Become a Writer Today

Getting a Publishing Contract to Write Young Adult Fiction with Zara Miller

May 17, 2021 Bryan Collins Season 2
Become a Writer Today
Getting a Publishing Contract to Write Young Adult Fiction with Zara Miller
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Become a Writer Today
Getting a Publishing Contract to Write Young Adult Fiction with Zara Miller
May 17, 2021 Season 2
Bryan Collins

Have you ever considered writing fiction for young adults?

In this episode, I chat to Zara Miller, whose first book, I Am Cecilia, is about to be published. It’s a romance aimed at young adults. 

We talk about her process for writing young adult fiction and romance, and she explains how she also writes fanfiction set in the Riverdale universe, which she says helps her decompress. 

Zara also talks about what drew her to write young adult fiction and how she landed a book publishing contract.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Where the idea came from for a young adult book
  • The benefits of having a strong LinkedIn profile
  • What is an 'episodic' writer
  • Tips for getting the writing process started
  • Letting off steam through writing fanfiction 

Resources

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever considered writing fiction for young adults?

In this episode, I chat to Zara Miller, whose first book, I Am Cecilia, is about to be published. It’s a romance aimed at young adults. 

We talk about her process for writing young adult fiction and romance, and she explains how she also writes fanfiction set in the Riverdale universe, which she says helps her decompress. 

Zara also talks about what drew her to write young adult fiction and how she landed a book publishing contract.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Where the idea came from for a young adult book
  • The benefits of having a strong LinkedIn profile
  • What is an 'episodic' writer
  • Tips for getting the writing process started
  • Letting off steam through writing fanfiction 

Resources

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Zara: I don’t think that I would have gotten this opportunity had I not believed in it. So, the first tip and trick is definitely to believe in your story and the second tip and trick, however generic it sounds, is listen to your needs, which means writers, if you’re a writer, you’re an intuitive person because that’s what artists are, usually, very often, most of the time, I would say 99.99 percent. So, your body and your mind will lead you to what the best technique is.

Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan: Do you want to write young adult fiction? Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. In this week’s episode, I interviewed Zara Miller and her first book is about to come out. It’s called I Am Cecilia and it’s a romance book aimed at young adults and it’s a book she’s been working on for quite a while. And at the start of the interview, we talked about her process for writing young adult fiction and for writing romance. It was also interesting to talk to Zara because later on in the interview, she explains a particular form of writing practice that she uses. She writes fanfiction set in the Riverdale universe and she says it helps her decompress. 

I was agreeing with Zara that this is a form of writing practice. Now, I don’t write romance books or young adult fiction but I do like different forms of writing practice. Some types that I’ve used include getting a piece of poetry by an author that I really like or a poet that I really like and writing it out by hand so I can get a feel for their sentence structure. Another type of writing practice that I talked about a lot on the show is free writing. 

Free writing is basically you turning up in front of the screen or sitting down in front of the blank page and writing about whatever comes to mind for a predetermined period, say 5, 10, or 15 minutes. And while you’re free writing, you don’t stop to edit yourself. You just see where your mind goes and you explore what you’re thinking about. The great thing about this particular type of writing practice is, firstly, it gets you into the habit of sitting down in front of the blank page and writing, which is really difficult if you’re a new writer and that’s actually something Zara talks about in this week’s interview as well. But this particular form of writing practice is also useful because it gets you to express yourself more creatively. And if you’re somebody who likes to outline and plot a lot in advance, you know, it gives you a taste for what things could be like if you took, you know, a slightly different approach to your craft. 

Other forms of writing practice that I also recommend include taking a book that you really like and taking the first line from that book and writing it down in Word or Scrivener or even with pen and paper and a Moleskine notebook and then using that as a writing prompt or as a jumping off point into your story and then when you’re finished writing during that particular session, you just go back and delete the first line because the first line is almost like a springboard that will help you write something a little bit faster and will give you kind of creative constraints to help you get going.

