6 Tips on Writing from Jay Asher (13 Reasons Why)

From an interview in the 2009 edition of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, Jay Asher—author of Thirteen Reasons Why—shares six writing tips for authors looking to break in.
Publish date:

13 Reasons Why released on Netflix at the end of March and immediately received positive reviews from audiences and critics. The series was adapted from Jay Asher’s New York Times Bestselling novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, published in 2007.

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13 Reasons Why

In the book, Clay Jensen comes home from high school to find an anonymous box of cassette tapes on his doorstep. When he listens to the first tape, he hears the voice of Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who, two weeks earlier, committed suicide. She says there are 13 reasons why she took her life, with each side of each tape explaining one of those reasons. And if the person listening received the box of tapes, he or she is one of the reasons why.

Digging through Writer’s Digest Books’ archive of past editions of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, I discovered the 2009 edition featuring an interview with Jay Asher by CWIM’s former editor, Alice Pope.

Asher’s interview covers what sparked the novel, promotional work, blog posts, entries into writing competitions, and much more. I pulled six important writing tips—particularly those writers looking to break in—to share today:

1. Always Persist:

I went through three agents, two middle grade novels, a chapter book series, and too many picture books before I struck gold.

2. Work with Other Writers:

My critique group [kept me going]. For several years, I met every two weeks with S.L.O.W. for Children (San Luis Obispo Writers for Children). Not only did they help me improve my storytelling, but they were my refuge when people in the “adult world” saw writing for children or teens as a cute little hobby.


3. Embrace Your Inner Muse:

I never wanted to write a serious novel, or even a novel for teens, until this idea hit me. I wanted to write humorous books for younger readers. But when the idea hit, I just couldn’t let it go.

4. Find Ways to Capture Attention:

When you realize how many writers are currently trying to get published, it can seem impossible. So I aimed to make my manuscript stand out within the first sentence of my cover letter. I’m sure a lot of great manuscripts are rejected because of the frame of mind an editor’s in when they read it. If you read 20 horrible manuscripts in a row, it’s going to be hard to get excited about that next manuscript … or even keep a completely open mind. So I entered every contest around so I could highlight the manuscript as an award-winner from the beginning. [Thirteen Reasons Why won the 2003 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant for Unpublished Authors and the Smartwriters.com Write-It-Now Award.] I don’t think there’s anything an author can do differently with a contest that they shouldn’t be doing while seeking publication. It’s all about keeping the reader reading.

5. Exercise Patience with Agents and Editors:

It was tempting, especially after years of rejections, to jump at the slightest hint of interest. But I wanted to make sure I found the perfect editor, and I knew an agent would help me do that.

6. Have Fun!

It took me 12 years to sell my first book—but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve had so much fun along the way and made lifelong friends by taking full advantage of things like SCBWI conferences and working on my blog. This is a business, but it’s also an art. So have fun!


Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market 2017 is the trusted resource you need. Inside you'll find more than 500 listings for children's books markets (publishers, literary agents, magazines, contests, and more), including a point of contact, how to properly submit your work, and more. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.

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