I know I’ve only given you the bare-bones story of how I got a three-book deal for SLEEPWALKING. Since I didn’t actually put pen to paper-contract until three weeks ago, I was feeling too superstitious to go into detail about it. But since several of you have written to ask me how it happened (amongst you a few aspiring writers), here’s the story.
I told you about the process of writing the book.
Well, in late August I sent a few chapters of the manuscript to Stacey, my agent. She was enthusiastic. So, after fiddling with the text for a bit longer, I sent her the complete manuscript in October. She was even more enthusiastic.
And here is where the incredible time-line starts. November 5th Stacey and I had a phone chat to talk about some changes she wanted me to make before sending it to publishers. She asked me if I had written a query letter or pitch for the book that I might want her to use. I worked on a pitch letter that I felt was representative of the book and sent her this:
“Sixteen-year-old Kate Mercier finds her world turned upside down when, after her parents die, she and her sister move from Brooklyn to Paris, France to live with their grandparents. As she struggles to overcome her grief and adapt to her new life abroad she falls hard for Vincent, an eighteen-year-old Frenchman whom she sees around her neighborhood with his strange group of friends. But when she discovers that Vincent is anything but the normal teenage boy he appears to be, she is faced with a choice: will she follow her heart’s desire or trust her instincts and stay away from a love that threatens to re-immerse her into the world of death, grief and despair from which she is finally emerging?
If I were to pitch this book in the stereotypical Hollywood manner, I would say “Twilight…in Paris…with zombies.” However, SLEEPWALKING is so much more than that. The reader is plunged into the world of an American teenager living in a bewitching foreign city while attempting to rebuild her shattered life. She finds herself in the most typical teenage condition – falling in love – with the most untypical person imaginable: an eighteen-year-old Resistance fighter who died in 1942. As the book unfolds we see two young people discovering through their love for each other that (for Kate) life is worth living and (for Vincent) there is more to life than vengeance.
SLEEPWALKING introduces a new type of monster: the revenant. Like zombies they have died and been re-animated. Unlike zombies, they look like humans, don’t feast on flesh and brains, and are charged with carrying out a very special mission in their so-called-“life”.
As a forty-two year old American living in the Loire Valley with her French husband and two children, I have lived much of what Kate is experiencing: I moved to Paris when 23, fell in love with both the city and its inhabitants, and experienced the death of a parent. And though I would stop quite a ways short of comparing my husband to a zombie, who doesn’t experience seemingly insurmountable challenges in their relationships?”
Stacey thought it was perfect (and has since submitted it as an example of her favorite recent “hook” on Alan Rinzler’s blog).
I spent the next few days making the changes she had suggested and sent them back to her. And then I spent the following few days writing a 2-page plan for two sequels. Which was really going out on a limb for me because I usually don’t know what I’m going to write until I sit down and touch my fingers to the keyboard.
That brings us to (as I check my old emails) the 11th of November, a Wednesday. I emailed the sequel ideas to Stacey and sat back for what I thought would be a really long wait. Which is why I was shocked to hear back from Stacey on Monday saying that someone was already interested. They had a few questions for me, confirming that this was my first novel and wanting to see if I was open to making changes.
Exactly a week later that publishing house gave me a very generous 2-book offer. And it came with one of the most amazing compliments: the editor who had read it said she couldn’t put it down, and it ruined her date-night with her husband because all she wanted to do was go home and finish it.
Laurent and I cracked open a bottle of champagne. Although Stacey said that the process wasn’t over – she had to contact the other publishers who were currently reading the manuscript to let them know that an offer had been made – I knew I had one sure offer in the bag.
I went to the university the next day, and tried to teach my classes without floating up to the ceiling every time I thought about the deal. Then I went home and found an email from Stacey asking me to call her asap.
When I did she informed me that we had an offer from HarperCollins for a 3-book deal, and that it was a pre-emptive offer we had to accept within 24 hours. Then she asked me to sit down and told me how much they had offered. I’m glad I was sitting down. I would have definitely hurt myself if I hadn’t.
But it wasn’t just the advance they were offering that made the offer tantalizing. For those of you who don’t understand an “advance” (like me, a few months ago) it’s what it sounds like…an amount of money advanced to you, the author, by the publishing house. Once the book is published, they begin paying you royalties on the books’ sales after they have reimbursed themselves the advance money. So the goal is, of course, to sell a lot of books. And, man oh man, did they have a plan for selling SLEEPWALKING!
The offer spelled out a marketing strategy that was compelling enough to sell Velveeta to a Frenchman: online and offline promotions. They had a whole list of pre-publication buzz building efforts including sneak peaks, distributions, and advertising. They spoke of mobile platforms, multimedia, participating in teen writing websites, videos, newsletters, and podcasts. Their strategy went on for more than a page. To say that it was impressive would be seriously understating the matter.
So there was the advance. And there were the top-notch marketing ideas. But, for me, there was something else.
It was HarperCollins. The publishers of CHARLOTTE’S WEB, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE…for God’s sake! Mind you, I am not delusional enough to imagine myself being even close to a peer of Harper Lee, C.S. Lewis, or Doris Lessing. But I admit to being cheeky enough to relish the thought of seeing my name printed on the same page as their publisher.
The next day, November 25, I officially accepted HarperCollins’s offer.
Needless to say my feet didn’t touch the ground for a good few weeks. In fact, make that a month. I’ve described the feeling in my Sleepwalking post. And little by little, as things happened – “meeting” my editor Tara on the telephone, the Publisher’s Weekly article, finally getting to tell people about it, and now signing and mailing back the contract – it has begun to feel like reality.
And that’s the incredible story of how Sleepwalking morphed from a file on my computer to something that will be on bookstore shelves in summer 2011.