Mark Jeffrey’s Journey to Publication

Today, I have a seriously awesome guest post for you. I’m sure you’ve heard all the hullabaloo surrounding Amanda Hocking and how she landed herself a megadeal by first going the route of self-publishing. Well, today, I have another success story in that vein. If you haven’t heard of Mark Jeffrey, consider yourself introduced. The first book in his previously podcasted Max Quick series came out yesterday from HarperCollins and he’s been kind enough to share his journey, which has been unconventional, but also pretty awesome. I hope you guys enjoy!

On May 1, my first YA novel MAX QUICK: THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT arrived in hardcover in bookstores across the globe.  And now I’m on top of the world, doing guest blog posts like this one, signing books, doing interviews, etc.  I’m living the fairy tale.  And if you’re an aspiring author, you’re sitting there going, How in the heck did he do that?  

Well. :)  Everyone’s story is different.  But here’s mine.

First thing you should know is that it took me seven years to go from finished manuscript to hardcover in stores.  And that is something I hear quite a bit from authors: that it takes a *long* time to get published, if at all.

Before the seven years, it took me a year and a half to write the book.  The writing itself was very subconscious.  I didn’t plan it out.  It was initially kind of a mess.  Nevertheless, I kept chipping away and in the end I had something I felt pretty good about.  Now what?

Well, turns out Michael Crichton’s editor was a friend, so I figured I would somehow be able to get the right introductions and get published pretty quickly (Oh, Past Self, how silly you were).  Mr. Editor Guy told me that I had to get a Lit Agent first, and that usually took about a year if you were any good.  Then, it took the Lit Agent another year at least to get a yes from a publisher.  So that’s two years total in the best case scenario(!)

I’m from the Internet world where six months is an eternity.  Two years to my ears was like when the sun expands to swallow the earth.  So I decided that was unacceptable and started looking for creative alternatives.

As luck would have it, Lulu.com had recently arrived on the scene.  Lulu pioneered ‘print on demand’ publishing or POD.  Before POD, the only way to publish was to using a printing press.  Setting up a printing press is a pain, so when you have it, you want to print a lot of books. Trouble is, if you print too many and they don’t sell, you end up with a warehouse full of books and that costs money to store.  If you print too few and it sells like crazy, you miss out on the opportunity to sell more books.  So you have to guess just right — which is of course basically impossible.  POD solves this problem: you don’t print a book until someone orders one.  You never have too few or too many, and you never have to warehouse books. Only downside is the books cost a little more to print, so they’re more expensive.

So I published MAX QUICK: THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT on Lulu in September of 2004.

And nothing happened.

Nobody knew about the book or who I was.  I was just another random in a sea of randoms.  The book was not going to sell unless I got out there and pushed it myself.

So I tried a lot of things.  I bought ads on Google and Amazon.  I got it reviewed on Slashdot.  I tried book signings.  None of it really worked.  Then I started going to book conferences.  At the end of 2004 I went to the World Fantasy Conference in Phoenix, AZ.  It was mostly a bunch of publishers, authors and agents.  I figured maybe I’d meet an agent.  I did a lot of talking to people, gave away a bunch of copies of the book.  I even did a reading that three people attended.

Nobody cared.  Galactic yawn.

But then I met a dude sitting at a small card table named Evo Terra.  He took a copy of the book and checked it out.  (It was he who told me it was ‘magical realism’, not scifi or fantasy.  He was right).  Evo ran a scifi / fantasy site called The Dragon Page.  It was a combination of a blog and something new called a podcast.  And he had an idea for something he called ‘podiobooks': podcast audiobooks.  He said that if I was willing to podcast my book — as in, record myself reading the entire book aloud and give him the mp3’s — he would promote it on his show.

My initial feelings were a little mixed.  It sounded like a LOT of work (I was right about that).  And there was zero chance of making money.  The podcast was given away for free.  And it might damage my chances of getting an agent.  “What’s this?”  “That’s a podcast audiobook.”  “What?  You’ve already given the audiobook away for free on the Internet?” “Err.  Yeah.  Why?”  “No publisher is going to touch this now.  They want the audiobook rights: you’ve just given them away for free.”

But.  Nothing was happening anyway.  I had nothing to lose.  And after a minute of thinking about this, I realized that my biggest problem was that I was unknown.  And Evo had just handed me a microphone to the entire planet; this was marketing that should actually cost *me* money.

