A little over two years ago, I started this blog with a post about how to write an unpublishable novel. Don’t worry, you don’t have to read it. I’ll summarize. Basically what I said was this: publishers, at that point in time, were still very caught up in post-Hunger Games/Twilight/Harry Potter hysteria. YA had proved lucrative in multiple mediums - books, movies, TV, merchandizing - and everybody wanted a piece. But the books that were getting published tended to be “high concept,” i.e. involving some wacky premise that usually contained elements of the supernatural or dystopian, and sometimes both. For those of us who like writing about regular kids, there were an extremely limited number of publishing slots for so-called “realistic fiction.” This meant my chance of getting published in an already impossibly competitive industry was about the same as a snowball’s chance in hell.
I wrote about John Green in that post, but I won’t write about him here, because I don’t need to - you know who he is already. John Green has been successful for awhile, but he has become a celebrity in the last couple of years, especially after the publication of The Fault in Our Stars, which stayed on the NYT bestseller list for ages and expanded Green’s already passionate fandom even before they fast-tracked the inevitably popular movie adaptation. John Green is just one example of many talented people who write YA novels about regular kids doing regular things, or sometimes special kids doing special things. I’m looking at you, David Levithan, and you, Marcus Zuzak, and you, M.T. Anderson, and you, Rainbow Rowell and E.R. Frank and Daisy Whitney and Judy Blundell and Sara Zarr and Jennifer Donnelly and Stephen Chbosky and Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Dessen and Patricia McCormick and Elizabeth Wein and many, many more. I’ve read and been inspired by these writers for years now, because I’ve been kind of obsessed with YA for years. I fully believe it is the most exciting genre out there in terms of innovation and intelligence. I don’t care about stupid people who try to denigrate it in the press as being “just for kids” or silly or lightweight. It matters.
I began writing my own YA novel more than 7 years ago. It has been so long that I don’t remember how it started. I think I used a writing prompt of some kind. My first complete draft took about two years and an enormous amount of help from my cohort and professors in my MFA program. Then I revised and revised and revised. I got an agent. I revised under my agent for at least a year. Then we sent it out. Nothing. We revised it some more. Sent it out. Nothing. A nibble here or there, a bunch of “almosts,” a lot of “I like this but I don’t know how I’d sell it.” We waited. And waited. And waited.
I’ve been told that sometimes you have to give up hope before you can get what you want. I never believed that to be true until now. I think I had, in many ways, given up hope that my novel would ever see publication. I’d already begun writing novel #2 and was thinking about putting my other novel in a drawer.
And then, about a month ago, I got an offer.
What changed? It wasn’t my book - I mean, not really. My book did change, obviously, in that it went through approximately 70,000 revisions, and now it’s going to go through some more. I would like to think it got better. But ultimately what changed is the industry. Somehow they finally figured it out. People will read realistic fiction. Teenagers will read realistic fiction. In fact, teenagers like to read stories that they can relate to, that reflect certain truths about their lives. They especially appreciate when those stories reflect the diversity of the world they live in, because they are the most diverse and eclectic and accepting generation ever. The audience is ready for it, and publishing has caught up.
My book is due to come out in 2016, which is a long way away, but I can wait. I hope you can wait too. In the meantime, I will be working to make it the best it can possibly be, and also possibly writing novel number two. If these last 7 years have taught me anything, it is that it’s always better to be ahead of the game than behind it.
Also, sometimes it feels really good to be right.