Jennifer Salvato Doktorski had an established writing career in journalism, including writing for Cosmopolitan, before the release of her 2013 Debut, HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES. In fact Jen was so prepared for the launch of her fiction writing career that she actually had two 2013 releases only two months apart! Her second was the YA novel, FAMOUS LAST WORDS.
Both books were critically acclaimed. Publisher’s Weekly said HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES was “full of emotion and wit.” Kirkus called it “a great ride.”
FAMOUS LAST WORDS was similarly lauded. Publisher’s Weekly said she “offered another fun and quirky protagonist, along with a well-developed supporting cast.” Kirkus called it “engaging and sympathetic.” It was also named a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year!!
Jen answered these questions about the past three years:
Three years on from the publication of your first Young Adult novel, are you where you expected to be in your writing career at this point in time?
I allowed myself to dream big after I sold my first novel. Despite the advance not being the sizeable amount that would have signaled my book was going to get a huge marketing push from my publisher, I somehow allowed myself to believe my book could be a breakout bestseller and garner enough attention from an indie filmmaker to score a movie deal. But then reality set in, as it is wont to do. My publisher was in dispute with Barnes & Noble right before my debut and B&N was limiting the number of books published by my house that it put on its shelves. A disappointment, for sure, but not the end of the world. There was still a lot to be proud of. HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES was mentioned in Teen Vogue and a Gannett newspaper featured me and my books—I had a second novel, FAMOUS LAST WORDS, come out two months after my debut—on the cover of the Sunday entertainment section. I did one radio interview, which was a blast, several signings at indie bookstores, and was featured in other local press including my college newspaper. Despite not selling gangbusters, the months after my debut were a fun ride.
Three years later, my expectations are significantly lower and I’m better for it. I had a third novel come out in May 2015, THE SUMMER AFTER YOU & ME. I got to work with my first editor again—she had moved from Simon Pulse to Sourcebooks—and I enjoyed a bigger marketing push and overall better experience with my new publisher. The new book sold well and HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES also saw a surge in sales, no doubt due to the “summery” nature of both books. Right now I’m in the process of writing a fourth YA novel and revising a middle grade. I’m finally doing my first school visits this spring and hoping that doing writing workshops for kids can become a regular gig for me. Each time I visit my local library, I’m pleased to see my books are checked out. Heck, I’m psyched my books are in libraries at all. Honestly? Three years after my debut, I’m just happy to be in the game!! It was such a thrill to join the club of published authors, a fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and I don’t take any of my small successes lightly. If I keep writing, and my books keep selling, then yes, I’m exactly where I want to be.
If you could go back several years to give advice to your pre-published self, how far back would you go and what advice would you give? How might that advice change where you are, or what you’re doing, today?
I’d go back 20 years and tell myself to start writing fiction sooner and consider an MFA right after college. I began my writing career as a journalist and then a freelance non-fiction writer – that’s in addition to a succession of full-time, writing-related jobs. It was great that I found a way to earn a living with my English degree, but what I really wanted to do was write fiction. That being said, I would also tell myself not to quit my day job.
Writing can be a lonely business with a lot of ups and downs. We all deal with bad reviews, manuscript rejections, changes in the industry, etc. How have you coped with the stress? Do you have activities, or friends, that have been particularly helpful?
Commiserating with other authors has been the best therapy! It’s like anything else, only people who are in it can understand. The gravity of saying “My Kirkus review came out today” is lost on my non-writer friends. On the other hand, I love my non-writer friends and family for pulling me out of my bubble, and my writing routine, and my toxic thought patterns. They remind me that experiencing life outside the writing world is what fuels the muse.
Thanks, Jen, for sharing your thoughts! I completely agree that we have to feel grateful just to still be able to do what we love!
Next we’ll hear from Liz Coley whose YA debut, PRETTY GIRL 13, has been translated into eleven languages (!!) and made YALSA’S Best Fiction for Young Adults and Best Fiction for Reluctant Reader’s Lists, as well as the Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award List!