"That was when I decided to take seriously the person I actually am rather than try to be a person whom others define as serious. Leaving academia to write fiction for children and teenagers was a return to that person I had been — the one who laughed easily, who liked makeup and baking and dance. I stopped being afraid of being thought silly or weak and instead pushed myself to be more than competent at the things I loved best to do. I am true now to what brings me joy and to what I do well — and most of the time, to hell with the rest."
More reasons to love E. Lockhart.
Thanks for posting, Rachel. This was from the LA Times, and I wrote it for the Book Festival paper.
I love this piece by E. Lockhart because I used to try so hard to be a serious writer. I thought to write a novel it had to be A Novel. I thought if it wasn’t The Great American Novel, I might as well not bother.
And then I read authors including E. Lockhart who made me realize I wasn’t actually a serious person. I wanted to write girlie books. I wanted to write about boys and kissing and clothes and I still wanted to imbue my work with feminism and joy and love and other big ideas I care a lot about.
Blah blah blah once I did that I finished a book and got an agent. Blah blah blah now those two books that came out of my decision to just be myself are in stores. Blah blah blah just be yourself. You are a great you.
I always say, write the book you have to write, not what anyone tells you you should write.
Source: Los Angeles Times
A Perfunctory Guide to Writers Looking for Publishers
I’m asked at least once a week how to get published. Once upon a time, this was a very straightforward answer:
1. Write a novel.
2. Write a query letter.
3. Send the query letter to agents or to editors.
4. Rinse and repeat until said agents and editors ask to see the rest.
5. Rinse and repeat until they see the rest and ask to buy it.
5. In the case of multiple offers, speak to all parties on the phone and see which one makes you feel like the prettiest pony.
Here were things you did not do:
1. Pay to be published.
2. Pay your agent anything besides 15% of the sale price of your book and your royalties.
3. Pay for any of the costs associated with being published such as cover design, editing, printing, hiring of performing bears, etc.
4. Do anything other than write and be paid for writing.
But now there are many ways to be published. Self-publishing and small publishers no longer have the same stigma attached to them. It is no longer the most obvious thing to say: to get published, write a query letter and submit it to an agency or a publishing house, DONE.
Instead, you must ask yourself: what is my goal in publishing?
If your goal is to write a book that you hope will appear on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, CostCo, and supermarkets everywhere, you still need to follow the first set of steps. A traditional publisher is still your only way to get into all of those places. And if you really do have your eye on stands in supermarkets and Sam’s Club and airports, you not only need a traditional publisher, but you need a large traditional publisher of the sort that generally exists in New York and is called something like Little, Brown, or Scholastic, or Random House. You will also need an agent.
You will need, as I said before, to do all of the steps I first listed.
If your goal is to write a book that you’d like to see on shelves but are fine with those shelves being the ones in specialty stores or libraries or schools, a smaller traditional publisher might be a good option for you. This is especially true if you’ve written a less commercial book. (here is a good way to judge if something is commercial: can you imagine your mother, your hair dresser, your veterinarian, and your brother in law all reading it? if so, it is super commercial. Commercial =/= good. It merely means many people will pick it up).
These smaller houses will carry the burden of editing and printing and marketing for you, but they won’t always have the clout to get your book into major stores. They are, however, often less competitive than the larger New York houses, and they will often give you more personal attention and promote your book for longer. You don’t always need an agent to submit to them either, though I recommend an agent if you’re pursuing a full-time career in writing.
But if your goal is only to be read, or to if you have a keen marketing mind and want to represent yourself, self-publishing is an emerging option. You’ll have all of the control, and there will be no rejection letters in your future. But you’ll also carry the entire burden of cover design, editing, printing, formatting for digital distribution and, most importantly, marketing and publicity. I was a self-representing artist, and success is possible, but it will look different than success at a traditional larger house, and it will ask different things from you. You will not, at this point, ever walk into a Sam’s Club and see a self-published title sitting on the table out front. It is very possible to be a writer without Sam’s Club. But it’s important to keep that in mind if a big commercial career is what you long for — the book on that table bears the logo of a large traditional publishing house.
