A question from blog commenter, Natalia Sylvester, inspired me to write this post about how I got a two book deal. I’ll share my story in hopes that any writers reading this do something very important:
Before I get to the specifics, I’ll take you back to some wise words from Donald Maass at his Breakout Novel Intensive Conference I attended in September. He said that the most common complaint of his authors was that they wish they had the time they’d had before publication to write stories. Many publishers expect a book each year once they sign you, and this can be quite a challenge.
When I finished HEMINGWAY’S GIRL and sent the book on submission to agents and eventually, to publishers, I was tempted to lean back, relax, and play more Jewelquest. After all, I’d just completed two and a half years of devotion to the book. I felt as if I deserved a break.
But something happened; I didn’t want a break. An obsession with a new historical figure had been brewing. While my agent submitted my novel to publishing house editors, I fed my new obsession and felt a story growing around it.
Then, an editor from Penguin wanted to speak to me on the phone. She loved HEMINGWAY’S GIRL and had many questions for me about the story and about my background. We had a great chat about the novel, but she was also very interested in what I was currently writing. My level of interest for my new subject was such that I was able to speak clearly on the new novel. It showed the editor that I was a serious writer interested in a career. I believe that question was the deal maker.
Writers, I know that saving the final revision on a novel is a moment of extreme triumph. Crafting a novel is an emotional journey–ask the spouse and family of anyone involved. When you complete a novel you do deserve to breathe for a bit, recharge your battery, and reset your mind for a new journey. If you need a significant amount of time, however, I’d recommend holding off on the query process until you are ready to jump into a new novel. There are several reasons for this:
First, it will give you something to focus on so you don’t obsess over agent/editor responses to your work. Nothing stifles creativity like a self-addressed stamped envelope carrying a form letter rejection. If you invest all of your energy and emotions into one project it places too much importance on it.
Second, when you do get an editor interested in your work, you will have an answer for, “What are you working on now?” I now know, firsthand, how important it is to have an answer to this question.
There is one final reason you should be working on your next novel: your readers. I self-published my first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, and was blessed to have had wonderful reader responses. The most common, however, sometimes made me feel wrung out. It was this:
“When can I read your next one?”
Don’t get me wrong, this is music to a writer’s ears. On the wrong kind of day, however, it actually sounds like this:
“When can you mine history for obscure facts, make dozens of time lines, uncover universal themes important enough to share, while packaging them neatly within three hundred pages splattered with your deepest fears, longings, and judgments for my consumption?”
Let me reemphasize, the former are words every writer longs to hear and provide the best possible compliment, but if you don’t have something ready to say in response, a dissatisfying experience in communication results for all involved.
Writers, if you are able, keep working on the next project. Life gives us both welcome and unwelcome breaks from writing that are beyond our control. If you’ve finished a story, recharged, and have the time and energy, start your next project. Your editor, the world, and your SELF will thank you for it.
*Photo courtesy of PszczolaM at DeviantArt.com
This is my first post in my “After the Deal” series, designed to help inform writers and curious readers about the traditional publishing process. Today, I’ll talk about the deal memo and the contract.
Once all of the hoopla, champagne drinking *hiccup*, and general madness settles after the offer, the business of writing begins. My agent and I received a deal memo from my publisher that outlined the basic terms of the contract that we’d agreed upon. Some of the information covered included: advance numbers for books one and two, a payout schedule for the advances, a listing of territory & other subsidiary rights, and royalty percentages.
ADVANCES AND SCHEDULES
Advances are typically paid in three installments we’ll call thirds (though they don’t always divide up equally into thirds.) The first third is paid upon signing the physical contract. The second third is paid upon delivery and acceptance of edits. The final third is paid on the publication date.
Most people outside of publishing (and let’s face it, most writers) think a huge advance is a good thing; and it is, but with it comes a lot of pressure. If you don’t earn out a huge advance, things can get a little dicey. That’s why it’s so important to have a great agent who can help you strike a balance between a good, fair advance sum and one that sets you up for success.
I am very blessed to have a two book deal, and the benefit of that is that the two timelines run concurrently. While I’m working on edits for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, I’ll also need to work on planning and drafting the second book. The first draft of my second book will most likely be due before the publication date of HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. I’ll also be able to work with my editor at the publisher throughout the process on idea development, synopsis and scene reads, and troubleshooting for my second book.
My publisher had a scheduling meeting last week and has marked September of 2012 as the release date for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. Now that we have that date, we are able to set the target dates for edits and drafts of both books.
It will take four to six weeks for the contracts department to complete the contract, and my editor plans on getting me the revision report for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL by this summer. In the meantime, I’m working furiously on completing research for my second book so I may begin drafting it.
