Author Jay Asher speaks to Huntington Beach Union High School District students about his book "Thirteen Reasons Why" at Huntington Beach High School on March 22. (KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent / March 22, 2013)

By the time Jay Asher successfully submitted his novel "Thirteen Reasons Why," he had 12 good reasons to call it quits.

The author of the young adult novel, which was chosen as this year's HB Reads selection, got a less-than-encouraging response the first time he mailed a manuscript to a publisher.

Asher labeled his first denial letter the "harshest rejection I've ever received in the 12 years of anything I've ever written."

"Usually when somebody really hates your book, they're not going to waste time on it, telling you what you need to work on," he told students Friday at Huntington Beach High School. "But this person wanted me know everything they hated about my book. She wrote two pages, single-spaced, with bullet points because she wanted me to know everything."

The rejection letters piled up, and Asher saw similarities in each and categorized them. He even went as far as to compare them to different types of breakups in a relationship.

Some rejections he labeled as, "I'm seeing someone else," while others fell into the category "It's not you, it's me."

Eventually, Asher found the perfect match, and the payoff continued last week in Surf City.

Before speaking to a packed gymnasium at Huntington Beach High with students from each high school in the district, the author knew he had to get on their level.

"I try to make it an entertaining presentation because I know a lot of students are big readers," Asher said. "It's funny, when I go to a school and speak, and when they hear the back story about me, they want to go read the book."

Asher used a slideshow to project visuals and cracked jokes at his own expense and others in his life, including his wife, to grab the students' attention Friday morning.

"My speech today is mostly about perseverance because it took me 12 years to write and finally sell a book," he said.

The number 13 is a figure that usually warrants bad luck, but to Asher, it means a whole lot more. The cursed digit also relates to one of the characters in the book, Hannah Baker, who leaves 13 cassette tapes for the main character with each one explaining why she committed suicide.

With a love of puns, Asher initially called his book "A Baker's Dozen," where it correlates with Hannah's last name.

But his publishers changed the title to "Thirteen Reasons Why" because they didn't want readers confusing his fiction for a cookbook.

It took a team of people and various sources of inspiration to help Asher complete the tome. A close relative who survived an attempted suicide aided him in crafting the plot. The idea of cassette tapes came by way of an audio tour of King Tut's tomb at the Luxor Las Vegas.

Wanting to write a suspense novel, Asher drew inspiration from the most suspenseful book he knew: "The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Loveable, Furry Old Grover."

Asher remembers the first time he was read the children's book by his mother. He said he was terrified as his mother read, with Grover asking the reader to stop turning the page.

"I told my mom that Grover is like a hero of mine, and if he says shut the book, let's shut the book," he said. "My mom said, 'No, somebody spent a lot of time writing and illustrating this book, so we're going to read it.' So my mom turns the page. Grover freaks out, so I totally freak out."

By the end of the book, Grover was that monster at the end of the book, relieving Asher's fears, he said.

He used his relationship with Grover as a way to get readers to relate with Hannah and her troubles.

"The main character in the book is usually someone you're identifying with, because the story is being told through this person's mind," Asher said. "As the character gets more and more stressed, the more the tension builds for the reader…And if you're a nice writer, after all this suspense you put them through, hopefully you let the reader know when they close the book, they're kind of hopeful about the world."

anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

Twitter: @acocarpio