This post is part of the Turning Points series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories. Read on as Daisy Whitney reveals how discovering a new genre changed the course of her writing career…
Shortly after I sold my first novel, a friend remarked that my incredibly circuitous path to a sale reminded her of lessons she learned while earning her MBA. In her email to me, she said: “Wow, that’s fascinating that you tried all these different angles on writing and that the YA niche bit first. It goes to show you what you learn in business school, that it’s about talent, but also about tenacity and figuring out niches and strategy.”
Indeed. Because, like many writers, my first novel sold and published—The Mockingbirds—wasn’t the first novel I wrote, nor was it the first novel, or book for that matter, that I tried to sell.
I tried chick lit first. Then I tried nonfiction. Then, and only then, did I try YA. The Mockingbirds is the fourth novel I wrote, and the first three weren’t just pancake novels. My two early chick lits were both agented and both read by editors at major publishing houses. The second novel even made it to acquisition meetings at few publishing houses. But in the end, I received more than 33 rejections combined for those two books from editors.
So I wrote a third chick lit, but before that novel went on submission, I changed course. I whipped out a proposal for a nonfiction book on the business of Internet fame, something I know about from my day job reporting on media, advertising, and Internet trends. That was sent out to 14 editors, made it to editorial boards at a few houses, and generated second and third reads.
But it was rejected as well.
I didn’t stop. Instead, I read one of the first young adult novels I’d read since I was a teenager. It was Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers. And that was my turning point. Because that novel opened my eyes to all that YA could be, and to how much more, and bigger, and deeper YA could be—not for every writer, for this writer, for me. Because when I was writing chick lit, I boxed myself into a cookie-cutter formula. Sure, my thirtysomething protagonists might have had kids, and might have had to deal with exes or messy divorces, but the stories were at their heart pure girl-meets-guy, girl-loses-guy, girl-gets-guy-back stories.
Cracked Up to Be showed me that YA could be so much more for me—it could be twisty and turny. It could be about new beginnings, and endings, and endings intersecting with beginnings, and it didn’t have to be what I felt boxed in to write. I could dig deep, but I didn’t have to dig deep from a thirtysomething’s perspective. I could dig deep from a teen point of view, where everything is new and raw and intense and happening for the first time. I grabbed more teen lit from my local indie—Harmless by Dana Reinhardt and Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, and those books blew my mind. They weren’t anything like the chick lit I had read and loved. They introduced new worlds to me—from the depth of stories I could tell, to the ideas and challenges I could tap into, and to the places I could take my characters. They weren’t formulaic, they weren’t romantic comedies. They were gut-checks to the heart. That’s what I wanted to write too—gut-checks to the heart.
I still want to do something with my chick lit novels, and I still might. But the turning point for me came in moving away from a genre that I couldn’t find a way to write originally in. Others can. But as for me, I was stuck in a cookie-cutter rut of standard romance. Now, as a writer of teen lit, I truly feel as if the opportunities are endless because the genre is that way—it bends and moves and opens expansively to new ideas and new ways of seeing. There will probably always be romance in my teen novels because I like writing about love, but YA is a genre that allows me to finally tap into the niche I should be writing in.
Sort of like what my friend learned in business school. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And then try a new genre.
Daisy Whitney graduated from Brown University and lives in San Francisco, California, with her fabulous husband, fantastic kids, and adorable dog. Daisy believes in shoes, chocolate chip cookies, and karma. She is the author of The Mockingbirds, its sequel The Rivals, and an upcoming standalone When You Were Here, slated to release in Spring 2013.
Visit Daisy at daisywhitney.com.
Follow @daisywhitney on Twitter.
EDITED FEB. 8: WINNERS OF A PAPERBACK EDITION OF THE MOCKINGBIRDS AND AN ARC THE RIVALS ANNOUNCED!
Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway via the entry form—and thank you to the author for donating the prizes! I’m happy to announce the winners:
Amber Couch won a signed copy of The Mockingbirds. And Emma Yeo won a signed ARC of its sequel The Rivals! Congrats! I’ll email the winners for their mailing addresses. Thank you again to everyone who entered!
Want more in this blog series?
The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.
Here are the posts in the series so far:
- Intro to the Turning Points blog series
- Gayle Forman: on overcoming bitterness
- Sean Ferrell: on the Writer who never arrives
- Eileen Cook: on a “nasty” book and a teacher’s advice that inspired her
- Christopher Barzak: on how short stories changed his vision for his novel
- Saundra Mitchell: on deciding to quit and walk away
- Eric Luper: on not writing for trends (giveaway open through January 31!)
- Gretchen McNeil: on how “everything happens for a reason”
- Julia DeVillers on the fan letter she wrote when she was ten years old that changed her writing career years later (giveaway open through February 2!)
You can keep up with all the open giveaways on the giveaways page!
Series images by Robert Roxby.