Alexandra Machinist

Where Im at Part 6: Offer accepted!

So this not-quite-published-yet writer is one giant step closer to having a book in print. For me, it was not the one-week whirlwind that it sometimes can be, but in the end I got a deal that Im happy with. Excited about! THRILLED, really!

The brief tale goes like this: I signed with my agent, Alexandra Machinist at Janklow and Nesbit, last summer. I waited in line for a bit for World Maker to be submitted to editors. In January, Alexandra sent the manuscript to an editor as an exclusive because said editor had been looking for something like World Maker. The editor liked it and asked me to revise a significant aspect of the novel, which I did. On May 2nd, I was told shed decided to pass on making an offer.

In mid-May Alexandra sent the manuscript out to six editors. In the first week of June, Christian Trimmer at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers expressed interest. He took it to his editorial team and then requested a revision from me. I was, admittedly, nervous about doing another revision since the revision for the other editor had taken up so much time only to be rejected. But Christian convinced me he was enthusiastic about the project, he was good at articulating what he wanted changed, and the revision focused only on the first couple of chapters. In the end, I simply moved a scene from chapter two to the opening and tweaked accordingly. Over the next few weeks Christian read my revision, gave the manuscript to second readers in the editorial department and, Im assuming, took it to another editorial meeting where the changes were approved. The next week it went on to the acquisitions meeting, where an offer was approved. My agent did some negotiating, and I ended up with a two-book deal and a great editor at a great publishing house!

(Here is the Publishers Weekly announcement, if you like to look these things up.)

Although it took some time to get the ball rolling, sometimes patience is necessary to get the end result you want. I couldnt be happier with the result I got.

World Maker likely wont be published until 2015, so there is yet more waiting to do. While I wait for my editorial letter on World Maker (which will likely be given a new title), I must get to work on an outline for book two of my two-book deal. Remember that post I wrote a little while ago about an idea I got while going for popcorn? The idea is barely 1,000 words of notes, but thats the book I sold with World Maker!

I must conclude with a HUGE THANK YOU to Alexandra Machinist and Christian Trimmer. My little book is a little different, a little hard to pitch because although its about a boy who makes a world so he can have a girlfriend, its more than that description would lead one to believe. Both Alexandra and Christian saw something in it that made them read to the end, and in reading to the end they decided to become champions of the manuscript, and I cant quite express in accurate enough terms how very much that means to me.

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“Up” ending or “down” ending?

Sometimes predicting an ending isn’t hard. When you’re reading a book (or watching a movie) within a certain genre, for example, you know the romantic male lead and romantic female lead will get together, or that the evil sorcerer will be defeated by the reluctant hero, or that the detective will solve the murder case. What you often don’t know is how that ending will come about. One oft-quoted piece of advice I received in graduate school is “Give the audience what they want, but not in the way they expect.”

There is a difference between knowing that the hero of a story will triumph and knowing how that triumph will come about. There is usually a crisis moment close to the end when the outcome is supposedly in doubteven though you know things will eventually be okay (or not okay, though “up” endings are way more common than “down” endings). I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE when a book can deliver an “up” ending or a “down” ending that I know is coming, but in a way that truly surprises me, and that doesn’t happen very often.

However, I VERY RARELY near the end of a story truly not knowing whether the ending will be “up” or “down.” Last night I finished reading another book from one my agent’s clients. (The Wet Nurse’s Tale by Erica Eisdorfer, and there are some plot-point spoilers below, though I’ve tried to be vague enough not to really spoil anything) The main character mentions somewhat early on that she might have just given up at the start if she’d known the horror of what the future would bring. This is pretty obvious foreshadowing, but left me wondering if she meant the horror leading up to an eventual “up” ending or the horror of a “down” ending. At stake was the life of a child.

As the pages turned and fewer and fewer chapters remained, the story turned quite dark, as stories often do when they approach the climax. All kinds of clues got dropped that the antagonist in the house would bring about the death of the child. There were precedents. There was an “accident” and a disastrous outing. There was violence done to another character. The main character speculated on how the antagonist would kill the child. The main character devised a plan to save the child in which the child would be alone with the antagonist for a short time. On top of it all, the main character several times stated how beautiful the child was and how happy the child made her (and I think we all know a super-loved/needed character often dies at the moment they are loved/needed the most). At the same time, though, the tone of the book and the voice of the main character indicated that things would turn out okay. Although I suspected tone and voice would win out, I really wasn’t certain. I mean REALLY wasn’t certain. I can’t remember a book I’ve read where the outcome was that much in doubt for me, and I worried. Ever since my son was born I’ve had a really hard time reading about the death of a child. I didn’t want the ending to turn out badly. Then I wouldn’t be able to sleep for days and days.

Well, I’m tired today. But, dear Reader, I’ll leave you guessing whether it’s because of the book’s ending or because of the recent change to daylight savings time . . .

Disclosure: I am in the process of reading books by other authors onmy agent’sclient list. This is how I came to readThe Wet Nurse’s Tale. To be clear, I have not been asked to promote, nor is it my purpose to promote this book other than to say I found in it a great example of an important writing principle. :)

 

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A beautiful pay-off: Nicole R. Dickson’s Casting Off

Casting Off

I just finished reading a book that had a remarkably powerful pay-off for me: Nicole R. Dickson’s Casting Off. The story is about a single mom who is six years past being in an abusive relationship. She’s still struggling to find herself, to find security, to find “home.” She thinks she’s spending a summer on a tiny Irish island to study sweaters using a research grant, but of course it ends up she’s really there to change her life.

