A Debut Year Reflection

Originally published as part of my December 2018 newsletter.

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone came out on January 2, 2018, the first Tuesday of 2018, which means I'm now officially at the end of debut year. And it's definitely been A Year.

In a lot of ways, I've been very lucky. Readers have found YMMWIG, and it did well enough for my publisher to acquire more books from me. I'm so, so grateful for everything, truly, and so thrilled I get to do this again. I have my dream job, and that's not something I take for granted because I know there are no guarantees. What I've learned, though, is that stress will find you no matter how many great things happen for your book. I've seen authors whose books hit the NYT list talk about struggles with mental health this year, which proves how difficult this is at every stage.

I try to project positivity and honesty on my social media, but here's the truth: the first half of 2018 was really tough. I had low expectations for my book because it was a quiet contemporary...but also because I was trying to preemptively steel myself against the post-pub emotional crash people warned me about.

The things I didn't tweet about:

  • I checked my Goodreads page every day. I sorted my reviews from oldest to newest and read the ones I hadn't read the day before. I looked at how many people had marked the book as "currently reading." I told myself I'd stop once I hit random checkpoints: 100 ratings, 500 ratings, 1,000 ratings.

  • I checked my Amazon ranking. (Did those numbers mean anything to me? Nope.)

  • I checked the Simon & Schuster sales portal. (Again on the numbers: without context, basically meaningless.)

  • I checked the Goodreads pages of books that came out close to mine. I'm really, really not proud of this one. It's so hard, in those early months, to have a sense of how well your book is doing, and I craved solid data that didn't exist yet. So I compared it to other books and drew my own conclusions, which still wasn't actual data and most of the time, made me feel worse. (I've stopped doing this, and I cannot tell you how good it was for my mental health.)

  • I searched Twitter for my title, in quotes, to see what people were saying about it when they didn't tag me. And well, exactly as you might expect, there's usually a reason people don't tag you.

I spent a LOT of time doing all these things. Hours upon hours. Did any of it help me write my next book? No. You know what does help you write the next book?

Writing the next book. I know, I was shocked too.

I think I grew so obsessive because debut groups, while great (I've made some wonderful friends in mine), are a pressure cooker of anxiety. Social media, too—it's a nonstop highlight reel, which often means we don't see any of the difficult stuff people are dealing with. While Good Things will happen for your book, other Good Things—potentially many more—won't. You'll see cover reveals on Entertainment Weekly, starred reviews, blurbs from massive bestsellers, book tours, book subscription boxes, interviews and reviews in national publications, awards nominations, best-of lists. It doesn't mean your book isn't as good as the books that got those things. It doesn't mean you're not as talented a writer. I wish I could answer the "why not me? why not my book?" question for you.

While all those things will happen for some books, the reality is most of them won't happen for many more of us because there's only so much space, and publishers have tons of books per season. You may not know something can even happen until you see it happen for someone else. And then you're jealous about something that, 5 minutes ago, you didn't even know was a thing.

And it's okay to feel jealous—as long as you don't let it ruin your productivity for too long. I'm also not proud of this, and it's a bit scary typing it out, but there were a few times someone else's good news made me feel so down about myself that it kept me from writing for an entire day. And that's 100% my problem, not theirs. That was something I had to figure out how to deal with.

Confide in people you trust, and do so as privately as possible. And I'd recommend doing this without dragging the other person down or making them feel weird about their Good Things. "You're so lucky your publicist got you on NPR" or "I wish I had a sponsored Instagram post like the one your pub posted" or "I'm sure your book earned out, mine never will" can sound bitter. These people are your lifelines, yes, but they're also dealing with their own stuff. Everyone is. But again: just because you've had X amount of good things happen, doesn't mean you don't want the good thing someone else has. Our minds are brilliant, tricky things: we can be jealous and thrilled for someone at the same time.

You know what feels better than jealousy? Shouting about books you love that aren't getting the attention you wish they were. Celebrating the great things happening for others: "I loved your NPR interview" or "that Instagram post is gorgeous." Making real and genuine connections with other authors based on mutual respect and admiration. Asking someone else how they're doing, and listening.

The bottom line for me is this: I can't get those things I see other people getting, those things I'm afraid to admit I want too, unless I write the next book. That is quite literally the ONLY way I can achieve the items on the author bucket list I made a few years ago and saved in a file on my phone. And somehow, it took me six whole months of debut year before this solidly hit me and, more importantly, motivated me to make the best next book I could.

