Monday, April 12, 2010

My Journey to Tor- The Story Behind The Deal

This post has been long in the making. I'm not talking about all the inner workings of the actual deal, but the fact I have started writing this three times only to end up starting over. Once it was because blogspot wiped out the post and I couldn't recover it, but the other two times I started and lost my train of thought immediately. Of course, I was also trying to write when I was still in the throes of "OH MY GAWD!!!"

Now that several weeks have passed, I am in a much calmer state. I've had conversations with my agent, lawyer and new Tor editor, Melissa Singer, and understand the next steps in the process. The topsy-turvy emotions that haunted me throughout the submission process have faded away.

A major contributor to those emotions was just the simple fact I had long ago given up ever being in this position. I had let go of that long held, long cherished dream of being published by a house like Tor. As I have stated in previous posts, I spent years doing all the wrong things in my pursuit of being published.

So how did I get the deal?

Well, my path to the Tor deal was very winding, and I did not always know where it was headed.

I attended a few workshops a long time ago, hoping to find out the key to publication. Though the authors were asked, "How did you get published?" the answers they gave weren't very specific or were scenarios that didn't seem to fit most writers.

"My friend is _______, a bestselling author, and he/she gave my manuscript to her editor."
"My neighbor is an editor for _________."
"My professor showed my manuscript to the editor at _________."

And then there was the standard reply of "Just keep sending out your book until it sells." A lot of the writers attending stood around mumbling afterward that they had learned nothing, and I felt as lost as I ever was.

In recent years, "first sale" stories were my crack. A lot of those special scenarios remained in the stories, but there were also tales of people finishing their book, mailing it off to a publishing house, and getting a contract right away. In some cases, the road to publication was very easy. In other cases, it took a very long time, sometimes a decade or more.

I became convinced there was some sort of magic formula, some secret password, some hidden passage, that would lead into the world of publication. That there is one fabulous secret path that writers must discover to lead to the contract of their dreams.

I was wrong.

There isn't one magic formula, password, passage or secret path to publication.

Yep. That's right.

There is not one road that leads to the Emerald City, but many.

There are well-beaten paths, but there are new pathways being created all the time. There will always be stories of people dropping off their manuscript on the doorstep of a celebrity and finding a book contract a few months later alongside the tales of an author who sent out their manuscript a thousand times to finally get to the golden contract at the end of the rainbow.

So how did it happen for me?

Well, I have one of those stories I used to hate. Those bizarro tales that were all about the right place at the right time and a whole lot of luck.

As you already know, I self-published my zombie trilogy with the help of my husband. Right after the second book was released, I was contacted by a producer who wanted to buy the TV/Film rights for the series. This lead to securing an entertainment lawyer, who later advised me to find a literary agent. In very short time, I had a literary agent, Hannah Gordon from the Foundry Literary + Media agency.

I signed with the agency right before Thanksgiving and Hannah asked me to compile all the information I had on reviews, interviews, awards, etc that the books had garnered over the time they were published by me. So during the month of December, I buckled down and did the homework she had assigned me.

Which brings us to January...

Hannah explained the process of submitting my first book to the publishing houses. She told me how she would pitch the novel verbally via phone to the editors of the publishing houses she had chosen to include in the submission round. If they were interested, she would then send over an electronic copy of the book along with her pitch letter and information she had decided to include in the package. Then we would sit back and wait.

"Books are bought by committee," she explained. "It can take time."

Basically, if an editor likes a manuscript, they have to send it on down the line to other editors, the marketing department, the promotional department, etc and garner support from a whole group of people. Then, if he/she gathers that support, they head into a special meeting where all the editors pitch their latest discoveries. It is here that the final yay or nay from the publisher can either kill a deal or send it to the next level. This happens a lot.

I was happy and excited up until the day Hannah pitched the books. Suddenly, my stomach dropped into a black hole and anxiety ate its way into my nervous system. I was shocked by my reaction. When I found my hands trembling, I was amazed. I had felt so confident the books would find a home until the day of the pitch. Then it was if a cloud of buzzing insects invaded my brain and I couldn't hear my own internal voice anymore.

