I was first introduced to Rachel Lynn Solomon online when I came across an article from her TidBits newsletter. The article delineated the first year reality of her debut novel, YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE, and the joys and terrors that accompany the birthing of a book. Her article prompted me to pick up a copy of YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE, and I couldn’t put it down! I was even more excited when I found out her second novel, OUR YEAR OF MAYBE, was hitting the bookstores a few weeks later in January 2019. 24 Carrot Writing is excited to host this interview with Rachel!
Welcome, Rachel! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us and our readers!
Thank you for having me!
In your debut novel, YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE, you created a relatively unlikeable female protagonist. What do you feel were your biggest challenges with having an unlikeable female protagonist tell part of this story?
Adina, one of the protagonists in YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE, is definitely unlikable—she’s cold, arrogant, a little manipulative, and secretly very vulnerable. I’m not sure what it says about me that her voice remains the easiest and most natural one I’ve ever written, haha. She just came to me so vividly. She’s balanced out a little by her twin, Tovah, but Adina makes some pretty terrible choices throughout the book. With her, I wanted to give a voice to some of the darker thoughts I had as a teen—the thoughts many of us are afraid to acknowledge. What if, instead of behaving the way she thought she was supposed to, the way society wants girls to behave, she instead acted on her worst impulses?
I definitely worried that she’d be labeled “unlikable” and written off by some readers, but ultimately my goal was to create a compelling, complex character. To me that’s much more interesting than someone who makes the right choices and does the right thing all the time. I’ve loved hearing people’s reactions to Adina because while some find her pretty appalling, others relate to her and root for her, and I think it’s because in real life, we don’t necessarily make the right choices all the time either.
Your characters experience interesting medical (and emotional) situations. In YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE, your protagonists face a fatal genetic disorder called Huntington’s Disease. In OUR YEAR OF MAYBE, you explore a kidney transplant. What was the research process like for each of those books? Will your future stories include medical aspects as well?
Since I don’t have firsthand experience with Huntington’s or kidney disease, the writing process for both books involved a lot of research. It was a mix of interviews with people who had that firsthand experience—patients, yes, but also doctors and family members—plus reading, watching videos, listening to podcasts.
I’m drawn to subjects I want to learn more about, and that was the case with those two medical-leaning books. It can be quite heavy writing about those topics, though, and I don’t have any current projects that include illness. I also wanted to avoid putting myself in a box as a writer.
OUR YEAR OF MAYBE is your second novel. In what ways did you find the publishing process to be easier the second time around? And in what ways was it harder?
Everyone says the second book is the hardest, and because my second book was already drafted when my book deal happened and specifically written into my contract, I thought I’d escaped the book 2 curse. I was very, very wrong. I let OUR YEAR OF MAYBE sit for a whole year while I worked on edits for YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE, and when I reopened the document, I was horrified. It was…extremely bad. Every scene took place at someone’s house, and though the main characters’ families were supposed to be close, their parents didn’t ever show up on the page. So I furiously rewrote it a couple months before my deadline, and after receiving my editor’s notes, rewrote it again. I love how it turned out, but it took me a while to find the story I wanted to tell.
I thought I’d be better about not reading reviews the second time around, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to avoid Goodreads. Some of the positives, though: I knew exactly what was happening in terms of timeline, and probably the most incredible thing was that people who enjoyed my first book were excited for my next one. I’ve talked to some amazing, amazing bloggers, booksellers, and librarians who’ve been so supportive, and I’m just grateful beyond words. Writing can be so solitary, and the book being released means it’s no longer just yours—it’s out there for anyone to interpret and (hopefully) connect with.
Yep! I queried two books before signing with an agent on my third, and she submitted that book, another one, and then a small submission round for YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE before we parted ways. I queried it and signed with my second agent, who sold it. That’s a really great question because sometimes in Pitch Wars, I see the same manuscripts two or three years in a row. Everyone is working at their own pace, and there are no deadlines, but if you’ve queried many, many agents and revised multiple times without anyone biting, it might be a good idea to set that project aside for a while. I don’t view anyof my books as a waste of time—all of them made me a better writer.
At any stage, the best thing to do while waiting for feedback, waiting on queries, waiting on submission is to write the next book. That’s the only thing that will get you closer to where you want to be. And falling in love with a new book was what made me realize I could move on from something that wasn’t working.
You are a Pitch Wars mentor! How did you become a Pitch Wars mentor? And what is the best part about being a mentor?
I truly love Pitch Wars. I’ve been involved as a mentor since 2014, and back then, it was much smaller—I just DM’d Brenda Drake and asked if I could be a mentor! Since we restructured Pitch Wars last year, I’ve now gone through the new application process twice, and I’m a member of the leadership committee as well.
