BURNT HILLS & BALLSTON LAKE When filling out college applications, in addition to listing that she is on the cross-country team and was assistant director for the middle school Drama Club, 16-year-old Erin Billings can say she is a published author.
Billings, a junior at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, has written a book of fiction, “Sincerely,” about a 16-year-old girl with cerebral palsy named Lucy who is having difficulty fitting in at school.
Billings said she has wanted to be a writer since she read the “Harry Potter” series.
“I absolutely loved it and wanted to create something kids would love,” she said.
Writing opened up a new side of her personality.
“I’m able to express sides of me that I don’t really express at school. I’m very shy at school. I don’t talk that much. I can put a lot of thoughts into words,” she said.
She said she had so many ideas in her head, she had to start writing. Billings set a goal of having something published before she graduated next year.
She began the book during spring break in April 2011 and worked on it after school and on weekends.
Billings, who is not disabled, decided to build a story around a character with a disability because she believes they have been bullied.
“I wanted to give the people who were being bullied a voice,” she said.
She said she hasn’t experienced bullying firsthand, but she knew it was a timely topic in the news and in schools.
The story begins with Lucy, who has a speech impediment and uses a wheelchair, suffering a seizure in class and nobody helps her. Lucy does not have many friends.
“Most people think that she’s not very bright,” she said.
Without revealing too much of the plot, Billings said that throughout the story, Lucy is confronted with personal tragedy, but gains friends along the way.
“I wanted to put the message out there that you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” Billings explained. “You should get to know somebody.”
Billings also didn’t know much about cerebral palsy, a group of disorders that affect nervous system functions. After the book came out, she said she was lucky enough to meet a girl with the condition who also wants to be an author.
The hardest part for Billings was when she would periodically get writer’s block. To get herself unblocked, she would jump ahead to the next major plot point in the story and then later work on the transitions.
Billings finished the book around the end of June 2011, and friends and family read it over the summer to make suggestions. Her sister, Emma, came up with the title “Sincerely,” because the book is written in diary form and Lucy signs each of her entries that way. The reason is eventually revealed in the book.
Billings was then exposed to the difficult world of publishing — especially as a first-time, high-school author. Publishing companies don’t know who you are, she said.
She got a break in November when her mother read an article about a start-up publishing company — Open Door Publishers of Malta — that was holding meetings for new authors. She gave her manuscript to the publishers.
“After a week or two, they accepted it,” she said.
Publisher Ladean Warner had a couple editors read over the novel and make revisions, and Billings also made a round of revisions. Around February or March, the book was sent to the printers, and in late May, it came out in an electronic version. One thousand printed copies followed.
Billings recalled feeling “fantastic.”
“I was so incredibly happy when I got the book in my hand. I couldn’t believe that I’d accomplished this. It was my dream,” she said.
People can order copies of the book at opendoorpublishers.com, and it is also available on Amazon.com. The cost is $14.95, plus tax.
Billings will be holding a book signing at Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady on Oct. 20 from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
Billings, who plans to study writing at college, encouraged other prospective writers not to give up. “If this is your dream, just go after it. If you want it that badly, you’ll be able to get it,” she said.