boy meets book deal

Such a lovely thing when your friends score book deals.

One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is to hang out on the Zoetrope virtual workshop. Although I haven’t submitted or critiqued anything for a very long time, I love to hang out in the private offices, where I’ve met some truly smart, kind and talented people.

One such person is Terri Brown-Davidson, an accomplished writer and teacher who runs a private office devoted to the topic of literary agents: how to research them, approach them, identify the good ones, conduct relationships with them; and also how to know when you should cut your losses, sever that relationship and move on. In Terri’s office I learned how to write a query letter for BLOODANGEL, progressing from the truly atrocious first draft to the final letter that hooked the attention of the agent who went on to sell the book. (One of the people who helped me revise that query was, I believe, Ellen Meister, who went on to sell her own novel GEORGE CLOONEY IS COMING TO APPLEWOOD not long after).

Yesterday, Tony Hines, one of the people Acknowledged in my own novel, finally came clean about the deal that’s been brewing for a while now. He posted this, which is such an excellent story I got his OK to post it here verbatim:

I’ve been a sometimes frequent/sometimes infrequent part of this office over the past couple of years. For me, and for many of you, I’m sure, Terri’s office has been a nice place to commiserate or celebrate.

I want to tell you a story that has elements of both. Two years ago (maybe even three), I started marketing my first novel to agents. I wrote a query, with the help of folks in this office. I sent it out. I sent it out. I sent it out. I changed it. I sent it out. I did this, mmm, maybe sixty times. I went to a writer’s conference and met with an editor there, who loved my book and wanted to see the whole thing. That was two years ago, and I still haven’t heard anything from them. I changed my tactics, aiming my work at the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) market, since my book has some spiritual elements in it. Same thing, in a somewhat smaller pool of possibilities–there just ain’t that many legitimate CBA agents.

At this point, I could have given up. But I did not.

Instead, I put the first novel in a drawer and started working on a second. I finished that second novel, revised it, edited it, and then, yes, I began marketing it–going back through my list of identified agents I hit up for novel #1. I polished a query (again, with help from this office) and sent it out. And sent it out. And sent it out.

Although I hadn’t exhausted all my possibilities for agents at this point, I decided I’d start novel #3 and forget about making a sale. Just write, and worry about the rest later.

That’s when the magic happened.

One day, I received an innocuous-looking email from an Acquisitions Editor for Bethany House Publishers–one of the largest CBA Publishers out there. Couple hundred fiction titles a year. Publish W. Dale Cramer, if you’re familiar with him. In this email, the editor simply said: “Found a link to your blog, downloaded the first chapter of ‘Waking Lazarus,’ and found it compelling. Don’t know if you’d be interested in a CBA publisher or not, but I’d like to see more.” Okay, fine. Another partial. Done ’em a thousand times. So I sent it off. He wrote back and asked for the whole thing. Then, he wrote back and said he wanted to take it to editorial review. Hey, I thought. That’s a little farther than I’ve made it before. Cool.

At about this time, my second novel, which I entered in the Maryland Writers Association novel contest, won the “Best Spec Fiction” category. Hey, I thought. That’s a little farther than I’ve made it before. Cool.

Also at about this time, independent of everything else, I received a call from an agent I’ve spoken to a few times over the past few years. He was responding to a query and partial for my second novel, which he liked, but he really thought we should try to sell the first novel. The one I’d given up for dead. The one the Acquisitions Editor for Bethany House has just taken to editorial review.

About one month goes by. I get a call from my agent, who informs me we have a two-book hardcover offer from Bethany House. He also informs me we have two other publishers interested in book one, at least. I tell him, since the editor at Bethany House happened to stumble upon my book by providence, I’d go with them–all other things being equal. He suggests we go back to Bethany House with a counter-offer. Sure, sounds good to me.

After a few rounds of wrangling, I end up signing with Bethany House–getting a much better deal than I would have without my agent. My first book gets fast-tracked for release in summer of 2006, with the second scheduled for summer of 2007.

My point–and I do have one–is this: the book that sold, the book that got me a two-title deal, was the same one that had been rejected by roughly 80 literary agents. The same book I’d given up for dead. Nothing about it had changed. (Literally. When the Acquisitions Editor asked for it, I hadn’t done any edits on it for more than a year.) It was no better, nor no worse, than it had been when it was rejected by scores of agents. The only thing that had changed were the circumstances. Everything aligned perfectly for one brief, shining moment, and I sold a book only after I tried to stop selling it.

So, am I saying you should give up, and let fate take over? Not at all. I’m saying, it happens when it’s supposed to happen. A number of great things came in quick succession for me, but they had been a couple years in the making. So if you’re discouraged, if you’re feeling like it will never happen, keep plugging away.

You can truly reap what you sow. The growing season just might be a little longer than you want it to be.

And here’s another link to his blog, where he’ll continue to write about his publishing experience.

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