So I did it.  I recorded the entire book.  I edited out all umms and ahhs.  I bought music and scored the entire reading with matching mood music.  And Evo put the mp3’s up on Podiobooks.com and promoted it, just as he said.  Two other gentlemen — Tee Morris and Scott Sigler — were also podcasting their novels.  We were the first three people in the world to do this.

And then we got really, really lucky.

Apple decided to build podcasting support directly into iTunes.  There were relatively few podcasts at this time, so this meant our podiobooks would be featured prominently in every copy of iTunes on the planet.

I ended up getting 2.5 million downloads.  Scott Sigler ended up with a book deal, whereupon he became a New York Times Bestselling Author.  Tee Morris just published his first big book with HarperCollins the same week I did.

My success led to Oscar Nominee Abigail Breslin listening to the podiobook version of ‘Pocket’ and mentioning it as one of her favorite books in a nationally syndicated article.  I mentioned this article to a friend who happened to know a Lit Agent; with the 2.5 million and Abigail’s endorsement, she decided to read the book.  She loved it, offered to represent me.  Four months later, I had a hardcover deal with HarperCollins.

A year and a half later (publishing is slooooow.  even when you have a deal :) ), it’s today.  And the book is in stores around the world.  And I couldn’t be more delighted.

So I guess the moral of the story is you need to get lucky.  But you have to be out there trying things for the luck to happen.  You can’t just sit in your house and hope.  I tried a lot of things that didn’t work.  Even when I came home from Phoenix I believed the trip had been a bust: I didn’t get an agent, that had been my goal.  But it led to the podiobook which led to the agent.

Fortune favors those who try crazy things.  You can be succeeding even when you think you’re failing — so keep trying! :)

Oh, and I do hope you’ll check out MAX QUICK: THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT! :)  “When time stops all over the world, creating ‘the Pocket’ of time wherein basic physics are strangely altered, only Max Quick and a few other kids seem to unaffected.  While the rest of the world remains frozen around them, Max—and Casey, Ian and Sasha—find that it is up to them to discover how this has happened and reverse it. Along the way, they encounter ‘magic’ books, ancient artifacts and other clues to the riddle of stopped time.  And Max finds that his own true identity may not be what he once believed.  Now he must embrace his past to save the future and prevent the very world from being altered forever…”  More info at http://maxquickseries.com

Guest Post: The Mess in the Middle

The Mess in the Middle
By Brunonia Barry,
Author of The Map of True Places

One year into a two-year book deadline, I have reached page 165 in my manuscript. So far, my characters have obediently done everything I’ve asked of them, but today something changed. This morning, they couldn’t seem to take a step without tripping over their feet. So they decided to stand still. I couldn’t make them go forward, and I couldn’t make them go back. When I asked what the problem was, they told me they were confused.

I’d be panicked about this situation except that I’ve been here before. Twice. And even more if you count the screenplays I wrote when I lived in LA or the books I’ve written for ‘tweens. While I don’t like it, I have come to expect that there are times when characters just won’t move.

For me, this always happens in the same place, maybe not always on page 165 but some place close to it. It’s always in the middle of the book. “What was it you wanted me to do?” seems to be the question my characters ask, and when I tell them, they become skeptical. Since I trust characters over plot every time, I tend to listen when a character tells me “I wouldn’t do that kind of thing.” And the middle of the book is always where they seem to doubt their motivation.

There’s a name for this. It’s called the mess in the middle. It’s an expression I first heard when I was enrolled in one of Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshops. I was writing a comedy called Sluts, a sort of West Coast Sex in the City with an edge, when my characters refused the adventures I was trying to send them on and threatened to infect me with a case of writer’s block if I persisted in giving them directions. They were angry with me, and who could blame them? As a relatively new writer, I was lost and confused.

Confusion, in itself, doesn’t bother me. I honor it as part of the writing process, a byproduct of communing with the muse. It is a frequent ailment, but not a serious one. Unfortunately, the mess in the middle is a different illness. If left unchecked, it can be fatal. I’m willing to wager that this midpoint is where most writers abandon their projects. I know it has been true for me. I have several unfinished manuscripts sitting in drawers, including that screenplay. One day, knowing what I know now, I may open the drawer and dust off those stories. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you exactly what the mess in the middle is, and what you can do about it.

