When last we visited the confessional, I told about one of the best writing conferences I’ve attended. I was pitching a young adult superhero story entitled Failstate. By the end of that conference, I had three nibbles that I could pursue afterwards:
- Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press had asked to see the entire mansucript.
- Amanda Luedeke asked to see the first chapter.
- Steve Laube had asked to see the entire manuscript, but first I had to cut 30,000 words from it (roughly 30%).
So what was I going to do?
As much as it pains me to say it, I’m somewhat lazy. If I could find someone who would accept he manuscript as is, without making the cut, so much the better. Since Amanda hadn’t specified which version she wanted to see, I sent her the first chapter of the manuscript. Once that was done, I admittedly waited for a little while. I figured I should give her a little while to look at it and see what she had to say.
I don’t remember how long I waited, but I didn’t hear anything. I figured that it was time to start cutting to get the manuscript down to 70,000 words.
First things first: I went through the story and found all the subplots, basically anything that really didn’t contribute to the main story. It was painful, but I figured it would make for a trimmer, faster story, and that might not be a bad thing. But when I was done cutting, I realized that I was less than halfway to my goal.
So I started making deeper cuts. There were scenes and other plot points that, while they fed into the main storyline, didn’t contribute as much to it. These cuts really hurt, but I started gutting even more stuff out of the story. Eventually I got down to the point where I simply couldn’t cut anything else. I was at the barest bones of the story. I honestly didn’t know what else I could cut at that point.
And yet it still hadn’t been enough. I was still a few thousand words over the 70,000 target.
Thankfully, in working over the manuscript so many times, I had noticed something about my writing: I have a habit of redundancy. I’ll state something in my story, and then repeat it in a slightly different way. I went through the manuscript again to eliminate all of these redundancies and to tie off any loose ends I found.
And that was it. Once I was done, I had reached the 70,000 word target. It had taken me a few months to get it to that point (two and a half, if I remember correctly). Midway through December, I sent off the leaner and meaner version of Failstate to Steve Laube.
Yet I still hadn’t heard anything from Amanda. So I decided to pull a fast one. I sent an e-mail to Amanda, letting her know that I had really enjoyed meeting her at the conference and I was looking forward to hearing from her about the first chapter. Oh, and by the by, I just so happened to send the full manuscript to Steve Laube, just FYI.
It worked. Amanda wrote back and said that she wanted the full manuscript as well. So I sent it to her and kept my fingers crossed.
Within a few days, I got another note back from Amanda, saying she was halfway through the book and was really liking it. The next day, I got another note saying that she was almost done and she wanted to talk on the phone.
The day after that, Amanda and I spoke on the phone. She hadn’t quite finished reading things yet, but she was ready to sign me right then and there.
So I had to come to a decision and quickly. I knew that if I signed with Steve or Amanda, I knew I’d be in good hands. Steve Laube is a pillar of the publishing industry, but I had a good vibe with Amanda. We got along great and I had a feeling that she “got me,” so to speak.
I suggested that she finish reading the book and, that if she still wanted to, I’d sign with her. She agreed, and the next day, we made it official. I was signing with Amanda Luedeke.
But I had to let Steve know. So I sent him an email to let him know what had happened. He was surprised; he had only just found the email with the slimmer version that very day. But he wished me luck and that was that.
So what happened with Jeff? Well, I had emailed him and asked him which version he’d want to see, the slim and trim version or the “director’s cut” version. He told me to send the full 100,000 word manuscript. Shortly after I did that, he wrote back and said he was willing to publish me. But by that point, I had signed with Amanda and she was shopping my story around to some of the bigger publishing houses.
And here’s the amazing thing about Jeff. When I told him that was the situation, he totally understood. He said that if I got into one of the bigger houses, awesome. But if not, he’d be ready.
After that, things went pretty quickly. While a couple of larger houses took a peek at what I had, none of them were interested. So a few months later, I signed with Marcher Lord Press. Jeff had found a cover artist who was able to bring my characters to life and before long, I had my first book in print.
Now here’s the thing that I’m grateful for. Not only had I connected with an awesome agent who “gets me” and my particular situation, but I was helped along by good people who were understanding and willing to work with me. While I didn’t sign with Steve Laube, I was grateful that he didn’t hold it against me that I signed with Amanda. And Jeff’s willingness to let me see what else was out there was awesome as well. It’s great when you get in with a good team.
But my journey wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot. In two weeks, we’ll talk about how Failstate went from a solo book to a trilogy.