet in 2002, soon after she decided she wanted to be a writer. Maas was a student at a private Manhattan high school, where she didn’t find a lot of fellow fantasy geeks. Active in online fandom groups and seeking feedback she could trust, Maas posted an early version of what became her debut novel, Throne of Glass (Bloomsbury), at www.fictionpress.com. The story grew out of lighthearted speculation about the “untold” story behind Cinderella—what if, instead of being the damsel in distress, Cinderella was secretly an assassin who went to the ball to kill the prince?

FictionPress became “my safe haven and my outlet,” Maas says, as comments streamed in from fans around the world cheering for Celaena, plucked from certain death in the salt mines of Endovier to compete for the title of King’s Champion—and the attention of Chaol Westfall, Captain of the Royal Guard.

“I think of myself as a fantasy writer,” Maas says. The YA focus came later, after she made the wrenching decision to take her work off FictionPress, revise it, and send it out to agents. She admits to feeling terrified that the online fan support “would all go away” during the yearlong process of revising and submitting her work to prospective agents, but signed with Tamar Rydzinski (Laura Dail Literary Agency) in 2009, and gained the interest of editor Margaret Miller at Bloomsbury in 2010. Concern for waiting fans led, in spring 2012, to the publication of four prequel e-novellas set in the ToG universe. She’d like to write more of those if the opportunity presents itself: “Novellas are a great way to expand on the characters and background without weighing down the main story.”

Maas’s fans stayed with her through the long wait, the author says, and she has never stopped appreciating their loyalty. Both through her personal blog and the group blog Pub(lishing) Crawl, Maas maintains a daily online presence. She reserves time each morning for fan e-mail and describes interacting with readers as “my favorite part” of being published, citing as a special joy the expansion of her original audience to include nonfantasy readers, male readers, and older readers.

Now a full-time author, Maas devotes afternoons and evenings to writing. Asked what she’s working on beyond the ToG universe, she says with a laugh: “Too many [projects] to mention. It just pours out.” The second ToG novel is in line edits for fall 2013 publication, and volume three is in draft. (Maas was an enthusiastic first-time participant in NaNoWriMo this year.) Volume three will fulfill her current contract with Bloomsbury, but, she notes, “Celaena’s story is a long one”—long enough to fill at least one more trilogy.

Maas is an unabashed fan of the fantastic in mass culture and gains inspiration from it all—from the novels of Robin McKinley and Garth Nix to Japanese anime, from Star Wars to the latest pop tunes. She routinely publishes playlists on her blog and links to everything she’s reading; Sharon Shinn is a current passion. About her reading, she says, “Once I fall in love, finishing a story leaves a hole in my heart. The characters become your friends.” Maas’s longtime fans would likely agree.