For this month’s topic, I agonized a bit over which book to count as my first. First book I ever wrote? First book that was actually published? Or my first YA book? Since this is a YA-focused blog, I decided to go with that last one.
Starstruck was released in September, 2013, six years ago this month, but I started writing it more than four years before that—something I didn’t realize until I started digging into old files to write this post! The earliest draft I was able to find was from March 2009 and contained the first five and a half chapters. Surprisingly, the first sentence of that very early draft is exactly the same as in the published book! (Surprising because I tend to rewrite my beginnings multiple times.)
Considering that I’d already published fifteen novels, some of them on fairly tight deadlines, before starting that one, you might ask why it took me so long to write and publish Starstruck? There are a few reasons. Because this was my first foray into a brand new genre, I desperately wanted to get it “right.” Shifting from my historical voice to an authentic YA voice was a challenge, as was researching how high school had changed since my own experiences mumblety-five years ago. I also took my time because this book was closer to my heart than most—another reason I wanted to get it “right.” By September, 2009 I had a complete first draft (I discovered in my files) but I did a whole lot of polishing after that. Plus by then I’d realized I had the makings of a series, even though the first book stands alone.
Sure, I’d written several linked historical romances, but I’d never before written a series with a continuing protagonist. Worried that I’d discover while writing book 2 that I’d inadvertently written myself into a corner with book 1, I decided to at least draft the second book before shopping the first one to agents. I didn’t start sending out queries until mid-2010, by which time I’d finished a full draft of Starcrossed and had at least a rough outline for Starbound.
For more than two years I submitted Starstruck to both agents and publishers while continuing to write book 3 in the series and polish books 1 and 2. During those same two years, I began indie publishing my historical backlist and was seeing more success there than I’d expected. Finally, around the time I had Starbound polished up and had started writing Starfall, I decided to ditch the query process and publish Starstruck myself. I haven’t been sorry! My six (and counting) YA books now outsell my historical romances (15 backlist books plus two newer front list titles) by almost two to one!
So what would I do differently if I could? Looking back, I have to say not a thing. If I’d sold that first YA novel to a traditional publisher early on, or published it myself a year earlier, I wouldn’t have had the time I needed to properly weave all the details into the whole, original 4-book series. That delay, I firmly believe, not only let Starstruck become the absolute best I could make it, it also allowed me to produce a series I’m now extremely proud of. Sure, it was frustrating to get rejection after rejection for two whole years, no matter how flattering some of them were. But as others have said, sometimes things happen for a reason. I definitely think it did in this case!