As promised, today we’re peeling back the curtain a bit to show what happens behind the scenes as a book goes from a query to a book deal. My client Jennifer Hubbard is the author of the young adult novel BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD, which will be published late 2009/early 2010 by Viking. It’s her debut novel. She also has a wonderful blog on writing.
BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD has an incredible plot: When popular teenager Julia Vernon dies in a car accident, no one knows why Colt Morrissey would care — they didn’t even say hello in the school hallways. But at the time of her death, Julia and Colt had been harboring an intense secret: they had been hooking up in fleeting moments, away from the view of their classmates, including Julia’s boyfriend.
A few days after the funeral, Colt discovers Julia’s diary, which is full of unsent letters that poetically describe how much she cared for him and wanted to be with him, but she didn’t have the courage to send them when she was alive. As he struggles to cope and move on, the letters keep pulling Colt back to their intense romance as simmering class issues ignite the town.
It’s just an amazing book, the writing is beautiful and moving, and Jennifer is a pro who has done her research about the publishing industry and is a pleasure to work with.
So how did it all happen?
Here’s Jennifer’s guest post:
When Nathan invited me to blog here, I thought you might want to know what a client’s side of the story is like. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that he doesn’t discuss the details of his clients’ business, such as works in progress, deals in progress, etc. Published books just magically appear along the right margin of the blog! But I am willing to demystify the process a little.
Not that there’s so much mystery involved. I signed with Nathan not as a result of knowing any magic words or secret handshakes, not as a result of being related to him, and not as a result of cocktail-party schmoozing. (As if I’ve ever been to a cocktail party in my life.) If I knew any magic words, I would tell you. Or sell them at an entirely reasonable price.
I first found Nathan’s blog through a link. I wasn’t looking to add to my daily blog-reading at that point, but there was a lot of good information, so I marked it as a weekly read. But I quickly upgraded it to daily, because aside from all the practical information I found here, it was just plain fun to read. Even though I didn’t share Nathan’s infatuation with something called The Hills, I still got the jokes.
Which is not to say that it’s essential for a client and agent to have the same sense of humor. But it helps. In fact, nothing helps a person weather the publishing business like a sense of humor.
Aside from reading this blog (and particularly the posts listed in the right margin under “The Essentials: Please Read Before You Query,” such as “Anatomy of a Good Query Letter,” “How to Format Your Query Letter,” etc.), I did some other research: consulting reputable databases, reading online interviews (an amazing number of agent-interview transcripts are out there in cyberspace), and so forth. I read a couple of Nathan’s clients’ books, including one in the genre I was querying.
I worked on my query letter for about a week. At the last minute, I pared it down, cutting some subplot details out of my synopsis. I figured that when you’re writing to someone who receives hundreds of unsolicited emails every week, shorter is better. And if my main plot wasn’t good enough to pique interest, no subplot was going to do it.
My query letter went like this:
An introductory statement about what kind of project I had (YA novel).
A sentence or two about why I was querying Nathan, specifically. This part included a reference to the blog, and a reference to the clients’ books that I had read and liked.
A brief synopsis of my book (about 150 words, summarizing the secret relationship and the death around which my story revolves).
A sentence or two about my writing experience (I have had several literary short stories published; I named two of the journals).
This query yielded a request for a partial, which yielded a request for the full manuscript. When I got the request for the full, I pulled together a list of questions for prospective agents, which came in very handy when Nathan called that week.
I will say one thing about that call. Writers sometimes get letters that say, in essence, “You have talent, you have a good story here, but I don’t quite have that special connection with it…” Which can lead to a muttered, “Heck, if it’s good enough, why can’t they just take it anyway?” But the truth is that it’s better to have someone who’s excited about the manuscript. Only an enthusiastic editor or agent is going to do it justice. Nathan was excited about my book, and that call was worth waiting for.
He suggested some edits on the manuscript, and then shepherded my work into the hands of editors. While he did that, I worked on new projects. I managed to distract myself so thoroughly that when I got The Call, the Book Offer Call, Nathan may have thought he had just roused me from a coma. I suppose many authors shriek or jump up and down when they get The Call. I did not. I’m not much of a jumper and shrieker anyway; most game shows would never want me as a contestant.
