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About Those Hooks
Crazy Beautiful

In September my next YA novel will come out, CRAZY BEAUTIFUL, a contemporary re-visioning of Beauty & the Beast told in he-said/she-said fashion about a boy with hooks for hands and a gorgeous girl who meet on their first day at a new school.

Now, about those hooks...

When I originally conceived the book, the first draft I wrote had it as a middle-grade novel for the 9-13 set. Because of a contractual obligation - an editor had an option on my next book for that age group - I showed it to that editor who, for clarity purposes of not repeatedly calling her "that editor," we'll refer to as Editor X.

Editor X said she liked the book well enough, but the hooks bothered her, because: 1) for some reason she couldn't articulate, she found them off-putting; and 2) she didn't "buy" them - she was absolutely certain that the boy would have something more technologically advanced, like mechanical hands. This was a problem, since in my mind my story was married to those hooks. But what if she was right? What if it made no sense for Lucius Wolfe to look the way I wanted him to?

I began doing research, lots of it, and found plenty that supported my vision. The most significant was an article about returning Iraqi war vets who were double-arm amputees and who were overwhelmingly opting for what they referred to as "the WWII technology" of hooks over mechanical hands because of features like less weight and greater flexibility. Additionally, a physician told me a boy might opt for hooks based on other factors like expense, insurance coverage and how much growing the boy still had to do.

Thrilled, I told Editor X about what I'd learned. She still wasn't buying those hooks. They bothered her.

I always say that with every book I write, nearly everything is negotiable. This means that I'm always open to hearing other people's views on what will improve the work. You say I need to find a way to increase reader sympathy for a character? I can shift the mirrors and do that. You don't like having the kid sister on stage so much? Poof, now you hardly know she's there. But if nearly everything is negotiable, there's always one thing that is not negotiable; the one thing that if changed, destroys the integrity of my vision for the work.

So I wasn't changing the hooks, and now Editor X wasn't buying the hooks or the book, but that was OK because somewhere during this extended Hook Debate, I'd realized there was something not right about my book: it needed to be a YA novel, not middle grade, in order to really get at the heart of the story I wanted to tell.

So I re-cast the whole thing.

See? I'm not unwilling to work. I'll work forever to make something better. I just won't change the thing that makes something what it is.

Here's what wound up happening: another editor at Editor X's publishing company liked the proposal for the YA version of CRAZY BEAUTIFUL so much, she wound up bidding on it at auction against an editor at another house. [Note: Editor X's publishing company lost the auction.]

Since then, CRAZY BEAUTIFUL has aroused more pre-publication interest than any book I've written. [Note: I've sold a total of 18 books to various publishers.] YA bloggers have been requesting ARCS, interviews and guestblogs in numbers unprecedented in my career. And the thing that apparently intrigues them most? Those hooks. They're fascinated by those hooks.

Now, getting back to Editor X: was she wrong not to buy CRAZY BEAUTIFUL? No, she was not. Taste is subjective, and we all simply feel what we feel. What would have been wrong would have been for her to buy and publish a book that she had no feeling for.     

So she wasn't wrong, but I was also right.

I'm pretty sure there's a moral to the story in there. We, as writers, need to become fully in tune to our own internal editors. Does it pay to be the kind of author who's so inflexible that she never listens to anyone else's opinion, never changes a thing? No, because chances are, unless that author is naturally brilliant, she will never be published. Does it pay to be the kind of author who will change anything in order to get published? Your mileage may vary, but for me the answer is simply: No. If it ever becomes that way - writing someone else's vision for my work, no matter how I feel about it - then I might as well get a different job, one with less grueling hours, a reliable paycheck and, oh, medical benefits would be nice.

Find that one thing in your work that is nonnegotiable. Find that thing that makes your book different and special. And hold on tight.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: WHAT IS THE ONE THING THAT MAKES YOUR BOOK DIFFERENT OR SPECIAL (OR ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D CARE TO DISCUSS TODAY?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

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I recently went through a

I recently went through a similar situation. An editor was interested in my Y.A. Urban Fantasy proposal, but was uncomfortable with the fact that my heroine was 17-1/2 and the hero was 25. She requested that I make both of them younger, say 14 and 19. In my mind that only made the relationship more squiffy and it would ruin the book's overall premise.

I took a deep breath and said I wasn't willing to make the change, even though this was an editor at a major house and that change could possibly lead to a contract. My agent, bless her, said it was my choice. So no sale. Do I regret that decision? No. I've made other changes quite willingly, but this one didn't work.

What's the point of a penning a novel if you're not writing what you love? In this publishing environment, you may not make any $$ at what you do, but you should receive some personal satisfaction.

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Right on!

Way to go, Jana! I'm guessing the editor wanted to position your books as YA; and if that's not how you see it, it's a no-go.