Every reader has, at some point or another, wanted to write a book of their own. But the path to publication can be a daunting one, especially when words like “querying,” “agent,” and “being on sub” might sound foreign to you. While no two author journeys will ever be alike, understanding the publishing process is a crucial step in getting your book out into the world. Luckily for you, we asked five traditionally-published YA authors six questions about their publishing journeys. You can read their answers below:
via Liselle Sambury
Liselle Sambury is a Toronto-based author whose debut novel BLOOD LIKE MAGIC will be releasing in 2021 with Margaret K McElderry. Her brand of writing can be described as “messy black girls in fantasy situations.” She works in social media and spends her free time embroiled in reality tv because when you write messy characters you tend to enjoy that sort of drama. She also shares helpful tips for upcoming writers and details of her publishing journey through a YouTube channel dedicated to helping demystify the sometimes complicated business of being an author.
via Chloe Gong
Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, double-majoring in English and International Relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, she now lives at the top of a crumbling, ivory tower in Philadelphia (also known as student housing). After devouring the entire YA section of her local library, she started writing her own novels at age 13 to keep herself entertained, and has been highly entertained ever since. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times. Her debut novel, THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, is being published by Margaret K. McElderry/S&S in 2020 with a sequel to follow in 2021. She is represented by the wonderful Laura Crockett at TriadaUS Literary Agency.
via anna bright
Anna Bright is an indie bookseller by day and an author by night who still gets in trouble for reading when she’s supposed to be doing other things. When not hiding out among books, she loves concerts, roller coasters, and adventures at home and abroad. Anna lives with her husband and cat in a charming cobblestoned neighborhood in Washington, DC, but you can find her online at https://www.annabrightbooks.com/ and on Twitter and Instagram at @brightlyanna.
via Dante Medema
Dante Medema is an author of books for young readers. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband, four daughters, and room full of alien memorabilia—and books, of course. When she’s not writing, she dabbles in baking, decorating, painting, sewing, and reading up on enneagram personality types.
via Brigid Kemmerer
Brigid Kemmerer is the New York Times bestselling author of dark and alluring Young Adult novels like A Curse So Dark and Lonely, More Than We Can Tell, and Letters to the Lost (Bloomsbury), as well as paranormal YA stories like The Elemental Series and Thicker Than Water (Kensington). A full time writer, Brigid lives in the Baltimore area with her husband, her boys, her dog, and her cat. When she’s not writing or being a mommy, you can usually find her with her hands wrapped around a barbell.
1. How many books did you write before getting your book deal?
Liselle: BLOOD LIKE MAGIC is my third completed novel. The other two I wrote with pretty significant gaps in between, finishing my first in 2009 and my second in 2015 since I took a break from writing until my first year working out of school.
Chloe: I wrote eight, and These Violent Delights was my ninth! That being said, those previous eight were all books I was writing when I was uhh… supposed to be doing my high school homework. They were entirely for entertainment, and then put aside as first drafts once I reached the end. I only decided to pursue publication after writing These Violent Delights, so that was the first one I really extensively edited and revised!
Anna: The Beholder was my first book! Written and rewritten many, many times– but it was the first ever story I had to tell, and the first one I got to share with my readers.
Dante: I wrote two books before I wrote the one that got me a book deal. I only queried one of those, and I rewrote them each at least two times.
Brigid: I queried two novels before I found an agent, and even once I signed with an agent, that book didn’t sell, so I had to write another one, which finally sold. That book was Storm, the first in my Elemental series.
2. How long did you query* for before signing with your agent?
Liselle: I queried my debut for about a month and a half before signing with Kristy Hunter at The Knight Agency, which was quite fast for me. Previously, I queried my second project on and off for two years. With BLOOD LIKE MAGIC, I was determined to edit a lot more thoroughly before sending it to agents, which I think helped a lot. I did two rounds of edits with CPs and beta readers, and two more rounds with an editor through a mentorship called RevPit before I started querying.
Chloe: Exactly one month, from the day I sent out my very first query to the day I signed with my agent. I do want to add a disclaimer though that this is fast by usual querying standards! Some factors I think added to my speed was that These Violent Delights has a very pitchable commercial hook: “Romeo and Juliet retelling in 1920s gangster-run Shanghai.” It captured attention fast, and once my first offer came in, other agents needed to yank my manuscript to the top of their reading pile and that sped things along by a lot. Not all books necessarily can be summed up with a one-line elevator pitch the same way, but they can absolutely be just as successful in the querying trenches, and will be picked up at their own speed.