Rather, I digested the news slowly, like the rich meal that it was.
Josephine Damian says
Questions: How long did it take between Agent Nathan’s call and the book deal call?
Did Nathan’s edit suggestions involve more plot stuff or character stuff, or more along the lines of tighten-up-the-writing stuff?
The edits involved relatively minor plot and character issues. Probably a little more on character.
Sue Eves says
Congratulations, Nathan and Jennifer. It sounds like a dream story all round!
Nathan, just a thought – would reading full MS submissions on a Kindle work for you?
Michelle Moran says
Great post, Jennifer! (Although I have to admit, I was one of those undignified shriekers!)
I look forward to reading BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD. Congratulations!
Nathan Bransford says
I’d definitely like to move over to an e-reader, but so far I’m not such a fan of the idea of paying to upload my docs, which the Kindle makes you do, and the Sony Reader isn’t Mac compatible, and I use a Mac at home.
I’m thinking I’m going to first see if I can read on an iPhone, and if not maybe I’ll wait on a next-generation e-reader before making an investment.
Josephine Damian says
Jennifer, I made a bet with myserlf you’d say characters. More and more I’m realizing it’s all about the characters.
Congratulations and thanks for sharing your journey. My query was just like yours, minus the incredible plot and writing creds. Other than those two things, the similarity is uncanny. But seriously, I will be looking out for your book, it sounds wonderful.
And I’m very upset with Steve Jobs for saying, “nobody reads anymore.” I really wish he’d get with the program because I can’t live without my Mac, but would love an e-reader.
Parker Haynes says
Congratulations to you both. And a double shot of Crown Royal apiece.
I went straight to your blog and I love it. You inspire me to give it a shot myself. Thanks.
Although I don’t read YA, you’ve caught my attention. I’ll buy a copy when it comes out and read it before passing it on to my youngest grand-daughter.
Nice behind-the-scenes skinny. 🙂
Congratulations to you both!
Tom Burchfield says
Congratulations, Jennifer. I follow these stories very closely and yours is an inspiring one.
I’m still working on mine and continue to blog about it here: https://tbdeluxe.blogspot.com/
Congratulations Jennifer! Thanks for giving an insight to your experiences. I am always excited to hear about new authors’ successes, especially those that start with the traditional query process.
My question for Nathan: did you check Jennifer’s blog before you took her on as a client, and did her blog make a difference in how you viewed her as a writer? Or did you see her blog after she signed as your client?
J.P. Martin says
I just have one question. I know the whole process can take a couple of years, but if there’s an agent that has already agreed to represent the book and a publisher that has already agreed to publish it, why is the book coming out two years from now?
Nathan Bransford says
No, I hadn’t seen Jennifer’s blog before I signed her on, but it definitely would have made a favorable impression — it’s a great blog. But I still would have taken her on even if she was blogless.
I hope to line up a guest blog in the next couple of months that goes into what’s happening in those two years more fully. Basically, the short version is: editing, copyediting, cover art, layout, pitching to sales team, sales team pitching to accounts, publicity, printing decisions, more publicity (hopefully), and then the book comes out. It takes a while for all that to happen.
Adaora A. says
I’m probably a jumper. BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD sounds really good.
I have question for both Jennifer and Nathan.
Jennifer (ladies first), how long did it take you to write your book and how many edits did you take before Nathan was reading over the dimly lit light of his mac computer? I always interested in time frame for writers.
Nathan I just got an iPod nano(my first apple anything) and it made me wonder. Have you ever thought of starting a podcast? I know time is tight but it’d be cool if you could.
P.S.: An iPhone would allow you to read emails AND let your favorite music filter through the background wouldn’t it? Then you could be in an ‘exceedingly’ good mood when you are reading queries.
What a great story. This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer. And congrats to you (and Nathan) on your new book.
