A Writer’s Thanksgiving

Since almost Thanksgiving, so it seems like a good time to reflect on what I’m thankful for in the writing/publishing/reading world. As difficult as writing can be, as frustrating and uncertain as the publishing path can be, there are a lot of things I’m so glad to have in my life as an author. And because it’s me, I need to include gifs to accurately illustrate my gratitude. So without further ado, here are some things I’ve grateful for this year:

Coffee: let’s be honest–nothing would happen without you.

My writing group: for giving me the feedback I need, for loving my WIPs, and for being the most supportive group ever.

Twitter: where I procrastinate and talk about feminism.

My fellow YA writers: because they write awesome stuff, and they’re my people.

Sweatpants: I am so glad the writing office dress code is casual.

My agent: for her enthusiasm about my projects and for always being in my corner.

Librarian friends: because I brag about you to my non-librarian friends.

Wine: for making retreats and conferences that much better, and for when it’s been a hard day.

My family: especially my parents, who show up to pretty much every reading/panel I do in the New England area, and my husband, with whom I’m so glad to share the writing life.

Corgis: you keep being you.

My readers and blog followers: without you guys, I’d be shouting into the void; thank you for your likes and comments, and for your general awesomeness.

What things are you thankful for in your writing life? Share your thoughts in the comments, and happy almost Thanksgiving!

The Martian, Rejection, and Finding Your Reader

Recently I read The Martian. It’s been the big buzz book over the last year or two, with a new movie out. Usually I don’t dive into a lot of the best-seller adult list, but I decided to give it a try after getting recommendations from friends in the sciences who enjoyed it. Psyched by the idea of a sci-fi novel that was heavy on the sci, I requested a copy from the library and (about four months later; thanks, Matt Damon), I read it.

It was fun and exciting. Mark Watney was a clever protagonist with a good sense of humor, and the rest of the astronaut team felt real. The science was well explained to the reader and seemed feasible, like manned missions to Mars could actually happen in my lifetime. The dynamics between NASA and the media and international governments felt genuine. Reading it, I could totally imagine this as a movie.

But if I’d gotten the manuscript as an editor, I totally would have rejected it.

Which is apparently what happened to author Andy Weir. He’d had experience with rejections in the publishing world, so he decided to put The Martian up as a free serial on his website. Success with that led to him self-publishing on Amazon, which led to him being a huge seller on the indie list. That got attention from traditional publishers, and his book was immediately a best seller in the traditional sphere, too.

I’m not surprised the book has connected to fans like it has. It’s an entertaining ride and a high five to science enthusiasts. But I’m also not surprised it didn’t start out in traditional publishing. If I were an editor and the manuscript came across my desk, I totally would have passed–not because I didn’t like the book, but because of these questions:

  • Image by U.S. Army RDECOM

    Image by U.S. Army RDECOM

    Who’s gonna read all that science?
    One of the best parts of the book is that Weir is so careful to document everything Watney has to think about in order to stay alive on Mars–how to sustain oxygen levels, how to grow potatoes, how NASA technology operates on Mars, etc. I would have thought “This is all cool and interesting, but how many readers are going to plow through a book that’s at least half legit science? Where’s the market?”
    Where I fail: Apparently the market is real and it’s big.

  • What’s Watney’s emotional journey?
    Image by Pedro Klien

    Image by Pedro Klien

    Mark Watney is a bright and funny protagonist. Part of the reason he was on the Mars team was because he’s the guy who can lighten up the room with a joke or funny comment. But we don’t get to see a lot of his emotional arch on Mars–sure, he gets upset and frustrated, but we don’t see the depths of his fear or loneliness. It’s a pretty emotionally light read, considering he’s been stranded on a lifeless planet.
    Where I fail: I think that also ends up being a draw for readers–it’s not literary fiction, it’s an adventure novel.

  • Who are all these other characters?
    Image by Tambako The Jaguar

    Image by Tambako The Jaguar

    And considering it’s about a guy stranded on a lifeless planet, the book’s actually got a pretty big cast of characters. Between the other astronauts and the NASA team and the other various scientists/government people, it’s a sizable group to keep track of, and aside from a few people, the voices don’t vary too much. Why would people read through their sections when you don’t care about them?
    Where I fail: a lot of the characters can blend together into NASA/China/etc., which means they don’t bog down the reader with their individual stories.

