The Anniversary of Eviltry continues with another guest post!
Today we have YA author Heather W. Petty.
ELEW: Welcome, Heather! Thank you for joining us for our 5th anniversary celebration. Five years is a long time, and it’s time we would like to ask you about. Could you tell us a little about your road to publication with Lock & Mori? How long did it take, from zero draft to finished product? Spare us no punishment! We want to hear it all. Every rejection, every edit letter, every revision. Impart to us your wickedry!
I got my first agent in 2009 with a 100k+ word YA Urban Fantasy called Camp Wylde (basically faeries + elves + summer camp = NOT SELLING IN 2009). After a couple of years of trying to sell various paranormal projects in a literal dystopian YA landscape (moment of silence for the paranormal market), I ended up parting with one agent and having another retire on me.
That left me with only one project idea that everyone seemed to agree should be my next book. It also happened to be the only contemporary (non-magical) story idea that I had ever had:
What if Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty knew each other in high school?
What if something happened in high school that turned them into nemeses?
A few weeks later, the idea looked more like, “A modern-day Sherlock Holmes origin story told from the perspective of a 16-year-old, female Moriarty.”
A month after that, I was about 15k words into writing this book about a girl whose mother had died of cancer, when I found out that my mom was sick. Six weeks later, she died. And I couldn’t write. I couldn’t even sit in my office by myself without falling to pieces, much less write a book about a girl whose mother had died of cancer when my mother had just died of cancer.
Not being able to write obviously freaked/stressed me out to no end, because more than anything, I just wanted to escape my real life into someone else’s for a while. I strained for every word, which meant that it took about a year to get a solid draft done. When I finally did, I got some readers and did a revision, and then sent off the draft to my new agent. . .only to find out she had ALSO retired from agenting.
So, I finally had a decent draft of the hardest book I’d ever written, but no agent. And the very last thing in the world I wanted to do was query agents. Again. But I did. I put out queries to some agents who had offered on previous projects and others who had shown interest at conferences or retreats. It was a small group, but the idea was so commercial there was a lot of interest. While everyone was reading, I got a call from my friend Pam asking if she could give my manuscript to the agent she was working with, because she’s a huge Sherlock Holmes fan.
I said, “Sure!”
And she said, “Good, because I already gave it to her and she’s going to call you tomorrow.”
That agent was Laurie McLean from what is now Fuse Literary. She is literally my perfect fit. She’s a Sherlock geek, a fantasy geek, a paranormal lover, and has great sales chops. She even had a sales strategy all mapped out when she called to offer. I obviously said “YES!” as soon as I was able.
As it turned out, she took a trip to New York to do editor pitches just weeks after I signed with her, and brought along my book pitch. She ended up with a nice pile of requests, and submitted to all of them right when she got back.
I’d, of course, been through this twice before with books that didn’t sell, so I was in it for the long-haul, with all of the zen and poise of a 12-year-old girl at a One Direction concert. I was THE VERY PICTURE OF TRANQUILITY. (Tranquility checks its email every hour on the hour, right?)
Five days later we had an (AMAZING) first offer from a great house. We were told we’d most likely be getting another offer from Simon & Schuster on the following Monday and that four other editors were shoving the manuscript around their houses for second reads as fast as they could go.
I pretty much spent that weekend trying to decide if this was real life. Because I’d been through it twice before and IT WASN’T EVER LIKE THIS.
On Monday we got an offer from S&S, and we were heading into Auction Land, but on Tuesday we got a crazy pre-empt, AGAIN from S&S, upping their own original offer and attaching a four-page marketing proposal that literally made me cry. Because after all of the NO and NO and NOT NOWs that I’d gotten over the years, not only had I sold my first book, but it was going to be published WELL. And I so knew what that meant.
We had until 5pm EST to accept the offer.
I believe Laurie’s email subject was “HOLY SHIT!! LET’S TAKE THIS DEAL!!!!” That was also my response when she called 45 seconds after I had opened the email. So… SOLD!
It took me four years, three manuscripts, and four agents to make my first sale. I probably haven’t earned the right to hand out advice. But through these last two years, I’ve been reminded over and over about something my dad said to me when I was little and told him I wanted to be a singer when I grew up. He said, “You can do anything you want to do, as long as you’re willing to do the work.” I think that’s especially true in publishing. You have to be willing to work and keep working toward whatever path you want your work to take, and then never give up.
And then, once you sell your first series, you have to prepare for Book 2 to destroy your soul. I mean… that’s what I hear, anyway. From a friend.
Thank you so much, Heather! A wonderful reminder for writers to persevere.
Urban Fantasy Writer of Unlikable Female Characters™. Feminist. Snarky Bitchstress. Graphic Designer. Editor. Fifth Generation Cat Lady. Most Beloved Minion. Singer of “The Stabbity Song”. Evil.