Hannah called after the first day of pitching. "Everyone wants to see it," she said happily. Then she named off all the publishers she was sending it to. I could barely swallow or talk. "It only takes one," she reminded me before hanging up. I rang up my mother to tell her the good news. She burst into tears. "I always knew this would happen," she said. Her tears spurred on my own.

The submission round suddenly was the most important thing to ever happen in my writing career and the impact it could have on my writing career and my life hit full force.

The second day, Hannah called again. "Everyone wants to see it! They'll be reading this weekend!"

It was Friday. I was both joyous and a complete wreck. That was the day I stopped reading online reviews for As The World Dies. I realized I had reached a point where I had to step away from everything relating to the series and just concentrate on my day to day life, writing my new book, and concentrating on not letting myself get overwhelmed.

The weekend came and went. The first week of February arrived.

And there was silence.



I knew this was the norm, but it still ate at my nerves.

"What if no one wants it?" I asked.

"You'll still write. You'll still sell books. You have fans. You're doing really well on your own," my husband answered.

"They will WANT it. You know that," both friends and family answered the question. "You KNOW it is going to be picked up."

"But I don't know!" I wailed. But yet, somewhere, deep inside, I felt As The World Dies would find a new home.

"Anything yet?" people kept asking. They were so used to things happening quickly when it came to As The World Dies that they expected a deal immediately.

It wore on my nerves. Anxiety was a constant companion. Yet, my hopes were high. Somewhere under all the white noise of anxiety, I felt self-confident. I just had to concentrate, focus, and push away the maelstrom of my own thoughts.

Like most writers, I am my own worst enemy.

"No one has pulled out. Everyone is still in. A good sign," Hannah assured me as we went into the weekend.

It was a relief knowing I didn't have to watch my email notifications constantly or wait for a phone call for two days.

"You're a hack," my friend and fellow writer, Victorya, told me. "Someone will pick it up. It's going to happen. You're like the Stephanie Meyers of zombies."

"Thanks, literary snob," I answered just as affectionately. "It's so nice to have your support."

Then we both giggled (:P at Vic) and went back to obsessing over Farmville on Facebook.

Aren't friendships grand?

Big kudos here to fellow writers (and friends) Dr. Pus, Kody (Boye), Victorya (Chase), Zombie Zak, Tim (Long), and Jessica (Brown) for keeping me laughing and sane during the wait. Big thanks to my family and best friends for their love and assurances.

Monday, February 8th, arrived. An email dinged into my inbox. It was from Hannah.

Tor was interested.

I thought my heart was going to explode.

The next few weeks Hannah reported in when someone was interested or pulled out. Tor remained interested and in the running.

"They'd be perfect for you," Hannah said to me.

My husband and I stood in the book section of a store staring at the books, picking out the Tor covers. Two of my best friends did the same thing, reporting back that the Tor covers were the best. My husband and I studied a list of Tor authors. Many of our favorites were on the list.

"Tor has always been at the top of my list," I told my husband.

"Don't take any deal unless it's a good one," he answered me. He's such a good guy. He always looks out for my best interest.

The first Monday of March arrived.

My allergies were killing me. I ran off to the store to grab some eye drops. During the night I had somehow pulled the cord out of my cellphone and it was nearly dead. I plugged it in at work and left it behind.

I have always dreamed about "the call." That special moment a writer always remembers when their agent calls with news of "the deal."

I missed it.

I totally freakin' missed it!!!

I came back from my errand to find a missed call from Hannah. I started listening to her voicemail and after I heard "Tor made an offer" nothing made sense anymore.

I took several deep breaths and found a quiet place to call Hannah. She immediately started telling me about the deal, talking quickly and excitedly. She told me the money amount and I think I stopped breathing. For a first timer, I knew it was an awesome offer. She was going into a lunch meeting, so we agreed to talk later in the afternoon. I floated through the day on a cloud of excitement, shock and utter joy.