It's hard to do with all the new voices in your head. More than ever before, I needed outlets that weren't writing. And I needed to write something for me, not to change the mind of the person who gave YMMWIG 2 stars. That meant writing something that brought me joy, something that made me smile every time I opened the document.

I'm getting some anxiety-sweats thinking about beaming this newsletter into inboxes, but I'm hopeful that it'll resonate with someone. You wrote and published a freaking BOOK. Yes, you totally did. It has pages, and it has a cover, and someone (multiple someones! who aren't related to you!) bought it. And someone is going to love that book, I promise you. I haven't seen one 2018 book that didn't get love from someone, somewhere. Regardless of what you do or don't have under contract right now, the only thing you can control—if this is what you want to keep doing—is getting more words down. And if you need to take space away from the book community and from social media to do that, that's completely understandable.

I'm in a much better place today than I was earlier this year, and I'm grateful for the friends who let me vent and the readers whose kind words about YMMWIG made my day, week, year. My therapist knows a lot about publishing now. I do still check Goodreads sometimes, but I've stopped reading YMMWIG reviews. If I feel that sour sting of jealousy, it lasts only a few minutes before it motivates me to get back to work.

Whew, this went on longer than I thought it would. If you've made it this far, thank you. Now I am going to eat some cheese and lie down for a bit. And then I'm going to open up that Word document.

OUR YEAR OF MAYBE Preorder Gifts

The Our Year of Maybe preorder campaign, aka dandelionpalooza, is now live! The book comes out 1/15/19, and if you preorder any time between now and 1/14/19, you’ll receive some excellent goodies. Preorders help authors so much, and these gifts are my way of saying thank you.

Email full name, mailing address, and proof of purchase to rachel.l.solomon[at]gmail[dot]com

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indigo | IndieBound | Kobo

Everyone receives:

  • Bookmark

  • Signed bookplate

  • MAYBE vinyl sticker (about 1.5 x 3.5 inches)

  • Adorable dandelion enamel pin!

The three pieces of flat swag (bookmark, bookplate, and sticker) are international, but the dandelion pins are U.S. only. Since I’m covering shipping costs myself, I hope you understand. I’ll have a few more international pin giveaways leading up to release.

Also: I’m partnering with my amazing local indie, Third Place Books, to offer signed copies! If you preorder from them, you’ll also receive a dandelion temporary tattoo. When you check out, please write in the “Order comments” section how you’d like me to personalize your book. Media mail shipping from the store is $3.50.

Three grand prize winners receive:

  • Everything listed above

  • Dandelion book beau

  • Dandelion makeup bag

  • Dandelion lip balm

  • Chinchillin’ enamel pin (in honor of a character’s pet chinchilla named Mark)

  • Signed You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone paperback (also out 1/15/19)

  • The chance to name a character in my 2020 book!

International readers are eligible to win a grand prize.

Here’s what everything looks like!

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Library requests:

If you request that your local library order a copy of Our Year of Maybe, email me a screenshot of your request and I’ll send you a bookmark and a MAYBE vinyl sticker!

More details:

Orders of any format of the book are eligible to receive preorder gifts. I’ll be sending all gifts between December 2018 and January 2019. I plan to respond to all emails, so please let me know if you haven’t received a confirmation email. Once again, please send proof of purchase to rachel.l.solomon[at]gmail[dot]com. Proof of purchase can be an attachment, pasted in the email, or a forwarded email confirmation from the retailer.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you—I can’t wait to share this book and these goodies with you!

YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE query

For the Pitch Wars crowd, here's the original query for YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE! I started querying this book in October 2015, signed with my agent in March 2016, and the book sold in May 2016 to Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse (title changed after it was acquired). It was released earlier this year! I also want to mention that before YMMWIG sold, I had three books on submission with my first agent, and two books I queried before that. 

Hopefully this also gives you an idea of how to potentially structure a query for a dual POV book!

Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old viola prodigy Adina only feels whole with a bow in her hand. Even though her instrument is usually in the background, she’s determined to become a soloist. Her fraternal twin sister, Tovah, has her own ambitions: MIT, med school, become a surgeon. 

But the most important test they’ll take isn’t an audition or a college entrance exam. It’s a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. Huntington’s is a death sentence, and Adina and Tovah have spent the past few years watching it make their mother stumble and hallucinate and forget their names.

When the test results reveal that one twin will develop Huntington’s and one won’t, they self-destruct in different ways. One sister realizes testing negative doesn’t give her the freedom she thought it would, and her guilt sabotages her future plans. The other realizes testing positive means she can do whatever she wants — no matter the consequences. And then one concocts a dangerous plan that could change their family forever.