The pay-off in any novel is only as powerful as the layering of promises and expectations that go into the making of it. In the case of Casting Off, Dickson layers in chapters showing the protagonist’s anxiety and chapters showing the secondary protagonist’s misery. She also takes pains to show how each sweater knitted on the island is done in special patterns that reflect the life of the person who will wear it. Likewise, the sweaters are shown in several cases to be instrumental to the wearer’s well-being. All of this crafting, and more, had to be done to produce the pay-off.

I wish all of you had read this novel so I could just blurt out the details of the scene I found so touching, but since I don’t know who of you has read the book, I won’t give spoilers. I will say that the truth revealed in the scene was expected and unexpected and so beautiful it made me cry for the rest of the book.

If you have a completed manuscript and want to see if your pay-off has been layered properly, there are many ways to go about it. One pretty basic suggestion I can give is to exchange manuscripts with another writer, but make sure each of you leaves out the pay-off part. The pay-off is the scene that your novel builds to. It is usually the climax of the book. (I will confess that in the case of Casting Off, others might identify the climax as coming in a scene after the scene I adore.) The pay-off is the delivery of the promise you made to the reader at the beginning of your book and then built upon in the middle.

So you take your manuscript with the pay-off missing and have your writer-friend read it while you read your writer-friend’s manuscript that’s missing its own pay-off. Each of you should write down what you think is in the missing pay-off and give examples from the manuscript that have created this expectation. Then, share your thoughts. It will be interesting for you to hear whether your writer-friend’s guesses are accurate, but it will be just as helpful for you to see if your own guesses are accurate about your writer-friend’s story. Once you have exchanged guesses, share the real endings and discuss how they met or didn’t meet your expectations and what each could do to strengthen the pay-off. Armed with new insight, you then go back through your manuscript and develop the parts that need developing for a great pay-off.

And you could read Nicole R. Dickson’s Casting Off, if you want an example of a novel that does pay-off well.

Disclosure: I am in the process of reading books by other authors on my agent’s client list. This is how I came to read Casting Off. To be clear, I have not been asked to promote, nor is it my purpose to promote this book other than to say I found in it a great example of an important writing principle. :)

 

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Where I’m at Part 5Yes, I finally have an agent!

So this not-quite-published-yet writer is one step closer to getting published. I’ve cleared a hurdle that felt so big it may as well have been a pole vault bar. I’ve just signed with the very talented Alexandra Machinist at Janklow and Nesbit, who will be representing me for my third manuscript, still tentatively titled World Maker.

Of course I am over the moon about this! BUT! I know that signing with an agent does not guarantee a publishing contract (not that I doubt the taste or skill of Ms. Machinist in any way). Nor does a publishing contract guarantee awesome sales. There are many hurdles yet to clear, and we’ll see if they’re the standard 100 meter height, the more lofty pole vault height, or something more akin to a mountain.

For now I’m just so happy to have gotten this far!

Here is a brief summary of my agent search:

I completed manuscript #1 in 2006. It’s my 169,000-word science fiction story set on a faraway planet in the future. For me, this story is still my favorite, but I recognized early on that its length is a problem, and that since it was my first try at novel writing it might not be awesome to everyone else, so I started another story.

I completed manuscript #2 in 2011. It’s a 90,000-word YA fantasy set in ancient Greece. This I shopped during the fall of last year, and while I waited to hear the verdict from a bunch of agents who requested the full manuscript, I started manuscript #3.

I completed manuscript #3 (World Maker) in January of this year (4 and a half months!). At the tail end of February I sent it out to nine agents, three of whom I considered the perfect match both for me as a writer and for World Maker as a story. When I heard back from six of those nine, I sent another round of queries, then another some weeks later, then another. Four rounds for me equaled about 50 agents, all of whom I researched at length, and any of whom I would have been pleased to work with.

In May, while waiting on World Maker queries, I started writing manuscript #4. I decided to stop querying on World Maker and simply wait out the responses on what was out already. I had reached the end of my list of agents I thought were a strong match, and I thought if I got no offers I would simply either finish manuscript #4 or redraft manuscript #2 and start again fresh.

On Monday, July 9, 2012, I had four full requests pending on World Maker when Alexandra Machinist called me to offer representation. I stopped breathing. I don’t think I inhaled or exhaled through the entire conversation, which lasted something like an hour. When I hung up the phone I emailed the other three agents with the manuscript to inform them of the offer. One declined to make an offer, one didn’t get back to me, and the other offered representation two days later.

Remember I said I considered three of the agents from my first round to be the perfect match? Well, the two agents who made offers were two of the three! How lucky is that?

In a future post I might share some wisdom I’ve acquired during this quest for an agent (though I don’t presume to be wise, I can relate some details of my experience), but for now I have some work to do on revisions before the manuscript goes on submission again. This time to editors!

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HAS SUPPORTED ME, LOVED ME, AND CRITIQUED FOR ME IN ORDER TO GET TO THIS POINT!

 

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My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.