Recently I entered a mentor program from author, Sacha Whalen's, website. (I'll blog more on how stellar she is in another post.) Today, I want to share an interview with YA author, Jennifer Hubbard, represented by Nathan Bransford. She's my mentor from Sacha's program, and wow is she ever helpful! She not only took time out of her busy schedule to critique my query for FLOAT, but she let me interview her to learn more about her debut novel, The Secret Year.
So I won't keep you waiting. Here's her answers to how she made it publication. Everything from "the call" from Nathan-to revisions-to holding her ARC in her hands for the first time. Super interesting stuff! And don't forget to check out her website and, of course, The Secret Year, which is in stores now! (links below)
1. . Your story, The Secret Year, is about a teen who discovers his girlfriend’s life was full of secrets. What gave you the idea for the story?
I started with the idea of a secret relationship, a death, and a notebook left behind. I wrote the book to find out what was in the notebook, why the relationship had to be secret, and what would happen next. I’m not sure where the ideas came from, though!
2. How long did it take you to write the original draft?
I’m not sure, because I go back and forth between projects. And I revised it so much that I’ve forgotten what the first draft was like. But I would guess it took a few months.
3. It’s written from the male POV. Did you find this challenging?
Colt’s voice was the one that came to me from the beginning, and I never struggled with his voice. Julia, whom we hear from in some diary entries, was actually more challenging because I probably have less in common with her. (She has more money, beauty, and confidence than I!)
4. .How many times did you revise before you felt ready to send the ms out?
I’ve lost track. There were at least eight or nine major drafts, with several passes on each draft.
D .Did you have beta readers? If so, how many?
Yes, I had two people who critiqued an early version of the manuscript. I had a paid critique of the first chapter at a SCBWI conference. A couple of members of my local writer’s group also critiqued it. My agent had a few comments on it before we submitted to editors. And when I was revising for publication, I had my local critiquers and my agent weigh in on one scene that had been difficult for me to rewrite.
6. Is the published story very different from your original draft?
There are some subplots and minor characters who disappeared. That deleted material mostly dealt with the increasing real-estate development in the town, and with Colt’s workplace—and they were really tangents that diluted rather than enriched the story. The ending changed a lot. I chopped it back substantially, because it used to go on and on about the summer before Colt’s senior year, and more about Syd’s parents’ divorce. Frankly, it was starting new stories where I really needed to just wrap up the story I had been telling: the story of Colt and Julia.
7. . How long did you query before getting finding your agent?
With The Secret Year, it was a very short, fast process from query to representation. But I had shopped another manuscript before The Secret Year that had interest from a few editors and agents—all of whom agreed the story was almost publishable. But they differed on how to fix it, and I myself didn’t see how to fix it, so I moved on to The Secret Year—which turned out to be the right decision.
8. . Your agent, Nathan Bransford, is very popular in the lit world. Was he a dream agent?
I’m a little leery of the “dream” word because we’re talking about a business relationship. As much as dreams are part of the writer’s process, I encourage people to think in practical terms when seeking representation. That said, Nathan was my top choice for this manuscript, and he’s been excellent to work with. I think you know you’ve made a good decision when your respect for the person only grows over time.
9. . Did you have any idea he would be the one? Tell us about the call if there was one.
Nathan was my top choice for this manuscript based on what I knew at the time I submitted the manuscript. But I did have a long list of questions for prospective agents that I’d cobbled together on my computer. I wasn’t home when he called, but when I returned to find his message on the answering machine, I printed out my question list (just in case this call was what I thought it was) and called him back. And I can tell you that I’m glad I prepared that list in advance, because I could not have remembered all my questions, particularly in the excitement of the moment. He had some questions about the manuscript and about my background as a writer, and then we talked about my questions, and he offered representation. I felt good about the conversation, but I still took a little more time to think about it because, after all, signing with an agent is an important career step.
10 How long did it take from signing with Nathan to holding your printed book in your hand?
I did some very light revisions based on his notes, and then the manuscript went on submission. One of the first editors to see it offered on it, but the acquisition process took a while. Then there were editing, design, marketing plans. The book’s release was pushed back from 2009 to 2010 because the publisher often juggles books to try to showcase each book in its best season. In total, all that took about two years.
11 Did the publisher request many changes from your original?
At the time, it seemed like a lot of changes, but when I look back, there really weren’t so many. It’s fundamentally the same book, with certain things enhanced and others deleted. The ending changed the most. But everything was a change for the better, and I never felt that I was being asked to change anything against my will.
12 What was it like holding your printed book for the first time?
I was sitting at the desk where I wrote the book when my husband came in with a package that had just been delivered from Penguin. I opened it to find a note from my editor, along with the book. I had seen ARCs, so I knew how the cover and the internal design looked, but it was still a thrill to see the finished hardcover. I showed it to my husband, and to my cat, who was under the desk at the time. Then I inscribed the copy with the date and “This is my first copy of my first book.”
13 Did you always know you’d be a writer?
I always wrote. I published my first short story at a young age. But I wasn’t sure I would publish a book until it happened.
14 What pitfalls, if any, did you run into during your path to publication?
I was paid for a couple of short stories while I was still in high school, and the first was published when I was seventeen. Having sold a story so soon, I thought the acceptances would just flood in. Instead, I had a long dry spell before selling another story. For a while, I went on selling short stories here and there, and racking up the rejection slips in between, as most writers do. Since I’d always read YA books, and had made many attempts at writing them while I was still in high school, I finally decided I should try another now that I had more experience. But I had to write more than one before I wrote a publishable book. And then when I did sell one, it seemed like the publishing industry went through a massive upheaval—recession, editor layoffs, the rise of e-books plus much uncertainty about the digital future. By far the hardest part was waiting for the book to come out, and hoping the whole world would not change before that could happen.
15 What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read a lot and write a lot.
16 Do you think YA books should have a subtle teen message or more for entertainment purposes?
I think we need all kinds of books. I don’t think any book with an underlying message should be preachy about it, or hit the reader over the head, but it’s great to have books that make us think. It’s also fun to have escape reads, and comfort reads, and all kinds of reads.
17 What’s in store for you? Any new stories in the works?
I do have another contemporary realistic YA novel in the pipeline. I hope to say more about that soon. In the meantime, the paperback of The Secret Year will be out December 23, with a different cover from the hardback.
Check out Jennifer Hubbard's website. You can purchase The Secret Year from Amazon. This link will take you right to it. Read how awesome the reviews are!! Support your fellow authors!