What makes a successful young adult hero? In the case of Broody McHottiepants, a few book rejections, a couple glasses of wine, a quick wit, and a Twitter account.
Coming off a brutal round of querying in early 2015, Carrie DiRisio was mourning, just a little bit. Agents had yet to bite on her young adult novel, a book she'd written over the past while working full time and attending graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. What did these people want? A brooding hunk? A handsome hero, fond of glaring and silence, but also prone to occasional bursts of wit and chivalry? Well, she'd give him to them.
Into the February night DiRisio typed, creating a stereotypical YA hero, sketching his character in 140-character bursts into a new Twitter account.
I only smoke enough to fill my broken heart. Not enough to fill my lungs with cancer
My family doesn't love me, but I don't want to talk about it. I'd rather just make poor choices and cry alone in my expensive car
Coffee? I drink it black. Cause I'm a tough guy... But look, Starbucks makes a really good Caramel Brulee Frappuccino. Just saying.
When I say, "Don't talk to me." It means cuddle me and pet my perfectly disheveled hair, because I failed Expressing My Feelings 101
She had fun, she went to sleep, she woke up, she went to an all-day class, she came home, she got online. BOOM! "I had 2,000 notifications of new followers and retweets," she told Spine. "There was a person in publishing who had a lot of followers, and said, 'This is dangerously on the money.'"
Her Followers count climbed higher and higher, and the YA universe noticed. Agent Melissa Edwards at Stonesong shopped around her original manuscript and DiRisio started working on a second. But people wanted more Broody. "My friends were like, when are you going to turn Broody into a book? We sold it on proposals: two chapters and an outline and detailed notes. That's very unusual to do in YA, but with Broody being so unusual, there was a sense of – if you don't find two chapters of Broody funny, you won't find a book funny."
Unpublished author plucked out of obscurity; up until this point, DiRisio's own story sounds like every wannabe writer's dream. But after signing a deal, she had to write the book, and quickly. Sky Pony Press gave her six weeks to transform a satirical, one-dimensional, fictional character into a fully realized character who not only maintained the clever, consciously clichéd voice he used on social media but also offered real, true, how-to advice to YA authors. At the same time she had to transform herself from a self-described "social writer" into a stereotypically reclusive author.
"My writing process was very unusual," she remembers. "I would wake up at five in the morning and turn on soothing spa noises in my noise-cancelling headphones." She blocked out the noises of the world, and its politics as well "There was just me and the computer and I pretended the world didn't exist."
DiRisio allowed herself one worldly interruption. "I got a spoonful of Nutella for every 1,000 words written. I now hate Nutella." Win for hazelnut chocolate, because DiRisio turned in her book last December and Brooding YA Hero: Becoming A Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me arrived on shelves this week.
Now she's turned her attention from writing Broody to promoting Broody, a task she loves. "Marketing really excites me. I am one of very few extroverted writers." Extroverted and clever: She worked with the Sky Pony marketing team on a pre-order campaign that includes limited edition Broody postcards and stickers.
In addition to marketing to interested fans, DiRisio wanted to be sure that readers who might not be able to afford books or have access to authors were included in the buzz. Pre-order incentives were available for library requests, for example. And when she hits the road to promote, she'll be visiting not only bookstores and libraries, but also schools and shelters.
Back home in Pittsburgh, she'll return to her writing, looking ahead while keeping Broody alive. "I'm working on a new project," she told Spine. "I feel like he's leaning over my shoulder."
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Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird grew up inhaling paperbacks in Central Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Salem. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, BANG!, Failbetter, and Publishers Weekly. She's the founder of the Salem Longform Writers' Group, and serves on the Salem Literary Festival committee. When not wrangling words, she spends time with her family, mostly trying to pry the cat's head out of the dog's mouth, and helps lead The Clothing Connection, a small Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to getting clothes to kids who need them. Online, you can find her at susannabaird.com and on Twitter @SusannaBaird.