Author Interview: Natalie Richards and 15 Secrets to Survival Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have author Natalie Richards here to share about her MG thriller 15 Secrets to Survival. Natalie is a NY Times Bestselling Author and writes YA thrillers as well. I’m excited to read her first MG thriller and to try one of her YA books.

Here’s a blurb about 15 Secrets to Survival from Goodreads:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Five Total Strangers comes a thriller about a group of four classmates forced to navigate the wilderness for a school project with nothing but the pages of a survival handbook--and each other--before the sun goes down..

When classmates Baxter, Abigail, Turner and Emerson are forced to go to the middle of nowhere for a school project, they think things can't get much worse. Why on earth do they need to learn how to survive in the wilderness by an eccentric instructor?

But what starts off as a weekend of team building turns dangerous when their instructor goes missing and they are left with nothing but the pages of a survival handbook to complete a series of challenges.

They will soon discover the woods around them have unexpected surprises that might go beyond the obstacles their teacher set out for them...but will they find they can work together to find their teacher?

A recommended choice for classroom discussions and educators looking for survival books for kids.

Hi Natalie! Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you for having me!

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

As an only (and often lonely!) child, I’d make up elaborate stories while playing on my own. These stories could feel so real and true that it was hard not to get swept away. Want a silly example? There was a small hole in my tiny front yard, a remnant from a shrub removal operation. I was utterly convinced that this hole was actually the entrance to a sprawling cave system beneath my neighborhood. I spent hours on my knees with my arm shoved in as far as I could reach, trying to find the larger cave that was surely down there. It’s a miracle nothing I didn’t find something in that hole that decided to chomp off a finger or two. But as silly as it is, that might be the very first hint that I’d spend my whole life dreaming up stories. And once I discovered books and the endless stories they contained? Well, the rest is history.

2. I was lonely too and made up stories in my head. Where did you get the idea for 15 Secrets to Survival?

My parents were divorced when I was very young and my dad would often take me hiking when I was staying with him. True to my front yard cave system story above, I would often wander along those hikes dreaming up scenarios where my dad had to rush off for one reason or another and I’d be forced to find my way alone in the wilderness. Between my imagination running wild and my love for books like Call of the Wild, I knew I’d love to write an adventure story one day. But often adventure stories follow the adventures of one person, and I wanted to see the dynamic of a group of kids trying to figure it out together.

Your Writing Process

3. This is your first middle grade thriller. What made you decide to write a middle grade story and how was it different than writing a YA thriller?

My YA thrillers are often dark and frightening, and while you can usually spot a funny character somewhere in anything I write, it’s difficult to explore the sillier side of life in YA thrillers. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you, I definitely lean toward silly and ridiculous as a person, so I’ve dreamed for a long time of writing something that was both a little bit scary and a lot of fun too. And since I love reading and talking about MG books, it felt like a really natural fit. And guess what? It was! I’ve never had more fun writing a book.

4. What is your plotting process like? Has it changed since you published your first book, Six Months Later in 2013?

Er….no? Ha! I wish I was good at plotting, but I have a secret. Lean in close. (*whisper voice* If I do too much planning, I grow bored and disinterested in writing it *end whisper voice*). Truly, one of the great joys of writing for me is figuring out how on earth everything will turn out. So most of my plotting happens after the story is written when I’m trying to edit my often unwieldy and misshapen first draft into a really good book.

5. It’s reassuring to know that we don’t have to totally plot out a thriller. Share about how you created the main characters in this story—Baxter, Abigail, Turner, and Emerson. What tips do you have on how to make each character unique?

A few tips on characters for fellow writers or folks who might like to write one day! Making characters unique can be tricky because as a writer you have a distinctive voice that bleeds onto every character. And the story itself will also impact character choices and conversations. The trick is to get to know each character independently. Think about the way they talk, what they like, what annoys them, and what makes them sad. Often those things reveal themselves as you write the book, and by the end you’ll have a good idea of who each person is. The trick that helps me best is to write down what I’ve learned about each character after the first draft is done. And then when I go through edits, I can adjust dialogue and scenes to better reflect who each character is.

6. Those are great tips. You’ve published approximately 11 books since 2013. How long does it take you to write and revise a manuscript before submitting it to an editor? What tips do you have on how writers who write slowly (like me) can learn to complete a manuscript quicker?

It varies a bit. I can draft a book quickly (Fun fact! 15 Secrets to Survival was a NaNoWriMo book and I wrote the first draft in 30 days). BUT, and here is the important part, if I draft things quickly, I often have to take longer with edits. Books that take 6-8 months to write might require less edits, but 15 Secrets to Survival took multiple full rewrites. My short advice on this? Trust your own process. There’s nothing wrong with writing slow or fast, but it is important to make the process work for you. If you’re a fast writer, you may need to dedicate big chunks of time for a shorter period of time to get it done. If you’re slower, it might be important to carve out a bit of time each day so you continue with steady progress. In the end, every book gets written the same way—one word at a time.

