Tuesday, June 9, 2020

How I Came to be a YA Author

I wanted to kick off this blog with a post about my journey to becoming a YA author because it hasn't been a straight line and it hasn't been easy (not that I think anything related to writing is easy.)

I've been writing professionally for thirteen years. I'm a multi-published author of adult fiction (under another name) and have worked, and continue to work, with some of the best, most talented editors out there. I've learned a lot about the industry and the craft of writing. I feel like each book I write is better than the last and each year I grow stronger as a writer.

But it wasn't until recently that I decided to use my years of experience as a high school teacher to inform my writing. Weird, right? I've been in the classroom for sixteen years and yet, for most of that time, I rejected the idea of writing YA. Why? Well, I'm stubborn and hate to do what people expect me to do, for one. Also, I didn't think I had a voice for it or even knew what to write about. I hate reading YA books that talk down to young readers or that get lost in adult voice so I avoided even experimenting. I'd like to think that it wasn't time wasted but time to absorb and learn from my students. Talking to teenagers, hearing what was important to them, what they liked, disliked, running ideas by them...it worked to build my understanding of what makes a good YA book and a worthy read for young adults. 

I don't remember a day where I suddenly said, oh hey, now it's time to write a YA and see how that goes. Instead I remember an idea taking form and a voice coming into my head that didn't sound like my usual writing voice. Yes, I do hear voices in my head. My characters start to take shape sometimes before the plot does and they do start whispering things to me until I feel compelled to start writing those whispers down.

I wrote that novel and got some positive feedback from a few editors who specialize in YA, so I knew I was on the right track. I wrote another YA novel and then another one, each time honing my skill and experimenting more with voice. I shopped these stories around and although I got a lot of rejections, some of those rejections came with feedback letting me know that I was still on the right path. *Side note: getting feedback when you are querying a project is a bonus so if you start to get feedback from agents and editors, you know you're on the right track.

Then I wrote my fourth YA book and I knew I'd hit on something good. I had publishers taking it to acquisition meetings (where they pitch your book to a team in an effort to get you a contract) and even though, in the end, those all resulted in rejections, I knew how close I'd come. I was almost there. *Side note: The book is good, it's just not right for this point in time. I'm okay with waiting because I know I can write more books. There is no finite number of words available to me and the more I write, the more ideas flow. 

I wrote number five and I pitched it to my editor at Entangled. Number five, Love Spells and Other Disasters is about a girl who starts writing love spells for a class project and discovers that they actually start working...which, of course, leads to many complications and problems that she needs to fix. It's a magical story about love and friendship and also doing what's right, even at the cost of valuable, irreplaceable things.

It was number five that got me my first YA contract. This journey has not been quick or easy. I'm not going to be an overnight success. I've had to work hard, long hours and I've had to accept defeat, cry my frustration and then pull myself up and brush myself off so that I can move on to the next project.

I've just finished writing book six. I don't know if it'll get contracted but I hope it does. Either way, I know my brain is already working out a new story idea because I've had a few what ifs pop into my head out of nowhere. I'm just waiting for the character to start whispering in my ear and then I'll know it's time to get back at it.