Jennifer Echols was born in Atlanta and grew up in a small town on a beautiful lake in Alabama—a setting that has inspired many of her books. Her nine romantic novels for young adults have been published in seven languages and have won the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Aspen Gold Readers’ Choice Award, the Write Touch Readers’ Award, the Beacon, and the Booksellers’ Best Award. Her novel Going Too Far was a finalist in the RITA and was nominated by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults. The first book, BIGGEST FLIRTS, in her new series, The Superlatives, just published. Learn more here.
It’s hard to believe that March marked the fifth anniversary of the publication of my Young Adult novel Going Too Far. The book was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award, and it was nominated by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults. I’m proud to say that when my readers suggest a starting place for someone who hasn’t read my work before, they usually name Going Too Far.
And this book almost didn’t happen.
In 2005, after fifteen years of trying, I finally sold my first book. Two books, actually—a YA romantic comedy called Major Crush, about dueling drum majors in a high school marching band, and a second, as-yet-undetermined novel. My editor assured me that this second novel did not have to be a romantic comedy. It could be any sort of YA that struck my fancy, so long as it was not about marching band. As a band geek myself, I would have been happy to write a long string of marching band novels. Apparently I had frightened my editor with this proposal. Not everyone agrees on the marching band’s obvious cool factor and marketability.
I needed to come up with another YA idea—a romantic comedy idea, I decided. Even though I was free to write a different genre, I figured readers would prefer me to stick with one. I had been a fan of the reality show Cops since it first aired in 1989, and I thought the action-filled police beat would make a great backdrop for a plot about two teens doing a ride-along for a school report.
Then I decided the story would be more interesting if one of the teens was doing the ride-along as a “scared straight” punishment after an arrest.
Then I decided the story would be even more interesting if the other teen was the cop. Suddenly this idea sounded so good that I was scared of it, which let me know I was on the right path. After a Google search to make sure nineteen-year-olds can be hired as police officers in some districts, I wrote the book in about three months. In the course of constructing the story, it had turned dark on me and was no longer the comedy I’d envisioned, but my editor said that was okay! Gleefully I sent it off.
My editor said no. This manuscript was too different from Major Crush. A YA novel about police work wasn’t marketable. Could I write another romantic comedy instead?
I did. (It’s called The Boys Next Door, which today is collected along with its sequel in a volume called Endless Summer.) But after about a year and a half, I also found a home for Going Too Far at a different division of the same publisher. Almost two years after that, the book was published. Readers were kind in their praise.
Currently I’m plotting novel seventeen. And I’m keeping in mind that the path to follow is the one so good, it’s scary.