How to Make It As a YA Author
Whether or not you're an aspiring writer, Anna Breslaw's wisdom is worth reading. (And rereading.)
If you’re a girl between the ages of 15 and 30, you’ve almost certainly read Anna Breslaw’s words. Even if you haven’t already read her debut novel Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here yet—which is a mistake, but a forgivable one since the book only came out on Tuesday—you've read her hilarious musings on Jezebel, GQ, and Cosmopolitan. But you definitely haven't read the life wisdom she shared with us; it'll change the way you think about everything from dream jobs to lunch breaks.
What were you like as a teen, and what do you wish you could tell your teenage self?
To be honest, I was really unhappy—like a lot of teenagers, I think. One of my parents got really sick when I was in junior year, and my family situation became really complicated. I was also pretty funny, which I’m sure was a result of trying to hide those feelings, which has obviously benefited me in adulthood, so everything happens for a reason? I think I’d tell my teenage self, “Eventually you’ll have a dope apartment and a hot boyfriend. And a book coming out. It doesn’t get better, but it gets less bad. Also, go on Wellbutrin XL like...yesterday.”
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally? What was the step by step process?
I graduated from NYU and worked for about two years at a start-up blog that doesn’t exist anymore, reviewing movies and doing other random stuff. I got a piece in the New York Times’ Modern Love section when I was 24, which was kind of the breakthrough in terms of being able to quit my job and freelance full-time. I did that for awhile: contributed to Glamour’s sex and love section, Vulture recaps, and Jezebel’s Dirtbag section. Eventually I got a “permalance” job at Cosmopolitan.com, which is like—three posts a day! Flat rate per month! No health insurance! Maybe six months later Cosmopolitan.com hired me full-time. It was a fast-growing site and I was one of the few writers there, to start. I was there for about year and a half and worked really hard, writing my book at night and eventually selling it. Eventually I switched to the print side of Cosmo, which was awesome, but I started longing to be freelance again and spend more time writing books. So that’s what I’m doing now, with semi-regular gigs at GQ.com and XOJane.
What do you wish you had known then that you know now about having a career?
I definitely wish I knew, as a staff writer for a website, that I should have been taking vacations and setting boundaries. There have actually been studies about the high levels of burnout among millennial women. They spend years checking work email at all hours, skipping lunch, etc., until they literally cannot keep going at the pace they have been. That’s the point I got to. If I’d paced myself a little more, I think I could have lasted longer at Cosmopolitan.com, which was a really great job with a fantastic boss and great people; but I didn’t, and so my brain exploded. I think young women maybe let themselves get walked all over at work because they’re “so lucky” to have the job they have in “this economy,” and all that stuff. But they’re not just lucky—they’re also talented, ambitious, and they earned it. The ability to practice self-care and not check work email after 11pm is essential to preserving a career in the long run.
What advice about work do you have for anyone just starting out in the industry?
There are a lot of different paths to getting the job you want. I’ve met a lot of recent grads working as assistants to editors at magazines, or receptionists, in the hopes of moving up the ranks to writer or editor themselves. That’s certainly a route to take, if you’re a good assistant and a good writer, but if you’re an incompetent, shitty assistant (I’m thinking of myself here), your boss—who is very busy and stressed out—might assume you’re an incompetent, shitty person, and maybe not care that you’re a good writer. You could lose your chance of ever writing for that place.
How exactly did your book deal come about?
Over the last ten years, I’ve tried and failed to sell two different YA novels with a different agent. (One book I wrote in high school and was horrible; the other I wrote just out of college and was better.) Neither one was the agent’s fault at all, but I decided it was time to part ways. I started writing Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here while I was at Cosmopolitan.com and showed it to Tina Wexler at ICM, my friend Anna Schumacher’s agent, and she signed me as a client. I finished a few months later and Marissa Almon at the Razorbill imprint of Penguin Random House bought it. Third time’s the charm, I guess.