The agonies and delights of obtaining a book deal

This post is about the process of getting my book deal. It was written a month after I got my deal, and rereading it now I sound MENTAL. The stress/excitement really got to me. I probably could have dealt with it all better, and being cut off from my entire family at uni for the whole process didn’t help.

I waited to write this post until the fact that I had a book deal had sunk in a little more than just miscellaneous squealing, and somehow that delay turned into a month and I still haven’t even told you what happened with my novel, let alone written a summary of the process. Long story short: I got a two book deal, with Walker books, with publication set for September 2015.

I’m so, so delighted, obviously, and initially was in complete disbelief, and confusion. But I’m a little more steadied now, and for the first time in months I can relax. Rather than continuously questioning and worrying, I can actually settle down and think about what is going to happen to me, and what I am going to do over the next year to make sure to works out.

All my dreams have come true, obviously, but more than that- I’ve suddenly got a set plan for my life after I graduate. I now know exactly what I am going to be doing in a month, six months, two years, and that is incredible, and terrifying.

In a little more detail, here’s how it all went down. I thought there might be some people who find it useful, and apart from that I just want a record for myself of how it happened, so I don’t ever forget the excitement of it, and how lucky I am. Sitting down to write this made me realise what a blur the whole thing is in my memory, so a lot of this was written with the help of emails, to remind me what happened!

That sounds silly, that I can’t remember something that is basically the biggest deal to ever happen to me, but I genuinely can’t. It’s all a stressful, delightful blur. So on Monday November 18th, 2013 my agent C rang up 16 UK editors of YA fiction, and gave them a brief introduction to the book, and then sent a copy by email, along with the following pitch:

THE RED EARTH ROLLS (YA, 87000 words)

Katherine Finchley and Matthew Galloway are destined to be together. In 1745, during the siege of Carlisle, in 1854 on the way to the Crimea, in 2016 and 2036 as first scientists and then students uncovering and rediscovering a dangerous plot, and in multiple alternative timescales between. Again and again they are thrown together, with no memory of having met one another before, only an irresistible instinct that they must be with one another against all odds – even while the epic events unfolding all around seem sure to tear them apart.

Recounting through a series of intertwining love stories Katherine and Matthew’s increasingly urgent attempts to divert history, THE RED EARTH ROLLS is a romance that combines unique warmth and humour with an ambitious journey through reincarnation, time travel and war.

Lauren James is a student studying Chemistry and Physics at the university of Nottingham. She is 21 years old and this is her first novel.

She told them that the deadline was the following Friday, but said that might be extended if anyone wanted more time to decide. Then there was a week where we just waited. I had labs every day, so I basically worked in a distracted but diligent haze, and then came home and fell onto my bed in exhaustion. I didn’t really relax from the time I woke up until to past 6pm, when I knew there was going to be no more news.

I couldn’t sleep, except when I could, when I slept like the dead and could barely bring myself to wake up. I always had one finger on my phone, clicking the standby button to check for new emails. Whenever the little symbol for a message appeared in the top bar my heart skipped a beat, and I grew to hate the words ‘Unitemps’, ‘Prospects’, ‘Target Jobs’, because they were all signs it was just another false alarm, just another newsletter coming through instead of an email from my agent. (Meanwhile ‘C’, ‘Nottingham’ and ‘TRER’ are all still buzzwords that still make the breath catch in my throat because this time, maybe, just maybe this time….)

There was a weekend, during which I used up almost an entire month’s worth of minutes, lying in bed on the phone to my mum. (I didn’t see my parents until a fortnight after the deal was closed, and having to do the whole thing alone without them was probably the only part of the experience I would want to change). I ordered takeaways three times in one week, felt immensely guilty about the amount of washing up I just couldn’t bring myself to focus on, didn’t do any work for lectures (did I even go to them? I’m pretty sure I missed all my lectures that week, mentally if not physically).

One night my housemate had to actually intervene, because I came in and tried to make a meal of fish fingers, cheese on toast and rice pudding in a complete stupor. Then the next Tuesday I walked onto campus, listening to my WAKE UP, IT’S MORNING playlist (Campus- Vampire Weekend, Chloe- Grouplove, Lady Percy- King Charles, 22- Taylor Swift) and didn’t check my phone for emails the entire journey. I didn’t even check it when I got into labs, instead messing around in my bag for my goggles, determining which labcoat was mine by the faint chemical marks on the left sleeve, dumped my stuff under the bench. It was my day to make cakes for the lab group, so I had an ice cream carton full of chocolate chip cookies in my bag. I’d made them in a distraction the night before, and was a little embarrassed of them. They hadn’t risen right because I’d added raisins. But it wasn’t time for coffee yet, and half the post-docs weren’t even around, so I sat down at the desk that I had commandeered since I started working there, shook the mouse to wake up the ancient computer, which is only still used because it’s hooked up for Gas Chromatography analysis. It still uses Internet Explorer.