FINGERS CROSSED, a dual POV YA contemporary novel, is complete at 90,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Corey Ann Haydu, Amy Reed, and Nina LaCour.

Query stats for this book:

Queries sent: 80 | Requests: 26 | Offers of rep: 3

My Promo Breakdown: What I Did, What I Didn't, & How Much I Spent

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone came out about 5 months ago (!!), and for a while, I've wanted to blog about everything I did to promote it. Now that I've had the space and distance to think about all of it, here we go! 

First in-the-wild book sighting at Barnes & Noble! I am 4'10" and was so relieved I could reach it.

First in-the-wild book sighting at Barnes & Noble! I am 4'10" and was so relieved I could reach it.

I went into the debut process knowing I'd do some of my own promo—I'd always wanted to. It's not something I was required to do; rather, I wanted to get creative and experiment. This post will focus solely on what I did to support my book. You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone, a contemporary YA novel published in January 2018 by Simon & Schuster's Simon Pulse imprint, had a long road to publication, and I put my whole heart into it. I wanted to give it the best chance at success that I could, and I didn't want to look back at my pre-pub months and wish I'd done more.

When I started thinking about promo, I expected to analyze each potential opportunity for return on investment. What I quickly realized, though, is that it's hard to predict ROI because we don't have access to perfectly accurate, up-to-the-minute sales information. That's why I based my promo strategy on two things: 1) Does this particular thing bring me joy? and 2) Does it increase visibility for my book? If I could answer both questions with a yes, then I'd do it. If I could only answer one, I'd have to think a little harder before making a decision. 

Please note this is by no means a recommended or required list! This is simply what I did to promote my debut and some transparency into my process. 

Also: keep your receipts! All marketing expenses, including postage, are tax write-offs!

FLAT SWAG

Bookmarks

I'm going to open with this because I think it's the best investment you can make. If you only do one thing for your book, I highly recommend bookmarks. They're relatively inexpensive (depending on how many you get), easy to give out and mail, and they have a clear purpose. Because I had a limited number of ARCs, I dropped off stacks of bookmarks at local indies a couple months before pub, and once my book was out, I gave them out at events. 

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Design: $45 (I used Kristin Rae, whose work is amazing and affordable! She does tend to get booked up, so I recommend reaching out a couple months in advance or being ready to wait. There are a lot of other great designers out there, too!) 

Printing: $70 (I made two separate orders for a total of 300 bookmarks, and I ordered through GotPrint. Originally, I went with matte bookmarks, and once I ran low, I decided to try glossy. I think I prefer the matte look, and they're easier to sign. Some of the extra features cost more money, but you can, however, get 100 bookmarks for ~$20!)

Timing: I ordered my first batch of bookmarks in July, about 6 months before my January debut. I ordered another batch in November. As I'm writing this blog post, five months post-debut, I am out of bookmarks! You'll definitely want to wait to order these until after your cover is public and once your book is available for preorder in case you want to include the ISBN.

Bookplates

A bookplate is essentially a sticker you sign for readers to place in front of their book. It's a great alternative if you can't sign the book in person. 

Design: $35 (again, I used Kristin Rae)

Printing: $50 (I used UPrinting and ordered 75 bookplates. Five months post-debut, I haven't run out.)

Timing: I ordered these in September, 4 months before my January debut.

PREORDER CAMPAIGN

One of the grand prizes in my preorder campaign.

One of the grand prizes in my preorder campaign.

I want to emphasize again that this is not something required of debuts or any authors! I'd always loved seeing the creative preorder campaigns authors dreamed up, and before my book sold, I knew it was something I wanted to do one day. As a debut, I viewed it as a "thank you for preordering!" campaign as opposed to an incentive to preorder. This helped my mindset—as a debut, I didn't have the kind of name recognition that would spur someone to preorder my book based on author alone. 

I wound up with about 70 preorders for the campaign, and I'm still so, so grateful to everyone who preordered!! I'm cooking up another preorder campaign for my second book—again, as a way to show my gratitude and because I loved doing it the first time around!

Everyone who sent me their proof of purchase received flat swag (bookmark and bookplate mentioned above) plus a digital short story I wrote that followed the protagonists five years after the book ended. I didn't send that out until after the book was released. The campaign was open internationally, which was important to me because there were some amazing international bloggers supporting YMMWIG

I picked two grand prize winners for one of two themed boxes of goodies that represented the main characters in the book. These were mostly a collection of local products and jewelry, pins, makeup, and bath products I found on Etsy. I wanted all the items to be things people could use because that reduced the chance they'd get tossed or sit somewhere collecting dust. Some authors hire designers to create gorgeous character art, and while I really love this kind of thing, I couldn't justify the cost for myself. I've received some of this from preordering other books, but because I live in a small apartment, I sadly haven't had anywhere to put it. I'm not ruling it out for the future, though.