I’m sure you’ve heard that old story about the mountain. You are climbing a tree lined mountain trail in an effort to see the view from the top. You’ve been walking for quite a while. About halfway up, you realize that you don’t have any idea where you are. You can no longer see the bottom of the mountain, and you cannot yet see the top. You begin to panic. If it were up to you, you’d just quit, but you can’t. You’re halfway up the side of a mountain for God’s sake.

So what do you do? If you’ve prepared for the hike, you’ve been smart enough to bring a map. Though it’s an exercise in blind faith, you have no choice but to follow it.

In writing, my map is my step outline. Though I write free form for quite a while when I’m starting a project, I am not a pantser. I believe very strongly in outlines. Once I’ve captured the voice of the characters and know them well enough to ask that first what if question that propels them forward, it is time to create a step outline.

My outline is simple enough. It contains only the major steps of the story. Sometimes it’s a sentence or paragraph, sometimes a list of bullet points. I spend more time on it that any other aspect of my writing, because it’s the only tool that allows me to see the big picture. It particularly helps with pacing and with the progression of character changes. If I follow it, I seldom get into trouble.

The problem is, sometimes I don’t follow it. I am moving along so fast, and the story is going so well, that I just keep writing. This is exactly what I discovered this morning when I went back to look at my outline. A few days ago, I was writing so furiously that I skipped a step, and, as a result, my characters missed an important turn. If they had reached the impasse immediately, I might have spotted my omission. Unfortunately, the dead end hadn’t come until the following chapter, several turns later.

If I hadn’t taken the time to create my map, I might never have found my mistake. The manuscript might have ended up in that drawer with my screenplay. Luckily, with my step outline and just a bit of work, I was able to get my characters back on track. They are now happily moving forward.

How are your story maps constructed? Do you outline? Have you experienced the mess in the middle?

As originally published on “Writer Unboxed

© 2011 Brunonia Barry, author of The Map of True Places

Author Bio
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Brunonia Barry, lives in Salem with her husband and their beloved golden retriever, Byzantium.

Barry is the first American Writer to win the Woman’s International Fiction Festival’s 2009 Baccante Award (for The Lace Reader). Her second novel, The Map of True Places is out now.

For more information please visit http://www.BrunoniaBarry.com, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

Post of Goodness

I sent my manuscript to Agent Dan! At last, it’s a miracle! There was much hair pulling and teeth gnashing in creating this draft. I started with a draft of 61,000 words, which had already been well-vetted. I proceeded to cut the book down to a more skeletal 49,000 and ended up with a shiny and new 77,000 word book. That’s not counting all the word replacement, line edits, etc. etc.

At the end, I was all hung up on whether or not to include this certain thread of scenes. I was back and forth never quite able to decide and my critique partners were on the fence, too. It took my mom to remind me that, Hey! I have an agent for that. So, I’m looking forward to get some final guidance from him on that issue.

In the end, it’s definitely the hardest I’ve worked on any single piece of writing. I’m so thankful to my critique partners for pushing me and for always being around to brainstorm better and better ideas with me. Now, I’m looking forward to a much needed reading binge. If I owe you critiqued pages, I can’t wait to get started on those!

On the horizon:

-Back to work on Book 9 of the ghostwriting series

-Turning in a requested sample for another possible series

-Taking the MPRE (the ethics part of the bar)

-Turning 25 (on Thursday)

-Reading…for fun!

-Critiquing for my friends

-Starting to think about my next book

 

Reading Binge Day 1 Starts Now: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

 

And in other goodness, my friend and YA Super Star Gretchen McNeil is revealing the cover of her debut novel POSSESS, which will be coming out from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in August of this year. Go check it out–the cover gods have shined upon her for sure.

 

Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her overprotective mom, by the hunky son of the police officer who got her father killed, and by the eerie voices which she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Turns out the voices are demons–the Biblical kind, not the Buffy kind–and Bridget possesses the rare ability to banish them.

San Francisco’s senior exorcist and his newly assigned partner from the Vatican enlist Bridget’s help with increasingly bizarre and dangerous cases of demonic possession. But when one of Bridget’s oldest friends turns up dead in a ritualistic sacrifice that mirrors her father’s murder, Bridget realizes she can’t trust anyone. An interview with her father’s murderer reveals a link between Bridget and the Emim: a race of part-demons intent on raising their forefathers to the earth in human form. Now Bridget must unlock the secret to the Emim’s plan before someone else close to her winds up dead, or worse–the human vessel for a Demon King.