Now, in this week’s interview with Zara, we talk about how to write romance books and I also was interested to hear about why she wanted to write young adult fiction and how she landed a book publishing contract and she also talks about her writing practice process as well.

But before we go into this week’s interview, if you enjoy the show, it takes a couple of hours to record, produce, edit, and publish, so please consider becoming a Patreon. If you do, I’ll give you discounts to my writing books, on some writing software like Grammarly, and also on my writing courses. Another way you can help or support the show is by simply leaving a review or sharing the show on iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you’re listening because more reviews and more of your ratings will help grow the Become a Writer Today Podcast.

Now, with that said, let’s go over to this week’s interview with Zara and I asked her, or I started by asking her to tell me what’s I Am Cecilia all about and what sparked the idea for this young adult book.

Interview:

Zara: Absolutely. There is this premise about young people leading the conversation and me, as a young person, I am a huge fan of books but I never read anything that would make me feel like I fit anywhere. So, when I started writing this book, what I was focused on in my head was how do I not make this about me and how do I make this about giving young people hope who are going through something because we all go through something but the teenage years, when you’re growing up and you’re trying to find out who you are, your identity, it’s especially hard because you’re not doing just that, you also have responsibilities in school or towards your parents so it’s double duty. 

And I wanted to write a book that would just serve as a safe haven for young people to find hope in, because, in my opinion, everything is temporary so — but when you’re young, you don’t really realize, that you think that when now I’m going through something and this is probably how it’s going to be for the rest of my life. That’s how I felt. But it’s not that. It gets better. However cliché it sounds, it’s not like that, it gets better so that’s the message of the book.

Bryan: Is it set in the modern world, in the United States?

Zara: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s set in modern world. The story starts in 2004 and we are following the story of a young girl over the course of, I would say, 10 years so eight, age probably eight years, and the story ends when she goes off to college in 2014.

Bryan: How much of the book is from your own experiences?

Zara: That’s a very good question. Everyone asks me about that. The last thing I want people to think is that it’s autobiographical. It’s absolutely not. Everyone draws from their own experience. I look at Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift.

Bryan: That’s a good example, yeah.

Zara: — people so, of course, we, as artists, are trying to make sense of our reality by putting it into our art but it’s absolutely not biographical in any sense. The characters in my book are based on characters of the real people that I’ve met over the course of several years, the good and the bad. No one is vilified and no one is made into a saint. But it’s fiction. It’s still just fiction.

Bryan: So when we were chatting just before the show, you described the genre as Romance. Would you be able to elaborate on that genre and maybe what the conventions are of a good Romance —

Zara: Absolutely. Romance genre. Well, it means that a — basically, you have a plot or a subplot that focuses on a romantic relationship of some of the characters in the book. So there is this I would say romanticization of some of the elements in the book but it’s not the main focus. I like to describe the book mainly as young adult fiction but fans of the romance genre will definitely be happy as well because it’s just what happens when you grow up, don’t you? You fall in love and that kind of goes — you go off the rails a little bit with that ’cause you don’t know what to do with yourself. So, yeah, young adult, new age, definitely, yeah, fans of the romance genre.

Bryan: Oh, romance? Okay. And did you always want to write young adult fiction?

Zara: I mean, always. I’ve always wanted to write books. I’ve always wanted to write significant stories that would just show people that they’re not alone and this story I had in mind for a while and it just turned out to be suited for these young adult, new age audiences. But then, again, I don’t like to exclude and categorize based on genre. There is this very funny character, Cecilia’s grandmother. She lived through World War Two and she came out stronger than ever and so if your grandma picks up this book and just loved this grandma character, that’s all I’m asking for, honestly, for people to enjoy the book.

Bryan: You said you had the idea for quite a while. Did you take long to actually turn your idea into a first draft?

Zara: Well, the process — once you get into a creative process, the momentum kind of speeds up significantly. So, when there is something in your mind that has been cooking for a while, once you sit down and start writing, it’s like a train that — it’s very hard to just pull the brakes. You can’t. I mean, I was writing it as a — I mean, of course, I had a deadline because the publisher gives you a deadline and you have an editor and all of this huge village of people who are helping you along the way, but it took me five months to write this book but, again, yes, the idea had been there long before that.

