Sure, authors get acknowledgement pages to wax poetic about all the many, many people who help turn a manuscript into an actual book, but sometimes an editor needs a dedicated shout-out all her own. This is mine to Alyssa Miele at HarperTeen, who is probably already cringing with embarrassment as she reads this first paragraph. (Ask me if I care—I have no chill about my fandom of her.)
Today is the release day of my fourth YA novel, The Arrival of Someday. While I hope parts of it still read like a “Jen Malone book,” which (to me, anyway) means banter-y humor and all the good feels, it also represents a huge departure for me in both subject matter and depth. My other YA’s have been fluffy, fun travel romances. Someday is the story of a teen wrestling to define what makes for a well-lived life if longevity isn’t the answer, as she awaits a possible organ donation. It’s a love story, for sure, but those relationships are platonic ones between Lia and her best friend and Lia and her family. There’s only a hint of romance.
I will not sugar-coat this: if it weren’t for my editor, Alyssa, this book very literally would not exist.
I “inherited” Alyssa halfway through revisions on my previous YA, Changes in Latitude, when the editor who acquired the manuscript moved houses. That’s a scary thing for an author, of course, but Alyssa’s first round of edits on that story included Lost Boy GIFs and hilarious asides that bonded me to her immediately. That editorial letter also challenged me to revise scenes in a far rawer way than I had initially written them. Different editors have different tastes, of course, and while my initial version of the story aligned really well with my then-editor’s take on it, Alyssa’s push for something slightly edgier nudged out of my comfort zone in a way I hadn’t realized I needed or wanted. And I LOVED IT.
Still, when it came time to pitch ideas for my next YA, I was thinking “keep establishing my brand” as Alyssa and I sat at lunch and I pitched her concepts for new summery travel romances. She was quiet for a moment and then said, “These are good and I really want to work with you again, but what if I didn’t want another travel romance?” I’m sure I stammered a bit and then blurted out, “There’s this concept I’ve been keeping in my back pocket about a teen girl who doesn’t fit anyone’s definition of a saintly, wise-beyond-her-years ‘Dying Girl,’ other than the fact that she might be facing death. And I haven’t decided yet whether she lives at the end and that’s something I’d want the freedom to determine.” Her reaction: “Sounds good to me! Let’s work with that!”
I’m not gonna lie, the very idea of this book freaked me out in a giant, writer’s-block-causing way. The technical medical research involved. The sensitivity of the subject matter and the importance of getting every detail right. The fact that this story would need to be character-driven versus plot-driven and that wasn’t something I’d ever attempted before, nor did I fully believe I could. And here’s where an editor–or at least my editor– is everything.
At this point, I’ve had the pleasure of working with six editors at three different houses and I’ve been really blessed to have had all good experiences (I fully realize how rare this is), but this was my first time confessing my full level of trepidation at the outset and asking for input and help (A LOT of input and help) in the early stages of plotting and drafting. Alyssa embraced my request cheerfully and fully, to the point where I’d occasionally get late night emails from her saying, ”I was thinking about x plot point tonight on the subway and what if you…” Our email threads were rainbows of text colors as we responded to one another’s thoughts.
And then she did it all again when it came to revisions, encouraging a rewrite that had me scaling wayyyyyy back on the romantic elements and instead going deep into the relationships with Lia and her family members and the one between Lia and her best friend, as everyone in her inner circle has a different response to her diagnosis. I’m so proud that this book stands apart from others in this category because of her insistence that I not allow myself to veer into my regular lane.
The Arrival of Someday is about leaving a mark on the world, big or small, through our actions, and more importantly through our interactions. Alyssa’s sensibility and smarts are the invisible ink lurking behind all of my words, and I wish they weren’t so hidden. If publishing were just, editor’s names would go on the cover alongside the author’s, or at a minimum on the inside title page. But since that isn’t the case, she’s just going to have to settle for this ode, because the world needs to know she’s left her mark on this book in a thousand different ways… and on me as a writer in just as many. (Though she still hasn’t managed to cure my reliance on ellipses, so I guess there’s work to be done yet!)
I hope you’ll do us both the honor of checking it out for yourselves!
THE ARRIVAL OF SOMEDAY
Author: Jen Malone
Editor: Alyssa Miele
Available TODAY from Harper Collins Teen