After work, Hannah and I had a long talk. She read the Tor offer to me. I sat in stunned silence listening to it. It was perfect. Exciting. Amazing. The Tor editor, Melissa Singer, GOT the book. So did the other editors at Tor. They saw its strengths and laid out an amazing plan to promote it. I could barely breathe. I was so quiet, Hannah asked if I was excited. I was just trying not to pass out from joy.

Later, my pragmatic husband and I discussed all the aspects of the deal. He pointed out some important questions we needed to ask and was a little more subdued than I was about the whole deal. I was bouncing off the walls and he just wanted to make sure it was a GOOD deal. I got sloshed on margaritas that night and was utterly overjoyed. We had dinner with two of our best friends and as I told them the details of the offer, they were thoroughly excited for me.

"I'm proud of you," my husband said later as the enormity of it all sank in for both us.

My agent responded to Tor with a counter. They responded back. We discussed, she responded. Then we had a solid deal. Again, the news came in on a Monday.

Emails began pouring into my email inbox from all the agents at Foundry. Then the BIG email came in.

It was Melissa Singer, Senior Editor from Tor.

I could barely get my hand to function to click on the email. As I read, the enormity of what was happening hit me full force once again.

"I'm a Tor author, bitches!" I giggled to my co-worker and friend.

She high-fived me.

Another burst into tears at the news.

And at last, after all those weeks, I was able to announce it to the world that As The World Dies is going to be a Tor series.

Now that I am on the other side of the submission process, I realize how quickly it all fell into place. As I was going through the process, it felt like an eternity. As I lurked on the Absolute Write forum, I discovered my high anxiety is the norm for writers waiting for "the call." I am blessed that it was over so quickly. Some authors wait months, even years, once the submission rounds start to hear the words "we have an offer."

As the dust settled and my emotions calmed, I felt like the luckiest writer on the face of the planet. My path was unorthodox and strange even to me, yet it made perfect sense. My life has never been the norm. Why would this be any different?

At first, I just contributed it all to luck, but over and over again, family, friends and fans kept saying to me, "You worked hard for this."

Slowly, I realized they were right. From the original inception of the story in 2005 to the Tor deal in 2010, I worked really hard to make As The World Dies into something fans of the genre and beyond could enjoy.

"You're allowed to be proud of this accomplishment," more than one friend has said to me.

Earlier I said there are many paths to publication. This is true. But I think there is a magic key to all of this. Over and over again success has come about through hard work (writing a book is hard work!), taking risks (sending your book out to agents and editors or self publishing IS SCARY), lots of research, (whether searching the internet to figure out where to submit or studying how to self publish), tenacity (continuing to submit or promoting your self pubbed novel), talent and skill (you have to be able to churn out readable, exciting stories), and a dash of luck.

Like so many writers working hard for the big break that will propel them into the mainstream, I concentrated for a very long time on how to get to this point. Strange how after I stopped trying, the deal came to me. But now I'm on the other side and I have realized that yes, I can pat myself on the shoulder; yes, I am a Tor author; yes, I have accomplished something huge.


...this is just the beginning of a greater adventure in publishing and there is so much work yet to be done.


  1. Amazing story, Rhiannon, and it gives me hope that my work will one day reach a wider audience despite my starting off small, too!

  2. I am so totally psyched for you Rhiannon. It is well deserved and well earned! I wish you continued success oh esteemed "TOR Author"! Loved reading this. I have a friend who is a struggling author (she's written a really amazing story) and I sent her the link to your blog so she could read it. Wishing you continued success!!


  3. Hurray for Rhiannon FratTOR!


    In all seriousness though, this is fucking awesome. Even though I came on a little late into the project, I KNEW it was going to explode into something huge from the first little bit of it. There was no denying that.

    Now I'm all sappy and shit.




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