How I got a book deal – part the IV and part cinco and part the VI

So, I worked on not sucking, wrote my Folsom Prison Blues, and strived to be the shittiest writer I know. Then, I went radio silent on my manuscript. I let the thing rot in a drawer, and I worked on my poor gardening skills. I wrote a lot of short stories. I published most of them. I enjoyed writing again; as opposed to the forced death march that was finishing the novel.

After a few months I pulled the putrid corpse out of the drawer, and I shopped it. I shopped it like a mother fucker. I wasn’t afraid of rejection, and I racked up rejections. I wore them as badges of honor. Another agent politely declining? No worries. P&W’s database had 7,000 more agencies to plow through.

One particular agent rejection made me pause. She offered praise for a lot of what I’d written and also specifically identified why she wasn’t interested. I had revised the MS umpteen times, but I went back and read it from “Once upon a time” to “the end” for the first time since I’d let it fester like kimchee. It wasn’t really, but it felt like reading it for the first time. I started on word one and revised all the way through to word 65,212.

That agent also said I had a book better suited for a smaller press (i.e. it wasn’t going to be a blockbuster). I knew I hadn’t written a book for mass consumption. It was never my intent. So, armed with a new, new version of my manuscript, by far the best version yet, I took aim at small and medium presses.

I immediately received interest from a few editors. Then, I was referred to a solid house by a fellow MFA pal. Then, I was referred to another solid house by an MFA professor. I won’t call it a bidding war, but suddenly people wanted my book. I received another round of critiques from said editors, I revised again, and went to the death panel. I received a tender of publication.

So, part the IV is revise until you’re done…then revise some more.

Part cinco is identify your demographic target. You’re selling a book to a publisher. Your target is not the end consumer.

Part the VI is have great friends…and be really fucking lucky.

That’s how I got a book deal. I wish it were a better story. I wish it included heroic acts on my part. I worked hard, I had help, and I got lucky.

One could extrapolate the importance of networking and attention to detail and blah blah blah. Everyone who knows me knows I suck at both those things. I’ll repeat: I worked hard, I had help, and I got lucky.

I’ve read a lot of manuscripts far better than mine that are not sold. Conversely, I’ve read a lot of really shitty books that were sold and published. If you believe in your manuscript, you’ve made it as good as you possibly can, then gone back and made it better, then don’t quit.

I’ll add a part ocho about the process of doing the deal, but I’m hoping to provide a few guest posts to offer other perspectives on the process.

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4 Responses to How I got a book deal – part the IV and part cinco and part the VI

  1. loriannv says:

    Working hard, having help, and getting lucky are three keys to any success in life. My whole career can be summed up that way. You have abundance of all three, though I know you would dispute the third one.

  2. mccarthy0420raichaelj says:

    I don’t know, Darren, I think revising and revising and revising is pretty heroic. It’s hard to chop up your baby (Heh, Solomon anyone?) and then keep going, keep striving. I think you’re a quiet kind of hero, and an inspiration.

  3. Brenda Myers says:

    enjoyed your blog post except for the excessive use of the F word – really doesn’t add a thing!
    – Brenda M

    • D.R. Leo says:

      I just can’t resist…Brenda, fuck you. I’m just kidding. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m sorry you don’t like the fuck word. Somewhere way back, I have a whole fucking blog about why and how I use fucking profanity.

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