Friday Five

 

Thing One. Contracts have been sent to my agent for the two books I’m writing, which means (I think) I should be able to tell y’all what books they are very, very soon. They won’t be under my name, but I promise you the series is so cute. I love it and I can’t wait to start working! I will be writing books 9 & 10 of the series.

Thing Two. This week in revisions resulted in some serious character building. Remember I am set to turn my manuscript into Agent Dan next week. Tensions are high, hair has been pulled. Well, I spent three days writing 2 brand new chapters for the opening and sent them off to my lovely critique partner, hoping I had solved all the world’s problems by being so industrious as to write the new chapters. Ummmm, not so much. My critique partner wisely pointed out that these chapters were not good. Okay, so she would never put it like that, but that was the gist of it. In conclusion, the chapters were completely scrapped. I deleted about 13k in one swipe. But good news: A new opening has been created and vetted by critique partners and I think things just might be coming together.

Thing Three. I really enjoyed this article by Patton Oswalt called “Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die.” (Although, I respectfully disagree, Mr. Oswalt.) Turns out he’s coming to speak at BookPeople this weekend, too, so I might have to go hear him if I have time.

Thing Four. A couple of my writing buddies have had good news this week. I found this in Publishers Lunch today:

Debra Driza’s debut, a three-book sci-fi thriller series, to Claudia Gabel at Katherine Tegen Books, in a very nice deal, by Taylor Martindale at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Congratulations, Debra! I’m really excited for your series.

Also, Lisa and Laura Roecker unveiled their final cover art for Liar Society. Love the pink hair!

 

Thing the fifth. I just got a ton of advanced copies that I’m dying to read:

Delirium (HarperCollins)
Here Lies Bridget (Harlequin)
One Hundred Candles (Harlequin)
Okay For Now (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The Vespertine (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Shine (Abrams)
Angelfire (HarperCollins)
Rage (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Any suggestions on which one I should tackle first?

 

Finally, stop by Monday when Shana and I will start our contest for a copy of Matched and some other goodies.

In Which I Get Real Awkward About A Book

It’s been awhile since I totally gushed about a book, but get ready because this is about to be a borderline inappropriate public display of affection.

Before I Fall is one of those books people kept telling me to read, but for some reason I resisted. Actually, I know exactly why. I wasn’t sure I needed to subject myself to the book equivalent of Groundhog’s Day.

I mean, no offense, Bill Murray, but I really didn’t care for your movie–and that only took 101 minutes off my life (promise, just looked it up). With Before I Fall I was committing to a whopping 470 pages.

See, Before I Fall tracks the story of Sam Kingston, a high school senior forced to relive the day of her death over and over and over again. Seriously, it’s a lot of times. I won’t tell you how many, but you can do a quick search of the interwebs if you’re overly interested. I was thinking maybe three re-dos of the day max, but no. And what’s amazing is that the repeats don’t fall flat. The author, Lauren Oliver, patiently alters the day, creating ripple effects that fold together in beautiful and unexpected ways–little mysteries you weren’t sure were there until Oliver both surprises and satisfies with her answers.

As the story progresses, so does Sam. At the beginning of the book, Sam and her three best friends are popular, selfish, and nasty. Reading Sam’s personal narrative, it’s difficult not to be disgusted with her behavior. Still, the voice is never overwrought. The dialogue and the narrative are spot on, probably one of the most realistic teen voices I’ve read to date.

I read another review saying the plot was a bit predictable and, sure, I guess any book in which the same day is repeated over and over again could feel that way, but I can honestly say that while reading, I felt the book could go one of several ways. It could have been Mean Girls Take Two, but instead the end result was more surprising, layered, and meaningful than that. It’s emotional and pretty and will make you want to live every single day to its fullest without making you feel like you’re an extra in that Queen Latifah movie.

Plus, there’s romance–of course, there’s romance. And since we’re speaking of favorites, it might be my favorite YA romance ever.

Alright, so with that, I do hereby declare Before I Fall my favorite book of the year. And if you know me at all you know that once I say something is my favorite, it’s pretty much irreversible. (Recall the song Replay by Iyaz circa Spring 2010.)  I hope you read it if only so that I have someone to discuss it with, but trust me, it’s for your own good.

