Why Elin Hilderbrand Wants to ‘Embrace the Moment’—Plus, Her Exclusive Book Picks for The Sunday Paper
If an author writes a captivating book, the readers will remember. If an author writes a captivating book once a year for two decades straight, the readers will follow—loyally. Best-selling author Elin Hilderbrand has done just this. With her 27 published novels, most of which have landed on the New York Times best-sellers list (the last four debuted at number one), Hilderbrand has established herself as a dependable creator of romantic escapism. For so many, summer relaxation means toes in sand and the new Elin Hilderbrand book between fingers.
This fervor for her work might explain why when Hilderbrand recently mentioned her plan to retire in 2024 it evoked a groundswell of curiosity. (It did for us at The Sunday Paper.) Why the end? What does she have in store? What about her readers? I asked her all of this—and more—recently on the phone. “I spent the first part of my career trying to get it off the ground,” Hilderbrand tells me. “Then for a while, I was flying and only intent on flying higher and higher. Now that I’ve reached my ceiling, I need to figure out how to get safely down without anyone saying I crashed.”
A Conversation with Elin Hilderbrand
You’ve recently released your latest book, Golden Girl, which was an instant best-seller. It’s your 27th book in a long line of best-sellers, most of which are based in or around your home of Nantucket. So why retirement?
I’m going to retire in 2024 very intentionally. When I say retire, what I mean is I’m going to stop doing the one Nantucket summer book a year. I had been doing two books a year for seven years: I did a winter series and the summer books. It’s very, very hard to sustain the quality of the storylines. Nantucket is small. I’ve done a lot of things and I don’t want to repeat myself. I don’t want the quality of the books to drop. I want to go out while I still feel that I’m doing my very best work.
Has this change been on your mind for a while?
I honestly wanted to retire with Golden Girl. Then I got to the point of Golden Girl where I wasn’t quite ready and my publisher wasn’t ready, and they were very emphatic about me continuing. So I agreed to three more books. I have ideas for three more and I’m excited about those ideas. It’s not impossible that I will get yet another idea and think to extend. But at this point, I want to prepare my readers. You can go out one of two ways: You can either spin the thread until it snaps, or you can very intentionally decide to stop doing what you’ve been doing—and that is my plan right now.
For so many readers, your annual new book is an unofficial punctuation of summer and escapism. This is wonderful but perhaps it also comes with great expectation. Regarding your planned retirement, how are you handling people’s expectations and even their disappointment?
One of the things that’s driving the decision is that I really try to make each book better than the last or, at least, different in some way. I’ve done a lot of different things like in the last five to six years: I wrote a murder mystery; I did a vintage-historical novel. The idea for my new book, Golden Girl, came out of nowhere and The New York Times said it’s my best book. So that adds pressure, pressure, pressure because the last thing I want to do is move backwards. What I’m telling my readers is I don’t ever want you to pick up one of my books and say, ‘it just wasn’t as good as the last one.’
My career is very ritualistic, just like people’s reading habits are. I write the books the same way. I revise them the same way. I tour basically the same way. I do everything the same and that is going to continue for the next three years. Then after that, I’m going to take a break, take stock and think where do I want to go from here? I’m going to reevaluate. There is a lot of room for me to grow, as a person. My work life is all encompassing. I’m constantly thinking about the books that I’m writing. I have three kids that I’m trying to launch. It’s a lot of work and I would love to have a life, as well.
You’ve been open about a few potential projects that interest you, including possibly writing a cookbook one day and also recommending books. Tell us about that.
I want to do a lot more reading, and I want to make sure that really good, well-written books are getting the attention they deserve. I look at what Oprah initially did, what the morning shows have done, and what Reese Witherspoon has done: They’ve put a focus on reading and reading collectively. I love that idea and I’m hoping that there’s room for a writer to offer book recommendations or to do some book influencing. I want to promote books that may get overlooked. And, again, I am going to focus on really, really good writing.
As you look ahead to a shift, what is some insight on life and change that you’re willing to share?
When I started out, I didn’t know where I was going. I wanted to get my first book published and I got my first book published. I was really in the moment with each book and then it just sort of accumulated and became a career and something that people really loved and valued. It took me a long time to be like, okay, now I’ve built this; I’ve created a thing.
I had breast cancer in 2014, and since I was sick, I got some perspective not only on my career but also on my life: I need to just enjoy the moment and embrace the moment. I think by putting a parameter on with my retirement, that it’s going to allow me to really savor the next three years and savor my relationship with the readers. And then I’m going to think very carefully about what I’m going to put out into the public sphere next.
Elin Hilderbrand’s 2021 Late Summer Book Roundup
Here at The Sunday Paper, we look to the most experienced experts in their fields to guide us. We are proud to partner with Elin Hilderbrand, an acclaimed novelist and future book influencer, for her guidance on the five best reads to pick up this month.