When I got a four-book deal for Pretty Little Liars in 2005, I thought my life was set. Not only did I think I’d make back the advance within the first year (ha!), but I thought things would be a piece of cake from here on out. The books would write themselves. Fans would immediately flock. Everyone would love me. Toiling for hours over puzzling revision letters? Spending copious amounts of time on MySpace and then Facebook? Scrambling with teachers and libraries and local bookstores for events to promote the series? Those things were for mere mortals.
(Keep in mind, I was the kid in elementary school who thought EVERY prize should go to me. And yeah, I got over that pretty quickly, too.)
My first revisions were a wake-up call. Even though I’d ghostwritten six or seven YA novels before PLL, I did not have all the writing answers. Starting a new series– even a new book– meant starting all over again, learning from scratch. My editors wanted so much of the manuscript changed–for good reasons, too. (My main character Aria’s parents used to be into orgies. What teenager wants to read about that?) So I got knocked down a few notches. And when the first book came out, there were definitely dissenters. The angry types on Amazon who just had to review and tell the world that I should be, and I quote, “drawn and quartered” for writing such pulp.
But you know what? Humility is never a bad thing. I threw myself into the second book in the series, making it the best book it could be. And the third, and all of them after that. (There are now seven books in the series, with the eighth and final installment, Wanted, coming out June 8.) In a strange way, negative press actually helped me push the series to a different, scarier, more unique place. (Great editors helped, too.) But writing never got any easier. And now that I’ve started a new YA series (The Lying Game), it’s like starting all over again…again. There’s another silver lining, too: The success of Pretty Little Liars, the way it’s built over the years, the fact that it’s now going to be on television, it’s much sweeter now because even though I assumed it early on, I quickly learned not to expect it. So when it did happen, I was able to feel…gracious. Extremely fortunate. If I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous from the get-go. Settle down, I wish I could have told my younger self. Be patient. Work hard. And stop it with the swelled head.
But what recipient of a four-book deal wants to hear that?
Sara Shepard is the author of the bestselling Pretty Little Liars series, as well as the adult novel The Visibles. Pretty Little Liars premiers for TV on ABC Family on June 8. Read all about PLL here and check out the TV series at ABC Family.