How Jennifer Lieberman raised the curtain on her novel series

Jennifer Lieberman

by Timothy Pike

Jennifer Lieberman was twelve years old when she decided she wanted to write—and star in—her own movies and plays. At that age, the Canadian native had already spent years, via fan fiction, writing herself in to popular TV shows, including “Saved by the Bell,” from her home in Maple, Ontario.

“I always enjoyed living in my imagination,” says Jennifer. But in order to create the life she envisioned, she knew she’d have to venture outside of of her head.

So after graduating from college, Jennifer moved to New York to pursue an acting career—and ended up with a lot more. “When an opportunity to work behind the scenes in production came along, I accepted it,” Jennifer says. “That’s how I learned to wear many hats and worked my way up from there, first in theater production, then in film.”

Jennifer’s next move was even bolder: all the way across the country for a chance to strike out on her own. “When I first moved to Los Angeles, a friend suggested I write a showcase piece to let people know I exist,” she says, “so I created a funny, sexy, and heartfelt show to showcase both my writing and acting ability and range. I played ten characters.”

Even though it wasn’t packing the house at first, Jennifer continued to work on it. “Like in the movie La La Land, no one really came,” she tells me, “but I truly enjoyed the process and stuck with developing the piece.”

Jennifer’s tenacity paid off. “The play was accepted into a festival in New York City,” she says, “and went on to win the Audience Choice Award at the festival.”

Then came the spark that ignited the next phase of Jennifer’s career. “After the play’s success in New York,” she says, “I was encouraged to adapt the play into a novel, and it took on a life of its own from there. It’s a racy, coming-of-age comedy loosely based on my own experiences living in New York City in my early twenties.”

That novel, Year of the What?, was originally called Year of the Slut—but Jennifer quickly found out that marketing it would be far from easy. “The title was censored from advertising on Amazon and all social media platforms,” she says. “Three publicists had also turned me down because of the word ‘slut.'”

That’s why, when it launched in 2018, Year of the Slut fell flat. “It was a complete failure,” Jennifer recalls.

Worse, the irony of the situation was impossible to ignore. “It was so frustrating,” she explains, “because the novel is a sex-positive feminist piece that deconstructs a word that is continually used as a weapon against women.”

But Jennifer refused to change the name of the book. “I was beyond resistant,” she says, “and attributed all the success of the original play in New York City to the title.”

After some time, however, Jennifer knew what she had to do. “Eventually I came around,” she says, “and Year of the What? was launched in 2020.”

It worked. Year of the What? took off, winning the Literary Titan Silver Book Award and becoming a #1 Amazon bestseller.

While it’s quite a success story, Jennifer recalls plenty of hurdles along the way. “I abandoned the manuscript several times over many years,” she says. “I am most proud of myself for pushing past the doubt, the insecurity, the rejection, the censorship, the frustration, the tears, and the emotional breakdowns to get to the finish line, because this entire process really showed me what I was made of, both as a creative and an entrepreneur.”

In Jennifer’s mind, her perseverance outweighs all the praise. “All the recognition and accolades are tremendous,” she says, “but the biggest achievement was not giving up on this piece, because I wanted to—and I tried to—so many times.”

“I like to have a road map of where my story is going,” Jennifer explains, “the plot outlined, and characters clearly defined before I write a single word.”

One of Jennifer’s first setbacks came when she tried to find a publisher for her novel—without enlisting an editor to go over her manuscript first. “After many, many rejections, I learned that an editor would be necessary,” she says. “So I asked around, and a friend recommended one to me, and I hired her.”

Unfortunately, that only caused more problems. “Another misstep,” Jennifer admits. “I never interviewed the editor to see if she was a good fit for my work. Her notes were so brutal I couldn’t go back to the manuscript for over a year. Later, it became clear she was just the wrong fit for my writing. She didn’t ‘get’ my work or my vision.”

“Eventually I went back to the manuscript,” Jennifer says, “found the perfect editor for my piece, and was able to move forward.”

“One week of inspired writing,” Jennifer says, “can yield a greater outcome than six months of forced writing.”

If there’s one thing Jennifer has in spades, it’s patience, and the proof is in her slow but deliberate approach to writing. “I’m not the kind of writer who writes every day,” she says. “Since I also work in film and theater as an actor and producer, writing is not my only focus. I’m definitely working things out in my head for multiple stories at a time—all day every day—but I let the pieces tell me when they’re ready.”

And that requires keeping an open mind. “I do, however, make it my job to stay inspired every day,” she says. “I guess you can say that is my ritual, doing things that feed my creativity.”

Once the creativity is flowing, Jennifer can start writing—just as long as certain elements are in place. “I definitely need to have a premise,” she says. “Whether the piece is character driven or story driven, I need to have something specific to say that is screaming its way out of me before I will even sit down to write. I like to have a road map of where my story is going, the plot outlined, and characters clearly defined before I write a single word.”

It doesn’t always go exactly as planned, but as far as Jennifer’s concerned, that’s to her advantage. “Of course, once I start writing I veer off the map,” she says, “the plot evolves, and the characters take on lives of their own. However, that initial preparation is what gives me the freedom and confidence to get lost in the process once I begin.”

If there’s one thing Jennifer has in spades, it’s patience, and the proof is in her slow but deliberate approach to writing.

To writers just starting out, Jennifer imparts her patient wisdom. “It’s going to take time to develop your skills, your style, and to find your voice,” she says. “Some people may tell you to write a certain amount every day even if you don’t feel like it. As I mentioned earlier, that doesn’t work for me, and may not work for every writer. One week of inspired writing can yield a greater outcome than six months of forced writing.”

Currently—one week of inspired writing at a time, I presume—Jennifer is hard at work preparing the next installment. “My next book is Book #2 in the Year of the What? series: Year of the Bitch,” she tells me. “In this book, Dana’s journey toward love and success continues. In the vein of the first book, I am once again deconstructing another word that is used as a weapon against women as they mature and become more assertive, both in life and in the workplace.”

Jennifer plans to raise the curtain on that novel at the end of this year—or early 2023—so gather your patience. It’ll certainly be worth the wait.

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