Bryan: When you say five months, is that the first draft or is that five months including the edits?

Zara: That is absolutely the first draft, yes. That is the first draft and then you do revisions for it. I did revisions for about two months —

Bryan: Yeah.

Zara: — and I was really surprised my book hadn’t changed that much from the original first draft, which really speaks to the quality of work the people that have been helping me along the way to draft this, the first manuscript.

Bryan: Okay. Could you could you elaborate on that people helping you along the way? Were they involved in the first draft?

Zara: Got it. Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Bryan: They were? Oh, that’s quite unusual.

Zara: Oh, yeah, absolutely. You work with three editors. I worked with three editors along the way. The first editor is called developmental editor, which is exactly helping you do just that, develop your book. But NDP, the New Degree Press, they are amazing in that way that they also give you author coaches. So, when you’re a first-time author, they are equipped with this amazing team of people who are either published authors or have other accolades and accomplishments that can help you along the way to write your book to make it the best first draft possible. Let’s be honest here, the first draft sucks always. Every time.

Bryan: They do, they do.

Zara: It just sucks, right? It’s your first blurb that you just write —

Bryan: Yeah.

Zara: — so having that support, yeah, it was essential. And so, yes, I had one editor and then several author coaches that I could turn to, including the head of publishing, Brian Bies. He’s an incredible human being and an incredible professional.

Bryan: So, to step back even further, when you were looking to get your book deal, did you have an outline of your story that you pitched to an agent or to the publisher or how did it work?

Zara: I was blindsided a little bit.

Bryan: Blindsided.

Zara: I was totally blindsided. Let me tell you what I had. I had a very strong LinkedIn profile and, for the writers out there, go and get yourself a strong social media profile.

Bryan: A lot of writers aren’t on LinkedIn.

Zara: Do that please. Speaking from experience, absolutely. That’s where the majority of business and developmental career is happening. I had a really strong LinkedIn profile and the wonderful Lyn Solares from the Creator Institute, she contacted me and she was like, “We have this amazing program for high performing individuals, and Professor Eric Koester, who is in charge of that program, he’s giving people an opportunity to write a book. Are you on board?” And I was like yes. I didn’t know what I was gonna tell Professor Koester because he calls you and then, obviously, you have to outline the story for him and if he likes it and accepts you into this program, then you get introduced to the people from the publishing, from New Degree Press.

Bryan: So when you say you had a strong LinkedIn profile, I presume you were posting links or samples of your writing on LinkedIn.

Zara: Yes, but — that as well, but I would say organization is the most important thing when it comes to LinkedIn. So, organizing your profile in a way that highlights what you’ve accomplished. I’m 26 years old. I’m doing my MBA right now. I went to Middlesex University for the grad school diplomacy. Before that, I lived in Prague. So, I had like a list of things that —

Bryan: Yeah.

Zara: — I could list on that LinkedIn profile but it never occurred to me to add some of the skills that I didn’t even know I have until I came to America and I realized that you need to market yourself the right way, meaning highlight what you know and what you can do. Even though you’re just a student, look at your skills because you do have skills. Communication is a skill. And look to improve yourself all the time. 

Bryan: Yeah.

Zara: So, yeah.

Bryan: So, just to go back then to we’re editing your book. How long did it take to go from editing to the final draft?

Zara: So, I started writing in June. The first draft was finished by the end of October, around that, around Halloween. Actually, I started writing in July, sorry. The first month was just getting to know the publisher and Creator Institute. So started writing in July, the first draft was ready by the end of October, and then I started — then there’s the sort of like the waiting period where you focus on marketing your book, preparing your book for the market, and then the revision started in January and ended March 5th. So —

Bryan: March 5th, okay.

Zara: — that’s about seven, eight months of writing and revising your book, I would say.

Bryan: A lot of young adult books are part of a series. Do you have plans to write a follow-on?