One of the most exciting things about publishing is the breadth of possibilities for reaching readers. My publisher has World English, ebook, and audio rights to my books specified in the deal. My agent was able to retain foreign rights and film/performance rights. My agent works at a boutique agency, so she has a subagent who will work to sell my books in foreign markets. It’s nice to have a balance of division of rights so both the publisher and author are satisfied.
Doesn’t that word have a nice ring to it? It’s the target for all authors, because if you’re earning royalties you’ve earned out your advance money and made your publisher very happy. This makes for a healthy long term relationship in publishing.
Writers, if you have anything you’d like to add, please include it in the comments. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email me directly.
The last two weeks have been very quiet on my blog, but they’ve been very active in my life. If you haven’t already heard, I’m thrilled to announce that NAL/Penguin offered me a two book deal for my novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, and my current WIP (work in progress.) This happened while I was on the North Carolina coast with my family last week. Needless to say, negotiating contracts with an agent and editor while sharing a beach house with three families and five boys under the age of nine is a challenge; but God bless my family for herding the children out of the house so I could hide inside, on the phone.
The week after the deal involved a roller coaster of emotions, announcements, and organization and I’ve finally (for the minute) settled into a joyfully optimistic professional working mode. The biggest mental adjustment I’ve had to make in this process is to fully acknowledge that I now have a full time job and I work for someone else. When I self-published my first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, and even as I thought about self-publishing HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, I worked at my own pace and made all decisions myself. That has changed, and I’m ready to embrace that change and take my writing to the next level.
All along this process I’ve read so much about how to get an agent and a publisher, but I’ve read almost nothing about what happens after the deal. I’m going to blog about my own experiences in hopes of shedding light on the process for other writers.
But today, I’m just going to celebrate. I’ve dreamed about this since I was a child, and I want to be mindful of this fresh new place and all of the promise it holds before it becomes my reality.
Thank you for all of your well wishes and encouragement. So many of you have given me so much along the way. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude to my husband, children, parents, family, writing partner, and friends for how they’ve supported me.
Some of you have recently asked why I’ve decided to try the traditional route to publishing HEMINGWAY’S GIRL after self-publishing RECEIVE ME FALLING. Here’s why I made my decision.
I self-published RECEIVE ME FALLING for a number of reasons. It was very hard for a first time novelist with no other publishing credits or audience of any kind to find an agent, especially when that novel crossed genre lines. I felt very passionately about the story, however, and had a number of friends and book clubs asking to read it. I also knew that since the book was partially set in Annapolis, I’d be able to market it successfully close to home. I knew I’d have to work very hard marketing the book whether I had a traditional publisher or not, so I decided to self-publish, see what kinds of sales and reviews I could get, and then try to get an agent in the future if I met success.
I’ve been very pleased with my decision and feel very thankful for the readers and book clubs who have so enthusiastically supported me and my book. I also couldn’t have done it without the best husband, kids, and family ever.
THE NEXT NOVEL
In the meantime, I started working on a second novel set in Hemingway’s Key West, started blogging, and started expanding my platform in writing by guest blogging, hosting litchats on Twitter, joining various writing organizations, and attending lots of writing conferences. After about two years of writing, revising, and editing based on personal and professional editor feedback, I felt that HEMINGWAY’S GIRL was ready for publication.
I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to self-publish. On the plus side, the book would be ready to sell within a couple of months, the book clubs I attended were eager to read another novel by an author who visited them, and I had great results with local book stores (indie and chain) who were willing to stock future novels for me. On the minus side, distribution of paper books was a challenge. I also felt that HEMINGWAY’S GIRL had much broader geographic appeal that my first novel, so I wanted it in book stores nationally, or even internationally. Finally, no matter how many great reviews or positive reader letters I received, I confess that I wanted professional validation.
THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING & MY DECISION
Something else is weighing on my mind. With the simple ebook publishing packages currently available, I foresee a flood of inferior, self-published books hitting the virtual shelves. There’s not going to be a lot of quality control out there, and I think that readers are going to look to tried and true publishers for a polished product. I want my second book in that camp.
There are no guarantees. Even with an agent, finding an editor at a publishing house can be a challenge. Even finding an editor doesn’t make the book in print a guaranteed outcome. All I can do is work as hard as I can to write the best book I can, and pray for a little luck.
I’ve gotten a number of emails over the past week from non-writer friends that read, “Congratulations on your agent! Now what does that mean?” As someone who’s been absorbed in this process for nearly a decade I sometimes forget that others don’t eat, sleep, and breathe publishing, so thank you for those of you who’ve asked. Below and in future posts, I will VERY GENERALLY walk you through the process. Keep in mind that I’m only speaking for fiction since non-fiction is a very different animal.
