Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Road to Publication: Kelley York




Once upon a time, a girl wrote a book.

She isn't sure how this happened because she'd never gotten more than a few pages into any previous story. And yet, here was this book. All 90,000 words of it. It was about ghosts and witches with a smidge of romance, and she thought, "Hey, I bet I could publish this."

She set out to do just that. She read up on how to query, how to get an agent who would then sell her book to a publisher. She had edited her book somewhat, of course, fixing typos and making sure it looked pretty. Then, when she started querying, right away she got an amazing full request from a huge, well-known agency! The author was over the moon. Not long after, the agent wrote back to say she was presenting the book to the other agents and, after that meeting, another agent wanted to take a look at the manuscript. Still good news, right?

Then came the reality check: the second agent came back with:

"You have a lot of talent, but..."

The 'but' being, "This needs more voice. And it's way too long."

Now, this agent was a total rockstar. She gave detailed notes and, not only that, line-by-line notes on the first chapter. At the time this stung, because it was swift smack in the face after so much good news. But the author was not discouraged. She took this 90k-word monster of a book and spent the next several months completely reworking it. She trimmed and sliced and rewrote and edited. She worked on this mysterious thing called 'voice.' Things were removed, things were added. When she was done, what she had was a tighter written 72,000-word paranormal book that was worlds better than what she had. And...the agent agreed!

But it was still a no.

"You've improved by leaps and bounds and I'm amazed, but..."

It still wasn't good enough. This time, it wasn't the writing but some of the plot points themselves. The author was crushed. By now, she'd spent around a year corresponding with this agent and doing these revisions. But in the same vein that she was heartbroken, she knew she had been given this golden opportunity. It was an invaluable learning experience at the hands of someone who really, really knew what they were talking about. This is information that might have taken the author five times as long to grasp had she learned it on her own.

She soldiered on. She queried that first book while working on her second, and during that time she met Nyrae Dawn through Absolute Write, and she became the author's most invaluable critique partner and one of her best friends. The author began to write Hushed, which she knew at the time was a book that might very well never see the light of day given its dark nature and the fact it had a protagonist who wasn't fit for the "YA" market. At that point, "New Adult" was something people only mumbled about and agents rolled their eyes at. A magical unicorn of a genre. It existed, but people didn't seem to realize it.

The author felt Hushed was a strong book, and she was certain it could do well. So...the query process began again.

This time, the responses from agents were drastically different. There weren't rejections talking about her lack of voice or word count. Instead, there were a lot of full requests that ended in, "I love this, it's great, but..."

She never hated a word as much as "but."

This time the problem was, as she had feared, "This is too dark. The protagonist is too old. I don't know how to sell it."

She knew it was a matter of finding the agent who would take a chance anyway. And yet, sadly, that agent never came. She was now working on her third book--Hollowed--and as she began to run out of agents to query, she was thinking Hushed would have to be retired.

Then Entangled Publishing came into the picture. (Dun dun dun.)

The author had vaguely heard of Heather Howland (from where, she doesn't remember), and her submission wish-list included dark stories with older protagonists. Something edgy and gritty. She was looking for something that was exactly like Hushed.

Gasp!

The author was hesitant, though. EP was a brand new publisher who hadn't even yet opened their doors. Besides that, she had seen plenty of agents who wanted 'dark' fiction who came back and said Hushed was TOO dark. What would make this any different? The author's wife was the one who pushed her into submitting. "If they offer you a contract and it sucks, don't take it." Well, okay. So she submitted to Heather. The first few pages and a query.

And Heather requested it. Excitedly.

The author panicked.

She hadn't looked over Hushed in about six months. She was finishing up Hollowed, and she knew her writing style had improved. So she did what any sane person would do (haha...ha) and dove into a rushed edit. Altering phrases and flow and structure, nitpicking at every little thing that stood out. Meanwhile, Heather posted on Twitter that she was eagerly awaiting a submission she requested, and DM'd the author at the same time to say she was hoping to get to read it soon.

No pressure. Right?

The author finished up her edit and got Heather the full MS a few days after she requested. And she sat there. And she panicked some more.

This was a book the author had a lot of confidence in and loved dearly. And she knew this was her last effort to get it out there. If EP didn't want it...it would be trunked. Possibly for good.

She tried to focus my attention on Hollowed instead of staring at her inbox. So imagine her amazement when, not a few weeks later, she had a message from Liz Pelletier that they loved Hushed and wanted to publish it, and could they talk on the phone.

I—uh, I mean, the author—hyperventilated and rolled around on the floor for a bit, then wrote back and gave Liz her number. Liz called that same night and they spoke about Hushed. Liz asked questions, getting a feel for the author's vision for the book, what inspired her to write it, etc. The only major changes they were looking for was the ending, and even that was a relatively easy fix. Soon, the author had a shiny contract waiting for her, which she picked apart and researched carefully as she didn't have an agent to do it for her, and she educated herself on what all the clauses meant.

Soon, she had a book deal. A notification in Publisher's Weekly. An editor. A cover. A publicist. She was over the moon.

But she didn't stop writing. For awhile, she was distracted with Hushed because release date was barely six months away, and that was a lot of work in a short amount of time.

Is she a best-selling author? No. Maybe someday. Does she have an agent? No, not yet. But to date, she has completed five novels, traditionally published one, self-published two, and has a contract for another she's in the process of editing. She is halfway through another book, and have two more ideas she's etching out.

She has readers who love her books. She has people who tweet or email to tell her as much. And, man, let me tell you, it's a fantastic feeling when someone just GETS what she writes and loves it as much as she does.

She can proudly tell people she's not just a writer, but a published author, and she worked damn hard to get there.


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4 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you found people to push HUSHED. It was so different from anything I'd ever read. I loved the characters. I have to say I'll always be a fan of Kelley York's after reading that novel.

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  2. Thank you! And thanks, Nyrae, for having me!

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  3. The author will get to tell lots of people the condensed version of this story at a conference in just a few weeks, I'm sure!

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