Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How I became the most accidental YA writer ever

I know I promised to tell you how I ended up with a YA book deal to announce, and I'm going to TRY to explain today. But I'll be honest: it *kinda* happened by accident.

Not sure if you remember, but a couple of months ago I posted a very honest account of the incredibly long, incredibly stressful process I went through when I was revising KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES. I couldn't seem to get that book right, and with each new revision I piled more pressure on myself, to the point that I actually felt nauseous every time I opened the draft.

I also had insomnia pretty bad back then and I found myself spending the many sleepless nights thinking about a crazy idea. Two teenage characters with a very YA story to tell--not something the middle grade writer in me ever thought I'd attempt. But one night at 4am one of them said something so funny I crawled out of bed, grabbed my laptop, and typed those words because I wanted to see them in print.

And I just kept going.

I poured out six pages in a massive brain dump and then tumbled back to bed and FINALLY fell asleep.

I reread them the next morning expecting them to be laughably horrible. But I was surprised to discover that they were actually the best six pages I'd written in a LONG time. Not because they were perfect--far from it, actually. But because they were MINE.

I'd spent so many months revising KEEPER, trying to figure out how to make OTHER PEOPLE happy with it, and all that stress and pressure had stolen the joy from writing. I needed to make it FUN again, and to do that I needed to write just for ME. And so, my secret project was born.

I worked on it in my free time, or when I needed a break from a hard scene in KEEPER. I didn't take the draft seriously. I didn't tell anyone what I was doing. I just wanted to let the characters tell their story the way they wanted to, without thinking about market trends or rules of craft, because no one besides me was EVER going to see it. It was just my pet. My baby. My sanity keeper.

But somewhere along the way I started to find my YA voice and the story started to feel like it was working and I caught myself thinking, I might be onto something here

I tried to talk myself out of it, but the feeling wouldn't go away and eventually I sent some chapters to my trusted readers in an email titled: am I losing my mind?????? And was stunned when they all came back at me with: I LOVE THIS!!! (plus a lot of, wow--you're writing YA???--to which I was like, I know, WHAT AM I DOING????)

Which meant it was decision time. If I was really going to do this then... I needed to maybe start taking it more seriously. Like, actually revise it a bit. But I made myself a deal: I was not going to put any pressure on it. I was just going to do the best I could and see what happened.

About halfway into the draft I decided I should probably clue Laura into what I was doing, make sure she didn't think I'd completely gone off the deep end. So I sent her the first nine chapters and went more than a little stir crazy waiting to hear back. And when I finally did, she said:
I love these pages and wished I had more! This is a wonderful beginning. I'm so excited to see where this goes.
Fueled by the rush of OMG SHE LIKES IT--SHE REALLY LIKES IT I cranked through the rest of the draft faster than I ever thought possible. I revised it and sent it to readers--and they loved it. I revised based on their feedback and brought it to a conference, where I got some intense but awesome feedback and went back and revised again. After that I sent it to Laura--who loved it and gave me some notes so we could get it cleaned up for submission. A big part of me couldn't believe we were getting ready to shop a YA project. But I was actually getting excited about it too, so I dove into the revision. And somewhere in the middle of it my phone rang.

It was Laura calling to tell me we had a pre-empt offer on KEEPER.

I'll admit--while most of me was thinking AHHHHHHHHHH--AN AMAZING EDITOR WANTS TO BUY MY BOOK,YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, a *tiny* part of me was thinking... what does that mean for my YA? We couldn't sell both, could we?

Even though that had never been my plan for the project, I'd become very attached to it--and pretty darn proud of it--and it made me sad to think it might have to be shelved for a few years. So I emailed Laura, asking if it was possible to shop a YA on the heels of a middle grade deal and was relieved when she said her plan was for me to have a middle grade debut and a YA debut. And much to my surprise, that's exactly what ended up happening.

Once I recovered from the crazy whirlwind ride of selling five books in two months I sat back and realized: Holy crap--I'm going to be a middle grade AND a YA author!!!!!!!  And trust me, I am well aware of how amazing that is. To get to share both of my series--and to get to work with the same fabulous editor on all of them--is the most incredible gift.