Cost: $200 (total for everything included in the grand prize boxes, flat swag costs not included) 

Timing: I started collecting items for the grand prize boxes about 4 months before my debut. The campaign went live 2 months before my debut, and I mailed everything the week my book came out.

DIGITAL PROMO

Social Media

This is your brain on release day: somehow, I accidentally congratulated myself on Twitter ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This is your brain on release day: somehow, I accidentally congratulated myself on Twitter ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Plenty of successful authors aren't active on social media, so this is definitely not a requirement. What I recommend (and what I've seen other authors recommend), if you're interested in growing your author platform on social media, is focusing on one thing you enjoy that plays to your strengths. 

For me, that was Twitter. I'll admit I love Twitter—something about the bite-sized pieces of information, or maybe the fact that I've met most of my closest friends there. Because I work from home, Twitter is kind of my water cooler. While I participated in Twitter chats and tweeted about my book when I had news to share or felt like tossing out a Goodreads or preorder link, my book wasn't the only thing I tweeted about. Thanks to ARC tours, I read a lot of 2018 debuts, and because I loved them and their authors, I wanted to shout about them online. I also shared my writing process, pictures of my dog, and other random life tidbits, plus engaging with people 1-1 and with the greater book community—all things I'd done pre-deal, too. Basically: being a person and not a promo robot. That said, I know a lot of authors feel awkward about promo, especially women, because we are often taught to act modest and downplay our accomplishments. One thing I recommend if you feel that way is to balance promo of yourself with promo of others. For every tweet about your book, for example, tweet five times about other books before you come back to yours again. You can also schedule tweets. Maybe you plan to reveal a quote from your book every Thursday along with a graphic. That's easy to plan out, and that way, followers know to look for a teaser from you on Thursdays. 

Website

I use squarespace, which I highly recommend if you're designing a site yourself! The podcast ads don't lie. No joke, I even contacted their customer support chat twice while writing this post. I use the Montauk template, which is super easy to customize, and my site background is a stock image background I switch out when I'm feeling mercurial. 

Cost: $144 annual fee, $20 domain fee

Timing: I had a free blogspot site until my book deal, after which I made the switch over to squarespace because I wanted to be able to do more with it while keeping it easy to maintain.

Blog Posts

The lovely folks at Fantastic Flying Book Club reached out to me about a blog tour, and they were wonderful to work with! I also participated in interviews with a number of other bloggers and fellow authors, in addition to writing guest posts for YA Interrobang, Pop! Goes The Reader, and the Jewish Book Council. You might get some repeat questions, which is totally understandable, so I wound up making an FAQ for myself. That way, I had a go-to answer for questions like "What inspired you to write this book?" that I tweaked a bit each time. 

Cost: Free!

Timing: The tour ran the week of publication, which I think is pretty common for blog tours. It included reviews and some content I created, such as answers to interview questions. Other blog posts ran anywhere from 6 months before pub up to pub week. 

Cover Reveal

This varies—sometimes, your publisher will organize a reveal for you, and sometimes, authors set up a reveal themselves. My reveal took place on YA Books Central, and I included a note about the design process. People could enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for the first ARC, along with the chance to win some swag. My hope was that, since one of the options on the Rafflecopter was to add the book on Goodreads, I'd get a significant bump in to-read adds on there. But when I checked my Goodreads stats, I didn't really see a huge bump during the days the giveaway was going on. If you're setting up your own cover reveal, it's a great way to make a personal connection with a blog or blogger. But unless your reveal is happening on Entertainment Weekly or Teen Vogue or somewhere similar, the general consensus in my debut group was that it's unlikely to significantly move the needle on sales at this stage of the process. So I wouldn't stress too much about your cover reveal! For my second book, the publisher will reveal the cover on Simon Teen, which is less work and less stress for me :)

I was also interested in revealing an excerpt of the book because I was excited to share it and thought it might encourage preorders. Sometimes this is revealed along with a cover; sometimes it happens after the cover is revealed. I wound up revealing my first chapter (with publisher permission!) on my blog 2 months before pub.

Timing: For me, cover reveal happened 6 months before pub, but this varies a lot depending on publisher. First chapter reveal was 2 months before pub.

