At conferences I’m often asked What do you actually do all day? On camera, my job would look fairly boring: a Warhol-esque single-shot film of me staring at a computer, getting up every few hours to fetch a Red Bull from the office fridge… Truth is, what I get up to varies from week to week. Every book has a different story, from conception to sale to shelf. In my experience, there’s no real “usual way” a manuscript gets rep’d, sold, and published. The best I can offer is anecdotes. So here, for your enjoyment, is one book’s (ongoing) story:
I was sitting on my couch one Saturday afternoon, having just finished a four-hour marathon of the Masterpiece Theater program Downton Abbey. In case you live in a cave, and read this blog on printed transcripts winged to your dark little fissure by carrier pigeons, Downton Abbey is an immensely popular Edwardian soap opera following the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, their romances, exploits, and financial disasters. It’s smart, sexy, and addictive.
Now, I’m of the opinion that young adult trends follow television and visual media. I’d seen twenty-somethings and teens swooning and speculating online over the Crawley’s romantic entanglements, and thought this needs to be a book, if it isn’t already. Waiting for a brilliant Edwardian y.a. to drop in my lap would take too long, so instead I tweeted I was in the market for a Downton Abbey for teens.
Sometime that evening, a freelance writer and farmer named Sharon Biggs Waller was scrolling through her feed and spotted my tweet. It just so happened she had an Edwardian y.a. she’d not yet been able to sell. In fact, historicals can be difficult to place; Sharon had shopped her manuscript, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, before there was a swoon-worthy cult hit to compare it to.
Sharon queried me via my agency’s online form. The first line of her cover letter hooked me utterly. I mean, how can you not love this?:
London, 1909. When 17-year-old Victoria Darling poses nude for a forbidden art class, she gets dismissed from her posh French boarding school.
SOLD. I requested the full manuscript and read it overnight. I discovered Victoria was a bold, forthright, talented, passionate protagonist, ahead of her time and yet steeped in the attitudes of her era. The story had romance and high stakes, but on a deeper level, something I hadn’t known I’d been looking for: an examination of women’s suffrage, gender politics, and sexism that would resonate with a contemporary audience. It was a deeply-felt and socially relevant story wrapped in a delectable crust of Edwardian fashion and romance. Smart and sexy. Agent catnip.
The next day I called Sharon and offered representation. She agreed, we popped the metaphorical champagne, and I put together a list of editors I hoped would love FOLLY as much as I did (including a few editors who’d contacted me after I’d tweeted about signing Sharon- Twitter for the win, again). Responses began to roll in. Editors offered notes, some wanted to speak with Sharon directly. Particularly exciting was the afternoon I was away at a conference in Salt Lake City and had to keep excusing myself to “run to the bathroom,” dashing outside to field calls from excited editors, relaying that info to Sharon, then hurrying back to the conference in time for my phone to ring again (I’d switched my ringtone to the Downton Abbey theme song, for luck).
After some back-and-forth, we placed A MAD, WICKED FOLLY with Leila Sales, a brilliant editor (and y.a. author herself) at Viking books, an imprint of Penguin. After so many phone calls and emails, Sharon and I were able to meet in person last month when she came out to NYC for lunch with Leila and me. Afterwards I took Sharon for coffee and she pitched me ideas for future projects (one of which I so wish I could talk about now. But soon, boy, soon.)
Now, Sharon is revising A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, which will be released by Viking in 2014. Sharon and I found each other via twitter, but I’ve picked up clients at conferences, via their blogs, at parties, and of course, through the slush pile. Every story is different.