Today we’re pleased to have Jay Asher join us on our Visiting Author Series.
Jay is the #1 New York Times and International Bestselling author of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and THE FUTURE OF US. He joined Sixteen to Read author Jennie K. Brown to talk about his debut experience, being humbled by readers, the writing process and more…
Jennie: Hey, Jay! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today.
Jay: Of course! Getting interviewed by another author is always fun.
Jennie: Can I get you anything to sip or munch on while we chat?
Jay: Coffee! But only because I’m addicted. I actually don’t care for the taste. Unless it’s something coffee-flavored, especially those coffee-flavored hard candies. Coffee-flavored anything is the best!
Jennie: Because we’re a debut group, we want to hear about the beginning of your writing career. Now think back to then … what was the querying process like for you?
Jay: By the time I was ready to submit Thirteen Reasons Why, I’d been submitting other manuscripts (picture books through middle grades) for twelve years. I’d had three agents over those years, but was agent-less at the time. I’d won enough contests and befriended enough editors that I initially submitted to three editors I’d built relationships with over the years. Almost immediately, I began freaking out. What if they weren’t the perfect editors for this project and I only submitted to them because I was fortunate enough to know them? Or what if, by some really cool chance, more than one editor wanted to buy it? I wouldn’t know how to deal with that! So I quickly queried three agents, being upfront about my book already being with editors. One agent got back to me (my top choice, thankfully), loved the book, and agreed that there were other editors who might be a better match. After a dozen rejections, three editors wound up bidding on the book, including one of the three I’d submitted to on my own. Laura Rennert has been my agent ever since, and I love her. I also love Razorbill, my publisher.
Jennie: How did you react to the ginormous success of Thirteen Reasons Why?
Jay: When I first found out it hit the New York Times bestseller list I broke down in tears. And I was driving, which wasn’t safe, so I quickly pulled over. I hadn’t been asking how my sales were doing, so I had no idea it was doing that well. It had also been out for six months, so it was a slowly building word-of-mouth thing, which made it feel so pure. But that only addresses the numeric success. The things I hear from readers, sometimes saying this book kept them from committing suicide, there’s no way to put into words how humbling that is. It’s beautiful, and probably something I’ll never fully be able to get my head around…which is probably healthy.
Jennie: Tell me about your writing routine. Has it changed over the years?
Jay: The process of writing hasn’t changed. The time it takes me to get over my fears and sit down and write, that’s definitely increased. I’ve tried to do the whole butt-in-chair thing, but it will not work for me. I’ve had to become cool with that because you’ll hear famous authors say you just have to get it down and fix the mess later. But they must have fixable messes. Good for them! I have to be inspired or the words that come out are…wow! So I often have several ideas percolating. I’ll take notes for a long time, and then start writing when I know what I want to say, and I edit as I go along. So that’s my process. Percolate. Perfect. Progress.
Jennie: Any roadblocks in your way?
Jay: There were self-created roadblocks after my first book. My self-conscious author brain took over! What if my next book, which I’d finished a good chunk of, didn’t speak to people in the same way (which it wasn’t supposed to)? Would readers be disappointed? What if it didn’t sell as well? Would my publisher be disappointed? You’re not supposed to meditate on those things, but I did. And for two years after that first book came out I didn’t write a thing. It’s still something I battle with, unfortunately.
Jennie: What was it like co-writing The Future of Us? What did that process look like?
Jay: When Carolyn Mackler asked if I’d consider writing a book with her, I’d almost given up on writing. So I had nothing to lose! Plus, she was one of my very favorite authors, so I had to say yes. We came up with the idea together, brainstormed most of the story before we began writing, and then heavily brainstormed a few chapters ahead of wherever we were. We took turns writing the chapters, but the key to our collaboration was that we were allowed to edit what each other wrote as much as we wanted. We could scrap pages, add pages, alter word choices. Anything! And we didn’t tell the other person what we did. When the other person looked it over, we could usually tell what was changed. If it was better, great! It was all about making it the best book. But if we didn’t like the change, we could usually tell why it was changed, so we’d tweak it again. Some chapters went back and forth almost thirty times before we moved on.
Jennie: Awesome. So would you like to co-write a book with me? I’m thinking it could be a middle-grade series. The Adventures of Jennie and Jay has a nice ring to it! But seriously, what’s next for you and your writing career?
Jay: Really? Because The Adventures of Jay and Jennie has an even better ring. Don’t you hear it? I’m actually editing two projects simultaneously at Razorbill, which I’m not allowed to talk about yet. But just like my first two books were very different from each other, these books continue that “very different” thing. Maybe that’s my brand! And I’m just as excited about them as my first two books. When they eventually come out, my four published works will feel like they tell the full story of me as an author.
Jennie: Any advice to those going the traditional publishing route?
Jay: There are so many factors playing into every decision in publishing, and it’s tempting to compare our experiences to those of other authors. That can give us good ideas for promotion (by ourselves or with our publishers), but it can also lead to hard or hurt feelings. Being in a creative field is hard enough without comparing. If I get an idea that I think is a creative way to market my books, I’ll send my editor or publisher or publicist an email. I usually don’t send it to the last person I bugged, just to be nice. At the beginning, I made sure to tell them that my idea is simply a suggestion. If they think it works, great. If not, they should feel free to ignore it because there will be more ideas coming. I don’t have to say that anymore because they know I don’t need a response or a thumbs-up to everything. Some ideas, thankfully, they have taken and run with. Most, they ignore. But it’s my book, and if I come up with something that may work to promote it, I have to tell them!
Jennie: Were you a member of any debut groups?
Jay: I was in the Class of 2k7, which was the first author collaborative I’ve heard of. It was the brainchild of Greg Fishbone, and I keep in contact with several of those authors. Debut groups are such a great idea. It definitely helps readers learn about several books and authors at once. It also makes the process a lot less lonely, right? And after the fact, it’s fun to take note of what everyone’s still doing. Some are still publishing in our group, and some are off doing different things. But we’re all graduates of the Class of 2k7!
Awesome! And now I have a few lightning-round questions for you. Answer as quickly as possible.
1.Your favorite time to write?
Late at night, right before I’m too tired to write, because the self-conscious writer has gone to bed by then. But the confident writer, unfortunately, isn’t far behind.
2. Favorite place to write?
Coffee shops. The creative buzz going on at those places is inspiring.
3. Favorite writing snack?
Usually cookies. Something to dip in my coffee.
4. Last book you read?
I’m usually reading five to seven at a time, and it can take me a year to get through any one of them. I have several I’m reading right now, mostly non-fiction, and I actually can’t remember the last time I finished one. Wait! They Came to Nashville by Marshall Chapman. It’s a series of interviews she did with songwriters who moved to Nashville, most of whom I’d never heard of, but it was one of the most satisfying reads. I love hearing the struggles and triumphs of people who pursue their passions!
5. Favorite book?
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. That book means so much to me. Mr. Spinelli has been the only author I’ve had the chance to meet but was too intimidated to actually take that opportunity.
6. If you could live in a fictional world, what world would it be?
Oz. And I’d train those winged monkeys to fly me wherever I needed to go. Inside, I know they’re cutie pies!
8. If you could be a character from a book for a day, who would you be?
Charlie Bucket, after winning the chocolate factory. That just…yes…that’s totally who I’d be!
Great! Again, Jay! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me and the Sixteen to Read gals!