So I clicked onto Internet Explorer, waited the necessary seventy-eight seconds for it to load, realised I hadn’t checked my emails in almost half an hour, good god, and logged into my university email account.

There was a new message from C, dated fifteen minutes before. A forwarded email. I skim read the words ‘enjoyed enormously’, ‘Walker’, ‘encouraging’ and then suddenly all the tension I hadn’t really realised I was carrying left my body and I sagged back into the seat.

I had never really believed before then that anyone other than C and I would enjoy it, and suddenly I had this reassurance my book was worth all this hassle, which was all I’d been craving really, just a sign someone liked it. It was a forwarded email from an editor at Walker, and I could probably still pick out the exact blue colour of the font, and the yellow of the footer in her signature, I have read that email so many times. I don’t think I even stopped to read the whole thing, I just called my mum, the first time I’d ever used my phone in labs to make a call (I did this multiple times over the next few weeks, because I always seemed to be there when I got news. I never stopped feeling like I was crossing some grave moral or ethical line). She didn’t answer; I remembered she was at work and called her mobile. She didn’t answer again; I called her work phone. She picked up. I tried to say hello, but it came out a breathless, giddy kind of choked giggle.

I avoided the eyes of some students who were watching my breakdown from across the lab, and ran into the corridor. I told my mum; she was delighted. I didn’t stop to discuss at all, hung up quickly because I suddenly realised that I hadn’t actually even read the whole email. I ran back into the lab, leant over the desk and read the whole thing.

This is encouraging! I’ve let her know we can probably extend things a little if she keeps me posted.

C

Sent: 26 November 2013 10:16

Subject: RE: The Red Earth Rolls by Lauren James

Hi C,

Hope you are well? I enjoyed The Red Earth Rolls enormously – what an original concept and such strong characters. I am sharing with the team, but annoyingly a few people are away this week (how inconsiderate!). Is there any chance of extending the deadline? I will do my best to come back by Friday but want to give us a bit more wriggle room depending on how things progress.

Very best,

A

I span in a little circle, let out a giggle in delight. The girls were watching me, so I quickly mumbled an explanation. It was someone who hadn’t even known about the book, so I probably said something like ‘I wrote a book, and I just got interest from a publisher!!’ Which publisher? Huh. I opened a new tab, typed walker into the bar, realised I was using Internet Explorer and typed google.co.uk instead. Found their website, saw the logo- a bear with a candle- realised I recognised it- not only was this a publisher, a real book publisher who had read my book and liked it- it was a good publisher, one who had published books I loved, who was incredible and well known and respectable. I was overwhelmed.

Suddenly I realised I hadn’t told my Dad yet, so I ran into the hall again, rang him. He’d already spoken to Mum, and he sounded like he was in tears on the phone. I think my Dad was more emotional about the whole process that either of us, actually. While we were gleefully exclaiming together, a phd student in my group walked past. I remember I was saying ‘I’m going to die’ in delighted hyperbole at the time, and he looked at me strangely, lingered in the corridor waiting for me to hang up.

He wandered over, asked what I had made for Cake Monday. I stared at him, and then blurted out my embarrassing little explanation: ‘I just got an email from a publisher. Sorry- I wrote a book. My book- it has an interested publisher.’ He stared at me. Suddenly about ten, fifteen people came out of the next lab. Coffee time.

“We’re dying for cake,” one of them called to me. I looked at her, wide-eyed.

“Oh, that’s a guilty look,” she said, “Does that mean you forgot?”

“I’m not guilty, I’m happy,” I blurted, and then suddenly I was explaining to a whole audience what had happened. I was dragged along to coffee, dished out cookies, realised how ridiculous it was that I hadn’t even told my brother yet, any of my family, and a whole tearoom full of scientists already knew, and were fighting over my cookies.

Someone was teasing me about physics- I was the only physicist in the group, even though I’m really more of a Chemist now- but I just stood up, went into the corridor and leant against the printer for a bit. I closed my eyes, rang my brother. I don’t know what I did for the rest of that day. Sent out a few embarrassingly incoherent emails, (hopefully) did some labwork. I just remember telling my brother, and running out of the tearoom. In fact, from then on everything is a blur. I had to go through my emails to work out the order of what happened.

That was Tuesday.

On Friday we got expressions of interest from two another publishers, and more importantly I talked to A, the editor at Walker, on the phone. I can’t remember anything except the panic of it, of sitting on my bed staring at my phone and waiting for it to ring. C called me first, calmed me down, talked me through what I could and couldn’t say (don’t mention how many other publishers are interested; don’t go into great detail about what edits were done to it before submission).