Your Road to Publication

7. What was your road to the publication of your debut book like? Share a bit about how you obtained your other book deals.

My first middle grade was the fifth full-length novel I wrote. I had submitted earlier books in contests, which were a big thing then, and one of those early books resulted in me signing with an agent. From there, I sold my next book, Six Months Later, and have been lucky enough to be in contract and consistently writing since the beginning.

On Marketing Your Book

8. How do you market your books and how have your marketing plans changed as you became a more experienced author? What advice do you have for newer writers about marketing their books?

I’m NOT great at marketing, so I will leave this question to other writers who have figured this out. For my best advice on marketing, see below…

9. You have a publicist. What made you decide to hire one and how has having a publicist helped you with promotion of your books helped you?

Hiring my publicist was a business decision based on objectively viewing my weaknesses. I know that doesn’t sound too exciting, but I think it’s critical as a professional writer to know and to address your personal weaknesses. I have a very hard time with marketing and sales as I’m very wrapped up in the business of writing the books. As I’ve grown busier, I’ve realized I need some support so I hired a publicist who helps tremendously, arranging events for me, creating creative content, and helping to secure speaking engagements. And so so much more!

10. It’s good to know that a publicist can help those of us who don’t want to market. What are you working on now?

I just wrapped up edits on my next YA Thriller, 49 Miles Alone, which is a very different kind of survival story set in the blistering heat of the Utah back country. That book is due out in July of 2023. And I am over the moon to share that I’m working on a very exciting book that follows a group of kids trying to work through an escape room set in a safari park. This book is extra fun (and challenging) to write because in addition to the story, the book also includes puzzles that readers can solve alongside the characters!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Natalie. You can find Natalie at @natdrichards or

Giveaway Details

Natalie’s publisher is generously offering a hardback of 15 Secrets to Survival for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by December 2nd. If your email is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter or Natalie on her social media sites, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This book giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Friday, December 1st I’m participating in the Holly Jolly Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, December 6th I have a guest post by debut author Dana VanderLugt and a giveaway of her MG historical Enemies in the Orchard

Monday, December 11th I have an agent spotlight interview with Ashley Reisinger and a query critique giveaway

Saturday, December 16th I’m participating in the Dashing December Giveaway Hop

Monday, December 20th I have an interview with author Joanne Rossmassler Fritz and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Ruptured

Monday, January 1st I’m participating in the New Year New You Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, January 3rd I have an interview with debut author Mary Averling and a giveaway of her MG fantasy The Curse of Eelgrass Bog and my IWSG post

Monday, January 8th I have an agent spotlight interview with Leah Moss and a query critique giveaway

Tuesday, January 16th I’m participating in the Winter Wishes Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on Friday, December 1st!



  1. Trusting your own process is great advice! Congrats on the release. :)

  2. A great interview with some equally great insights into writing and publishing a book.The story sounds very compelling and I've added it to my future read list. Happy MMGM!

  3. Sounds like a very cool book. I'd love to share it with one of my teen/tween reviewers! Thanks for the opportunity.

  4. Great advice. Definitely important to trust our own process. Wishing Natalie the best of luck. :) ~Jess

  5. I love the fact that Natalie does multiple revisions! This book sounds fascinating

  6. An intriguing book which would be a real treasure to enjoy. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  7. I love to hear "trust your own process," as writing is such an individual journey and it's reassuring to know we can all take different journeys and meet the same goal. I'd love to read Natalie's new MG thriller. Thanks, Natalie! Oh, and I follow you on twitter. :)

  8. I really enjoyed this interview, and the book sounds excellent!

  9. I love reading books like this one! I have this on my Goodreads and wish list. The cover is fantastic and fun. I shared this post on tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter and followed the author on Instagram. I also follow Natalie on Twitter. Thank you for the excellent interview--I enjoyed the front yard hole story very much.

  10. Great interview and helpful tips. Have a nice week Natalie.

  11. Great interview! Love the cover and the book sounds wonderful!

  12. What a fascinating interview. It's so rich. Thanks for that. The book looks great. It is my favorite kind of book.

  13. Great interview, and super advice! I'm sorry I am not eligible to win the book, it sounds really good!

  14. Enjoyed the post, would love to get a copy!

  15. Thanks, Natalie. Looking forward to reading 15 Secrets!

  16. Totally awesome! Thank you for the tips! Best wishes to you!
    angelecolline at yahoo dot com

  17. Interesting interview. Good to hear I'm not the only one who gets bored if I do too much plotting ahead of time!