Instagram Tour

One of the photos from my Storygram tour, courtesy of @darkfaerietales_!

One of the photos from my Storygram tour, courtesy of @darkfaerietales_!

Instagram tours were starting to gain more popularity around the time I was promoting my book. Because I'm not great at Instagram (yet! One of my goals for this year is to develop more of an aesthetic on there and to post more regularly) and because there's a fantastic YA readership on there, I wanted to try this out. I went with Storygram Tours, though there are several options out there. 

Cost: $200 (I chose their Custom Tour, which offered longer captions and interview questions.)

Timing: I've seen people do Instagram tours with ARCs and with finished copies. I went the finished copy route—partially because I decided only a few weeks before pub that I wanted to do an Instagram tour, and with my book coming out in January, there wasn't enough time for me to get everything organized or space in the tour schedule. My tour happened end of January/early February, and my book came out on January 2.

Stats: The tour hosts provided these stats for the 8 days of my tour: 13,572 total likes on all posts combined. I have no way of knowing how many of those likes turned into sales, but that was a lot of eyes seeing and thumbs double-tapping on my book. Even if there's no concrete ROI, visibility is GREAT.

ADVANCE COPIES

Physical ARCs

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I received 6 physical ARCs, so I knew I had to really think about what I wanted to do with them. Here's where they went: 1: cover reveal giveaway on YA Books Central, 1: Goodreads giveaway, 2: Twitter giveaways, 2: ARC tours. I slipped in right before Goodreads started charging money for giveaways, and I'm not sure I'd do one in the future. It is good visibility, but it's also pretty pricey, and there's no way of knowing whether the winner actually received it or is even interested in the book. As far as giveaways go, Twitter and Instagram are probably the most effective. Especially with Twitter RTs—make sure your giveaway tweet has an image, and that's potentially a lot of people seeing your book. I also wish I'd only sent one ARC on tour as opposed to two, since physical ARC tours move somewhat slowly and I had so few to begin with.

Your publisher will be distributing physical ARCs as well: to bookstores, conferences, festivals, reviewers, and other industry folks. You might also ask your publisher to send physical copies to specific people. 

Timing: My ARCs arrived about 6 months pre-pub, and I was giving them out up until 1 month pre-pub. 

Electronic ARCs

Your publisher will put your e-galley up on Edelweiss (in my experience with S&S, this happens first) and then on NetGalley (this happened a couple months before pub). Your pub approves requests as they come in, but you may also be fielding requests from bloggers interested in a review copy. I made a basic Google Form for people to fill out if they were interested in receiving a review copy, electronic or physical. I noted on the form that requests were out of my hands, but I would make sure the publisher got their information. I then sent this list to my publisher every few weeks or so. 

Timing: Anywhere from 1-6 months before pub, sometimes earlier

MEDIA OUTREACH

This is something your publisher might set up for you, but you can reach out to news outlets as well. Because my degree is in journalism and I worked in the field for several years in Seattle, I already had some local connections. I targeted organizations related to the topics in my book (Jewish organizations, Huntington's disease organizations), as well as local media. I had a really positive response from my university's alumni association and my former college newspaper, in addition to Jewish and HD organizations. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make anything happen with a couple of my former employers (a newspaper and a public radio station), which was definitely disappointing. I reached out multiple times and had the requests punted around to different people, but nothing concrete ever took shape. 

SHIPPING

I'm putting shipping in a separate category because it's absolutely something you should budget for, and it really shocked me. Whether you're part of an ARC tour or mailing out a few hardcovers or even just sending out some bookmarks, it adds up! My costs here include two ARC tours I was part of (Electric Eighteens and Class 2K18). I'm including postage, tape, and mailing envelopes of various sizes. Buy these in bulk for sure.

Total shipping costs: $300 

Total amount spent: $1,100

And that's an approximation. Again, I want to emphasize that every dollar I spent was entirely my choice. 

Total time spent: a lot! My book came out January 2, and November and December are naturally pretty busy months in general, so I did feel like I was scrambling a bit, on top of working full-time and being on deadline for my second book. 

SUMMARY

Was it worth the time and money? Of course, ymmv, but for me, the answer is yes. I loved the connections I formed with bloggers, booksellers, and librarians online, and I loved working on my preorder campaign. Collecting the items was tons of fun (I mean, just look at this molecule necklace), and once the campaign closed and I sat down to mail everything, I was bowled over with gratitude. At least half of my preorders came from people I didn't know, which was an indescribably amazing feeling. I am still so, so grateful. 

