Do you want to hear something awesome? PolicyMic's newest editorial team member, Laura Donovan, has just published her first book. I sat down with Laura to talk about her novel, her writing process, and the pros and cons of self-publishing.
Elena Sheppard (ES): Congrats on your new book The Wingmen! Can you give us a three-sentence synopsis?
LD: Thank you!
Overachieving high school student Molly Doyle walks into her senior year thinking it's going to be all about prom preparation, graduation hype, college planning, adventures with friends, and moving on from her first boyfriend, who has just gone off to college and cut ties with her completely as many recent grads do. Though busy with extracurricular activities and beyond, Molly can't seem to stop thinking about her former flame/first love, and the more he ignores her, the more she wants him back. Things get even more complicated on Thanksgiving, when her dad is diagnosed with cancer and she realizes her senior year is going to be much different than the standard experience.
ES: How long have you been working on the project? What’s your writing process like?
LD: As many people know, the book is based off my own senior year of high school, so I started writing it as a college freshman. I finished the first draft my junior year of college, let it sit for a year, and revisited it after graduating. I started editing it heavily in 2011 and decided to finally move forward with the project in 2012. In short, I've been carrying this story around with me for more than six years. That's a lot of time to think about being 17 years old and heartbreaking experiences over and over again.
ES: Who is your favorite character in your novel and why?
LD: A popular student named Carrie who befriends Molly at the beginning of the school year. They roam in different social circles but become fast friends in class, and Molly finds it easier to talk to Carrie about personal matters than her closest friends, who start to avoid her and act uneasy once they hear her dad is sick. Carrie also happens to be a wildly inappropriate, crude, foul-mouthed student who has no respect for authority and constantly spews shocking remarks to get through an otherwise dull class. Though a little put off by Carrie's mean-spirited side, Molly gets past the layers and layers of hostility and sees someone with a big heart. Carrie is my favorite character because she's fearless, hilarious, and surprisingly insightful. Readers agree that Carrie is the best character, and it's also because she makes the most sense in spite of her insane front.
ES: I know you chose to self-publish. What was that that process like and why did you choose to go that route?
LD: A year ago, I started looking around for literary agents, and I was actually in talks with a few for a while. Everything eventually fell through, which is pretty common with book publishing, especially for new writers. After doing ample research and reading lots of books on the benefits of self-publishing, I chose to release the book on my own. The fact is, I've been holding onto this story for a very long time, and it was becoming very unhealthy for me to constantly remember things that weren't so fun about my senior year of high school. I decided that if I couldn't get an agent by the end of 2012, I'd take matters into my own hands in 2013. So I did, and I've never felt happier.
ES: Would you recommend self-publishing to other aspiring writers? Do you think it’s the future of publishing?
LD: It was a good decision for me because this story had begun to hold me back and weigh me down emotionally. Think about it: Would you want to replay your first heartbreak 10 times a day for more than half a decade to be in the right mindset for book writing? No. It's not ideal for anyone.
I'd recommend self-publishing to anyone who wants full control over his/her plot and doesn't have a ton of time for major promotional events and activities. If you're confident that you have an awesome story and just haven't found a reliable agent, keep trying. If a year goes by and you're still out of luck, publish it on your own. No one should be held back simply because literary agents and/or publishing houses aren't totally sold on a story idea.
Think about how many successful authors were denied countless times. J.K. Rowling, the writer of The Help, the list goes on and on. Look at the success of E.L. James and the Warm Bodies author, who'd self-published three books before hitting it big with his zombie love story. Writers are starting to recognize their potential and that they don't necessarily need high profile representation to be valued or attract a following, and I think it's wonderful that social media and technology have empowered them in that way. I do think self-publishing is the way of the future, especially because more and more success stories come out of it every day, but there will always be a demand for publishing houses and exceptional agents. Writers are just tired of having to wait for months on end and in turn lose time producing new material.
ES: Growing up, did you always want to be a writer?
Yes! After seeing Harriet the Spy in second grade, I asked my parents for a diary. I went through diaries and journals like water growing up. There was never anything else I seriously wanted to be. Even before that, I was obsessed with books and storytelling. I remember trying to emulate Belle from Beauty and the Beast in preschool by running around the playground with an open book in hand. All the boys would say, "Hello, Belle!" and I'd go on pretending I could understand the words on the page in front of me. This makes me a one trick pony, but oh well.
ES: What is your all-time favorite book? Go!
LD: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I prefer nonfiction, but Eugenides puts out a book every decade or so and it's always amazing. I didn't love his latest novel, The Marriage Plot, but he's definitely one of the best writers of our time.
ES: How about your favorite Young Adult book, and why?
This is going to seem a little weird, but I have never forgotten about the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series, which got me through junior high. I remember getting bullied by teachers and classmates for hauling around the books, all of which had insanely weird titles, but I loved the plot in my preteen/early teen years. I enjoyed the series so much because it followed the adventures and misadventures of an outsider girl, which I could definitely relate to at the time.
John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is another winner, as it tackles cancer through the lens of a lovestruck teenager.
ES: As a YA fiction writer, what do you think the genre can do for teens and tweens?
LD: I think YA needs a stronger nonfiction/memoir presence. The Wingmen was initially going to be a memoir, but when agents told me that YA memoirs aren't really a thing yet, I decided to fictionalize it and label the work a novel. A part of me still wishes I'd gone the other way and kept it a memoir, as I truly believe YA memoirs will be huge someday.
The Wingmen will resonate with young adults who go through more than just typical teenage problems. Molly's character is having trouble nursing a broken heart, which most teens experience, but she's also coming to terms with the sad reality that her dad may die. She's no less heartbroken over her ex-boyfriend once she learns her dad is sick, but she's facing two sets of hard experiences that she didn't expect to have to juggle her senior year. I think The Wingmen will help young adult readers feel less alone about turmoil in their lives, whether it's ultimately trivial or utterly tragic.
ES: Now for the important stuff, how do we get a copy of The Wingmen?
LD: It's available on the Kindle and in paperback through Amazon. The e-book is free on Amazon Thursday February 28 too, you just have to download the Kindle app to your laptop if you don't have a Kindle. Thank you for reading, I need you all!