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Unless you are the most experienced person living on the Earth, I think it would be pretty difficult not to learn anything at all while publishing your debut novel. Even harder when your debut novel is about a topic like mental illness—or, in the case of my debut, Made You Up, paranoid schizophrenia. I’ve learned a lot in the last half year, and while I can’t lay it all out in a blog post, I can sum the most important points.
A lot of people have been asking me about the book, what the process has been like, and if I have any advice, so I hope this helps. So here they are: the top five things I learned while publishing Made You Up.
- Do your research. I didn’t have to actually learn this one, and I’m sure I don’t have to explain it to you. If you’re writing about a mental illness, you have to do your research. Maybe you have or have had the illness you’re writing about. Maybe one of your family members or friends has/had it. In either of those cases, you’re already ahead of the game, but research is always important.
- Go 100%. I wrote a book about a girl with paranoid schizophrenia. There is no way—at least not that I know of in this day and age—to write a book about a main character with a serious mental illness and not have the book be about that mental illness. About the stigmas and fear that come along with it. You don’t put mental illness in a story to give your character an amusing/unusual trait. If you’re going to do it, do it. Talk about it. Make people know you’re writing about it for a reason.
- Brace for rejection. This is a thing that happens. It happens with all kinds of diverse books—books about PoC protagonists, disabled protagonists, protagonists of different sexualities. The dreaded “We already have one of those books in our list” rejections. Yes, it happens with mental illnesses, too. Yes, it is still frustrating.
- Listen and learn. What I have found so far from Made You Up is that there is no consensus on its actual portrayal of paranoid schizophrenia. I wish I could say everyone loved it and said it was perfect, but there are people on both sides of the fence. Some loved it and thought it was honest and sensitive; others positively hated it. I’ve listened to both sides of this and tried to absorb everything I could. I can’t change anything in Made You Up, but I can learn from this for my future work.
- Stay loose [or: Have fun]. Made You Up would not be Made You Up if I hadn’t had fun with the characters and the story. You’re writing about a serious topic, so please give it the respect it deserves, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. That doesn’t mean your characters have to behave like lesson-teachers instead of real people. That doesn’t mean the whole book has to be doom and gloom. People with mental illnesses can still laugh; your readers should be allowed to laugh along with them.
Francesca Zappia lives in Indiana and majors in Computer Science at the University of Indianapolis. She spends most of her time writing, reading, drawing, and playing way too much Pokémon. You can find her on Twitter @ChessieZappia, Tumblr, and on her website.
.@ChessieZappia shares 5 things she learned while publishing a book about mental illness. (Click to tweet)