BookTokker and bestselling romantasy author Lauren Roberts’s latest YA book Powerful takes place during the events of her debut YA fantasy series launch Powerless, which Simon & Schuster released in 2023 following its initial run as a self-published novel. The novella centers supporting character Adena, who struggles to get by on her own following the departure of her best friend Paedyn—the protagonist of Powerless—who is being forced to compete in the kingdom of Ilya’s deadly Purging Trials. In a conversation with PW, Roberts reflected on her experience self-publishing her first novel, how her writing has evolved over the years, and how creating content on TikTok influenced her publishing journey.

You started writing Powerless when you were 18, which you then self-published several years ago. How much has it changed since then?

It has changed drastically. What I first wrote was a shell of what it is now. There was originally a character in the trials who was a prince. The series itself has progressed so much further than I ever thought it would. I guess when I was writing the book at 18, I kind of had tunnel vision. I was only really thinking about Powerless and that was it. I knew I was going to write a trilogy, but I was like, “I’ll get there when I get there.”

Why did you decide to write a companion novella?

The wonderful Yasmin Morrissey [editorial director at S&S U.K., co-editing with senior editor Nicole Ellul at S&S BFYR] actually approached me with the idea. She was curious if there was another story to be told and asked if I would be interested in writing a novella. My immediate thought was Adina. I felt like I didn’t get to dive into her story as much as I would have liked to because of everything that happened in Powerless. This novella poured out of me—I wrote it in 28 days. Everything felt like it just fell right into place. I was so happy to be telling her story. Adena is such a different character from Paedyn; she’s much softer and her dreams are a lot less lofty. She just wants to be a seamstress. She’s the type of character whose personal purpose was just as powerful even though she wasn’t wielding a dagger. I felt like that was a very important message to relay because I know a lot of times books can focus on a very physically strong female main character, which is amazing, but I wanted to play around with a character who just didn’t feel the need to fight the bad guys.

Can you talk about your experience making content for BookTok and how it’s affected your publishing career?

I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for BookTok. It’s made such a huge impact on my career. And it all started out because I love reading. I started making videos when I was 16 and for whatever reason, people started watching me and following me. When I was 18, I read a snippet of something I was writing for a college class on TikTok LIVE and everybody in the comments was like, “You should write a book. Are you gonna write a book?” And I remember thinking like, “No, that’s never gonna happen.”

It was a couple days later that I had the idea for Powerless as, like, a shower thought. Since then, I would share snippets and chapters online, which is how I gained such an incredible group of people who were so excited for this book. It all stemmed from the fact that I advertised as I was writing, and I suddenly had all these people supporting me. By the time I self-published Powerless, I had amassed this group of fans for a book they hadn’t even read yet, but they were there for the entire journey. I’m very thankful for that first video I filmed in my childhood bedroom. I owe it all to that.

Did you imagine Powerless would become a #1 New York Times bestseller?

Never ever could I have even dreamed this. I mean, even amassing a following on social media was something that I didn’t think I’d be able to do, so when that started happening, I was like, “This is crazy.” At the start, writing it was really for me, but because of my following, I got to share it with the world. It was like I had made my own little corner of the internet—it was our book. And that’s all I thought it ever would be.

But people were like, “Where’s the book?” So, I ended up coming home from college and was like, “Mom, I’m going to publish the book.” I ended up spending three months learning how to self-publish, and when I finally did, the book did way better than I could have ever imagined.

Then Simon & Schuster reached out and they were like, “We’ve seen your book, we want to publish it.” Now, it’s on tables in Barnes & Noble. Getting to see it out in the world is surreal.

How did your experience self-publishing Powerless differ from working with Simon & Schuster?

It has been such a culture shock because I had done everything on my own up until the time Simon & Schuster acquired Powerless. I grew up always loving writing, but I had never taken a writing class and I had never written anything that large in my life. So, writing Powerless in the first place was such a leap of faith. I was like, “I’ve read so much. I understand how books work. Let’s see if I can do it myself.”

Self-publishing was such a crazy, confusing experience. I was literally just Googling how to do everything. In my mind, I was like, “I’m gonna have it published by January 31.” And so, I just figured it out. It was nice, because I felt like I was in control of everything, but I also didn’t know what I was in control of. So now that I’m working with Simon & Schuster, it’s like a weight off my shoulders. I didn’t realize there was a person for everything. It truly gives me the ability to just write and do what I love, and then give that work to someone else who’s also doing what they love. It’s so nice to have such a well-oiled machine working behind me so that I don’t have to take my focus off these characters and this world that I love to try and figure out how to get it out into the real world.

What are some of your biggest fantasy influences?

I always like to say that Powerless is a mix between Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen and The Hunger Games. Red Queen was one of the first books I remember reading, which is why I love fantasy. I was obsessed with that book; I loved the worldbuilding and the idea of these different powers creating separation within the kingdom. I also absolutely adore Mary Pearson’s Dance of Thieves. It has an enemies-to-lovers romance, which is one of my favorite dynamics of all time. It was very influential for me, especially when it came to writing book two [of the Powerless trilogy, Reckless].

What are you working on these days?

I’m writing book three, and that kind of has all my attention right now. And then after that, there is going to be a second novella. I do have some thoughts in mind about writing a duology, and one particular idea that I’m fleshing out, but I have a little more time before I can dive into that.

Powerful: A Powerless Story by Lauren Roberts. Simon & Schuster, $14.99 Apr. 30 ISBN 978-1-6659-6630-6