Many authors spend years sending their manuscripts off to publishers, desperately pitching to agents and constantly rewriting before even getting a glimmer of a book deal. Others get their break a little earlier on. Very few, like Alice Oseman, hit the nail on the head the first time round.
Having started her coming-of-age novel Solitaire at 17-years-old, she finished it aged 19 and secured a two-book deal with none other than Harper Collins. Her next novel Nick and Charlie is out this year, with a third, Radio Silence, to be released in 2016. Here’s how the University of Durham student did it – from conceiving her plot, right up to being suddenly thrust into the spotlight.
1. Where did the initial inspiration for the storyline and characters come from?
Honestly everywhere. This is such a classic question but probably the hardest to answer. I have no concrete idea of why I write anything I write except the fact that I really want to! At the time I was reading a lot of contemporary young adult fiction such as ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and John Green books, which I expect inspired me to write a book in a similar vein but from my own perspective and experience. With ‘Solitaire’, I felt that there was a certain type of young person that was very rarely written about, and this manifested itself in the apathetic, pessimistic Tori Spring.
2. At 400 pages long, how did you discipline yourself to keep at it until the end?
I honestly just wanted it to be a finished book! I believed so passionately in the story and I could see it as a complete book from the moment I started. I couldn’t bear the thought if it being locked away on my laptop, unfinished, never read by anyone! That was really the motivation that kept me writing until the end. I had moments where I didn’t write much – due to lack of ideas or difficult scenes – but I took it slow and kept going and I made it to the end.
3. Did you have any niggling doubts about the quality of the writing?
Honestly, I didn’t! I have many doubts about my writing abilities currently, but when I was writing ‘Solitaire’, I honestly believed in myself. I had read a fair bit of young adult fiction and I felt that my writing abilities matched those of what I was reading. I also wasn’t really comparing myself much to any other unpublished writers – I didn’t have any writer friends, I didn’t read fanfiction – it really was just something I enjoyed doing by myself, with no specific intention of getting published, and for that reason I didn’t think much about the quality and instead focused on telling the story I wanted to tell.
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4. What support did you receive from others during the writing and editing process?
Nobody knew I was writing a book while I was writing it! It was just a hobby for me. My parents became aware of the book while I was editing it myself, and were encouraging, but I didn’t tell them much about it. One friend read it before I submitted it to literary agents, but apart from that, none of my friends knew about it until after an agent had agreed to represent me! I think I thought it was a bit of a weird, geeky hobby. But my agent helped me a great deal before we sent the manuscript to publishing houses – we worked on the manuscript together to improve it. And then, obviously, I went through several stages of edits with my editor at HarperCollins.
5. Having done your research before pitching the story to agents, what type of agents or publishers were you looking for and why?
Most importantly I was looking for agents who represented the type of book that I had written – young adult fiction. No use sending it to agents who don’t represent those sorts of books. Aside from that, I wasn’t too picky. Often authors have to send their manuscripts to hundreds of agents before getting chosen. I was lucky enough to only have to send it to nine!
Authors typically don’t submit their manuscripts to publishers directly – that’s one of the main tasks of the literary agent. When choosing from the publishing deal offers, I was mainly concerned with what the editor thought of the book and what they would want to change.
6. Were there any major issues you had to overcome during the publishing stages that you hadn’t anticipated before?
Getting the permission to use quotes was quite a major issue and took a lot of time and effort on my agent’s behalf. ‘Solitaire’ has quite a lot of film quotes. I had to cut many of them out, but the ones I really wanted to keep, the film companies had to be contacted directly to ask for permission. Serious business!
7. Once your books started to get attention, how did you cope with the new-found publicity and scrutiny?
It’s not that bad. I learnt very quickly not to read any reviews at all – you only remember the bad ones! I actually enjoy having an audience of readers and being able to talk to lots of different people through things like social media.
8. Finally, what advice would you give to a young aspiring writer who has an idea for a story, but isn’t yet confident in their ability to pull together a whole book?
In the words of Shia Labeouf – JUST DO IT! Honestly, you just have to have the willpower and the determination to get a first draft together. Know that all first drafts are awful, so you have absolutely no need to worry about your writing abilities while you’re writing it. And don’t worry about getting books published – you’ll know when you’re ready to start trying for that. It might be sooner or it might be later, but you don’t need to stress about it right now. Just focus on enjoying writing your book. It’s such a fun hobby!