First of all, thanks so much for the great feedback on what makes you drool for a next book. I agree that characters are so key. I really want to relate to them and care about what they will do and what will happen to them. As I promised, my next few posts will be about how my current WIP came to be. The first two weeks, I’ll focus on coming up with the idea and submitting. After that, what I learned as I crafted the story.
Sometime this week I am sending my newest project, Demon Spawn, to my agent for final edits before we shop it (in September?) This has actually been quite a ride—going from an idea that appeared almost full blown in my head one night, to a concept, an outline, a manuscript, and hopefully a novel. I thought some of you might interested in how the process works.
Last summer was a frustrating time for me. Farworld had been put on hold (it’s off hold now), I was struggling with The Fourth Nephite an Mormon time travel I had promised to write for Deseret Book, and I was years past deadline on my next Shandra Covington mystery, A Time to Die (which is now on store shelves.)
I had recently had lunch with my friend James Dashner, and he mentioned a term I was not familiar with, “high concept.” I have seen a few definitions for high concept, but the one I like best is from Carol Benedict at “The Writing Place.”
“An idea that is so compelling that it will appeal to a large group of people based solely on a pitch of a few words or a couple of sentences.
The appeal of a “high concept” story is in its premise. It should be something people can relate to, but must feel like a new idea. Often it is a story line that’s been told before, but has a twist or hook that gives it a strong commercial appeal. Simply being unique doesn’t qualify; some things are unique but wouldn’t interest a large audience.”
This got me thinking about stories with a new twist that would appeal to a large group. I’d recently read several YA novels that I felt fit that mold including Uglies, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Hunger Games. I’d always been interested in a book that took place in Hell. My original idea had been a Dresden File type book about a hit man who is killed and sent to Hell, but given a chance to come back to life. In my mind, I pictured him riding this train to Hell, which looked like a rundown urban city.
That was a fun idea, and one I still like, but not a YA series. While lying in bed last summer, I again pictured the train arriving at a station in Hell. A message rings out, Welcome to Hell, all ye damned and demented. Please keep moving. Welcome to Hell, all ye damned and demented. Please keep moving . . .
But this time I found myself viewing the scene through the eyes of the demons waiting to meet the damned humans. What were they like? What did they think of humans sent to Hell? What did they think of Hell? What if they wanted to escape? Soon I had an angel trapped in Hell, an old scarred human with his tongue cut out, his translator—a tough woman (possibly leading a group of underground humans?), and three teenage demon spawns.
In a matter of minutes, the plot fell into place with a twist that blew me away. And talk about high concept. All kinds of issues. Judgment. Prejudice. Loyalty. Trust. An awesome love triangle. Adventure, mystery, everything from imps to hell hounds. Devils, efreets, incubi, succubi. And it had to be told female first person from the view of a teenage female demon.
Over the next couple of months, I wrote fifty pages, and a synopsis. I sent this package out to several agents. Here was the basic pitch.
Blaze, a sixteen year old demon spawn, thinks her biggest worries this year will be fitting in at academy and getting used to guarding the humes damned to a lifetime of servitude in Hell. That’s before her close friend, Jazz, a third year, is involved in an attempted hijacking of the J-trans that brings new humes from Judgment every month, and an injured seraph shows up in the dorm room of Blaze and her best friend, Cinder, asking for help. In order to clear Jazz’s name, the three friends agree to help the Seraph return to his home before the atmosphere of Hell kills him. They are joined by a mute hume who seems to have memories of the outer circles of Hell and what dangers lie on the way to the mountains of Judgment, and the woman who translates for him.
On the journey, Blaze and the Seraph become attracted to each other—to the point that he lowers his blinding aura enough that they can touch and even kiss. When they finally manage to reach the city Blaze must decide whether to stay in Hell with her friends or live a life of hiding with the man she thinks she loves. But all of that is about to be turned on its head when she learns the real truth about Judgment, Hell, and the identity of the Seraphs.
(The story has changed since then, but much of it has stayed the same)
I first started sending out queries in mid October. Over the next month I received several rejections, but I also got more than one request for the full fifty pages. Finally, in mid November, I received my first offer of representation. Let me stop for a minute here, and say that receiving an OOR from an agent you admire is one of the most thrilling experiences in the world. You’ve dreamed about it forever, and when a great agent says they like your work enough to take you on as a client, it’s incredible. But . . . .
This is still a business. You have to find the best agent for you and your work. After receiving my first offer, I contacted all of the agents who had requested partials and let them know I would be making a decision within a week. This was a key time for me. What I really wanted was to shop what I had and get a deal in place by the first of the year. But I’d learned from past experiences that you need an agent who a) loves your work, b) represents the kind of story you are selling, and c) knows the industry inside and out. There are lots of agents who can do the job, but you have to find the one who can do the best job.
What made this decision the hardest was that I would have LOVED to work with any of the four agents that offered to take me on. Ultimately, though, one stood out. Michael Bourret at Dystel and Godrich seemed really in touch with what was going on. He knew what publishers were looking for, how things were selling (or not selling), and he felt very strongly about working with me to make sure my story was something that would appeal to a lot of editors. I signed with him the end of November. My goal was to have Demon Spawn written and out by January.
Next week, why that didn’t happen and why I am so glad that it didn’t.
(I’m really hoping this will be useful to other authors out there. Over the next couple of months, I’ll keep you updated on how things go. So if you have questions, shout out!)