Tell us a little bit about the differences you've learned between YA and MG, and how that has impacted your book.
As a writer, I tend to straddle the line between YA and MG—not necessarily a good thing! In order for a book to sell, it really needs to target one of the two groups, and in the case of The Looking Glass, the editors who were interested all wanted to age it either up or down. I felt strongly it belonged in the YA camp, and fortunately Carrie agreed! So, as part of the editorial process, I spent a lot of time trying to get off my YA/MG fence.
The key difference I learned was that, the older your character is, the more independently your character needs to think. It’s believable that a ten-year-old will take something at face value, but a sixteen-year-old needs to intellectually process the challenges she encounters. For my book, getting it out of MG-land and firmly in YA was a matter of having my main character, Alice, more thoroughly think through and internalize the situations she faces.
In other words, YA characters have a second layer of emotion. Whereas an MG character might see a monster and be afraid, a YA character will see a monster, be afraid, and then react to her own fear. Is she embarrassed to be afraid? Does she think that she should be afraid? Having a character address her own emotions is absolutely key in YA.
How would you describe your main character? Do you think that she would be different if your book was MG and not YA? Why would that be?
Alice is smart, stubborn, and incredibly unsure of herself. Like most teenagers (honestly, most people) she has a wealth of insecurities that she tries to ignore. If I had gone in an MG direction, Alice would have been more wide-eyed, but also straightforward. As a younger character, she would have accepted her situation with less resistance, but been a little more helpless in how she addressed it. But, since this is a YA book (at least now it is!), Alice is far less willing to accept that she’s under a magical curse. Then, when she finally does, she starts making some serious decisions—and acting on them.
How hard was it to revise THE LOOKING GLASS and how many times do you think that you revised it before it was in the form that we see now? What kind of things did you end up changing, i.e. theme, structure, etc.?
Bahahaha … SO MANY TIMES. So many. I’m sure I’ve revised that book about ten times (several of those before I even got representation!). I will say this—the general structure has stayed roughly the same throughout, but as for the details... The ending underwent a major thematic shift after it was pointed out to me (ahem … thanks Carrie) that the original ending actually subverted the statement I wanted the book to make. There was an entire side character—the ill-fated Colin—who was introduced in one revision and then cut several rounds later. Poor guy. I liked the name.
Revising was hard, even though I like editing. By the final revisions I was genuinely sick of my own book! I’ve never actually been pregnant, but I swear the last round of revisions was just like the last week of pregnancy. All I could think was, “I don’t care! JUST GET THIS THING OUT!!!”
Is it weird being an author and having a job in publishing? Tell us about it!
It sounds like it should be weird! But actually it’s awesome. Full disclosure—I am an English editing B.A. and a Publishing M.A., so publishing is my life—but I think that writing and working for a publisher are complementary experiences. Now if I were an editor of YA fiction, I might feel differently. As it is, I am an ebook developer and I work with cookbooks. I do a lot of coding and production work—nothing like writing—but I get all the benefits of being a part of the publishing world. I’m surrounded by book lovers. I hear the industry news. I hear the publicity people panicking (because publicity is always panicking) a few cubicles down. And then I come home and get to experience a whole different side of the industry I love through writing.
What has your job in publishing taught you about marketing and publicity for books, or about the book world in general?
One thing I’ve learned over and over again—this is an industry run by people. When you’re not in the publishing industry, you accept the shelves of books at the bookstore pretty much without question. But once you know that such-and-such editor took a real risk with so-and-so’s new book and the designer quit so the cover had to be totally redone and then sales rejected the cover anyway because they wanted a booby blonde on it instead of a brunette so design had to set up a whole new photoshoot and then the book nearly missed its publication date … Well, you start to see the wires. And you realize that the industry is based on speculation—thatfar more books do poorly than do well. Knowing this has made me far more Zen about my own publishing success, because no power on earth—not the best publicists, not the best editors, not the best designers—can make a book succeed. It takes luck.
I can’t force luck. So I throw my hands in the air, do my best, and try not to obsess.
In your blog, you talk about getting a bad review and having issues with your launch date with Amazon. As an author, how did those experiences affect you and how have you learned to deal with the hiccups that happen along the way?
This is one area where working in publishing has actually helped me a ton. Because I see (and am often a part of) the daily catastrophes that publishers experience, I know what’s normal. Sure, having Amazon release your book a month before launch is a shock no matter how much you know, but I compare the whole thing to having your foot fall asleep. If you know absolutely nothing about circulation, the minute those tingles start, you might think something’s horribly wrong and start dancing around screaming about how your foot is going to fall off. If you know that it’s just a matter of circulation, you might still be dancing around in agony, but at least you know you’ll live through it.
The one-star review on Goodreads did throw me into a short existential crisis. (“What? Someone hated my art? I need to stop writing. I need to go live in a cave and stop expressing my creative abilities in sub-par novel form…. You can read the blog for more of the angsty details.) In the end, though, I realized that it would be a true shame to stop doing something I really enjoy just because in someone’s subjective opinion, I’m not very good at it. If I’m waiting for universal popularity, I’m going to be waiting a very long time.
I should note: A couple days after this rating appeared and I wrote a lengthy blog post, the bad review mysteriously disappeared! I was actually disappointed (weird, right?), because not only did I lose my awesome, bleeding battle wound, but I also was worried people would think I made the whole thing up! So—for the record—there really was a one-star review. I am not that crazy. I promise! (Ignore the shifty eyes.)
How is the follow up to THE LOOKING GLASS going? And how excited are you for BEA!
Although I never conceived of The Looking Glass as a series, I’m really enjoying writing another story about these characters. I love exploring what happens after—the days that follow any big, life-changing event—and that’s exactly what I get to do here.
I am SO excited for BEA! I’ve never been and I can’t wait!
Any advice to share?
The best advice I can give is not to panic if your publishing journey doesn’t take exactly the route you expected it to. There will probably be several disasters and many disappointments, but that’s exactly the kind of stuff that makes your publishing story a good story. And hey—we all love a good story, right?
Everyone, make sure to pick up a copy of book!