Daniel Aleman, who was born and raised in Mexico City, and now lives in Canada, is the debut author of Indivisible, a YA novel being published by Little, Brown this month. Here, Aleman reflects on the many surprising twists and turns along his route to publication.
My journey to becoming a published author began like many others: with a piece of good news. After years of rejections and shelved manuscripts, I found success with what would become my debut young adult novel, Indivisible, which follows a gay teenager in New York City who must keep his sister safe after his parents, undocumented Mexican immigrants, are detained by ICE. After participating in #DVpit, the Twitter pitch contest created by Beth Phelan, I received multiple offers of representation and signed with one of my dream literary agents, Peter Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media.
With Peter’s guidance, I completed a relatively fast round of revisions, and in January of 2019, he sent my book out to editors. That was when I first realized that my publishing journey would be unusual, albeit in the most wonderful of ways. Within 24 hours of going on submission, two editors had already expressed enthusiasm for the book, and Indivisible went on to sell a week later, in a two book preempt, to Disney-Hyperion.
I remember calling my parents on the day I got the offer and screaming with them on the phone. After dreaming of becoming a published author my whole life, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. That feeling stayed with me during the next 11 months, as I worked on edits for the book, up until December of 2019, when I received a piece of bittersweet news: my editor, Laura Schreiber, had accepted a position at a different publisher. I was thrilled for her, since this move meant a big career jump, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel concerned. Losing a beloved editor is every author’s worst nightmare, especially before publication, and especially as a debut author. After many condolences from fellow writers and reassurances that I was in amazing hands with my new editor, Hannah Allaman, I became confident that this was only a bump in the road.
My new editor was every bit as delightful as everyone had said. She gave me a warm welcome to her team and worked diligently to help us create a book cover that we all loved. Soon enough, I was starting to think about pitching her with my second young adult novel. On February 6, 2020, however, I opened my email account to find an unexpected piece of news. “Welcome to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers,” the headline at the top of my inbox said. The email contained a message explaining that Hachette Book Group had acquired more than 1,000 books from the Disney Book Group, including my own.
A part of me wondered if this was an elaborate phishing scam, since there had been no word from my editorial team at Disney that this was coming. When I forwarded the email to my agent, he confirmed this was legitimate news, and in the hours that followed, more details became evident: Disney would no longer be publishing my debut novel or its follow-up. All former Disney authors would be assigned brand-new editorial, marketing, and publicity teams at Hachette. By eight p.m. that night, I was introduced to my new editorial team, and reality sank in: this was the third editor and the second publishing house I would be working with, even when I hadn’t yet released a single book.
Acquiring more than a thousand books all at once was no small task, but the teams at Hachette managed it with astonishing grace. Within a few weeks, my new editor at Little, Brown, Farrin Jacobs, had read my book and requested to get on the phone with me. “I understand you completed the editorial work while you were still at Disney,” she said to me. “But I have some ideas on how to rework the second half of the book and make it even better.” I will admit that, at first, I was apprehensive. The thought of reopening a book that had already been delivered and accepted felt daunting, but once I heard Farrin’s vision for the story, it became clear that we needed to do this. I was excited about this new direction, and so I agreed to go back to edits.
Sometime during the weeks that followed, while I waited to receive an editorial letter, my agent called me unexpectedly. “I have the worst good news I have ever had to give to anyone,” he said. My book had been selected as a Buzz Pick at the now-defunct BookExpo America, which meant that they wanted to highlight Indivisible as one of the breakout titles of the year. This came with a shiny invitation to New York City and the opportunity to connect with a great amount of readers and industry professionals. The issue was, this was an honor we couldn’t accept. Since we were planning to go back to edits, the book would no longer be running on schedule for BookExpo America. There would be no ARCs ready in time for the event, and a new publication date that we had internally discussed would make the book ineligible for the 2020 Buzz list. My agent and editor went to great lengths to try and make it all work, but ultimately, we had no choice but to decline the honor.
I cried for days, grieving for what felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that had slipped away. Soon enough, however, it was all put into perspective. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Covid crisis a pandemic, and cities around the world went into lockdown. BookExpo America was canceled, only to be re-announced a few weeks later as a virtual event. I received my edit letter and, confined to my apartment with nothing else to do, I reopened the manuscript.
There was something beautiful about returning to a story I had already let go of. I had read these pages for what I’d thought had been the last time, had said goodbye to the characters, and had accepted that they would soon enough belong to readers, and not only to me. But during this new round of edits, I fell back in love with my book. With the help of my editor, I turned a story that I loved into one that I absolutely adored, and working on this book gave me much-needed solace at a time when the world felt lacking in hope.
Once the new version of the book was finalized and the publishing landscape became clearer in light of the pandemic, the prospect of debuting during these difficult times became disheartening, not just to me, but to all of my fellow authors with books out in 2020 and 2021. There would be no in-person launch events, no festivals, no book signings. But within all the disappointment we were each experiencing, we found something else: a community. I have endless admiration for the authors who have published books over the past year—particularly those who debuted at the start of the pandemic. As much as this unprecedented situation has chipped away at our publishing dreams, I’d like to think it has given us fresh perspective and tenacity. I am so proud of all of us for persevering, for boosting each other’s books, and for showing up at one another’s events. Once I started noticing the strong network of support around me, I realized that the pandemic wouldn’t slow us down, and that we were simply going to be forced to turn lemons into lemonade.
There was a phrase in an earlier draft of Indivisible that didn’t make it into the final book. Perhaps I’ll insert it into one of my future manuscripts, because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. “Adversity sucks while you’re going through it, but one day, you might have the opportunity to look around and notice all the unexpected things it brought along with it.”
As I look back on this journey, I am filled with gratitude. My first thought when I reflect back on all this isn’t the fear of losing my acquiring editor, or the uncertainty of switching publishers, or the hurt of missed opportunities. What will stick with me always is the kindness of my agent, who has remained by my side through all these high and lows, relentlessly advocating for me and my book. It is the passion of my editors, without whom this story wouldn’t be what it is today. It is the enthusiasm of my marketing and publicity teams—both at my previous publisher and my new one, the support and friendship I have found in the writing community, and the connections I have formed with readers. If I had to do it all over again, perhaps I’d choose a smoother journey. But perhaps I wouldn’t. Maybe, as I said to my agent jokingly once, “all of this has been sent so I could build a thick skin, and nothing will ever surprise me in the future—no matter how many books we publish.”
I am looking forward to bringing more stories to the world, but for now, I am thankful to bring you this one. With all its highs and lows, with all its twists and turns, Indivisible is a piece of who I am, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share it with readers this spring, all the more so because of the long journey it took to get here.