Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wednesday Debut Interview: THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU by Lily Anderson

Time for another Wednesday Debut interview! Today we're chatting with Lily Anderson, debut author of the new YA contemporary novel, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself! What's one thing people might not expect about you?
Oh, hello! I’m Lily Anderson. I’m an elementary school librarian from Northern California. I’m mixed race, deep voiced, and a part-time potty mouth. I hate the word “foodie,” but I do love all things relating to cooking and baking. Growing up, I was an incurable musical theater geek and am still a bit snobby about it, even though late-in-life stage fright keeps me from performing anymore. I have 2 showtune lyric tattoos, one from Bat Boy and one from Once On This Island—both written by composers who went on to have much bigger, more noteworthy shows.

How would you describe THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU in one sentence?
Genius teens fall in love, read comics, and solve a mystery.

How long as this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication? How many novels had you written prior to this?
I started the first draft of THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU in 2013 while a New Adult novel I’d written (my second completed novel) was being rejected by every literary agent in the business. I wanted to write something fun and just for me, so I decided to try retelling my favorite play. When it was done and polished, I sent it out to 4 literary agents. I didn’t want to get my hopes up again. But all 4 agents ended up requesting the book. I signed with Laura Zats the last week of January 2014. St. Martin’s Press made an offer on the manuscript on my twenty-sixth birthday on December 15, 2014. After a rewrite, 2 title changes (I’m dreadful at titles), copy edits, and a lot of waiting, the book came out on May 17, 2016! It’s been a long three years, but totally worth it.

I definitely consider myself a Whovian/Browncoat and love the idea of two teens bonding over shared fandoms. Are there any of your own experiences as a fan that served as inspiration for parts of the book?
Well, I’m definitely deep into many different fandoms, most of which are represented in TOTWTMIY. I’ve been a huge Joss Whedon fan since middle school when Buffy was wrapping up and I started catching it in syndication. Loving Whedon led me to comics—between his run of Astonishing X-Men and, later, Buffy Season 8. Of course, I’m ride or die with Harry Potter. I read Sorcerer’s Stone the year it was released in America and then kept up all the way through to the end, including working at Barnes And Noble during the release parties for Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows (dressed as Luna Lovegood for both—go Ravenclaw!).

Fandom is a beautiful thing, allowing so many people of different backgrounds to come together over something they love. But there’s also the nasty gatekeeping aspect, the idea that one person is more deserving of the fan culture than another. And there’s a healthy dose of that unpleasantness in the book because I think it takes a while to learn that it’s nice just to share your enthusiasm, rather than use it as a trump card.

What character from this book did you most enjoy writing?
Ben West, the main male character and occasional antagonist, was my favorite character to write. He was never without something to say, usually a quote or a scathing comeback. As someone who was 100% a teacher’s pet in school, it’s a delight to dabble in class clowning.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I queried my first novel when I was nineteen—back when query letters and all manuscript requests had to be sent by mail! The rejections were slow, but firm. The book wasn’t ready. I hadn’t done enough research. It was definitely too long! So, I wrote something else. A New Adult novel when New Adult had a name but wasn’t as defined as it is now. And again, I got tons of rejections, this time with more positivity. I was told that the book was good and it was fun but it didn’t fit into any one category enough to be marketable.

I cried and I ranted and I railed, of course. It hurts to be rejected. But the main takeaway from all of those rejections was that this is a business. Be businesslike. Do your research. Know your category and your genre (and know that there’s a difference!).

Read, read, read and then write, write, write. You wouldn’t bake your first cake and then try to sell it for a hundred dollars. The same thing is true with your book. You can’t sell your first draft and you wouldn’t want to! Make it the absolute best you can do, give it to someone else, and have them tell you how it could be better. Present your best self to everyone in the industry, starting with the best manuscript you can deliver.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My absolutely incredible agent, Laura Zats, sent the manuscript to St. Martin’s Press through a connection at our literary agency. We’d been on submission for about six months. I had already written a new YA novel and was ready to put TOTWTMIY on the back burner. While Laura was submitting the book, I asked to not be told where she was sending it out unless we got an offer on it. I knew from looking for literary agents that I didn’t have the stomach to put a name to the rejections. So, when she emailed me to say that Sylvan Creekmore at St. Martin’s Press was interested in having me revise the manuscript, I was floored. I think the first thing I said was, “St. Martin’s Press like RAINBOW ROWELL’S St. Martin’s Press?!”