It's also a crazy, crazy amount of work--but it's worth every bit of it. (though, can one of you please remind me I said that when the deadlines really get painful?) I NEVER expected to be here--and it was a bit of a fluke that I made it. But I'm beyond grateful that I did.

And  THAT'S how I accidentally became a YA author. :)


  1. It amazes how many of these sekrit projects that writers writer for fun, b/c their real work is stressing them out, how many of them go on to be published! I don't think you're alone in this! But it's awesome. :)

  2. Oh my word, Shannon. Congratulations!

    I know the feeling of writing for ME versus writing for OTHERS. Thanks for sharing your story.

    I don't think you know how inspiring you are!

  3. Wow, you are going to be one busy debut author. Wow, is that like losing your virginity twice? lol (And no, don't answer that!)

  4. Aww! That's a wonderful story. And we'll be sure to remind you that it is worth it come deadlines. :)

  5. Amazing story. You're an inspiration.

  6. This is because you are full of awesome, Shannon. I wouldn't call it accident. I'd call it talent. Congratulations!!!

  7. That's an amazing story. Thanks for sharing!

  8. That's awesome! *jazz hands* ;-)

    I kind of know how you feel. I've been working on my YA and focusing on it to the exclusion of all else. Hubby kept bugging me to sub my picture book to agents (after I got my rights back from winning first prize in the 2008 Cheerios contest) and I continued to ignore him.

    In September 2011 I couldn't take his nagging anymore (it had been going on for over a year). I submitted my PB to agents so I could shut him up. I had interest from one agent right away, but she wanted to see more PBs and I didn't have any. I received other rejections and was about to tell hubby "I told you so" when I received two offers of representation in November.


    I signed with the amazing agent who agreed to represent all of my work, but she wants to debut my PB work first.

    So I went from YA to PB writing. It's weird.

    Anyway, congrats on two debuts. I can't wait to read them both!

  9. Oh, and I don't believe in accidents. If you weren't talented in both areas, it wouldn't have happened. =D

    *more jazz hands with some freakishly bad tap dancing to go with them* (hey, my jazz hands are top notch to make up for the lack of tap talent)

  10. Boy, that sounds amazing! I can't tell you how excited I am to hear more about the new series :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  11. That's such an inspiring story!! So excited for you, Shannon!

  12. You are such a rock star! REALLY. I am so proud of you for all of your hard work and mind-numbing patience (even if it was forced--he he). I think you are an inspiration, #1, on SO MANY levels. Not only have you been through uber-stress and mega-deadlines/workloads, you still find time for all of us via reviews and giveaways and writeoncon . . . you are too awesome for words. :-)

  13. That IS awesome!! I'm so glad you had your "sekrit" project to keep your sanity back then. Invaluable. Major congrats to ya--your hard work has paid off!!

  14. Wow, what a crazy story! Glad you had your wip to keep your sanity when Keepers was driving you nuts. My wip has been sadly neglected since I've been reworking my agented novel again. I need to make more time for it!

  15. That is sooooo freaking awesome, Shannon!! Love the story. Thank you for sharing this. Can't wait to read both.

  16. You are awesome, and we MGers love you, even if you have straYAed. (Spelling pun nearly worked...)

    You need to go and celebrate with a vacation!!!

  17. Best accidental writer story. Ever. I love that your sanity project became something real!

  18. Gosh, you're such an inspiration :) I've always known I wanted to write YA, so I can't really relate there, but it is still a wonderful story to share and I hope I get there someday.

  19. ...and the moral of the story is, "Never give up on your sekrit project." :) :) :) Congratulations, Shannon!!!!

  20. What an incredible story, Shannon! I really enjoyed reading about your unexpected adventure. :)

  21. I LOVE this! I've been where you were, so where you are now gives me such hope! Hooray!!!!

  22. Yay, Shannon! I can't believe you didn't burst with all the secrets you've been keeping for the past year :) Congrats!

  23. I read it on Publishers' Marketplace and was ll, "Wait, YA?" lol. Congrats! Can't wait to read it!

  24. What an amazing accidental journey to becoming a YA writer. Thanks for sharing it. CONGRATS!

  25. I remember you talking about your sekrit project. Thanks so much for giving us the inside scoop on how everything came together.

    So happy for you!!

  26. Hooray! I'm just going through all the old posts today, it seems, but I am loving all of them!