Other Lisa says
Jennifer, many congratulations! Looking forward to seeing your book cover on the side of the page!
Thanks for the congratulations and good wishes–and congrats to those of you who’ve mentioned your own success stories. As you all probably know, there’s still plenty of work on the road ahead of me!
Adaora – I don’t remember how long it took to write, since I usually work on multiple projects at once. However, while I’m revising BMR for publication, that will be my top priority.
Jessica Burkhart says
Interesting post, Jennifer! 🙂 Congratulations!
Sarah Garrigues says
Congrats Jennifer and Nathan!
Also, I must say that I am really enjoying your blog, Jennifer. It is both encouraging and insightful to see another writer’s journey. Thanks for sharing.
Adaora A. says
@Jennier- I understand. I’m multiple at the minnute as well. I always ask every author that question anyways. Of course it has to come first! Thanks for the answer.
J.P. Martin says
Nathan, thanks for answering my last question. I noticed that advance and royalty negotiations were not on the to-do list in the answer you gave. Is it customary for the advance to have already been paid at this point? Have the royalties already been agreed upon? I’m not sure if these questions fall under your “information you don’t speak of” policy, so I understand if you can’t answer them. But if you can then that would be awesome. Thanks.
Nathan Bransford says
Figuring out payout and royalties, etc., goes into the offer and contract negotiation, which is all taken care of. So no, that’s not really a component in the year/two years time it takes for a book to come out. Contract signature is just the starting point.
Oh! So you don’t have to share Nathan’s infatuation with The Hills? Phew.
A Paperback Writer says
I feel like I’ve just read a fairy tale.
Congratulations on your success, Jennifer.
Oh, I don’t know anything about the Hills either. I just nod my head and make noncommital grunts at the computer screen whenever Nathan prattles . . . ahem, I mean goes into great, wonderful, awe-inspiring discussion about it.
Adaora A. says
@Michelle- What I know of the Hills is the one episode I watched (which I admit I couldn’t stop watching until it was over), what I read here, and what a friend from work says.
@Adaora- Basically, this is my only source for The Hills. I never even heard about it until I started coming to this blog. And I hate just jumping into a show when it’s almost halfway over. I guess I’m going to have to rent the DVD set.
This was great, please do more posts like this
Ghost Girl says
Congratulations Jennifer & Nathan! Thanks for sharing your journey with us and good luck with the rest of the process.
(I saw your news on A2A also, Jennifer–wahoo!)
Great post. You work hard and deserve the best–plus you’re a genuinely nice person.
Love your story Jennifer — especially the part about not being a squealer. They wouldn’t want me on game shows either 🙂
Nathan — I see you’re taking appointments at RWA in San Fran this summer. I didn’t realize you were interested in adding romance to your list … is this so? I see you do like suspense — romantic suspense/adventure perhaps?
<< I don't rep genre romance (but I do rep women's fiction and memoir), >>
Ah … I found my answer 🙂
Congrats, Jen! Sounds like a great book. BTW, Nathan, I see a lot of books listed on your blog as good reads but a lot of them are *old* books. Older than you. So, which books have *you* represented? Inquiring minds.
Nathan Bransford says
The older ones are books where I sold reprint rights for a new edition. In addition to living authors I also represent literary estates and have sold reprint rights for authors like Lawrence Durrell, Gerald Durrell, Richard Powell, and Winston Churchill, all of whom Curtis Brown Ltd. represented while they were alive.
Kristina Springer says
Congrats again Jennifer (and Nathan)!! Your story is great and you must be a fantastic writer that Nathan took you on even though you don’t like the Hills (REALLY?!). 🙂 Can’t wait to read your book!!
Thanks! Now I know!
Irene Tsai says
Indu Nair says
Congratulations and Thank you for sharing your success story. Truly inspiring.
I look forward to reading BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD.
Betty Atkins Dominguez says
Great Post Jennifer. Thank you for taking the time to tell us all of this and for answering our questions.
I’m afraid I wouldn’t jump up and down and yell either. How could I? I’d be lying on the floor, in faint.