Zara: Oh, I love that question. Everyone asks me that. The book has an open ending so I do not exclude the possibility that there is going to be a second book about Cecilia’s story. I am definitely working on a second book right now but I will keep the storyline to myself for now, but it’s not a sequel to Cecilia but I do not exclude the possibility that, yes, I can absolutely do that.

Bryan: What does your writing process look like? Because I know you’re balancing this with some of your other freelance projects.

Zara: Yeah.

Bryan: So, when do you write at the moment?

Zara: I’m a night owl. So, the truth is, Stephen King, one of my heroes, although I’m not a horror genre author, he’s one of the best writers that has ever lived. He says that you should write every day. I respectfully disagree. There are categories of writers. You can write every day. There are writers who set a goal for themselves to write let’s say 500 words a day or 1,000 words a day and they do that. But there is another category of writers that I would call episodic writers and that’s what I am. So, when the inspiration strikes, I go, like that, and I can write 5,000 to 10,000 words in just two days or maybe in one day. I always have to wait for that initial kick. I don’t know what you want to call it, a muse, an inspiration from high above, whatever you want to call it, because I’m an episodic writer but I always — that’s how I meet deadlines. So, it’s very exhausting to be an episodic writer, for sure, but I can’t write every day. That’s the reality of it. Every human, we are different. We have good days, bad days, and some people can write every day, some people cannot and I’m definitely the second — I’m in the second category.

Bryan: I haven’t heard of the term episodic writer before. I have to remember that. When you’re ready to write, like 5,000 or 10,000 words, do you open up Word or some other writing application or — and free write? How does it work?

Zara: I absolutely open up Word and it can be like I said, it can be very exhausting, because I am prepared to go to bed at 1 AM in the morning and then a scene is born in my head and, well, goodbye, a good night’s sleep, I have to go and write, because if I’m really —

Bryan: In the middle of the night?

Zara: Yeah, exactly. Because what can you do? It’s like a magnet that pulls you in and you have to go and write because you’re going to lose that scene, you’re going to lose the words because you can do one like an outline, okay, I’m not going to do this right now, I’m just going to do an outline or bullet points and this is what I want in that scene, yes, but there is something, without sounding too cuckoo, there is magic happening behind that. So, you’re not going to write the same words as if you just open your laptop and start writing. You will lose that magic when you feel the kick and you don’t follow it. It’s a very instinctive process for me and a lot of writers go through that, I would say. Definitely, from my experience, I have been getting support, apart from author coaches, from other writers from NDP and we’ve been talking and, yeah, there is this common thread, I mean, amongst us episodic writers that everyone testifies to that. Yeah, I have to open a laptop and start writing definitely.

Bryan: Do you have any tips and tricks for getting started?

Zara: That’s a very tough question. I would say the first tip and trick is to believe in your story. That’s the first one. I’m sure you’ve heard about the huge Netflix hit, Queen’s Gambit.

Bryan: I have, yeah. Great show.

Zara: About the chess player? I’m really fascinated with the behind the scenes stories like that because that gives you hope and it gives you confidence to get started and to see it through. The writer, whoever was behind that story, I’m not sure if he was a writer or a playwright, he couldn’t get that project off the ground for about 30 years and look at the Queen’s Gambit now. It’s the biggest show on Netflix in a while. It won a bunch of Golden Globes. So, to get started, first thing is — the most important thing is to start believing in your story because everyone was telling him that who is going to watch or who is going to read a story about an alcoholic chess player? Chess is boring. And it can be. It depends on how you frame the story.

Bryan: It’s pretty popular during the lockdown.

Zara: Yeah, it’s just — it’s like a bunch of components that cannot come together unless you believe in that story. And I really believed in that story and, of course, it’s very nice to have people from NDP or an entrepreneur like Eric Koester tell you, “I really love this, you have a story there.” But I don’t think that I would have gotten this opportunity had I not believed in it. So, the first tip and trick is definitely to believe in your story and the second tip and trick, however generic it sounds, is listen to your needs, which means writers, if you’re a writer, you’re an intuitive person because that’s what artists are, usually, very often, most of the time, I would say 99.99 percent. 