A note: There are several companies that offer to help you with self/ digital-only publishing at the moment, but I’m not convinced of their usefulness at this point. I think it’s a little too soon to see how they’re anything but a middle man at this stage. My feelings are if you’re going to dive into the digital world, you should be doing it because you want the freedom and control in your own hands.
What it comes down to is that you need to be honest with what you need out of your publishing experience. Unhappiness comes from wrong-headed expectations and targeting the wrong house. If you long to see your book at O’Hare airport, you’re going to have a miserable experience self-publishing. If you want to publish a serial story in ten parts over two years, you’re going to have a hard time pitching it to a traditional house. Don’t expect a small house to suddenly change its stripes and drop a quarter million marketing budget on your novel.
DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Make a list of books and careers that you admire and would like to model, and then work backward to find out how those authors ended up where they were. And if something sounds too good to be true, it is. Consider suspect any option that seems like it doesn’t require rejection and work and practice and polish and scrabbling of your hands and teeth. This is the best job in the world, which means there are a lot of people who are fighting for it. If you really want it, you’ll fight alongside with them.
It’s very worth it.
I’m still here and I’m crazily in love with you. Please, stay.
I Am Not My Coming-Out Story: Deeper Representation in YA Lit
There’s been a lot of discussion these days about YA—about girls in YA and about diversity in YA made by people who are far more eloquent and well-spoken and informed than I am, at least on those topics. But I wanted to throw my two cents in, because I’m tired of sitting back and watching these discussions and reblogging and never saying anything. So this is me trying to articulate the jumble of thoughts in my head in a hopefully relevant way.
I first started getting into YA when I was 13. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is the first YA book I can really remember reading, and the first book that made me go “Holy cow YA is amazing hey maybe I could write that.” So after a few failed novel attempts I sat down and wrote my first YA novel (which five years later I’m still working on, so there’s that, but I digress). This was also the age where I thought I was “better” than other girls because I read and I was smart and wore black and not pink and I didn’t read things like Twilight, but that’s for another time, too.
13 was also when I first began to realize I was gay, so being the bookworm I was, I wanted to turn to literature. At an age where I didn’t have a car, I had to rely on my mom to drive me to Barnes and Noble so I could buy books. My mom, being the wonderfully overprotective woman she was, liked to approve my book choices before I checked them out.
Well, one night I tried to sneak Julie Anne Peters’ Keeping You a Secret past her, and she read the back and asked “Is this a gay book?” and that lead to a really long, uncomfortable discussion about my supposed sexuality in which I was too young to know what I was talking about so I got shut down. And I hurriedly scrabbled back into the closet and tried to forget that I was gay, which worked until high school when I developed a massive crush on my best friend (who luckily was brave enough to admit she liked me back and now here we are three years later).
During my heavily closeted, “there is no way in hell I can be gay” time, I would sneak to the local library or get a parent to drop me off for homework and I would browse the YA section hoping for something, some sort of a sign that yes, this was okay, being gay was a thing that was okay.
Guys, it was hard for me to find. I could say it’s because I wasn’t looking hard enough, I could say it’s because I live in North Carolina and back in 2007 YA lit hadn’t boomed to the size it was and GOD FORBID we stock something with a gay character, and those were indeed factors in it, but the fact of the matter was I couldn’t find a lot of queer YA because there wasn’t any, save for Geography Club which I read in a hurried afternoon, and Keeping You a Secret which unfortunately I never got my hands on. My library’s pickings were slim. Anything I could find about gay teens was usually about attractive white gay boys or about the angst of coming out of the closet and the (usually horrible) repercussions. There simply wasn’t “happy” YA where I could read about two girls who were gay or who fell in love and everything went well for them. It got to the point where I was tired of reading YA literature, and anytime I saw an LGBT YA book I scoffed or refused to pick it up, because I was sick of books that revolved around a character’s “coming out” as the sole plot of the book.
Thankfully, the landscape of YA is slowly changing. Is it as good as it should be? Absolutely not, particularly with representation of characters of different races or different sexualities, but again as I linked to in the beginning of this post, far more eloquent people have written about that than I have. Are a lot of LGBT YA books still centered around coming out? Yes, but you know what? To a thirteen year old kid, to little thirteen-year-old Nita, those books are necessary.
