This is a guest post by Daphne James Huff
When I started self-publishing in early 2017, I had a plan. It was not to become a self-published YA author. Well, to be fair, not when I first started, but within a few months of hitting publish for the first time, I had learned what I needed to do. I needed a series and I needed to do it fast, if I wanted to make any money.
But so far, all I’d written was dystopian and sci-fi historical… things that took forever to plot and worldbuild. I could get sucked down the research hole for hours instead of writing.
And I have a full-time non-writing job on top of being a mom, so there was no way I could write three or more books in those genres in a year. Other writers, sure, but I know myself.
So when my writer mom friend suggested we write a sweet YA romance series with a third writer mom, I jumped at the chance. Ok, fine, not jumped exactly. I’ll admit, I was hesitant. I wanted to write speculative fiction, not contemporary.
Not that I don’t devour contemporary as a reader. But it’s like candy to me. I wanted to be a writer to make things up, control worlds, and keep the reader guessing. I wanted my writing to be deep and meaningful and serious. Contemporary YA seemed so… safe. Boring. Light beachy reading. And romance? You already know there’s a happily ever after! This would be too easy, right?
(Just like your favorite romance novel, I bet you already know how this will end!)
I was completely wrong on so many levels.
We decided to write our own books within the same “universe,” rather than co-write. This meant we could rapid release our books just a month apart, have the sales boost of a series, in a third of the time!
Smart move for indie author moms without a lot of time. We launched the Mountain Creek Drive series in February 2018, and my book Leah's Song was the second to come out, in March.
Our universe is set in 2002, so we could tap into our own experience (we were all real YAs in 2002) and to avoid looking up things like “how to use snapchat” to make it sound authentically contemporary for 2018. While this avoided some research rabbit holes, we still had a lot to plan and decide. We made up a town, and a high school, and a rival high school, and school colors, and the names of streets and shops…
Hey this is kind fun, I realized. And easy, but in a good way. The way writing is supposed to feel. Creative, but without the stress of someone writing to tell you people did not wear pantaloons until whatever century, or of your magic system suddenly violating its own rules. It was a breath of fresh air after all my heavy lifting plotting historical and sci-fi.
And instead of holding back on emotions to avoid too much “melodrama” and keeping things serious, with YA I put it all in there. I tapped into my YA memories - the awful ones like getting dumped for the first time that by your 30s you tell yourself don’t really matter - and brought up ALL THE FEELS.
It felt awesome. It felt right.
Having my writing besties along for the ride probably helped a ton, too. One is a YA librarian, so in the name of “research” I stocked up on her suggestions and spent hours swooning over the most adorable love stories.
I write adult romance too, but nothing puts a reader through the emotional wringer like a first love. I wanted to do that in my book. I wanted to do that in all of my books, forever.
I am still a fairly new writer, so knowing the ending before I even started helped so much. It took away so much anxiety of coming up with a perfect ending. I am a plotter at heart, and having that guiding all my choices made the words flow faster and easier than ever before. I wrote it during my first NaNoWriMo and I won with a few hundred words to spare.
In terms of financial success, the other two have done a bit better than me, since they were contemporary YA romance writers from the start. They have other things to offer YA readers once they’re done with our series.
But I have done pretty well so far this year, and already have plans to write and release two more YA books in the next 6 months. A standalone to start building my YA backlist, and another series with the YA Inklings (our name for our little writing collective - because this is totally what Tolkien and Lewis would have written if they’d been 30-something writer moms!).
I will keep writing in my other genres, but what I thought would be a one-off experiment with friends has turned into a big chunk of my strategy going forward.
Writing contemporary YA romance is not what I expected it to be.
It’s challenging without being stressful, it lets me create new worlds without the pressure to make it unique and original, and, best of all, it means I get to listen to all the BSB songs I want. Becoming a self-published YA author was easier than I thought.
Happily ever after, indeed.
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Daphne James Huff
Author & Podcaster
In alphabetical order, Daphne James Huff is a Capricorn, HR professional, INTJ, mother, podcaster, wife, writer, and yogi. She can drive a manual transmission and distrusts people who enjoy raisins in their cookies. You can find more about her books on her author website, DaphneJamesHuff.com and hear her chat with other writer moms over at Writer Mom Life, the podcast created by and featuring indie author moms.