So, your body and your mind will lead you to what the best technique is and sometimes it can be trial and error. Maybe you will listen to — you start listening to people like Stephen King who tell you that you need to write every day and you start doing that and you kind of get discouraged because it sucks. 

So, by knowing what you don’t want to do and what doesn’t work, you kind of learn what works. So definitely, yeah. And what I like to do is do research about successful projects. It doesn’t have to be necessarily books. It can be, like I said, if you like some TV series or a movie that is on Netflix, go and do your research about that, how that project came to life, and you can learn lots of useful information about how to get the project off the ground, your project. And you get inspired and ideas start flowing, the creative juices just start flowing. So, yeah.

Bryan: Yeah, I love reading about other people’s creative processes. You don’t just write fiction, of course. You also have written for Teen Magazine. What do you write about for publications like Teen Magazine?

Zara: I am in charge of student life and culture sections. So we also do interviews with mostly — because it’s a platform, it’s even called The Teen Magazine, it is for young adults, it is for teenagers, it is for new age people, so usually we do interviews with like people who are really big on the internet who have gone viral or actresses or actors, actresses that are currently in the spotlight, we do that as well, but me, personally, I tend to write op-eds or summaries about anything that has to do with the current climate. I would say global climate. 

I don’t just write about what’s happening in America. I don’t just write about summarizing, let’s say, Grammy Awards. I write about global issues as well, cultural mostly. So, yeah, there’s that, and anything that has to do with student life, meaning how to prepare for your APAs or what life skills should you have by the time you graduate, let’s say. So, yeah, things like that.

Bryan: Are there any other types of freelance writing that you spend time on at the moment as well?

Zara: This is really embarrassing but I will — I’m gonna say it for the sake of other weirdos out there to embrace the weird, I — when I need to let off steam, I write fanfiction, specifically about Riverdale.

Bryan: Oh, do you?

Zara: Yeah. I know, it’s — I know, it’s so embarrassing. But the thing is, I love crime stories and when Riverdale started off, it was, yeah, it was kind of cliché but the characters were interesting enough and it was a simple, you know, like a mystery to solve in this small town and it was really good. And then, it’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to a TV series that I’ve ever seen. It’s just — it took just a completely different — not even different, not even opposite, I don’t think that the English vocabulary even encompasses what happened to Riverdale, there’s no adjective for it, but it just derailed the storyline completely and I was so frustrated that I started writing fanfiction about that. I started writing a crime story which is, again, completely out of my comfort zone.

Bryan: It’s a good form of writing practice.

Zara: Exactly. I mean, you’re not only training your writing ability and kind of exercising that writing ability, you are also training your brain to function in many different — I would say it trains your brain to think differently, outside the box. It’s like when you work in the office, you have an office job and after work hours you need to go and do jogging or just some kind of physical activity to make up for sitting down all day. For me as a writer, when I spent seven, eight months buried in a young adult romance genre, I need to go and write about murdering someone to deal with — yeah, to also get my engine started and to rev my engine for new ideas. It just — yeah.

Bryan: I was talking to someone earlier and it came up that Twilight was fanfiction in the 50 Shades of Grey universe.

Zara: Look at that. Look where that fanfiction led the author to multibillion business.

Bryan: Yeah. It sounds like you’ve narrowed in on a particular genre or niche like you’re quite focused on young adult stories.

Zara: Absolutely. Yeah.

Bryan: Yeah.

Zara: Absolutely.

Bryan: So where can people find I Am Cecilia? It should be out by the time of this episode.

Zara: Absolutely. I Am Cecilia will be out last week of April 2021 and will be available in Barnes and Noble’s brick and mortar stores and also on Amazon.

Bryan: Well, good luck with the launch.

Zara: Yeah.

Bryan: It’s very nice to talk to you, Zara. Thank you.

Zara: Thank you so much, Bryan. Thank you for having me.

(outro)

Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know for just a couple of dollars a month, you can become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books and discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.