Nicola Yoon is the author of the bestselling YA novels The Sun Is Also a Star and Everything, Everything, both of which were adapted for film. Raised in Jamaica and Brooklyn, she currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist David Yoon, and their daughter. The pair also founded the Random House imprint Joy Revolution, debuting in 2022, which will publish teen love stories by and about people of color. Nicola’s latest contemporary romance, Instructions for Dancing, is about a girl name Evie who has visions showing her the trajectory of couples’ love stories. We asked the author and her editor, Wendy Loggia, to discuss their latest collaboration.
Wendy Loggia: Can you believe it’s finally June 1? Or as I call it, the best day of the year for Nicola Yoon fans. How did we get here so fast (and I am only half-kidding!)?
Nicola Yoon: Ahhhh, Wendy! I can’t believe we’re so close. It’s been such a long time between books, and there were days I thought we’d never get here. As I’ve been talking about IFD, I’ve also been telling people that I wrote a book before this one that I ultimately had to shelve because it never quite came together. I’m hoping that talking about that failure inspires my fellow or aspiring writers out there to keep going. Sometimes you have to write the wrong thing to get to the right thing.
Loggia: It’s so true, but so hard to do. You put so much of yourself into those pages, and so to walk away from them… it’s a very brave thing to do. For me, it’s been one evolving piece of beautiful writing. Even though that manuscript wasn’t what ultimately became your next book, I felt that it informed so much of what Instructions for Dancing became. I was going through some of our correspondence as we were trying to figure out Nicki Book Three, and gosh, it made me smile, because of course I knew we’d have an incredible book on our hands one day. Everyone here knew it, though sometimes the writer is the last to believe it! And although you have a rabid fan base who would read anything you publish, it was important for it to feel right. How do you know when it feels right?
Yoon: When I start rewriting the same line 100 times, I know it’s time for me to stop and send it to you! And I’ll throw that question back at you because I’ve always been curious: how do you know when a manuscript is done and ready to become an actual book? Also, after the manuscript is ready, what’s your favorite part of the bookmaking process? Is it cover design or jacket copy or something else?
Loggia: Hmmm, I think I know it’s ready when I don’t have any more questions to ask. You don’t want to overwork things. It’s like bread dough; you don’t want to over-knead it. And haha, cover design is my favorite when it’s on the bookshelf and I can admire it, when I can look back at the process and be thrilled with the end result. The getting there can be tough. You know, there are lots of opinions and visions and ideas, and because the cover is such a key aspect of the experience, we are desperate to get it perfectly perfect. You keep raising the bar for stellar written content, for master-class storytelling, so we needed to do the same with our package. With IFD, we wanted it to look both of a piece with your previous beautiful backlist covers and be current and now. I think we really did find that sweet spot. This cover by Renike—I mean… come on. And oh yes, I love writing copy. In fact I’m often late with it because I love doing it so much and I want to do my books justice. I have to get into the copy zone.
Yoon: You are the queen of copy! I’m sure people already know this, but you write wonderful YA romances yourself. Do you edit your own work? :) And do you feel like your editorial brain helps your writing brain?
Loggia: You are very kind. Let’s be honest: my editors save me from myself! I looked at some of the Goodreads reviews for my last book and thought, “Oh, if you had an issue with that, you don’t even know that it could have been much worse!” I do think my editing brain helps my writing brain. But sometimes I know what I should do… but I want to do something else. And then I might try it both ways to see what I like. I’m still trying to wrap my head around your writing everything longhand. That’s just… how?
Yoon: I’ve tried to stop, Wendy. I really have! But for some reason, longhand is the thing that works for me. I think it’s because writing by hand makes me feel free. The process short-circuits my inner editor and I’m able to let my freak flag fly. I actually think some of the weirder or more unconventional parts of my books happen because I write by hand. What about you? Do you have any unorthodox editing strategies?
Loggia: I read first as a fan. It is still so exciting to me that I have the privilege of being an early reader. Maybe even a first reader. So the first read is purely for fun. Then I mull over all the parts I love and what might be strengthened. Then I read again using Track Changes and a notepad. So I guess I edit by hand, kind of!
