We’re thrilled to welcome Writer’s Digest Annual Conference attendee alum Tiffany D. Jackson back to this year’s event—this time as a speaker on the Debut Author Panel. Jackson’s first book, Allegedly, is a page-turner of a YA novel that will appeal to teens and adults alike (and I’m not just saying that because I read it compulsively in two days). We recently asked Jackson about her experiences becoming a published author and her take on where YA is headed next.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication for Allegedly? Was this story one you wanted to tell (and think about your publication strategy afterword), or has publication always been a significant career goal for you?
A: I definitely didn’t take the traditional path here. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I could spell, but older, jaded writers deterred me from pursuing a career. Still, I wrote stories all the time, participated in writing contests, and even begged my Mom for a subscription to Writer’s Digest, which meant giving up my YM Magazine subscription (I’m ageing myself!). I went to undergrad for film and graduate school for media studies, all while working on stories that I never shared. Then, in 2012, when I read the real case of a 9-year old charged with murder, the idea just STUCK with me and wouldn’t let me go.
Q: How do you balance your fiction writing with your (admittedly exciting-sounding) day job?
A: Balancing both the TV world and Publishing world is ALL about time management. When I worked fulltime, I would wake up at 5am, write until 8am, leave for work around 9:15am, edit or read during my 45-min commute, write during lunch or after work, then head home. While traveling, I wrote on planes or snuck into dark corners on TV-sets. Now that I’m freelance, I can pack most of my writing in-between gigs!
Q: What has been the most un-writerly muscle you’ve had to learn how to work as a published author (i.e. the business side of things, public readings and speaking engagements, social media strategy, etc)?
Although TV and Publishing have a lot of the same qualities business wise, branding was THE toughest part to work on. Before, I lived behind the camera, now I have to step in front of it. It’s an introvert/extrovert’s worst nightmare.
Q: How did you find your agent?
A: Finding an agent took an extreme amount of dedication, perseverance, and, money.
Dedication: I set a goal for myself that I would query 100 agents before reevaluating my novel. (I got to 26)
Perseverance: Bought the yearly Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents, combed through, researched, and targeted agencies by genres. I set up an excel spreadsheet, organizing the agents in tiers, keeping track of emails sent and followed up every two weeks.
Money: Attending networking events and writer conferences can cost but if you really want something, you have to make sacrifices, including new clothes, Saturday boozy brunches, and premium cable.
In the end, good old-fashion cold-querying to Natalie Lakosil sealed the deal, but I had been following her amazingly helpful, Adventure’s In Agent Land for almost two years prior. It was listed in a Writer’s Digest as one of the top 100 websites for author’s to follow.
Q: Is writing a Young Adult novel a significantly different process than writing one aimed at adults?
Yes and no. Originally, I thought Allegedly was an adult novel but was advise that it would work better in a YA market, so the process of writing it really did not differ. But when you’re writing for kids, there’s a separate set of rules you have to take into account. You have to be a bit more cautious with your words as we’re speaking to young developing minds.
Q: With so much of your book taking place in Brooklyn (and evoking it beautifully), is the process of world-building for a novel easier or more challenging when you’re setting your story in such a familiar location?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn but there are places I had never been to before I started researching. For example, Mary’s childhood home was in Ditmas Park, a place up until four years ago, I barely knew existed and it’s only ten minutes from my apartment. I spent a fall day walking around, studying these beautiful Victorian homes in awe, given I’ve only been exposed to brownstones and apartment buildings. So even though a place can be familiar, you still have to dig deeper into the nooks and crannies.
Q: Why do you think YA fiction resonates so strongly with adults, as well as teens?
YA Books today are taking risks, exploring hard topics, and have a lot of the answers to questions adults never got as kids. I always tell students, high school never ends. Adults are just a bunch of super seniors still trying to figure life out.
Q: Now that you have a first novel under your belt, what’s next for you?
More novels of course! In the middle of editing my second novel, out next spring, and working on a proposal for my third. I’d also love to sink my toe into the adult world at some point, but for now, I like where I am.