Once an author has a completed manuscript that she would like others to read on a large scale (and has edited and revised that manuscript to death based on feedback from savvy, critical eyes outside of her household) it’s time to find a publisher. There are three basic choices (and a million offshoots): self publishing, small press publishing, or large house publishing.
Self and small press publishing do not require an agent. Large publishers generally do require an agent. An agent is an advocate for the author and is able to use her experience and connections to help authors navigate all aspects of publishing, including: providing editorial feedback on a manuscript, finding an editor at a publishing house as passionate about the work as the agent and author, handling contract negotiations with publishers, selling foreign, film, or other subsidiary rights, and many more specialties.
I had many great experiences self-publishing my first novel, Receive Me Falling, and I’m very glad I did it. RMF had a lot of interest in my hometown, Annapolis, because it was partially set there, so grassroots marketing made sense. For my current novel Hemingway’s Girl, however, I wanted to reach a larger audience. In truth, I also wanted some sort of external professional validation.
I researched agents, paying particular attention to those who had a keen interest in historical fiction, and was beyond thrilled when my top pick, Kevan Lyon, offered to represent me. It was a dream come true when I got the call from her, and I still get a thrill every time I think of it.
I’m currently working on a final set of revisions with Kevan. Then, with the help of her agency partner, Jill Marsal, we’ll craft a pitch letter. Kevan will pitch my project to editors at publishing houses to try to find a good match for the book and get me started on the process of working with a large house.
The only downside to this set up is the time it will take for Hemingway’s Girl to become available. First we have to find a publisher (in this increasingly difficult market), and then it usually takes about eighteen months before the book hits the shelves. Holding Hemingway’s Girl back from my wonderful readers who keep asking for it is a challenge.
I’ve always used this blog to talk about my writing process and experiences with self-publishing , and I’ll continue to talk about the process now that I’m trying traditional publishing. I want to formally thank my readers and book clubs for their interest and enthusiasm. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have them, and thank you for taking this journey with me.
Today, I’m guest posting at Hallie Sawyer’s blog, “Write for Me” on Hemingway’s influence on my writing. There’s also a chance to win a free, signed copy of my first novel, Receive Me Falling, if you leave a comment.
I hope to see you there!
“I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought, You belong to me…”
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
This theme of writers using others–those with a kind of power or rank using those without it–is prevalent in my work in progress, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. It was inspired by Hemingway’s relentless use of his friends, enemies, and acquaintances in his fiction. He didn’t even always go to the trouble of disguising their names, and when confronted by them, passed it off as satire. ”Can’t you take a joke?”
I’m careful in my own fiction about using others. To say that I’ve never done so would be a lie. After all, what am I but the blend of words I’ve read, songs I’ve heard, a million conversations with thousands of people, an application of trend, time, civilization, geography, and religion. I’m the mathematical sum of all of my literal and figurative experience, so my fiction is naturally a product of it. It has to be.
But I’m not just a transmitter. I don’t record in the same manner a camera takes pictures, moving or otherwise. I have choices. I can create the myth I want to create, manipulate the facts, produce the evidence I want to convince others of what I’m trying to say. There’s power in that, but there’s also responsibility.
If you’re given a camera at a wedding, where do you point the lens? Do you take pictures of the best man groping a married woman, an underage cousin drunk and sick in the potted plants, the father of the bride arguing with the hotel manager over the bill? Or do you turn the lens to the newly wedded couple, forehead to forehead, while they dance to their song? The old woman seemingly watching her granddaughter, but seeing the ghost of her young self as a new bride? The nieces and nephews in undone buttons and untied ribbons, glorying in eating cake for dinner and the freedom of up-past-bedtime?
Writers, artists, musicians, everyone, the choice is yours. It’s all there before you. The question is where do you put your focus and why do you put it there? We could debate the merits of optimism versus pessimism, but I think the bottom line is that the artist, the writer, the transmitter must render her subjects true-ly without diminishing or exploiting them.
What about you? Where do you point your lens? Do you prefer to tell the tales from the shadows or the dance floor? Do you represent specific people or kinds of people in your work?
(This blog post was inspired by Dani Shapiro’s post On Being an Outsider.)
*Photo courtesy of Altingfest at Deviantart.com*
In case you’ve been wondering why it’s been all review, review, review around here lately, it’s because I’m in a transitional place and it’s hard for me to articulate everything that’s going on. It’s difficult for me to talk about my personal life here (maybe I’ll do that some day) but for now, I’ll update you on what’s going on with my book.
I felt really, really great for about two hours.
I completed the eighth draft of my novel, Hemingway’s Girl, sent it out to my beta readers, critique book clubs, and finally, my editor. I became eager for others to read it and got excited for preliminary feedback.