I owe most of my friendships, even IRL ones, to Pitch Wars, and it’s opened up my community and felt like a home in ways I never could have imagined. I love working one-on-one with other writers and digging deep with their stories. Two of those fantastic books have been published: Heather Ezell’s NOTHING LEFT TO BURN in 2018, and Marisa Kanter’s WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU, which comes out April 2020. Especially with Marisa’s book, which features Jewish characters whose experiences are the closest I’ve ever read to my own, it’s an indescribably wonderful feeling to play a small role in helping that book reach readers who may not always see themselves either.
Thank you! I aim to be as honest as I can about my journey because there’s not enough transparency in publishing, and knowledge might help others better advocate for themselves. We hear about the overnight successes so much—and those are AMAZING, but that’s definitely not every experience. I thought I’d find a new agent immediately after I left my first one, but I sent 80 queries over six months. I had already written a new book and was building a query list when my now-agent emailed asking for a call.
I would build your query list only with agents you want to work with. Anyone can call themselves an agent, and a big social media following or an English degree is not indicative of someone’s skills as an agent. Do your research—does the agent have any big 5 sales? If not, does their agency? (At the very least, if your goal is a big 5 publishing deal, the agency absolutely should have big 5 sales.) Most websites will list recent titles. New agents at established agencies can be great, but I’m always wary of agents with little experience starting their own agencies. I think Publishers Marketplace is one of the best resources, though it’s $20/month. You can cancel any time, and it might be worth going in for a membership with a friend or two. Other than that, QueryTracker and Absolute Write are solid as well.
If mentoring and writing wasn’t enough to keep you busy, you also operate Rainy Day Editing, a freelance editing service (https://www.rainydayediting.com). How do you juggle all of these different projects? And how many freelance projects do you take on at a time?
I left my FT job last year with the goal of dividing my time between writing and freelance editing, and it’s been a really positive change for me. My time is split pretty evenly, and I have the flexibility to focus more on one or the other on a given week, depending on deadlines. Bullet journaling has helped me TREMENDOUSLY. Every Sunday, I plan out my week, and every month, I reflect on the past month’s accomplishments and set new goals. I also track my clients in a Google spreadsheet. It took me a while to figure out how to stay organized, but now that I’ve found a system that works for me, it doesn’t feel like juggling at all!
With freelance projects, I like to take on 2-3 full manuscripts per month, and I try to keep myself open for one-week turnarounds with smaller critiques.
Many debut authors do not know where to begin in marketing their upcoming book. What are some essential first steps debut authors should take in preparing for their book’s release?
Here are a few suggestions, with the caveat that none of these are required. There are plenty of authors who don’t have a social media presence—it’s all about what feels best and most comfortable for you.
That said, I would recommend establishing yourself on Twitter and Instagram if you aren’t already, and the best social media tip I can give is to interact and engage with others in the community. And make sure it’s genuine—only hype up a book if you’re truly excited about it. You might consider joining a debut group to gain a support system of fellow authors releasing around the same time you are. I had a really positive debut group experience (Electric Eighteens), and our group remains intact as a support group, but I know it’s not for everyone!
If you don’t have a website, there are a number of free platforms, though I pay for Squarespace and love it—easy to use, and it looks super clean. Make sure someone can find out everything they need to know about you and your book from your site, and include a media kit as well. (I only made my media kit earlier this year, whoops, but it’s already saved me tons of time.)
If you only do one thing for your book, I highly recommend bookmarks. They’re relatively inexpensive, even if you hire a designer, and they’re such an invaluable promo tool.
Publishers Weekly recently announced that your editor, Jennifer Ung, at Simon Pulse has acquired two more books. Your contemporary YA romance, TODAY TONIGHT TOMORROW is due out late spring 2020, and another novel is slated for 2021. Can you tell us a little bit about each project?
I’m so, so excited about TODAY TONIGHT TOMORROW, probably more than either of my first two books. It’s a rivals-to-lovers romance that takes place all in 24 hours on the last day of senior year, and it was an absolute blast to write. The main character wants to write romance novels, and it deals a lot with having a passion (usually something aimed at women) that people tend to judge. There’s also a lot of exploration of pre-college anxiety and the feeling of leaving behind a place you’ve known your entire life, and in that sense, it’s also a love letter to Seattle. The romance is a slowwww burn, but I promise, the payoff is worth it. The cover is also ADORABLE—stay tuned for the reveal sometime this fall! And here’s the book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40032364-today-tonight-tomorrow
My 2021 book is under contract, but I don’t have anything quite ready to reveal for it yet—still very early stages!
Thank you so much for the interview, Francine!