Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.
In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.
Today, I am pleased to share Rachel Lynn Solomon’s writing journey…
Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Rachel: I can’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer — I think I’ve wanted to be one as long as I’ve been a reader. When I was growing up, I wrote constantly and posted stories on FictionPress (some are even still up there). I didn’t get serious about being a writer until after I graduated college. I’d studied journalism, so I’d been writing and hearing others’ stories for years, and I decided to try telling one of my own. It became my first finished book, a semi-autobiographical new adult kind of thing that I still can’t believe I queried! I did not understand showing vs. telling. I did not understand what was wrong with three chapters filled solely with info-dumps. But it was important for me to write that book — to know that I could write a book.
Amy: I love the themes of sisterhood and family dynamics in FINGERS CROSSED. What inspired you to write the story?
Rachel: The story concept came to me in several waves. The very first one — and this is almost awkward to admit! — was that I wanted to write a bold, kind of sexually aggressive teen girl because I hadn’t read very many female characters like that in YA. I thought it would be fun to explore, so she became one of the twins. I also felt I’d read a lot of twin stories where the characters were opposites: one’s going to Harvard, and the other’s a slacker. Both sisters in my books are ambitious in different ways; one is a viola prodigy and the other wants to become a surgeon.
I’ve always thought of Huntington’s disease as one of the most tragic things that can befall a family. The idea that you can know if you’ll develop the disease but not when — it’s heartbreaking to me. While doing research, I learned there’s a 50/50 chance that the child of a parent with Huntington’s will inherit it, and I thought, what if one twin tested positive and one tested negative? It seemed to lend itself naturally to a dual POV story, and I hadn’t read too many multiple POV books narrated by sisters.
Lastly, family dynamics and Judaism are integral to the story. This is actually the first book I’ve written with Jewish protagonists. Growing up, I rarely read any stories about Jewish people that weren’t about the Holocaust. I wanted my younger self and other Jewish readers to see themselves in my book.
Amy: After reading your amazing blog post about the journey to selling your debut (read the post here!), I was inspired by your perseverance. How did you keep writing in spite of the ups and downs?
Rachel: I kept writing because it was the only thing I could do, the only thing I had control over. At any stage of this journey, that remains the thing we have the most control over. Writing has always been a bundle of different things for me: cathartic, comforting, challenging. While taking breaks is always a good idea, I don’t think I could have stopped writing because in my soul I am a writer.
It also helped to connect with other writers on long journeys, particularly writers who’d left agents and were querying for the second or third time. I never felt alone, and that was a tremendous comfort.
Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on your final version?
Rachel: Depends on the book! I always write queries early on in the drafting process so I know whether what I’m writing has a solid enough hook and stakes. If I’m struggling to write the query, maybe I haven’t fully developed the plot or characters yet. Then I labor over each word. I love words (I mean, obviously, right?) — but more specifically, the exactness of them, the satisfaction of a dynamic verb or a precise noun.
Amy: Do you work with critique partners? If so, how do they help shape your stories?
Rachel: YES, and I would be absolutely lost without them. I used to send chapters to readers early on, but now, while I brainstorm with CPs throughout the process, I don’t usually share until I have a completed (and often extremely messy) first draft. I like to have something finished that I can then mold and take apart.
Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for FINGERS CROSSED?
Rachel: I started writing the book in March of 2014, and it sold in May of 2016, so a little over two years! It’s been through several rewrites and many, many revisions. Once it went on submission with my current agent, Laura Bradford, it sold in six weeks, which still feels unbelievable to me. I don’t think anything in publishing had moved quickly for me up until that point. Laura is amazing; she put the book in the hands of the right person!
Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?
Rachel: From my first draft, I knew this book had a great hook, and that my challenge was going to be getting the writing to live up to that hook. I wrote and rewrote several times from a blank page, which I’d never done before. I wrote each character separately to ensure their voices felt distinct. I printed the manuscript several times and did hard copy edits. I had at least 10 readers over the course of the two years I was working on it. This book meant the world to me, and I didn’t want to put it out there until I felt I had done everything I could.
Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with your agent, Laura Bradford? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Rachel: Though I’d been represented previously, this manuscript had not been queried. Laura was the first to offer on it in March of 2016. From the moment we got on the phone, I felt so at ease. She was funny and down-to-earth, and my favorite thing she said that made me feel like she got what was I trying to do was something along the lines of, “You don’t really like Adina [one of the twins] because she’s so sharp. But she’s compelling. You root for her.” I feel strongly that (female) characters don’t need to be likable — but they should be interesting. I don’t want to spend 300 pages with a nice, mild character who follows the rules. My characters live in moral gray areas.
Amy: If you were doing a book signing and you met a writer who was about to give up on their publishing dream, what would you say to them?
Rachel: I’m going to borrow something I wrote on my own blog for this one :). It took me several books to realize that getting published was what I wanted more than anything else. Every new book made me want it even more. It’s taken me a long time to develop the confidence to be able to say that I have something to say as an author. I’ve spent so much time in my life downplaying my own accomplishments, however small, and I’m trying to take more pride in what I do. We have to be our own best advocates. So I would say this: you are the only person who can write your book. You are the only person who is going to put it out there. You are the only person who’s going to send it to readers and agents and editors. Maybe you need to take a break for a while, and that’s okay. Maybe you need to find new readers, take a class, consult craft books. At times there are more downs than ups, but if this is something you desperately want, you have to keep writing.
Rachel Lynn Solomon is a Seattle native who loves rainy days, tap dancing, red lipstick, and new wave music. Her debut contemporary YA novel, FINGERS CROSSED, will be out from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse in spring 2018, with a second book to follow in 2019. She’s represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency. You can find Rachel online at rachelsolomonbooks.com and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.