What does that mean for writers? It means that rejections aren’t a blanket assessment of your work. Your story can be a best-seller. It can be a movie. It can be a story that editors really enjoy, even while they reject it.

It sucks, because it’s so frustrating to think that your story can be great and readers can love it, and even then it’ll still get rejected. But I prefer to look at it as heartening. Even if you get rejected over and over, that doesn’t mean your story is bad or that your writing is worthless. It means that you need to find the right reader–whether that’s an editor in a traditional publishing house, or readers looking for innovative new work in the self-publishing field.

So keep writing, keep submitting, keep getting your work out there. Your work doesn’t have to connect with every reader–it just has to find the right ones.

Links Galore

A few links for your week:


Links Galore

Lots of links I’ve been saving:

Links Galore

A few mid-week links:


My Entirely Non-Scientific Breakdown of What Defines YA

I read a lot of YA. Mostly YA. I write YA, so it’s important for me to keep up with what’s going on in the field, and I like reading my fellow author’s work. It’s also a category I enjoy in general–I read a lot of YA when I was a teen, and haven’t abandoned that side of the bookstore yet.

So I definitely agree that twenty-somethings can get a lot out of YA. They’re coming of age stories, and when you’re in your 20s, being able to reflect on your own teen years while also still feeling so close to that instability and possibility makes for a great reading experience.

However, one part of the post stood out to me: “As far as I can tell, apart from the unwritten no-graphic-intimacy rule, the only true requirement for a book to be considered YA is that the protagonist(s) must be somewhere between the ages of 13 – 19.” Sharma is making a point about how YA can consist of all kinds of genres and plots and emotions, which is true and awesome.

But this got me thinking about what actually defined YA. If the requirement is just that it’s about a teen protagonist, what about books like The Age of Miracles or Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Although those books have a lot of crossover appeal, I’d put them in the general adult fiction section of the bookstore, not with the YA novels. And I’d definitely classify The Book Thief as a YA novel, but its narrator is Death–not exactly your typical teenager.

So here’s my totally non-scientific breakdown of what makes a YA novel:

The main character is a teenager

Again, this can vary a little, but for the most part the protagonist is a teenager. This is about the teen experience, not about the kid or adult experience.

The POV is immediate

This is what makes the big difference for me. Whereas books like The Age of Miracles or even To Kill a Mockingbird are about young characters, and potentially read by teen readers, what makes YA particular is that it’s about that moment of the teen experience. It’s not set many years later, from an adult perspective looking back on this experience. It’s set right then, when the emotions are high and the future isn’t always clear.

The POV is close

Even when a book is written in third person POV, I find that YA novels are written much closer to their main characters’ perspectives. Adult novels tend to keep their characters at more of a distance. One thing I like about YA is that the narration isn’t afraid to get into the emotional messiness.

And maybe most importantly…

Teens are the intended audience

There have been a lot of articles in the past five years about adults reading YA and if that’s okay (of course it is), but they’re not the people for whom the books are written. These books are written with teens and their particular experiences and pressures and dreams and realities in mind. When I write YA, I want to connect with teens who are experiencing a lot of things for the first time and forming their identities and figuring out who they want to be and where they want to go. If these stories also connect with adult readers, that’s fantastic. But it’s secondary. Teen readers, YA is yours, first and foremost.

No matter what makes YA, it’s exactly where I want to be as a writer.

Are there any other features that you think define YA literature? Share them in the comments!

Tunnel Tour and Author Panel – Friday, July 17!

Tunnel TourOne of my favorite parts of being an debut author was getting to know other authors who have had books published in the last few years or have books coming out soon. So I’m way psyched to get together with a bunch of other debut authors as part of Susan Adrian’s Tunnel Tour. Get ready for a great conversation about books and publishing and writing and inspiration and more! The details:

Tunnel Tour, YA Author Panel and Signing
Friday, July 17 at 7pm
Porter Square Books
25 White Street, Cambridge, MA 02140

I can say with great confidence that every panel member is an awesome person and wildly talented author, so make sure to come out and say hi!