Oh and Lauren Oliver, you make me feel like a hack, but that’s okay because I love you anyway.

Make-A-Fan Monday: Flux Books

Today I’m making you a fan of…Flux Books!

Reasons Why You Should Love Flux: To me, Flux strikes me as one of the more innovative Teen Imprints out there. It’s an independent publisher, catering exclusively to teens. Not middle grade, not picture book, not the broad umbrella of children’s lit. Just straight YA. As a result, I find a lot of there titles to err on the edgy side (a good thing, in my opinion), but really the genres run the gamut. Although not the powerhouse presence of a HarperCollins or Random House, Flux has managed to wrangle some of YA’s hottest authors. Right now, they have Simone Elkeles, Maggie Stiefvater, and A.S. King and I think Mandy Hubbard was just signed for a new book. What’s more, Flux puts out some great covers–always big in my book! Here are a few examples:

 

Finally, if you’re a writer, you can sub to them without an agent.

A few Flux books on my To Be Read List:

Second Virginity of Suzy Green

Suzy Green used to be one of the coolest “almost-Goth” party girls in Australia. That was before her older sister Rosie died and her family moved to a new town. Gone are the Doc Martens and the attitude. All she wants is to be like Rosie—perfect. The new Suzy Green makes straight As, hangs with the in-crowd at her new school, and dates the hottest guy around. And since all her new friends belong to a virginity club, she joins, too. So what if she’s not technically qualified?

This is What I Want To Tell You

Nadio and his twin sister, Noelle, always had a unique bond. And somehow, Keeley Shipley fit perfectly into their world. But when Keeley spends the summer in England, she comes home changed, haunted by a dark memory. As she and Nadio fall in love, they try to hide it from Noelle, who’s jealously guarding a secret of her own. Slowly, a life-long friendship begins to crack under the crushing weight of past trauma, guarded secrets, jealousy, obsession . . . and an unexpected love that could destroy them.

The Fat Girl

Jeff Lyons can’t stand Ellen de Luca, the fat girl in his ceramics class. She’s huge, clumsy, can’t throw a pot to save her life, and stares at Jeff all the time. But he’s a “nice guy” and feels terrible when Ellen overhears his hurtful remarks about her. The “crumbs of kindness” he tosses her way soon turn into advice on weight loss, college, clothes, hair . . . and, to everyone’s surprise, good-looking Jeff actually dumps his pretty girlfriend to be with the fat girl! Re-creating Ellen is a labor of love, Jeff thinks. But as her pounds melt away, Jeff resents the happy, independent young woman he has unleashed. Where is the gratitude for all he’s done for her?

 

So now that you’re a fan, here’s how you can stalk Flux:

Flux Website

Flux Submission Guidelines

Follow Flux on Twitter

Become a Fan on Twitter

Agents and Editors Crave Fabulosity

So I wanted to give y’all a heads up that I’ll be talking about what I learned at SCBWI Agent/Editor Day in Dallas all week. I went this past Saturday and got a ton of great information that I hope you will find helpful. The two speakers were Agent Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown an Editor Molly O’Neill of HarperCollins. I’ll try to alternate between information pertinent to those seeking agents and those in the agented submission process, but there is a fair bit of info that I think everyone will find useful. I want to try to focus each discussion to one or two points rather than listing a bunch of bulleted tidbits, so who knows, this might take us beyond a week. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of it, though, I thought I’d do a quick introduction. See, I was thinking on my ride home whether it was ok to share what I’d learned at the conference. I figured, of course, that it was. I see agents and writers often sharing insider information from conferences. But to reassure myself I recalled something Jennifer Rofe kept saying. She would say “tell your friends.” As in “tell your friends” so they won’t make this mistake. Then Molly reaffirmed this sentiment by saying something to the effect of “Hopefully this will lead to something fabulous crossing my desk.”

So, in response to much, much internet ranting about editors or agents or whoever trying to keep great works out of the industry or about agentfail, I have to say that it seems agents and editors crave fabulosity. 

They’re not rooting against you. Agents and editors do these type of conferences to attract great projects for themselves! They want you to win. I think nothing would make an agent or editor happier than finding a standout project waiting in their inboxes. 

It’s not an us v. them scenario. No matter where in the publishing process you might find yourself. Whether you’re a newbie writer, a published author, an agent, an editor, or a bookstore buyer, everyone is just wanting good books. 

I hope we can at least all agree on that.