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Ultimately, what your publisher does to promote your book is largely beyond your control, as is the case with most things in publishing. They're focusing on multiple titles per season, and you just have one: yours. So if you're wondering whether to invest a good chunk of money or time into your own promo, ask yourself whether it's something you'll genuinely enjoy doing. Like I mentioned in my intro, that was my barometer. I think it's also important to accept that the unpredictable nature of this business means you may not see results right away—or at all. It's a guessing game for just about all of us. And definitely keep your publisher in the loop about everything you're doing!

I asked on Twitter what people would want from a post like this, and below I'll respond to questions not answered in the post.

Is there anything I wish I'd done differently? I'm not sure. I know I'd like to experiment with sponsored Instagram posts for my second book. I'd do more Twitter giveaways for ARCs because I do think they gain the most traction there. I'd also buy more bookmarks at the beginning because I hadn't anticipated running out. But there's nothing I necessarily regret not doing. I would like to start a newsletter in the future, but it wasn't something that was calling to me this time around. Custom enamel pins are also a super cute promo item I'll be looking into for my second book. I love the idea of street teams, too—another thing on my "maybe I'll do that in the future" list.

What did I do that had the most impact? I really wish I had a concrete answer here. I wish there were a magic formula, like 20 tweets + 1 preorder campaign + 5 news articles = 100 books sold, but this is so hard to measure, especially because I haven't yet seen concrete sales numbers. There's no way for me to know if any one thing I did had an impact on sales. I have no doubt it's hard for publishers to know this, too. That's why I focused on things I enjoyed that I hoped would increase my book's visibility and serve to supplement what my publisher was doing to promote the book. In terms of things I spent money on, for me personally, I would say bookmarks were the #1 most worth it, and my preorder campaign was #2. 

Did anything surprise me? Shipping costs. They really add up. 

Overall, just like everything else in publishing, there is no average, no standard, no guarantee. This is only one experience. Feel free to ask questions or share other experiences below or @ me on Twitter. Thank you for reading!

 

A Letter to My Teen Self on Pub Day Eve

Dear Teen Rachel,

Greetings from the future! You have much better hair now. I am here to report that you didn't end up becoming a costume designer, political reporter, indie musician, art historian, teacher, or professional dog walker.

Rachel at 16. I bet you can't tell at all that this was taken in the mid-2000s!

Rachel at 16. I bet you can't tell at all that this was taken in the mid-2000s!

But you know what's amazing? Your debut novel comes out tomorrow. You are an author (!!!), and soon people who don't know you will be reading your words. Your book is going to have an impact on people you will never meet (and some you will), and that is an incredible thing. 

Where you are right now, though...I know it's rough. There's an ache deep inside that you won't figure out for a few years, and I am so sorry. One day you will call it depression, and you will call your rituals obsessive compulsive disorder, and you will realize you can't deal with it on your own. 

Combined with the ache of adolescence, a longing for more, it feels like a lot. You are in your head so much. You are perpetually aware of your female-ness. You don't like how people talk about women or how women are expected to act, but you can't quite articulate it yet. You're afraid of a lot of things: saying how you really feel, the world beyond high school, your own body. Nothing about it makes sense and you have a million questions, and if anyone has the answers, you're too ashamed to ask. 

You think you are supposed to be demure and passive and deferential. You think you're not supposed to have any power in relationships, romantic or otherwise. You submit to everyone. You sigh and say yes to everything when you want so badly to say no and for that to be okay. 

It is more than okay.

People try to put you in a box. The Smart Girl. The Quiet Girl. The Short Girl. The Jewish Girl. You don't want to be any of these. You want so desperately to be the Cool Girl or the Pretty Girl, but more than that, you don't really want a label at all. You are so filled with want that sometimes you can't sleep. 

So pensive. So 2005.

So pensive. So 2005.

The friends you have may not last. It might be a long time before you find people who truly get you. But I promise, you will find them.

So how did you get here, the night before your debut novel enters the world? It's been a rocky journey. You wrote a lot as a kid and young teen. You didn't write as much in high school and barely at all in college, but you'll fall back in love with it after you graduate. You'll query a few books, find an agent, and go on submission for a few years with a few different books. You'll leave your first agent because you can't bear to give up on your heart book. You'll query that book (your fifth completed manuscript) and become convinced no one will love it like you do -- but then, someone will. And it will sell to an editor who Gets It and it will transform into a very real physical thing. You held your first finished copies a couple weeks ago, and you're never going to forget that feeling.

If you grow up in the Seattle area, you're probably in a band at some point in your life. Also: return of the argyle tights!

