How to Get a Book Deal: Timing is Almost Everything

Screaming Divas FINAL.indd

I can still clearly remember the phone call that I thought would change my life. I was in the bedroom, standing next to my infant twins’ crib, listening to one of the top children’s and young adult agents in the business telling me that she was passionate about my novel about an all girl punk rock band in 1980s Columbia, South Carolina, and that she would be persistent in finding a publisher. This is the big time, I thought. I’m about to publish my first novel!

I’d originally written it as an adult novel, but I was happy to revise it for the young adult market, and I foresaw devoting myself to angsty teen fiction. But the big-time agent couldn’t sell my novel. Well, if she can’t sell it, then nobody can, I thought.

I stuck the novel in a drawer. I wrote and published another novel, this one for adults. I compiled and edited two anthologies. I published a picture book, and a different young adult novel. But every now and again, I’d open the drawer, pull out that other novel, and revise it yet again.

Nobody would buy it since it was set in the 1980s, I thought. And the only books agents seemed to want at the time were paranormal and dystopian novels. Still, I couldn’t quite leave Screaming Divas alone. I decided to chop it up and sell it for parts. I placed a chapter in an anthology called Woman’s Work: Stories edited by Michelle Sewell. I placed another chapter in the literary journal Hunger Mountain.

A writer friend who’d read and loved Screaming Divas when I’d first written it, encouraged me to give the novel another try. After all, the editors who’d rejected it the first time around were no longer employed. And there seemed to be a resurging interest in the 1980s and in the riot grrl movement. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was on the New York Times bestseller list. Rainbow Rowell’s 1980s novel became hugely popular as well. And recently I came across no fewer than three young adult ballet novels set in that same time period. It looks as if the 80s are back.

Okay, I’ll give it one more try, I thought. A couple of new presses, headed by two of my favorite famous writers, had cropped up. I submitted to both on the same day. Little did I know, one writer/editor, Jacquelyn Mitchard, of Merit Press, had just started teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts, the publisher of Hunger Mountain. Noting that part of my novel had been previously published in the journal, she immediately invited me to send more pages. (She was online when I hit “send,” so by immediately, I mean within an hour.) Within weeks, Jackie offered to publish my novel. The famous writer/editor of the other press sent me a list of revisions with an eye to the adult market and invited me to resubmit. By this time, however, I was pretty sure that I wanted to publish Screaming Divas as a young adult novel, and I was thrilled at the prospect of working with Jacquelyn Mitchard.

My infant twins are teens now, so it’s taken awhile, but the book will be published in May, 2014, by Merit Press.

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