But it was just a revise and resubmit, so Laura told me not to get my hope up too high. I got an editorial letter from Sylvan. She totally understood the heart of the story—the friendships, the fandom, the kissing—but she really cracked open the manuscript, shining a light on characters that had been too much in the background. I wrote the revision and was ready to wait for months to hear back but it was only a few weeks before we had an offer on the table. I’ve never looked back. Every step of the way, the entire team at St. Martin’s has been so incredible.—even when my emails are nonsense and emoticons.

I love the comic-book feel of your cover. Who's the artist? How much say did you have in it?
Elsie Lyons designed the cover. Isn’t it wonderful? I didn’t have a say in the cover, which was fine by me because I would have had no idea where to start! It appeared in my inbox the same as you see it now, a perfect balance of classic YA romance and Lichtenstein. I can’t wait to hang a copy in my office.

Tell us about the title: THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?
The original title was THE MERRY WAR, based on the quote that’s now the epigraph of the book from the first scene of Much Ado About Nothing, “There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and her. They never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them.” Admittedly, it’s not the catchiest title, but it captured the essence of what I wanted to come across in the story. When I signed with St. Martin’s, my editor suggested ALL OUR BAD PARTS, based on the Much Ado quote, “For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?” But we tried it out for a few weeks and found that it was kind of mushy when said out loud. It ended up sounding more like Aller Bad-Parts. We knew we wanted something that evoked the same sort of feeling as 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, punchy and fun.

I made a long list of alternate titles, some dreadful (Tricksy Trixie comes to mind) and some boring (The Mess). THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU was the last on the list with a note that it could be switched around to The Only Thing Worse Than You Is Me. But Sylvan really loved the less self-deprecating version and we took it to the marketing department for clearance! Poof! New title. (Although I do still mentally call it Merry War out of habit. Shh! Don’t tell anyone!)

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book?
While TOTWTMIY was on submission, I wrote the first book in a mystery series that I’ve been chomping at the bit to share with the world. I’m also working another book about nerdy geniuses set at a summer camp.

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
I honestly still haven’t quite wrapped my head around the idea that people are reading my book! Even after months of having friends and editors and blurb-ers read it and then moving onto those who had ARCs, I’m kind of shocked every time someone talks about these characters. I can’t help but think, “But wait! I made them up! Who told you about all these people I made up?” It’s very cool, but very strange. Hopefully I’ll adjust to it soon. So far, I haven’t heard from many teen readers. And while I love my grown up YA readers (solidarity, friends!), I’m truly looking forward to the book finding its audience with the teen nerds I wrote it for.

My launch party will be at A Great Good Place For Books in Oakland, California on May 21 at 7pm. I’ll also be making appearances at Barnes And Noble’s Teen Festival in Emeryville, CA on June 10 at 7pm and Roseville, California on June 11 at 12pm.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
To everyone on the road to publication: make friends! The writer community is so, so, so cool. Talk to other writers. Writing itself can be so solitary and isolating. Talking to other people who have been there really does make a difference. I joined the debut author’s group The Sweet Sixteens because I had NO IDEA how to build a social media platform. And then those folks ended up being invaluable, not only as part of this new business I’m in but as friends.

Fellow writers will hold you up when you stumble and cheer you on when you succeed. They’ll tell you that it’s totally normal to feel jealous and insecure at times. They’ll drag you out of your writer’s block. And they’ll send you some real rad swag.

And, just for fun: what comic book characters would Trixie and Ben cosplay together and why?
Oh my goodness. That’s the best question! Trixie and Ben would go through a very long list of people they could cosplay—Rogue and Gambit come to mind since Trixie deeply believes that she looks like 90s Rogue and Ben speaks French. They’d also make a very convincing 10th Doctor and Donna.

But at the end of the day, I think they’d both want to be in the Spider-Verse. Ben would be Peter Parker’s Spiderman and Trixie would be Spider-Gwen. Head canon established.


  1. Okay, this book sounds amazing. I must go find it now!

    Congratulations on your debut, Lily!

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