I have loved watching you grow both as a writer and as an author—very different things, writer and author. What’s been the most surprising part of the past seven years?
Yoon: The most surprising thing is that they’ve happened at all! For such a long time, I didn’t believe this life—this writing life—was possible for me. I grew up fairly poor, and I just didn’t think it was possible to make a living making art. I majored in electrical engineering in college because I wanted to have a stable job and financial security that I didn’t think I could have as a writer. The other surprising thing is just what you said: there really is a difference between being a writer and an author. When I was first starting out, I didn’t know that at all. Being a writer is my passion. Being an author is my job—a job that I love, but still a job. These days, I’m also loving being a co-publisher at Joy Revolution and reading wonderful manuscripts and trying to usher in a new generation of authors of color.
Loggia: I was so excited for you when you quit your finance job. And it blew me away that they didn’t know you were a writer! I bet they know now, LOL.
Yoon: Hee hee. Yeah, I never told anyone at my old job about my writing life. It was too precious to me. I never wanted anyone to ask me how it was going or to casually dismiss it. Writing was just for me and for the people I really loved. The day I left for the last time was great, but also nerve-racking. I’m such a risk-averse person, and I had so much doubt about this new adventure. I told myself I could always go back if the writing thing didn’t work out. On my last day, David helped me pack all my stuff into boxes and walked me out and told me everything was gonna be okay, and luckily, it has been.
Loggia: That’s a great visual, along with very smart advice. I have so many awesome memories of our time together. Two stand out to me, apart from the writing: looking at photos of our kids on our phones when we were at the SCBWI pool party at the Century Plaza, and scarfing down burgers after the premiere of Everything, Everything, crammed into a booth at the Roosevelt Hotel. Ooh, and of course dinner with you and Dave in those early days. Oh, and ALA midwinter in snowy Chicago. Obviously I can’t just name two.
Yoon: I especially remember that first phone call with you when Everything, Everything had gone to auction. I spoke to so many wonderful editors, but I knew you were the one for me five minutes into our call. I also remember sitting in your office and crying when you first gave me the Everything, Everything ARC. My very favorite memory, though, is going to Republique restaurant in Los Angeles and watching how wonderful and gentle you and your daughter were together. That was really special.
Loggia: Awwww. We loved that night.
Loggia: I found out that Everything, Everything debuted at #1 on the New York Times list when I was getting on a bus at Port Authority and Beverly Horowitz called me. I let out a happy scream. I’m sure my fellow passengers appreciated that! Where were you?
Yoon: I was in the living room sitting next to the picture window in our old house. I screamed so loudly that David came running out of the bedroom, convinced that something was wrong. I didn’t expect it at all. I didn’t even imagine that it was possible. After you and I talked and squealed at each other, I drank an entire bottle of champagne. I have no regrets :)
Loggia: So great. I have a hunch there will be more champagne in your future.
Yoon: Did you always know you wanted to be an editor? What’s the Wendy Loggia origin story?
Loggia: I didn’t really know what a career in books would look like, but I knew I wanted one. In sixth grade I was the “Author Day hostess” at my elementary school. We sent handwritten letters to authors and illustrators and invited them to have lunch with us. It was a very fancy affair in the school library, and I remember every detail vividly. I’m pretty sure it was all I talked about for weeks, much to my parents’ dismay. I wrote to Hardie Gramatky, the illustrator of Little Toot. He had sadly passed away, but I received the kindest letter, on Beverly Cleary Ramona stationery, from Dell Yearling Books. I still have the letter. And now I edit Yearling titles. That and working in three different bookstores—an indie, a chain, and a U.K. bookstore—were the definitive moments that pushed me forward!
Yoon: 2020 was the longest of all the years. As an editor, are you ready to read stories about that time yet, or is it too soon?
Loggia: Not that I wouldn’t read them—and we did publish a wonderful short-story collection of love during lockdown—but right now I really want to escape and be uplifted. If I could live in a Nicola Yoon and Joy Revolution reading bubble for the next year or two, with a few thrillers sprinkled in to keep me on my toes, I’d be happy with that.
Yoon: Yup, I totally agree. Love stories and thrillers are what the world needs now.
Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte, $19.99 June ISBN 978-1-5247-1896-1