Good Monday, everyone! I'm in a super good mood because I get to share another amazing success story with you today. Please welcome Leigh Bardugo to the blog! Make sure you’re holding onto your computer chair (or couch cushion!) - Leigh has an incredible story and some GREAT tips to share.
WILD RIDE: FROM QUERY TO BOOK DEAL IN 37 DAYS
How does a first-time author go from query letter to three-book deal in just over a month? Luck, an amazing agent, and more luck.
After a a year of writing, research, revisions, and paralyzing bouts of self-doubt, I felt I had a manuscript that was ready for agents’ eyes. I wrote the best book that I could and did my best to query wisely. After that, the story belongs to the afore-mentioned amazing agent, Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey literary. Once she took over, I didn’t do much but keep my fingers crossed and avoid freaking out.
Here’s the tale of our wild ride, as well as a few tips that may have stacked the deck in my favor and that I hope will do the same for you.
LETTERS & LEGWORK
Tip #1: Query in small batches.
Querying is so stressful that it’s tempting to just go with a shotgun blast, but I recommend sniper fire. Why?
– Quality control. When you mail/email in bulk, you’re more at risk for making silly mistakes like misspelling a name.
– Adaptability. You only get one shot with most agents and agencies. If you’re not getting the response you want, you have a chance to tweak your query and your sample pages before you’ve blown your way through your whole list.
– Keeping it personal and up to date. EVERYONE tells you to personalize queries but this can be tough, so use every advantage. Small batch querying means that you can keep up on changes to submission requirements, newly posted sales, and blog updates.
I first saw Joanna’s profile here on Casey’s blog. That led me to Nancy Coffey Literary and then to Confessions from Suite 500 where Joanna blogs with two other agents. Jo is a self-confessed fantasy nerd and she’d written a post in which she waxed ecstatic over LOTR, so I knew she was a true high fantasy fan.
I queried Joanna on October 27, 2010. She requested a full later that same day.
I was standing in line to return our Halloween costumes when I got Joanna’s email telling me that THE GRISHA had caused her to miss her subway stop and that this was the epic fantasy she’d been waiting for. I can only describe the sound I made as something between a sob and a yelp.
“Are you okay?” asked the clerk at Valentino’s.
I don’t think it helped ease his concern when I turned to him with tear-filled eyes and declared, “I am AWESOME.”
Joanna and I spoke that night and she officially offered me representation.
Tip #2: Choose... wisely.
I asked for a week to consider Jo’s offer and to give a heads up to the other agents who had requested fulls. This is professional courtesy. Even if you think you know which agent you want, if you’re lucky enough (see above) to have more than one agent interested in your work, then at least give the others a chance to make their pitch. They may surprise you.
When you choose an agent, you essentially put your future into his or her hands. Joanna sent me an editorial letter that made it clear that she really got my characters and my story. (She also called me out on what I knew might be weak elements in my MS.) But in the end, it was her enthusiasm for my work and, honestly, the full on geek-out of that LOTR post. I knew that Jo would pitch THE GRISHA with a fan’s passion.
After I signed with Joanna, we went through a quick round of revisions. On November 12, we went out to editors.
Joanna warned me that we could have a wait ahead of us and I prepared myself. I would clean my office, start on my next project, bake a pie or twelve. But through some combination of timing, luck (see above), and Jo’s sparkle magic, editors started calling just a few days later. By the following week, we had our first offer.
Tip #3: Be prepared.
The calls I had with editors were great fun. I even chatted with one editor via gchat since she was traveling in France and Israel. (That was Noa Wheeler, the woman who would eventually become my editor.)
Mostly, we discussed writing, my career as a makeup artist and the inspiration for THE GRISHA. I got progressively better at these chats (relaxing, asking my own questions, not babbling about Russian folklore). Here are a few things to keep in mind when you get to this stage:
– Be familiar with the imprint. Check out their online presence and their authors. Think about how your book might fit in with their other titles. This is also something you can ask about during your call.
– Get used to talking about your book and yourself. If you’re a solitary sort like me, then you may not have had a chance to talk about your stories or your characters at length. I recommend practicing on your commute. One of my favorite things about the advent of cell phones is that no one looks at me like I’m crazy when I talk to myself anymore.
– Take the chance to ask editors what elements of the manuscript might need work or if they have any major revisions in mind. This is not the time to debate plot points or character development, but you may get a better sense for how an editor relates to your work.
THE GRISHA went to auction on December 1. For the next three days, I lived on New York time as Joanna updated me on bids and walked me through the language of a deal memo.
On Friday, December 3, 2010, THE GRISHA sold to Holt Children’s/ Macmillan. Just 37 days after I queried Joanna, I had a three-book deal.
My debut novel will be published in Fall 2012. Now, all I can do is keep writing, pray that readers embrace my work the way that Joanna and Noa have, and hope that my luck holds. Fingers crossed.
Leigh Bardugo lives in Los Angeles. Her debut novel will be published by Holt Children's/Macmillan in 2012. Follow her on twitter (http://twitter.com/Lbardugo) or visit her shiny new blog at http://leighbardugo.wordpress.com.
Love this story!!! Congratulations Leigh and Joanna! I'm thrilled for you both and cannot WAIT to read THE GRISHA.