My first book is out today. If you had told me this ten years ago, I never would have believed you. Indeed, many things about this experience have surprised me…
1. Dreams take forever.
When I was twenty-three, I wrote a horrible, terrible novel that will never see the light of day. I submitted it to an agent — ONE agent — and received a rejection within minutes. Now I know this was his assistant summarily rejecting everything in the slush pile, but at the time, I took this as the ultimate sign that I was not meant to be a writer. Dejected, I stopped. Instead, I got a job as an assistant at a literary agency, where I remained for four years. Next, I became an editor at Penguin Random House, where I acquired and edited fiction and non-fiction, primarily for teens and young adults. After that, I came to work for Cup of Jo, where I decided to try my hand at writing again. And a few years after THAT, I attempted writing books. So yeah, this was not a situation where I wrote something, submitted it into the ether and got it published. I feel tremendously lucky to have gotten here.
2. Books themselves also take forever.
Dreams aside, the publication of a physical book takes approximately one million years. I wrote this book in 2016, and it’s finally coming out… in 2019. “Why do books take so long?” everyone asks. “How much time can it take to print something?” This is a long and complicated answer, so let’s just say that book publishing is an
archaic historic institution, with schedules that harken back to another time, and the process of getting a book into your hands takes many, many steps.
3. You kind of get to do whatever you want.
There are a million inside jokes (with myself) baked into the text. An arcade named after my friend’s cat. A character named after my favorite lipstick. Because I could, and it made the process that much more fun. To that end, I would argue that writing, even when it comes to fiction, is just as much about mining the contents of one’s memory as it is about making things up. How did you feel at a certain age? What was going on in your life? What did it look like? Who or what were the touchstones of that period? Those details are baked into this story, because as much as this is a story about three girls on the cusp of turning thirteen, it’s also my story. And maybe yours, as well.
4. I don’t know where any of this comes from.
For me, the act of writing is a little like blacking out. On the best days, it feels like going into a trance. After the fact, I don’t really remember having written any of it.
5. Reading is more important than writing.
One question I get asked a lot is how to be a better writer, and my answer is always the same. Read. Read more. Read everything you can get your hands on — voices similar to your own and voices that couldn’t be more different. Topics you have no knowledge of and memoirs about all kinds of people. Read the newspaper. Read essays. Read poetry. And then get very, very quiet and let your own voice speak through you.
6. Authors often have nothing to do with the cover.
People will say, “Oh, I like what you did with the cover!” or “That’s an interesting direction you took that in.” But in many cases, writers have absolutely nothing to do with that. Covers are heavily influenced by what sales and marketing think will do well in the current marketplace.
7. You — yes, you! — can make stuff happen.
This is not specific to writing books, but it’s something the process has absolutely taught me. When there is something you really care about — be it a book, a brief, a child — sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands. Do it yourself. Speak up. Don’t be afraid of being aggressive. This is your baby we’re talking about, and you need to do everything in your power to help guide their journey.
8. Writing a book is not fancy.
“When are you going to hit the road?” everyone says. “When is the book tour? Where is the party with celebrity guests?” That’s funny. That is the stuff of ’80s lore and television shows. The vast majority of authors do not go anywhere. My book tour is on Instagram, and you are warmly invited.
9. Most books fail.
This is where I do my best therapist voice and say, “But just having written a book is a success.” And that is true! But commercially, most books do not earn back the expense it takes to make them. The mega bestsellers (like James Patterson or J.K. Rowling or Michelle Obama) are what make the vast majority of money for publishers, while everything else is a loss. So, book sales are very important! Particularly the first week of sales, which often sets the tone for how a book will perform over its lifetime. If a book sells out of the gate, then stores will re-stock, the publisher will re-print, and everyone will be happy. All of which is to say, if there is a writer whose work you love (ah-hem, cough cough), don’t hesitate to support their book when it comes out! Writing, like many other art forms, is ultimately a labor of love.
10. You always have to start somewhere.
After you finish one project, you are faced with the terror of starting another. But for me, the hardest part is always simply beginning. I’ll tell myself, write one paragraph per day, write one page, write one chapter. Run a few meters, run a few blocks, run a few miles. Wherever you are, whatever you want to accomplish, just start somewhere. Because before you know it, you’re actually doing the thing, and that feels pretty amazing.
Best Babysitters Ever is a modern day spin-off of The Baby-Sitters Club, where three girls find an old copy of Kristy’s Great Idea (the first book in Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club series) and decide to form their own babysitting organization — this time with a CEO, a COO, and a marketing director. The one catch? They’re really bad at it. The book is geared for kids aged 8 to 12 — and also for adults who have unabashed nostalgia for The Baby-Sitters Club and want to escape reality with a light read. And, the New York Times loved it. :)
(Top photo taken at Books Are Magic.)