If you grow up in the Seattle area, you're probably in a band at some point in your life. Also: return of the argyle tights!

You can't possibly know it yet, but this is the book you needed at sixteen. The book you needed before those uncertain first romances, before you went to college an anxious mess. This book could have given you the courage you needed to ask questions, to speak out. It would have given you the kind of power you want all teen girls to have.

This book is for you, and it is for them, too.

With so much love and an extra 12 years of (questionable) wisdom,

Rachel

Honesty, Perseverance, & How Book 5 Became My Debut

I started writing seriously in the middle of the night.

It was the summer of 2011, and I'd just graduated from college with a journalism degree. I'd landed my first full-time job as the producer of a morning news radio show. The show started at 5 a.m., and I had to be at the station at 2 a.m. For a couple hours, I was the only person in the newsroom, which meant I fielded more than a few creepy calls from people who like to call radio stations late at night. 

So I played loud music and composed long emails to myself (I shared a computer with the other producers and didn't dare save anything personal on it) - scenes of what would become my first finished novel. 


I've always yearned to tell stories: as a kid writing strangely morbid books on stapled-together construction paper, as a teen writing song lyrics, as a college journalism student. It hadn't actually occurred to me until the summer after college to try to get something published, though I knew my odds of success were probably slimmer than a paper cut. That's why I view that time as when I "got serious" about writing - it's when I started writing with the goal of publication.

I worked on that first book for about a year, though I didn't really know how to decide that I was "done."  I joined a critique group I found on Meetup, and every cell in my introvert body protested as I submitted two chapters of my book and braced myself for feedback. 

They didn't hate it. I didn't exactly know how to classify the book - women's fiction, or maybe new adult, though that didn't exist yet - but one group member told me my voice felt very YA. That sparked something in me. I hadn't read YA since my early teen years, when I devoured Meg Cabot and Laurie Halse Anderson and Margaret Peterson Haddix. So I decided to catch up on what I'd missed since then - and oh my god, I fell in love. What I related to most was this ache, this longing that so many books had. A longing to be loved, to fit in, to achieve something, to discover who you really are. I like to think all my books have a strong sense of longing - it's my absolute favorite emotion to write. It's so painful and beautiful, and it's something many of us feel deep in our bones.


After incorporating some feedback from my critique group and obsessively reading Query Shark, I decided to start querying Book 1. I sent around 30 queries and received only one partial request. I felt pretty strongly that YA was what I wanted to be writing, though, so I shelved Book 1, which I now refer to as my "practice book," and moved on.

Book 2 was a YA about an all-girl band, loosely based on my experience in a band in high school. It had four POVs, and I  had no idea how to structure it. I hired a freelance editor, who pointed out to me that my writing was mainly telling instead of showing. This was hard to swallow at first, especially because, growing up, teachers had always told me I was "a good writer." But I could get better. I wanted to get better, to learn, to push myself. I revised Book 2 some more. I entered it in contests and sent more than 120 queries. I had about a 10 percent request rate, and a few of those requests turned into R&R's that were ultimately rejected. But something great had happened while I was querying that book - I leaped into the writing community on Twitter, and I connected with friends and CPs I'm still close with. 

While I was querying Book 2, I drafted Book 3, a YA contemporary about a girl with Tourette's syndrome and small-town political scandal. I sent 10 queries to start and received a couple full requests right away, which made me feel INCREDIBLE. I'd never gotten that many responses so quickly! One agent replied back with an R&R a few days after I sent her the full, and after we talked on the phone and exchanged a few emails about how to change the direction of the book, I revised it. She offered representation in June of 2013. 

No matter how many times you hear that "your first book probably won't sell," you think you'll be the exception. Book 3 was on submission for a year, and it didn't sell. And the only thing I could do at that point, since this was now something I knew I wanted more than I'd ever wanted anything, was write another book. 

While on submission with Book 3, I wrote Book 4, a tragic story about a roller derby girl with PTSD. I was in a dark place emotionally, and that made its way onto the page. I revised and revised and revised while rejections on Book 3 trickled in. 


Since I was young, I've struggled with depression, anxiety, and OCD. A lot of that has gone into my books, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. I've tried medication and therapy and have finally found a combination of both that's put me in a good place, but it took a long time to get there.

While writing is an incredible outlet, the rejection takes a toll. The waiting takes a toll. The best thing I can recommend if you're struggling with something similar: have another outlet besides writing. For me, that's dance. Several nights a week, I can completely clear my mind and focus on the movement and the music. I'm not fantastic at it, but I love it.

