Monday, July 17, 2006

My Story, From Saga to Sale

Here We Go: My Story, From Saga to Sale

Okay, so as I mentioned below, I thought I'd take this week (or however long people want) to share my story about how I landed the book deal for THE DEPARTMENT OF LOST AND FOUND (Morrow, May 2007). From there, please feel free to send me any questions you might have about the query/agent/publishing process, and I'll do my best to answer. If I can't answer, I'll try to tap into a friend or resource who can. You can email me at allison@allisonwinn.com (if you want anonymity) or just post your question in the comment box.

So...here we go.

It all began about 4-5 years ago: I was a relatively successful magazine writer (more on that next week - happy to answer those questions too, so fire them to me whenever they strike), but wanted to branch out, so I started banging out a ms whenever inspiration struck. Like a lot of aspiring novelists, I got half way done and more or less gave up. Another year went by, and I added some more, but I couldn't finish the damn thing. (This is at least part of the reason that agents demand a completed ms from you: who knows when and how you'll finish it!) Finally, in the summer of 2004, just before my son was born, I figured that if I didn't finish it then, I'd NEVER finish it, so I joined an online writers' group, got my butt in gear, and cranked it out, wrapping up the ms two weeks before my babe popped out. So this was in October of '04.

In January of '05, I started querying agents, (exclusively by email, I should add), and I signed with one in late-Feb. (And yes, I do think this was a rather short query period, compared to the average, but I'm guessing that my magazine credits helped open doors that might not have otherwise been opened. But all of my queries were blind, regardless.) Anyway, the book needed a lot of work - first novels are VERY hard to do perfectly and often very rough, even when you think it's genius (trust me, I did) - but my agent really helped me overhaul the whole ms until it was ready to go. We sent it out in late-April and received glowing, glowing notes. Alas, glowing as they were, they were rejections. Several editors asked for revisions and a resubmit, but my agent thought it was smarter to simply write a second book and go back out with it, since most of the editors - even those who rejected it flat-out - asked to see my next work. Sigh. And *$%^!. That's pretty much how I felt. Oh, and demoralized too. Let's not forget that!

But by June, I was writing again, and by August, I was actually done with the next ms. (This was a personal subject, so it was very easy for me to write.) My agent and I went through several rounds of revisions until she said she was happy with it. She just wanted to get one more read within the agency. So imagine my surprise when she called me a week later and said that she didn't love the book, that she thought it would do "more harm than good for my career" to send it out, and gave me three options: 1) we could revise book #1 and send it back out, 2) I could start on another ENTIRELY NEW book, or 3) I could break the contract and seek other representation. Sigh. And *$%^!. That's pretty much how I felt. Oh, and demoralized too.

Actually, this time, I only felt demoralized for about 1/2 a second. See, I KNEW that this book was excellent. I KNEW that it was 10x better than the first, and that my agent's opinion was just one opinion. (Granted, I also had some outside readers' opinions as well, all of whom told me the book was great.) So...I made the scary but still thrilling leap of parting very amicably with my agent and getting back on the query bandwagon. As soon as I walked away from agent #1, I knew it was the right thing to do. I felt liberated and fabulous about leaving a person who only half-heartedly believed in the book (she admitted as much, so I don't think it casts her in a bad light to say this) and was determined to find someone who loved it as much as I did. Because the book was so much stronger this time around, I received a lot of agent interest immediately. Within three weeks (by early December of '05), I had several offers of representation and signed with my current agent who, quite possibly, loved the book even more than I did.

From there, we did some minor tweaking over the holidays, and she sent it out on January 3rd of 2006. Ten days later, we had four offers - wildly exceeding my expectations - and accepted the offer from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.

So...that's my story. Certainly, there are a few lessons in there about I learned along the way. One has to do with accepting advice from others (without a doubt, agent #1 helped me hone my writing); another has to do with trusting yourself and your instincts; a third has to do with knowing when to let go (book #1) and when not to (book #2); and..on and on.

Okay, so that's my (long) story. Now, fire away any and all questions! If I can help and answer 'em, I will!

13 comments:

Swishy said...

OK, I'll go first. Two questions.

1. How much of the book changed during the revision process? (And if you have any tips to make it less painful ...!)

2. Do you ever think you'll come back to your first book, or is it done?

Thank you :)

Larramie said...

Just had a hunch, Allison, that you'd be posting early so here I am as well.

1. Your exclusive email queries in searching for Agent1 surprised me. Did you follow the same method in findng Agent2?

2. You admit that your previous writing credentials probably helped you (a lot). OTOH, I have nothing to "show and tell" and am stumped as to how to overcome that obstacle. Any thoughts?

3. Noah Lukeman -- agent/author -- claims a good query is only three paragraphs. Yes, the brevity would be an attention-getter, but would it be enough?

Only three questions to a post, that's my self-imposed limit. However I'll be back. Until then, have a good Monday.

Kayt Sukel said...

Should one expect an agent to do edits of a book? And if so, how much editing do they really do?

I have to admit, I never thought of an agent as a editor, per se.

Thanks so much for posting this, Allison. You rock!

Anonymous said...

Four offers in ten days?!?!! That's fantastic!

elizabeth h. said...

Allison,

Thanks for opening up to answer questions.

Essentially, how did you narrow the agent market to find the ones you did?

(My background: I've completed a couple rounds of (blind) submissions to agents for a completed novel manuscript and I've started another mss. I write for a newspaper and have a short story published in an anthology.
Naturally I want an agent who is excited about my work...or at least believes in its potential. (I know it's not perfect and I'm willing and able to revise.) In my initial submissions, I did a mixture of snail-mail and e-mail.)

heidi arnold said...

Hi Allison,

I wondered what you think of the practice of publishing novel excerpts as short stories in literary or popular magazines -- do you think this is helpful marketing -- do agents or publishers take more of an interest if this has been done?

Also, did you have any say in which houses your agent contacted on your behalf?

Also, would you happen to know of online venues where novelists hang out?

Thanks!

Remodeling Repartee said...

Allison,

Thanks so much for sharing this saga, it's helpful and inspiring for us non-pubbed.

Question: I envy you for being able to trust your gut about your second book and to walk away from an agent who didn't believe in it. How do you KNOW, when your manuscript is good, and to keep going with it in spite of the nonbelievers?

Jodi

Jeanne said...

Would you share the name of your agent, please?
Thanks so much.

Jeanne said...

Allison, I did a little research and answered my own question re. your agent.
Looking forward to following your answers

kathie said...

Hey Allison, yesterday I commented as an agented writer and today I am unagented. Kind of the same thing that happened to you. My agent is pregnant and doesn't feel she can manage everything in her life and have me revise my second novel for her--she liked it, but said it seemed small and quiet. My head is swimming. I admire you getting right back up there and querying. I know I need to do that, but I'm almost paralyzed. Did you just start back through your original list? Thanks for the help.

Anonymous said...

Did your second agent come from an online query, too? I'm curious because I've casually sent out a few online queries and really expect nothing in return. But then again, I'm not out alot of postage and paper.
So, how did you land your current agent?
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Tereasa

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