If her name is still unfamiliar, her story likely is not: she’s the 17-year-old Wattpad sensation who just landed a publishing contract with Random House. In between homework assignments, Beth Reekles wrote a novel, The Kissing Booth, which centers on a never-been-kissed teenager who comes face-to-face with her secret crush while running a kissing booth for her school carnival. She posted the novel on self-publishing Web site Wattpad, and it caught the attention of Lauren Buckland, senior editor at Random House Children’s Publishing U.K. That house published the novel as an e-book last December, and within a week of its release the book topped the Children’s/YA iBooks chart and peaked at number four on the overall iBooks chart. On April 9, Delacorte issues an e-book edition of the book in the U.S; Random House Children’s Books will release The Kissing Booth as an Ember trade paperback on May 14. Reekles spoke with Bookshelf from her home in South Wales about her auspicious authorial debut.
When did you first know you wanted to write?
I’ve been writing for quite a few years. When I was 12, I got a laptop to do homework, and at some point I started writing really long stories, just for fun, and saving them on my computer.
When and why were you inspired to tackle a novel?
I started The Kissing Booth when I was 15. One afternoon, I was looking for something to read and I couldn’t find anything that didn’t have vampires, werewolves, or fallen angels in it. I was craving something that was not fantasy – I wanted a teen romance without mythical creatures. So I decided to write one.
Did the story come easily to you?
I had an idea about the characters in my head when I started, but it took me a couple of tries. I tried to finish the first chapter three times in different ways before I could carry on past that chapter. Then the rest of it came to me more easily.
Did you draw on your own experiences to shape the plot?
I’d say that I did draw from how people I know would react in certain situations, though everything in the novel is fictional and came from my imagination. But things in the novel – like going on a first date with a boy and panicking about what to wear – I’ve experienced, and I’ve got many friends who have, too. So I could draw on those experiences.
Your novel is set in the United States. Why is that?
When I started writing the novel and had the characters, I decided to put a kissing booth in the story. We don’t have those in the U.K., so I decided to set the novel in the U.S. simply for that reason.
Looking back, what was your biggest challenge writing the novel?
Overcoming writer’s block was a big part of the challenge. There were hours, even days at end – and at one point even three weeks – of gaps between writing. The biggest thing was trying not to give up on it, since I really did enjoy writing the novel.
What led you to post The Kissing Booth on Wattpad?
A friend told me about Wattpad in 2010, and I thought maybe I should post my writing there. Since I’d started writing the novel, I began posting it on the site chapter by chapter. I’d also put some other stuff I’d written on the site, but I was unhappy about the quality of it, so I took that down.
You must have been happy about Wattpad readers’ response to your novel, which received more reads and comments than any fiction title ever posted on the site, and last year won Wattpad’s annual Most Popular Teen Fiction Watty Award.
The response really took me by surprise. The novel’s popularity built up gradually, and I didn’t notice it until I posted one chapter with a cliffhanger. When I woke up the next day, I had 300 or 400 e-mails from people from all over, asking me about it. I was blown away, and realized that people really liked my book! I said to myself, “Clearly I’ve done something right with this.”
Obviously, one person who was impressed by your postings on Wattpad was Lauren Buckland at Random House U.K. Were you surprised when she contacted you?
Yes! I remember getting an email that was more formal than usual, and as I skimmed through it I saw that the writer was asking me if I was thinking about making a sequel to The Kissing Booth, and then I saw she mentioned she was an editor at Random House – and that she was interested in publishing my book. I kept reading, and trying to comprehend it, and then I took my laptop and ran to tell my parents – and I remember being so excited that I began to make strange noises!
And moving on to the next chapter, was it gratifying to learn that Random House Children’s Books wanted to publish The Kissing Booth in the U.S.?
Yes, it was! It was just before my Easter holidays started that I heard from the U.S. It was just incredible news. I was really keen for the book to be available in the States. Lots of my fans from Wattpad are in the U.S., so to have the book come out there is really exciting.
You were given quite a high-profile introduction to the American audience with an appearance on Today this week. Was it a thrill to learn that the show was sending a crew to your hometown to interview you?
I was over the moon by that! It was my first-ever TV piece, and it was actually very exciting.
With all that’s going on in your life recently, have you had time to write?
Right now, I’m trying to focus on my A-level exams. Hopefully I’ll be going to university in September.
Given your writing success, do you plan on studying literature?
Actually, I’m going to study for a physics degree. Writing has always been a hobby, and I didn’t see it as a career until Random House got in touch with me. My longtime plan was to have a physics-related career. But after I get my physics degree, maybe now I’ll see where my writing takes me.
The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles. Delacorte e-book, $6.99 April ISBN 978-0-385-37867-3; Ember trade paperback, $8.99 May ISBN 978-0-385-37868-0