30 September 2010

Signing the agent contract

I usually tend to wait at least a week before announcing major news on my site. Call it caution, or perhaps the need for time to process what happened, or simple modesty. (Also, I don’t “write publicly” on my website; I keep my writing under wraps until it’s ready for the big show—publication.) When I won the Writers of the Future contest earlier this year, I waited a week before making the announcement; however, in that case I needed to wait for Author Services, the literary agency that runs the contest, to make their official press release. Even if that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t blast the information onto my site the moment it happened. Time to process, time to decide how to break the news. . . .

So here is the big news of two weeks ago, in a continuing Very Good Year:

I have signed with the Bob Mecoy Literary Agency in New York.

Which means that I am an “Agented Author,” represented by an excellent professional agent with a few decades of publishing experience who will work with me to advance my career. Bob has a extremely impressive resumé, knows story and structure better than many authors I’ve spoken to, and represents two great friends of the Black Gate family: Scott Oden and Howard Andrew Jones. I didn’t need much more than Howard’s recommendation to agree to sign the contract with Bob to have him represent me. Of course, Bob’s enthusiasm for my novel and my future plans helped as well.

What does this mean in the immediate future? Well, I’ll let you know . . . two weeks after the fact. Caution again.

However, I can tell you how this came about, and a lot of the credit must go to Howard A. Jones for helping me out. Howard wrote a great article on how he got his first publishing contract, and in it he describes how important it is to develop friendships with other writers and become part of a community. This isn’t “mercenary,” it’s simply that writing is a pretty lonely job: it’s something you do in your home/apartment/hotel room onto a piece of paper or a computer screen. Finding paths to meet other writers is a great way to open up your world: you learn from others, you find common ground, and, yes, it might help your career.

Taking part in the last two National Novel Writing Months was a good way to make writing a more social experience for me, and the first one pulled me out of a novel-rut that had lasted over a year. But even more important for me is my association with Black Gate magazine, which has gone on for four years now and has brought me into contact with a number of phenomenal writers with similar tastes. I never stepped into the Black Gate world imagining it as purely some portal to authorial success—I simply enjoyed writing for the magazine. But if you enjoy something enough, and enjoy it with the right people, some amazing things might happen.

Down to specifics. . . .

Last year for NaNoWriMo 2009 I wrote the first draft of a novel called Turn over the Moon. It takes place in my science-fantasy setting of “Ahn-Tarqa,” which I had already used for a number of stories, two of which I had sold to Black Gate (“The Sorrowless Thief” and “Stand at Dubun-Geb,” issue dates to-be-announced). I had not originally planned to write an Ahn-Tarqa novel—at least, not yet. I had some idea of a distant, epic adventure about the strange continent, but it seemed years away from happening. However, ten days before the firing of the starting gun of National Novel Writing Month ‘09, I suddenly tossed away the idea I had been working on for two months and decided to instead write a novel as a follow-up to an Ahn-Tarqa story I had recently finished. (Bill Ward gave me the idea that this story might expand into a novel, so I must give him the credit for starting me off this happy direction.)

So during November I wrote Turn over the Moon, and was very pleased with the results. But was this the novel I wanted to send out when I tried to approach publishers and agents in 2010? I wasn’t sure. I had three other novels in states of revision that I thought also might make good candidates, including the NaNoWriMo 2008 novel Orphans of Fenris, and really had no idea where I should start. I began 2010 working at short stories, making a resolution to keep more short works at market to build up my name. At the time, I had forgotten that I had submitted one of my Ahn-Tarqa stories, “An Acolyte of Black Spires,” to the Writers of the Future Contest. I didn’t think I was going to win; like most markets, I considered it simply an opportunity, and didn’t attach myself to it actually getting accepted. (I try to make submitting my work fun, and don’t fret about rejection.)

Then, in March, I got the phone call: I was a finalist, one of nine (usually eight), for the first quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest. Suddenly, it was serious. I calmed myself, however. The nine stories would now go to the panel of judges—some of the biggest science-fiction and fantasy writers in the world—and only if “An Acolyte of Black Spires” was picked for one of the three top slots would I be a “contest winner” and appear in the yearly anthology.

I went back to writing and revising more short stories, working even more diligently now.

Then, in June, I got the phone call that told me “An Acolyte of Black Spires” had placed third. I was a winner of The Writers of the Future Contest.

I’ve posted about this before: it was an astonishing moment. It was a great validation of the fifteen years I had worked at writing both fiction and nonfiction. And it made me want to work even harder.

And, thankfully, it also gave me a push that told me what I should concentrate on. Howard Jones’s editor at St. Martin’s Press contacted me through this blog to congratulate me, and to also mention he would be interested in seeing a novel in this setting of Ahn-Tarqa when I had one.

Well, I did have one: Turn over the Moon. But it was still in first draft state. I told the editor I wanted to revise it, and then I would send it to him. Of course, this meant that I now knew which novel needed my energies. Immediately, I put most of my free time into revising Turn over the Moon into the best work I could make it. You may have noticed the substantial drop in my regular posts here during the summer; this coincides with the attention to the book.

Two weekends ago, on a Sunday after I had spent two straight days never leaving my apartment, I at last finished a touched-up third draft of the book . . . and felt good about it. The structure hadn’t altered much from the first draft, but the characterizations, the themes, the relationships, and the style had all improved. But I still wanted some outside opinions on it before I did one more run-through. So I emailed it to Bill Ward and Howard Jones.

The next day, Howard asked me if he could send it on to his agent, Bob Mecoy, to see if Bob could give me any advice on it. I said, “Sure.” I wasn’t going to turn that down. But I was calm about it; I reasoned that, best-case-scenario, Bob Mecoy would return with some ideas for changes and a guarded, “I’ll take a look at it when you’re done.”

Wednesday morning, Bob Mecoy called me. He had read the book overnight. We had a long talk about visions, ideas, backgrounds, the business, Miles Davis . . . and at the end he sent me the contract to sign. I immediately started work on the proposal that would make Turn over the Moon Book I of a trilogy, as we had discussed.

And there is where I stand right now. It’s been a long journey to this point. There’s a long journey ahead. I hope to have many more great news items to share with you in the future. Right now, I just feel so thrilled that I’m a writer and I’ve stuck with being one.