Try not to compare your success with others. It’s way too easy to see someone’s books hitting lists or winning awards or getting star reviews and movie deals and feel dejected because your book didn’t… Success isn’t the same thing for everyone. Work hard and celebrate every good thing that comes your way.
After a year of querying her first book Abigail Johnson had given up hope. Discouraged, she resolved to shelve the project and move on. The following day a literary agent contacted her with a full request and within a few months her book was sold. Now awaiting the publication of her third YA novel, Abigail talks to us about the inspiration behind her books, a unique postcard book promotion campaign and finding a balance between writing and life.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work.
I’m Abigail Johnson and I write Contemporary YA novels for Inkyard Press/HarperCollins. My debut novel, If I Fix You, was published in 2016, followed by The First to Know in 2017. My next novel, Even If I Fall, is a 2019 Junior Library Guild selection and will be published on January 8, 2019. I’m originally from Pennsylvania (the setting of my fourth book which will hit shelves in 2020) but have called Arizona home since I was twelve. I studied creative writing in college and after a failed attempt at writing an Indian Jones-style adult adventure novel, I decided to try something a little closer to home and write a coming of age story about a girl from Arizona.
What made you want to be a writer? How did you begin writing?
I’ve always written little things as a kid but it wasn’t until college that the idea of becoming a published author took hold of me. I became a tetraplegic after breaking my neck in a car accident when I was seventeen. My entire life changed dramatically from that point on. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after that or what I could do. Fortunately, I had a sweet friend who encouraged me to take a community college class with her while I figured things out. I ended up really connecting with the professor who turned out to be the head of the English department. I think I took every English class she taught (and plenty that she didn’t) and discovered a passion and talent for writing that has never left me.
What inspires you to write?
That depends on what I’m writing. My debut novel, If I Fix You, was inspired by this little scene I kept seeing in my head of a girl sitting up on her roof at night talking to the boy next door. My second book, The First To Know, was inspired by an article that my dad sent me about a man who gifted his parents with DNA testing kits only to have the discovery of his father’s unknown son destroy his family. My upcoming book, Even If I Fall, which is about a girl coping with her brother’s murder conviction while falling for the victim’s brother, was inspired by a short story that I wrote years ago.
Is there any particular incident that has happened along your writing journey that you’d like to share?
I queried my first book, If I Fix You, for nearly a year without much success. I got plenty of requests and even a couple Revise & Resubmit requests but no offers. I was so discouraged that I decided it was time to shelve that book and start querying another book that I had written during that long querying stage. I marked all my outstanding queries as closed on the spreadsheet I kept and effectively said goodbye to that book. That was on a Friday night. On Saturday night one of the agents I’d marked as closed responded with a full request. On Sunday morning at 4am I received another email from her asking how soon we could set up a phone call. A week later I accepted her offer of representation and within a few months she sold that book I’d thought was shelved for good. And that other book that I was getting ready to query? That one will be hitting shelves in 2020.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t give up! Find yourself some critique partners who share your dedication and write every day!
What do you think is the biggest marketing challenge for new authors?
Being seen. There are so many titles coming out that it can be challenging to get the word out about your book.
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
Instagram is a great tool. There is a thriving book community there and it’s a great platform for getting your book cover in front of a lot of teen eyes. For my debut, I sent postcards out to every library in my state and that seemed fairly effective as well.
What struggles did you face in the writing and publishing process?
Probably too many to list individually, so all of them? Self-doubt is a big one. I spent years writing my first book and constantly had to battle with insecurities that it wasn’t good enough and no one would ever want to read it. I thought those feelings would dissipate with each subsequent book but they always rear up at different stages in the process. Like when I get my edit letter, when the first negative review comes in, when the book publishes… Fortunately, I know I’m not alone. The YA author community is pretty wonderful and we all share our ups and downs together.
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
During the query process it wasn’t fun. All those self-doubts run rampant every time a rejection rolls in. I had to just keep reminding myself that some of my favourite authors were rejected countless times too. It also helped that I found friends who were in the query trenches at the same time so we could commiserate together and encourage each other.
How do you deal with isolation, as writing is an inherently private exercise?
Well it is and it isn’t. Sure you’re the one sitting for hours at a time in front of a laptop, but that’s true for all sorts of jobs. I’ve learned to plan my writing time so that I also have time to spend with friends and family. Even when I’m in those last few weeks before a deadline, I’ll write all day then take a break to spend time with real people in the evening before returning to the fictional ones for another late night writing spree. It’s all about finding a balance that works for you.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
This one is so hard to do, but try not to compare your success with others. It’s way too easy to see someone’s books hitting lists or winning awards or getting starred reviews and movie deals and feel dejected because your book didn’t. It’s an ongoing battle but it helps to remember that in this industry a rising tide really does raise all ships. One book’s success helps create more readers which in turn helps other books succeed. Success isn’t the same thing for everyone either. Work hard and celebrate every good thing that comes your way.