A Publisher Bought My YA Novel Trilogy—Here’s Everything I Did Wrong
On Friday, I sold not one book but three! I signed a contract with a publisher for my Emerson Page trilogy. This is an especially sweet personal triumph for me because:
· The first book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, was previously published in 2017 by an independent publisher that went out of business
· I’ve sent out 77 queries for the second book over the last 2 years and 5 months
· I only have a working title and logline for the third book — not even an outline much less a manuscript
· I don’t have an agent
By conventional publishing wisdom, I did many things wrong in this latest query process. And still, the story won in the end. The acquisitions editor had an immediate connection with me, Emerson, and her story. I want to share this story with all authors in every stage of their careers, people in the business of publishing, and book lovers who wonder how this process unfolded for me. I’m just one specific example, and I think it can help others on their journey to know how this happened.
These are the pieces of advice I received many times over that made me doubt myself. I’m glad I bet on myself, Emerson, and readers, and that I kept going.
1. “You cannot query agents and independent publishers at the same time.”
I did. I received some kind rejections from agents and publishers who accept direct queries, a few discouraging rejections, and radio silence from the majority of them. I would have loved to get an agent from this process. I thought the success of the first book might help with that. It didn’t. In the fall of 2021, I decided to look at independent publishers one more time to see if there were any others that might be a fit for me and Emerson. I’m so glad I did. That’s how I found with my new publisher.
2. “Since the first book in the series was already published, no one else will pick it up, much less the other two books in the series.”
In my query letter for the second book, I mentioned Emerson’s first book, the awards it won, and the reviews it received but I was very careful to explain that the second book could stand on its own. This was a delicate balance because I wanted those I was querying to know about my publishing experience but I didn’t want to sink the property with a previous publication.
In a wonderful turn of events, the publisher asked if I was interested in finding a home for the first book as well. If so, they wanted to consider acquiring it along with the second book.
3. “The first book came out in 2017. That’s too long ago. Move on.”
I heard this a lot, and it hurt. Due to the pandemic and my health issues last year, I felt like I missed my chance and that this one novel was all that would ever see the light of day. When I wrote Emerson’s first book, I always saw the series as a trilogy. It’s how the book is built. It’s in the DNA of the story architecture. There are a lot of Easter eggs planted that come to life in the second two books. You don’t need any of the other books to enjoy any one of them, but together they do create a complete, rich world that’s hopeful and places an emphasis on the power of creativity, two themes that we need now more than ever.
4. “You’ve been querying for this second book for over two years. Shelve it and move on.”
This was another common refrain I heard. In October 2021, I almost believed it. I decided I’d send out one more round of queries. If that didn’t yield anything, I’d have to accept that this book just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe someday the rest of her story would be sent out into the world, but now was not the time. That last round of queries included my new publisher. As Anne Lamott said, don’t quit before the miracle.
5. “Publishers don’t want YA books with magic in them.”
This advice is everywhere and yet there are so many books and television series that defy this and that audiences love. This world could do with more magic and light, especially in these dark times.
6. “Do not pitch a book you haven’t written.”
At my meeting with the publisher, I explained that I saw this as a trilogy. I told them my working title for the third book, its logline, and how it completes Emerson’s arc in her coming of age story. I was very honest that I hadn’t even outlined the book much less written it. That didn’t phase them one bit. The offer I received was for the entire trilogy.
7. “If you really want this story to get out into the world, you’re going to have to self-publish and do everything yourself. And don’t expect too much to come from it. That’s the only option for this story at this point.”
I know a lot of people who have had success with self-publishing and enjoyed that process. In my gut, I knew that route wasn’t the right thing for Emerson. That’s why I kept querying. I wanted to find a partner who loves her and her story as much as I do. Having that partner to help make her story shine as bright as possible was important to me, and I found that partner with my new publisher.
This is not a story that tells you to never give up and to keep pushing through no matter what. I knew what I needed and wanted to do with this particular story and character. There are plenty of projects that I’ve shelved. Some I pick up again and some I don’t. There is no one way to get a story out into the world, and I’m so glad there will be much from Emerson Page in the near future. Stay tuned and receive updates by signing up for my email list.