She reassured me that A was pretty much probably the nicest person in the publishing industry, and we’d get along great. And then the phone rang again, and she wasn’t scary at all, just a normal, lovely person. She told me how much she liked the book, how she could barely talk about it without crying because the ending was so sad. She asked whether the sequel would have a love story, and whether she’d guessed rightly about what would happen (she was on the right track).

She loved how I’d included real historical figures in the story, and she’d done a bit of research into the Jacobite uprising and Crimean war to find out what happened in reality. She asked how I’d chosen my time periods, and I rather sheepishly admitted that while originally I’d wanted to include moments in history that weren’t immediately obviously gamechanging events, when it came down to the final choice it was just points where I could find primary sources for free on Google Books. She said that was a perfectly reasonable reason for choosing them, and said that she’d want to add more historical detail- really bring out all the different worlds so they felt real- so I’d better be prepared to get back to Google Books!

She asked how I’d got the idea, and I explained I loved the idea of nature versus nurture in how people’s personalities developed, and how interesting it would be to see whether two people would still have a connection if they were raised in different times, different places; whether their love was related to circumstance or was really soul-deep. Eventually we finished talking, and I was surprised that our conversation had only been half an hour.

I also spoke to another editor on the phone, who was just as lovely. Interestingly, she suggested the opposite type of changes- she wanted to cut back some of the historical storylines, make it more modern. She wanted to bring in a lot of the sequel into the first book in little excerpts, so that at the end there was a satisfying explanation of the machinations in the background, but I thought that it might ruin the impact of the sequel if it was all explained in the first one.

She had some really great questions about the main theme of the book- whether it was all about changing history, or about the couple getting together. She really challenged me actually, pulling out all the questionable vagueities of my sequel outline, and forcing me to decide what was really important. I’m so glad that I got the chance to hear two points of view (even if they were opposing and confused me a bit) because it has really helped see what the core of the book is that people enjoy- what I should focus on, what needs to be less confusing. I had two full expressions of interest, and two delays from other publishers who wanted more time to consider, and then we just had to wait for everyone else to come in with their decision. There was another weekend, which I tried to spend doing stuff- Christmas fairs, lab reports- rather than just lying around panicking.

The next Monday, a fortnight after submission, a solid offer came through from Walker.

Dear C,

Hope you are well and had a good weekend. It was so lovely talking to Lauren last week. Everyone here is very excited about her original and epic romance. We feel it has lots of potential, and its central themes – of love, loss and courage – are ones that will resonate with young readers everywhere.

It also offers lots of fun opportunities for marketing and promotion, and I am already dreaming of a gorgeous cover look! Lauren shows so much talent for one so young. Having spoken to her last week, I feel like she is someone with whom it would be a real pleasure to work. During our phone call, Lauren and I touched briefly upon ways to make this novel even stronger.

I feel that by building out the different time periods that Matthew and Katherine inhabit while finessing some of the historical detailing, the book will become even more compelling and so tug more firmly on readers’ heart strings. This work would build on the extensive research that Lauren has already obviously done.

As you know, Walker is a company that invests in its authors in the long term. We have a proven track record for working closely with authors to launch their careers around the world, most recently with Timmy Failure, a property we bought jointly with our sister company in the US. As well as a dedicated and passionate UK sales and marketing team, we also have a passionate foreign rights team, with an excellent track record of securing deals, often at auction.

As such, we believe that we are in an excellent position to provide a global home for Lauren and her books, and we sincerely hope that Lauren will choose us! Thank you again for sharing Lauren’s terrific novel with us! I will be sat excitedly (and probably biting my nails!) as I wait to hear from you.

An identical offer came in from another publisher on Wednesday. C got to work trying to improve the terms- she wanted to keep the film/merchandise rights, etc. I’d already decided I wanted to go with Walker, regardless of the offer, because my vision of the book matched A’s more closely, and she was so keen and excited about the book- although I did like how the other editor had challenged me, and how enthusiastic she was about elements of the sequel that I hadn’t really discussed with A. We waited anyway, to see whether they would improve their offers, and they both came back with increased offers that Friday. Walker’s was better. The offer came in at 10am, and by 6pm C had closed the deal. It was done, I had a publisher!

I sent C several excited gushing emails of thanks, tweeted 140 exclamation marks at A, and went home from labs (of course all this had happened in labs, under the amused eyes of the French postdocs, of course it had). I slept so well that night, oh my god. I slept that whole weekend, I think. It’s been a bit hard to come to terms with, especially because several days after the deal was closed my agent went on maternity leave, and then everything stopped for Christmas!

But it happened! I actually got a publisher, which is ridiculous.

A rebloggable version of this post can be found here.

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