However, they cannot be the only literature we see. We cannot settle for the bare minimum, the bare story, being reduced to one experience or to a stereotype or to a stock character in the background. As YA readers (and YA writers), everyone deserves to see an accurate, thoughtful representation of themself in literature that isn’t reduced to a singular narrative, a singular experience. I am not just my coming-out story, POC are not just your white MC’s “exotic” best friend/love interest. We are people with far, far more facets than just one aspect of ourselves, and we deserve to see that in YA literature. We’re inching towards that landscape, but not fast enough. I hope we get there soon, for our sake and for those teenagers who deserve to know that they are not a stock character, a background piece to fill a diversity quota, they are not their coming out story.
They’re so much more than that. And they deserve to see it in literature.
^ Why we keep talking about this.
I think this is perfectly eloquent.
Gender, Diversity, YA Lit, and The Whole Shebang
I got a message to make a phone call to Publishers Weekly this afternoon, following a strong response to the all-male, all-white panel for BookCon, which is ReedPop’s consumer-side show as part of Book Expo America. Here’s the piece.
I’m pleased with the fact there’s a piece about the backlash.
My one wish is that someone who wasn’t a white lady (me) were the one being heard. I wish, too, I hadn’t been the one female quoted in the piece. But that’s here and there, and I think if you want more context for why this is a concern of mine, help yourself to Sarah McCarry’s important string of tweets about privilege and publishing that came at the same time as yesterday’s backlash.
In short, I am not saying anything anyone else hasn’t been saying forever. I am not saying anything a person of color hasn’t been saying forever. But I have far less at stake if I keep pushing at it. I can handle being called a bitch and a feminist and misandrist and whatever other creative names people who disagree with my message can come up with.
A series of anonymous asks popped up today in aprihop's inbox today, as well as in summerscourtney's. The asks can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I recommend reading them all and reading the follow-ups. Also read this post.
In short: when we speak up for women and poc having representation, we’re accused of being man-haters and throwing men under the bus.
Far from it.
When we call out privilege for what it is — all men on a conference panel, men being the dominant force in an industry, men having power and prestige a la the New York Times Bestsellers list, better publicity and marketing, even the label of being “better” storytellers, per one of the asks — we are doing no such thing. We’re instead looking at the system and pointing out the flaws.
Those men are not the flaws. And we need to stop apologizing for them or on their behalf. Of course it’s not their fault.
It’s the fault of a far bigger, more pervasive system. It is only by examining it and asking questions and pointing out homogeny and sameness that we make any inroads. And we have to also do our part to step back and examine our own part in the system.
People who anon ask are cowards in these situations. People who anon comment are no better.
People who won’t risk themselves when they have the opportunity to advocate for those who aren’t as privileged as they are are also part of the problem. To which end, I point out how much respect I have for Rick Riordan and his tweet regarding the BookCon panel he’s a part of. Support men AND women. Support white people AND non-white people.
When you support one group of people, it is in not denigrating another group of people. Instead, it’s doing your part to raise everyone up.
I don’t need to delve deeper. But I’ll post a few relevant things.
- A Censored History of Ladies in YA Fiction (my post)
- Kate Messner’s Owning Our Words
- Megan Frazer’s Speaking Up, Finding Fish
- When We Talk About Girl Problems (my post)
- The Reductive Approach to YA Fiction (my post)
- Diversity, The Zero Sum Argument, and Chicken Wings by Justina Ireland
- Race and Diversity in the 2013 YA Bestsellers
Got more suggestions for necessary reading related to gender, diversity, publishing, and the YA world? Lay it on me and let’s build a massive resource here.
caring is not trying, trying is not succeeding by Sarah Hannah Gómez
Why Being a POC Author Sucks Sometimes by Ellen Oh
Mad Words Turn To Positive Action at Rich in Color
The danger of a single story, Chimamanda Adichie
Video public service announcement featuring best-selling author Judy Blume, Honorary Chair, National Library Week 2014 - April 13-19!
The problem with banning “bossy.”
Real books should be the offspring not of daylight and casual talk but of darkness and silence