Thoughts on Writing: Navigating the Road to Publication

thoughts on writing 3So, you’ve sent out your query letters, signed with a literary agent, and secured a book deal. Your dream is in writing, in the language of a contract. Now what?


The Mighty Scope

I swear HarperCollins purchased my book based on its potential. My editor’s first request was to rewrite the entire ending, beef up a handful of characters, and completely change the chronology of the book. In six weeks. 🙂

The Editor-Author Partnership

Up till this point in my life, I’d had two critique relationship experiences: in college, where if my professor suggested something, it was in my best interest to make those changes; and with my writing group of peers, where I collected ideas and feedback, but it was fully my decision whether to implement them or not. Working with my editor at HarperCollins was different– she was not my professor, though she did have more experience with writing and with story than I did; and she was not my peer, though she treated me with respect and genuine warmth. It was just a new scenario. We were partners in this project, and I had no idea what that was supposed to look like.

Ultimately, I learned to try everything she suggested. Usually I ended up loving it. If I didn’t, I would talk to her about why it wasn’t working, and we’d scrap it. There were very few things that we completely disagreed on, and in those 2-3 things, she let me win.

The Panic

The anxiety that followed my book deal was so intense and unexpected and alarming that I ended up back in therapy.

And so it goes.


I’m often asked how much influence I had on the cover of my novel. I had always heard that an author had zero input— but that wasn’t quite true in my experience.

First, I was asked for my thoughts:

We will fill out a form to share with our designers—who work serious magic and make the best looking books in the industry—but we want your thoughts, too. What sort of design or image do you picture for your cover? Photographic or iconic? Is there anything you absolutely don’t want? Are there other books whose covers you admire? As much info you can give us will help us—and the designers—create the perfect look for TRUEST.

truest-doodlesI was later shown eight choices and asked for my opinion again. They ended up going with my second choice (although by the end it was my absolute #1 favorite!), and let my thoughts guide multiple changes.

To see the detailed evolution of my book cover, click here.


A couple months after my publication day, I made some notes about what I learned:

  • I loved my street team, but I did everything too early and put too much money into it. I tried to come up with enough swag to entice readers to join the launch team, but I think the people who joined it would have joined it for less. In future, I will probably do a street team, but I will a) give them only the ARC plus some exclusive content, b) do everything within a month of the release date.
  • I would absolutely dish out the money to do a couple book tours during the release month. I’ll be doing a couple of those here in November and December, but I really wish I’d had the foresight to do them in September. Newbie!
  • At every event (except maybe the launch party), I would also promote other books that I enjoyed. I really want to give back in this way, plus I want bookstores that host these events to sell more than just my book.
  • I made a handful of promo materials. I probably should have just come up with one incredible idea, made a ton of them, and then given them out EVERYWHERE.
  • Here’s one that might shock you: I would have been more spoiler-y in my flap copy (i.e. the text on the inside flap of the book). A story about three teens in the summer isn’t particularly compelling, but once I mention that one of them has a disorder that causes her to question whether she’s in real life or just dreaming, I see lightbulbs go on. Every time. I’ve been looking at the flap copy of other books, and theirs is open super spoilery … and it doesn’t hurt the experience of the book. I think this was a big mistake of mine.


Celebrate Like Crazy

I will never regret having a huge launch party on the day my book came out! It was so much fun and so special to have people I love from so many parts of my life come together to celebrate my book … and to celebrate me. I had heard from so many writers that their launch day was “just another day,” and I wanted so much more than that: a celebratory climax to the day I’d been counting down from for nearly two years (or my entire life, depending on how you look at it). YES to release day parties.

The Magic of Kind Words

It’s hard to explain just how special it is to hear words of praise about your book. In the midst of fear and reviews and silence, sweet words at the exact right moments are each like a miniature rescue.To hear that you’ve made someone rethink things or that your book changed their life or became a new favorite or that they connected with a character or that it gave them hope during a particularly hard experience … it makes it all worthwhile. Please tell authors when you love their work. It’s like fuel, an instant battery-charge, strength to continue. I have an Instagram comment that has taken up permanent residence in my heart, ringing like a little bell.


You get back to work.

This is the writing life.


Did you miss the other parts in this series on writing?

Part One | Part Two

thoughts on writing 1thoughts on writing 2

books books books

Just finished …

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead | Brilliant!  This is a children’s book, meant for younger ages than the books I usually read, but it was absolutely incredible.  This is the story about Miranda, a young girl in New York City, who starts receiving mysterious notes from an unknown sender, asking her to “write out the whole story, from beginning to end.”  She is, of course, confused, but after a cast of wonderful characters are introduced, everything begins to fall into place.  I actually shouted aloud the moment that everything finally clicked into place for me– I was that excited.  Absolutely loved it.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley | Another Printz winner, so I had high expectations.  The writing was good, and it had two storylines that merge into one (a device I am rather fond of).  It also was very interesting, especially all the writing about the Book of Enoch, but in the end, the book didn’t wholly touch me.  Whaley didn’t make me love the characters quite enough to care enough.  I wanted to love this one; I really did.  One story is about Cullen Witter, his small town that is going crazy over an extinct woodpecker who has supposedly been seen again in their community, and the disappearance of his younger brother Gabriel.  The other story begins with a young missionary on his first mission.  Seems right up my alley, doesn’t it?  I didn’t hate this book, but it just didn’t go far enough to truly capture me.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness | Oh man.  So good.  I wept.  This is a fascinating story about Conor, whose mother is dying of cancer, and about the yew tree in the churchyard out of their window.  In the evenings, the tree walks and talks to Conor, telling him stories and demanding one from him, all as he deals with the emotions of his mother’s slow fade.  So real, so raw, so dark, so clever.  A must-read.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine | I found myself easily sucked into this re-telling of Cinderella, even though I think that Levine needed a couple more drafts of the manuscript (how pretentious am *I*?  wow.).  Still, a sweet story for children.  Ella was blessed/cursed at birth with the need to obey all orders … as she grows up and falls in love, she seeks a way to end the spell that binds her, and this is the story of what happens.  I honestly did find myself rather heartbroken as I read this story … I applaud Levine for that!