Still...I had moments of hopelessness. Haven't we all? You will never get published, my mind told me, and I started to believe it. I started to believe that all the "just didn't connect with it" rejections meant there was something wrong with my writing I might never know how to fix. 


Book 4 went on submission in spring of 2014, and I started working on Book 5. It was without a doubt the toughest thing I'd ever written, but I loved the characters. While I was drafting Book 5, Book 4 received a vague R&R from an editor. I switched gears and started working on that, but I'd forgotten how dark the book was. While most of my writing is dark-adjacent, some of it was so personally upsetting that I was having trouble even opening the document. So after Book 4 had been on sub for six months, and without completing the R&R, I asked my agent to pull the remaining submissions. I felt so much more strongly about Book 5, and I wanted to devote all my energy to it. And wow, did it require a lot of energy.

I rewrote the book from scratch twice because I couldn't get the voices right. Couldn't get the pacing right. Couldn't get the ending right. I'd never rewritten anything from a blank page before. It was daunting and exhilarating. My CPs loved it, and my agent and I revised it a couple times before going on sub with it in summer of 2015. It only went out to a handful of editors, and when my agent and I had differing visions for it, I decided it would be best if we parted ways. The split was amicable.

The book had only been seen by a few editors, and it hadn't been queried. Some friends who'd recently left agents found new ones within weeks. That...was not the case. Fortunately, I happened to know a lot of other writers querying for the second or third time, and their support was amazing. There are people I texted and IMed and DMed with every small victory. It's so, so important to have people who will celebrate those little victories with you. 

I set my first queries in October of 2015, and in March of this year, after I'd sent about 80 queries with a 1/3 request rate, I accepted an offer from Laura Bradford. We did one revision before going on sub with Book 5, now titled FINGERS CROSSED (though that is going to change), in early April, and in late May (we accepted the offer a few minutes before the Memorial Day holiday weekend!), this happened:

I cried a lot. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. I cannot wait to hold this book in my hands (pet it, hug it) and see others' responses to it. People talk about the book of your heart, and this one absolutely is mine. I put everything in it that I love and wanted to see more of in YA: ambitious girls with sharp edges, flawed characters confronting guilt and mortality, practicing Jews, which I rarely saw in books when I was growing up. Romance is a big part of the book too; there's both a doomed forbidden romance and a sweet first love. 

The two sisters each hold a piece of my soul. Tovah is, in many ways, similar to who I was in high school. Adina is everything I was too scared to be in high school. She's all the thoughts I had but never acted on.

Here's a collage I made to give you a better idea of what it's about:

You can also add it on Goodreads.

Another exciting thing is that Simon Pulse also acquired the book I drafted while querying Book 5! It's about a girl who donates a kidney to her guy best friend. She's been in love with him for a while and now thinks because she's made this tremendous sacrifice, he owes her to be in love, too. But now that he's healthy, he's experiencing many aspects of life for the first time, including falling for a guy, which is thrilling and confusing. It's tentatively titled A YEAR OF BAD IDEAS, and it's due out in 2019. You can add it on Goodreads, too!

Now it's time for the Oscars speech. Thank you to my incredible agent, Laura Bradford, who made me feel so comfortable with her during our very first call, who I've already learned so much from, who is a wonderful advocate. My editor at Simon Pulse, Jennifer Ung - her excitement (and the whole Pulse team's excitement) for this book has made me teary more than a couple times.

I owe a hundred thank-yous to this book's many readers in all its many iterations. Thank you to my dear friend Rachel Simon, a talented, selfless individual with whom I have a bizarre amount of things in common, including our names. You are such an unwavering champion of my work and of so many others' work. Thank you Paula Garner, Natalie Williamson, Natalie Blitt, J.C. Davis, Jeanmarie Anaya, Nikki Roberti, Tracy Gold, Maya Prasad, Richelle Morgan, Jamee Kuehler. And an enormous thank-you to Jen Hawkins. Jen, had it not been for your insistence that this story needed to be heard, I may have given up on this book. Also thank you to wonderfully supportive writer pals Helene Dunbar, Joy McCullough-Carranza, Kit Frick, Sarah Glenn Marsh, Heather Ezell, Tabitha Martin, Rachel Griffin, Megan Lally, and the entire Pitch Wars mentor group. 

If you've read to the end of this, or if you just skimmed all the way down - if getting published is what you want more than anything in the world, DO NOT GIVE UP. Keep writing. Keep reading. Take a risk. Write something new. Write something that scares you. 

Keep writing. Keep writing. 

There is someone out there who needs to read that story.