Forget everything you think you know about faeries…
Creatures full of magic and whimsy?
Not in the Oakenwyld. Not anymore.
Deep inside the great Oak lies a dying faery realm, bursting with secrets. Long ago the faeries mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake.
Only one young faery–Knife–is determined to find out where her people’s magic has gone and try to get it back. Unlike her sisters, Knife is fierce and independent. She’s not afraid of anything –not the vicious crows, the strict Faery Queen, or the fascinating humans living nearby. But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she ever anticipated. Can Knife trust Paul to help, or has she brought the faeries even closer to the brink of destruction?
You guessed it! Our next author interview is R.J. Anderson. I’ve already heard buzz about her upcoming book Knife (in the UK) and Faery Rebels (in the US)–How lucky is she to have two gorgeous covers!? After reading the blurb, I know I can’t wait to get a hold of the novel! Thanks so much for joining us, R.J.!
Congrats on your debut novel, Knife. Can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
KNIFE / SPELL HUNTER (I’ll just call it KNIFE from now on, for brevity’s sake!) was my second completed manuscript, and I finished it in the spring of 1994 — though it took me thirteen more years to sell it. You’d think I’d have written other novels during that time, but I didn’t: I was busy writing fan fiction and posting it on the Internet. Which was good writing practice, taught me to value criticism and earned me a small but loyal audience, so I don’t consider that time wasted.
Anyway, I’d had enough encouragement from friends who had read KNIFE, as well as from the first editor I ever sent it to, that I felt sure the book had potential. So whenever I got a rejection I’d snivel and moan and put the ms. away for months or years before mustering the will to revise and send it out again, but I never gave up on it entirely.
It wasn’t until 2002, however, when an online acquaintance told me that she was an editor with a major publishing house and would be interested in reading my original manuscript, that I really woke up and got serious about doing whatever it might take to get KNIFE published. I did two rounds of revisions for that editor, and although circumstances beyond either one of our control meant that she didn’t end up being the one to buy the book in the end, her criticisms and suggestions really helped me take the book to a whole new level.
Wow. That goes to show you that you never know what great contacts you could be making online! Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
I think it had to be getting my agent, because it was so quick and dramatic. I’d just been turned down by another agent who “liked but didn’t love” my manuscript, but was willing to recommend me to another agent she thought might feel differently. Once she made that referral, I had my first e-mail from Josh Adams in two days and an offer of representation less than a week later. Josh had e-mailed a couple of days before to tell me he was loving KNIFE and ask when would be a good time to talk with me about it, so our conversation didn’t come as a complete surprise, but you can bet I spent the weekend in a tizzy trying to find out everything I could about Adams Literary, and think of all the questions I should ask before accepting an offer of representation!
With my editor I had even more advance notice, because a week before the book went to auction she asked my agent if she could call me and see how willing I’d be to do the kind of revisions she had in mind for Knife’s story, and get a feel for what I might be like to work with. So my first call with her wasn’t really The Call, but more of a get-to-know-you experience. It was very exciting, though! Especially because we really did click well right off the bat, and when I put down the phone I found myself hoping that HarperCollins would win the auction so I’d get to work with her. And fortunately, that’s just how it turned out!
How exciting both must have been!
This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
I think my biggest oops is over my own stupidity and (let’s be frank) laziness in not continuing to turn KNIFE around and send it back out after it had been rejected a couple of times in a row. I allowed myself to waste years just sitting around moping over how slow publishing was, when it probably would have gone a lot faster if I’d been more persistent and proactive in approaching more and different publishers.
It also took me a ridiculously long time to realize that my book was YA (MG really, though it’s sort of on the borderline between the two) instead of an “adult” fantasy. I feel kind of silly about that, too! It seems so obvious to me now.
An important message for writers not to be paralyzed by rejection. Thanks for sharing! Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?
I have to say it’s been really exciting doing contracted revisions with my editor, knowing she loves my writing and my story but also wants to help me make it the best it can be. She’s been great at pointing out the places where my book is weak or confusing, but also leaving it up to me to figure out how best to solve those problems — trusting my judgment, rather than imposing her own vision on the book. And I think most professional editors are that way, really. I just never realized it before I had the chance to work with one.
The part that’s surprised me is how little the author often knows about what’s really going on with her book. I have a great agent and editors who try to keep me in the loop and are generally very willing to answer questions, but sometimes it’s hard to even know what questions I should be asking. I guess I imagined that the author would hear about every meeting related to her book and get copies of every little bit of promotional material, and that’s just not the case. Agents and editors have a lot of clients and a lot of projects on the go at any given time, and sometimes the author has to politely beg for information before they even realize she doesn’t already know!
It looks like your book is coming out in the US and UK at the same time. Is this typical? How did that happen?
Actually, it’s coming out in the UK on January 8th, which puts it four months ahead of the US release date (which is April 28th). The rights to the UK sold six months later than my US rights, but the book is coming out earlier in the UK because publishing moves much faster over there than it does here.
As for being typical — it’s not that typical from what I understand, but my book has an English setting and feel to it, so it was a natural fit for the UK market in that respect. Also, my agent has a partnership with an agency in the UK, and he worked hard to retain UK rights to the book when working out the details of my contract with HarperCollins. That enabled him to send the manuscript out to a number of publishers over there, and it was eventually bought by Orchard Books last December. Which was very exciting because it was like selling the book all over again!
So cool to have had TWO deals that quickly! Could you explain to us why your book has a different title in the US and UK?
KNIFE was my original title for the book, and my UK editor thought it was a perfect fit — short and memorable and dynamic. I think that the slight darkness and edginess (if you’ll pardon the pun) to that title was appealing for the UK market, where the dividing line between middle grade and teen literature is less strongly marked. But my US publisher felt that to call it just KNIFE would be confusing and perhaps give people a wrong impression of what the book was about, and they wanted to emphasize the faery content. So after much back-and-forthing, we came up with FAERY REBELS for the series (since in the US I had a two-book deal for KNIFE and its sequel) and SPELL HUNTER for the book title.
Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?
My first contracted editorial letter was seven pages long. She started out by telling me all the things she loved about the book, and then moving on to the places where she felt the plot and characters needed work. Many of the things she mentioned we’d discussed on the phone previously, so they didn’t come as a big shock or anything.
Still, it took me a few days to really process all the information in the letter and decide how I wanted to tackle the revisions. No matter how gracious and thoughtful an editor’s criticisms may be, it’s easy to succumb to feelings of “O woe is me! I suck! They only bought this manuscript because they felt sorry for me!” It’s also easy to resent or resist certain criticisms and tell yourself that the editor just doesn’t understand your Sublime Artistic Vision.
But once I’d finished wallowing in self-pity for a day or two, I got excited and started thinking of ways to solve the problems my editor had pointed out. And I also realized that my editor was right in her criticisms — not just about a few things, but about everything. The book is a LOT better now than it was — tighter, more focused, and also deeper.
I love hearing about author-editor relationships that work well! Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
Oh, goodness. This is hard, because there are so many books I love. But I think I’m going to have to say I wish I’d written C.S. Lewis’s THE SILVER CHAIR. That is my favorite of all the Narnia books, and I adore Puddleglum.
Thanks so much for telling us all about your journey to publication! Can’t wait to check out FAERY REBELS here in the US and I’m sure we’ll be hearing great things in the future from you. Again, Congratulations on your success!