Going Bovine by Libba Bray | This book started out INCREDIBLE and hilarious and interesting– Cameron, a teenaged slacker, is diagnosed with the human equivalent of mad cow disease, which essentially eats holes in your brain, making it like a sponge.  The descriptions were fantastic and dead-on and intense.  And then Cameron starts drifting out of reality and in his unconscious state, he goes on this completely bizarre roadtrip with a dwarf and a yard gnome, guided by a punk angel in torn fishnets.  In a lot of ways, I suppose I have to give Libba Bray credit, since it did seem very dream-like.  The problem was that I was just not incredibly interested– and it went on far too long.  Outside of Narnia, I’m not a huge fan of big quests in books.  This just got too wacky and too long for me.  I finished it though because I was so won over in the first part of the book by Bray’s phenomenal writing.

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare | Okay, so this is book #5 of the Mortal Instruments series, and it’s (obviously) safe to say I’m hooked.  I am writing this mini-review at 1:25am, having just finished it.  I don’t know how Cassie Clare keeps doing it, but she just introduces such heartbreaking plot elements in every novel.  I feel like I can’t truly review this book without any spoilers, since there are four other books before it, all filled with twists and turns and secrets revealed.  I will say that I am PUMPED for the sixth and final book of this series … which I just looked up and discovered is not coming out until March 2014.  Two-thousand-freakin’-fourteenYou have got to be kidding me.  Speechless.  (I don’t know how Potter fans did it … I didn’t start the series till Hallows was released.)  Well, I guess it’s time for bed.

Currently reading …
The Narnian by Alan Jacobs, all about the life and creativity of C.S. Lewis, my favorite

En route to my mailbox …
The Casual Vacancy by Jo Rowling
Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

So. Freakin’. Pumped.

books books books

Just finished …
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson | Just from the description, I figured it would be a tearjerker– readers know upfront that Taylor’s dad is terminally ill, and before he dies, he wants the family to spend one last summer together at their lake home, which Taylor hasn’t been to since she was 12.  When they return, she has to face her former best friend and former boyfriend and deal with her dad’s illness.  Yes, of course I cried.  It was a really interesting premise, but I thought Matson could have done more with Henry, the love interest.  (I hate when I can’t really understand why two characters like one another.  Pet peeve.)  Anyway, I give it a solid B.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers | This is not your typical zombie book– sure there is an outbreak of the undead spreading across the country, but the real story in this book is about the dynamics between the six teenagers who have barricaded themselves inside their high school while the attack rages outside.  I was really, really impressed with this book.  A- and it made me check out all Summers’ other books from the library.

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers | This is basically a book about b****y teenaged girls fighting with one another.  I was shocked at the cruelty, and I kept thinking, “Are high school girls really this bad?”  I felt like Summers anticipated that question with her book title, answering me, “Some girls are.”  It was frustrating to me because the main character Regina never seems to quite spit out what she needs to say.  That drives me crazy about book characters, and I realized it is probably because I have never really let that happen to me.  I am so vocal and usually refuse to be walked on.  The book gets a B from me– it was well-written, but it was so unedifying that it kinda just left me feeling low.

The Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; and The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, even though I just finished reading the whole series.  Just started over, I guess.  I told you I was addicted.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green | Good, but not even close to The Fault in Our Stars.  Still, I adore John Green, and I have this secret desire to one day have published a YA book that has an endorsement blurb on it from him.  DFTBA.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson | Just finished this one ten minutes ago (as I write this review), and I adored it.  Tinker Bell narrates the love story of Tiger Lily and Peter Pan and how everything changed when Wendy Darling came onto the scene.  Masterfully written.  Writer’s envy flaring up!  A wonderful story, but a sad one, which readers are warned about from the very first paragraph: “Let me tell you something straight off.  This is a love story, but not like any you’ve ever heard.  The boy and the girl are far from innocent.  Dear lives are lost.  And good doesn’t win.  In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings.  In Neverland, that is not the case.”

Currently reading…
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by Jo Rowling.  I missed my friends and needed to get back to Hogwarts.  Just wrapping this one up.  I love the story more every time I read it.  Do you remember where you were the first time you read it?  I do.  A hotel in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and every couple of minutes, I would do a frantic inventory in my head: “The diary … the ring … the locket … the cup … what am I missing?!”

About to purchase (once my B&N gift card arrives!) …
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
3 AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley