As promised, today we’re peeling back the curtain a bit to show what happens behind the scenes as a book goes from a query to a book deal. My client Jennifer Hubbard is the author of the young adult novel BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD, which will be published late 2009/early 2010 by Viking. It’s her debut novel. She also has a wonderful blog on writing.
BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD has an incredible plot: When popular teenager Julia Vernon dies in a car accident, no one knows why Colt Morrissey would care — they didn’t even say hello in the school hallways. But at the time of her death, Julia and Colt had been harboring an intense secret: they had been hooking up in fleeting moments, away from the view of their classmates, including Julia’s boyfriend.
A few days after the funeral, Colt discovers Julia’s diary, which is full of unsent letters that poetically describe how much she cared for him and wanted to be with him, but she didn’t have the courage to send them when she was alive. As he struggles to cope and move on, the letters keep pulling Colt back to their intense romance as simmering class issues ignite the town.
It’s just an amazing book, the writing is beautiful and moving, and Jennifer is a pro who has done her research about the publishing industry and is a pleasure to work with.
So how did it all happen?
Here’s Jennifer’s guest post:
When Nathan invited me to blog here, I thought you might want to know what a client’s side of the story is like. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that he doesn’t discuss the details of his clients’ business, such as works in progress, deals in progress, etc. Published books just magically appear along the right margin of the blog! But I am willing to demystify the process a little.
Not that there’s so much mystery involved. I signed with Nathan not as a result of knowing any magic words or secret handshakes, not as a result of being related to him, and not as a result of cocktail-party schmoozing. (As if I’ve ever been to a cocktail party in my life.) If I knew any magic words, I would tell you. Or sell them at an entirely reasonable price.
I first found Nathan’s blog through a link. I wasn’t looking to add to my daily blog-reading at that point, but there was a lot of good information, so I marked it as a weekly read. But I quickly upgraded it to daily, because aside from all the practical information I found here, it was just plain fun to read. Even though I didn’t share Nathan’s infatuation with something called The Hills, I still got the jokes.
Which is not to say that it’s essential for a client and agent to have the same sense of humor. But it helps. In fact, nothing helps a person weather the publishing business like a sense of humor.
Aside from reading this blog (and particularly the posts listed in the right margin under “The Essentials: Please Read Before You Query,” such as “Anatomy of a Good Query Letter,” “How to Format Your Query Letter,” etc.), I did some other research: consulting reputable databases, reading online interviews (an amazing number of agent-interview transcripts are out there in cyberspace), and so forth. I read a couple of Nathan’s clients’ books, including one in the genre I was querying.
I worked on my query letter for about a week. At the last minute, I pared it down, cutting some subplot details out of my synopsis. I figured that when you’re writing to someone who receives hundreds of unsolicited emails every week, shorter is better. And if my main plot wasn’t good enough to pique interest, no subplot was going to do it.
My query letter went like this:
An introductory statement about what kind of project I had (YA novel).
A sentence or two about why I was querying Nathan, specifically. This part included a reference to the blog, and a reference to the clients’ books that I had read and liked.
A brief synopsis of my book (about 150 words, summarizing the secret relationship and the death around which my story revolves).
A sentence or two about my writing experience (I have had several literary short stories published; I named two of the journals).
This query yielded a request for a partial, which yielded a request for the full manuscript. When I got the request for the full, I pulled together a list of questions for prospective agents, which came in very handy when Nathan called that week.
I will say one thing about that call. Writers sometimes get letters that say, in essence, “You have talent, you have a good story here, but I don’t quite have that special connection with it…” Which can lead to a muttered, “Heck, if it’s good enough, why can’t they just take it anyway?” But the truth is that it’s better to have someone who’s excited about the manuscript. Only an enthusiastic editor or agent is going to do it justice. Nathan was excited about my book, and that call was worth waiting for.
He suggested some edits on the manuscript, and then shepherded my work into the hands of editors. While he did that, I worked on new projects. I managed to distract myself so thoroughly that when I got The Call, the Book Offer Call, Nathan may have thought he had just roused me from a coma. I suppose many authors shriek or jump up and down when they get The Call. I did not. I’m not much of a jumper and shrieker anyway; most game shows would never want me as a contestant.
Rather, I digested the news slowly, like the rich meal that it was.