But then, the sleeplessness started. The fear. The doubt. Obsession over word choice. Worry that I shouldn’t have cut that character after all. Wondering if I was too subtle in my theme building, or worse, too overt.
This state of anxiety will be my existence for awhile, though, so I need to steel myself. Here’s why:
First, imagine me, curled up at my cozy desk with classical music playing, hot coffee and dark chocolate within reach, and an Ernest Hemingway picture looking moodily past me. I’m probably wearing pjs since it’s most likely approaching midnight, the house is quiet, my mini schnauzer is curled up nearby making little dog sleep noises. I’m making up stories and happily lost in a world of my own creation.
Well now, it’s time to come out of that world and enter the bright, noisy, cold, coffeeless-pjless-schnauzerless world of publishing. I have to perfect my logline to have ready for the “elevator pitch,” condense my 85,000 word novel into two pages, and try to make someone fall in love with Hemingway’s Key West the way that I have. Once I get everyone’s critiques around the third week in January, I’ll have to dig into my final set of revisions before the querying process begins. Also around that time, I’ll be heading off to another writing conference and pitching my book to agents. I’ll get three minutes to pitch before moving onto the next line. It will be a bit like speed dating, and for a girl who married her high school sweetheart, quite daunting.
But let me be honest. I romanticized the writing process up there a bit. More than likely, I was staring at my screen, willing myself not to click over to Twitter or my blog roll, yelling at a boy-child to get himself a drink so I could finish a scene, and cursing through my poorly organized research folders, looking for an obscure street name, or date, or timeline. None of it’s easy, but it’s all necessary to the process.
Anyway, I want to thank you for sticking around with me on this journey. Your support has buoyed me more than you know. Your encouragement is my fuel. You make it seem much warmer and cozier in the world outside of my office, and you have my sincere gratitude for that.
I wish you all the best this holiday season.
I’ve been stalled out on revisions this week because of a really boring scene in my book. It’s embarrassing for me to write this, but if I don’t out myself I’ll continue running on this mouse-wheel forever. Tonight, I give myself permission to cut the scene.
Yet I recoil at the thought. For some reason, I can’t part with this scene about a young woman taking a dress from her mother’s closet. I know! So boring, right? But it’s about so much more than that. It’s the particular dress she chooses. It represents a power shift. It shows a savvy move in a mother-daughter chess game. I have to find a way to keep it.
At the BONI workshop I attended with Donald Maass in September, he read us an opening scene in a novel about a man staring at a white ceiling in a hospital. It was riveting. He read it to illustrate the point that a scene about a man staring at a white ceiling can be compelling if it’s infused with emotional tension. He also told us that he believes good authors have instincts about what to include in a book, and those instincts should be respected. We have to devote a lot of work to drawing out the inner meaning of awkward scenes before we let them go.
I have to figure out a way to infuse this dress scene with emotional tension so the reader can’t tear herself away from it. That’s my challenge. If I don’t succeed before I go to bed tomorrow night, I’m deleting it.
*Photo by ~Evangeline-Theodora at DeviantArt.com
Question: What is in this picture?
Did you guess that it is the disinterred body of a young TB patient who died in Key West in 1931, preserved in wax, formaldehyde, and other materials for almost a decade in the house of the aged doctor who’d fallen in love with her?
Well, it is.
For George Karl Tänzler (aka Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel), the day that Elena de Hoyos walked into the marine hospital in Key West with tuberculosis, was the day he finally felt that he found his true love. It didn’t matter to him that he was in his fifties, and she was barely twenty years old–he thought her the incarnation of a vision he’d had of a dark haired beauty who was to be his destiny. Little did she know that she would be his twisted, strange destiny as a corpse, unable to rest, preserved, worshiped, and interfered with by a man with a bazaar obsession.
Despite Tanzler’s best efforts, Elena died at the age of twenty-two. Two years after Elena’s death, Tanzler couldn’t stand to think of her rotting under the ground. He exhumed her body, took it home, and rebuilt her as she decomposed. He believed she asked him to do so, and thought he’d build them a rocket to take them into outer space.
Seven years later, when Elena’s sister could no longer deny the rumors and confronted Tanzler, his secret was out. The body was put on display for thousands of viewers before it was buried in a secret grave to protect her. Tanzler was put on trial, but the statute of limitations had run out, and he was freed. Many local accounts actually treat Tanzler as a sympathetic figure–one who was so hopelessly in love he lost his head. Others recognized him as a pervert of the highest degree.
I found this fascinating and twisted little anecdote while researching for my Hemingway novel, and yes, Von Cosel is a character in the book. How could he not be?
So what do you think? Hopeless romantic (cringe) or disgusting necrofiliac?