How I Got My Book Deal: What if I never write another book?
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
In August of 2018, my agent had a few editorial suggestions for my most recent manuscript, but even as I made those changes, we were both pretty sure that the manuscript was ready for an editor’s vision.
We went on submission - or on sub, as the industry calls it - in the middle of September 2018 and the emotional dichotomy of that time was striking. I was confident because I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was the best thing I’d ever written, but I was also terrified because I hadn’t been on submission for more than six years and there’s never any telling how long it will take or what the ultimate response will be.
Also, there was the fear that we were just too late, pitching a book less than two years before it would need to be released (ah, time sensitive manuscripts are tricky things!)
Those fears turned out to be wholly unfounded.
Nine days later, we heard back from Julie Rosenberg at Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House. She wanted to speak to me regarding the manuscript.
The call with Julie was phenomenal. One of the things I really concern myself with while writing is bringing authority to the plot and Julie and I were so on the same page there. She’s a huge gymnastics fan and was dedicated to maintaining realism in the portrayal of the sport while also making it as accessible as possible for readers who might be less familiar with (or utterly confused by) the skills and the scores and the format of competition. The rest of her suggestions made absolute sense and one major change she wanted was so spot on it actually made me annoyed with myself that I hadn’t thought of them before.
I was so excited after the call, but she hadn’t offered yet so it was time for more waiting, which honestly, even though it was perhaps the shortest wait of my entire publishing career, those eight days felt like eight years. In the meantime, two other editors requested phone calls. Both calls went great, but my mind kept flitting back to the call with Julie because I knew that I wanted to work with someone who truly understood what I set out to accomplish with the book.
It was just a few days later that Julie sent her offer and I wanted to call my agent back immediately and scream, “YES, I ACCEPT!” which is why I have an agent because she is the voice of reason in the face of my enthusiastic insanity. We waited a few more days and another offer came in, which meant one of those words that you hear whispered among authors, an auction. My agent set a deadline and then...more waiting. Both editors had until the end of the week to come back with their best offer.
By Friday, it was time to choose and I didn’t hesitate.
And now, as you probably know, BREAK THE FALL, a book set at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, following a gymnast's fierce and empowering competitive journey as she and her teammates find their voices after their coach is arrested for sexual assault, will be released in the Spring of 2020 with Penguin/Razorbill, edited by the incredible Julie Rosenberg.
Shortly thereafter Alice sold UK rights at auction to Polly Lyall-Grant Hodder Children’s (an imprint of Hachette Children’s Group) and German rights to Carina Mathern at HarperCollins Germany.
It all happened so fast, right? A US deal at auction after just a couple of weeks. A UK auction! Foreign rights! A total overnight success!
Except it didn’t and it wasn’t.
To truly understand exactly how I got my book deal, we have to rewind almost two years, to early 2017, when Macmillan acquired and then subsequently closed my first publisher, reverting my rights after two books of a three book deal and forcing me to either self-publish those titles or lose all the incredible reviews and sales rankings they’d accumulated over the years.
It was an interesting time in my life because while I was in the depths of despair as far as publishing was concerned, things at my day job as a high school librarian were going great. I’d been named a Technology Coordinator, I was appointed to a great position in my Teachers Union and I bought an apartment - no easy feat in the New York real estate market. To everyone in my “real life” things couldn’t be better, but in the back of my mind one thought was playing on a loop:
What if I never write another book?
It was a question I didn’t have an answer to yet, so I reached out to my agent at the time and we talked through my options. I could write the third book of the series that had been reverted or I could try something completely new. I honestly didn’t have the mental energy to write a book that had so much negativity attached to it, so I decided to go in a totally different direction.
I'd always wanted to write a gymnastics book, so I started with an outline and realized very quickly that it wouldn’t be enough to simply write out the plot beats chapter by chapter. I had to go back and world-build beyond that, two years of competitions leading up to and through the Olympic Games needed to be figured out and developed before I could even start to think about how it would all play out on the page.
There were spreadsheets. A lot of spreadsheets and the accompanying math. Lots of math. All the math. It was terrible, but eventually I got through it and was ready to outline. Thank goodness I did all that world-building because the outline was super easy and then when I sat down to write, it all just started to flow. I wrote the first third in a few weeks and made a New Year’s Resolution that no matter what, I would finish the manuscript and then whatever happened after that would just be gravy.
By March I was finished (I guess it’s time to be a little more ambitious with my New Year’s Resolutions) and I sent it to my agent. She sent me some feedback, which isn’t at all unusual. I agreed with her suggestions, went through a round of revision and sent it back to her and waited.
Then she sent me an email at the end of June. She didn't think she could sell it.
It was tough because I knew that if I wanted to traditionally publish the book I would have to leave my agent, who I very much respected and counted as a friend (and still do!). So, with my heartfelt thanks for being the first person in the industry to believe in me and my writing, I left. She wished me the best and that was that. An amicable separation, but a separation nonetheless. It's very much a reality of the industry, sometimes your vision for your career and your agent's vision won't match anymore and that's okay.
Okay, but also terrifying.
The summer of 2018 began, not with going on sub as I’d imagined, but searching for another literary agent (you can read all about that journey here), but I was fortunate enough, I think both through the strategy I used in querying and in the sheer luck you need in publishing sometimes to sign with my current agent, the phenomenal Alice Sutherland-Hawes of Madeleine Milburn Ltd. within three weeks of querying and from there, everything began to fall into place.
Remember, I was on sub for only about a month in total, but this was preceded by having to find a new agent (terrifying) and my publisher closing and having my rights reverted (heartbreaking). In 2017, I was at the lowest of the low. I thought my career was over. I didn’t know if I would ever write another book, let alone have one published again and by the end of 2018, I had signed with three different Big Five publishers, working with an agent and editors that truly understood the heart of what I set out to accomplish.
As Prince said, “Sometimes it takes years for a person to become an overnight success” and that’s definitely true in my case.
You can add BREAK THE FALL on Goodreads and know that if you’re thinking about quitting, don’t, just keep writing, just keep plugging away because you never know what twists and turns your road to publication will take!