Anna: A magician never reveals her secrets, but: I moved back and forth between revising and querying for quite awhile. I’d send it out, get some helpful feedback, pull it, work on it, swap with readers, and then go out again.
Dante: The first book I queried I queried for YEARS. But with THE TRUTH PROJECT I was only queried for two months before I had an offer from my agent. I knew as soon as I started querying that this project was going to be different. I started querying in late July and then in late September I had an offer of rep.
Brigid: A long time! I remember it took me a few years, and hundreds upon hundreds of rejections.
3. How did you know this agent was a good fit for you?
Liselle: I knew that Kristy would be a great fit because right from our first call, she had so much passion for the project but was still realistic about how much work it needed. I also liked that she had an editorial background and was part of a reputable agency. Not to mention, one of my friends was already signed with her and had a great experience, which gave me a lot of confidence in her. She’s an excellent agent, and I’m happy to be signed with her.
Chloe: My agent is Laura Crockett at TriadaUS, and this is totally going to sound cliche, but it really was a gut feeling! When we hopped on the phone after she offered, I felt immediately that I could trust her with my book and my career, and being able to depend on your agent is so critical. Reflecting back on it now, I think it’s because she has a communication style that works wonderfully with me and always makes me feel in the loop and heard. She also understood what I was trying to do with the book, which is important in a creative field that involves making a business out of something pulled right from the beating, bloody bits of your heart. So a lot of critical factors, all mushing together to create that gut feeling of a good fit!
Anna: I write commercial fiction with a heavy romantic bent. I wanted an agent who respected those categories, and my agent, Elana Roth Parker, definitely does. I also realized immediately that not only was she a great fit for me in an editorial capacity and regarding taste– she’s an incredible businesswoman and really knowledgeable.
Dante: I love how straight forward Louise is as an agent. Ultimately, she really saw my long-term future and had some fantastic ideas about what she saw for my career. Also she was SO excited about my book and the characters—I truly believed her when she gushed about my book and how excited she was to sell it.
Brigid: This is an interesting question. In the beginning, I think all aspiring authors should talk to the agent to make sure they get along well and have a similar vision for the story. It’s important to understand expectations, too: what is an agent’s response time like? How often will the agent update an author on submission status? Does the agent like to edit/revise or is he/she more hands-off? And even during an author’s career, it’s very common to change agents as time goes on. Sometimes the right agent for your first book isn’t the right agent for your fifth or tenth or twentieth book.
4. How long were you on submission** for?
Liselle: I was on submission for about four months or so. The timing around sub is variable, though. I have friends who sell after six months or even after more than a year.
Chloe: Four months, give or take. Time passed relatively fast for me because we went out at the start of my sophomore year fall semester and the offer came in January, so I was staying busy, even if I was checking my inbox every few seconds!
Anna: One bout of anxiety dermatitis and many, many anxiety stomachaches.
Dante: Just a little over a month! We went on sub the last week of October 2018, and by Thanksgiving Louise was organizing an auction for the 30th. It felt like a whirlwind six months there, writing the book in June, querying in July, to selling a book by the end of November.
Brigid: I can’t remember exactly, because this was back in 2010, but I want to say it was 9-12 months.
5. What is one thing you wish you knew about the publication process prior to querying?
Liselle: I wish that I better understood that pursuing success in this industry is not a race. The first couple of times I queried, I was so impatient to get my book out there as soon as possible. Especially when watching other people get agents and go on submission. But you have to take the time that you need. I edited BLOOD LIKE MAGIC for six months before I sent it to agents and six months with my agent before we went on sub, which ended up working out. I think writers do themselves a disservice when they prioritize getting out there over making sure their book is the best it can be. Even now, I have to remind myself of that.
Chloe: Don’t listen to randoms on the internet. Which is a little rich, I know, considering readers of this piece will realize that I, too, am a random person on the internet, but really! Prior to querying — before I got a foot into the publishing door to sniff around behind the scenes — I read and took to heart a lot of advice drifting around social media about querying or writing or publishing. Now, I see the same advice and realize a lot of people are truly plain wrong: either intentionally by exaggerating too much, or they don’t have enough information to actually be making a claim. But the beauty and the danger of the internet is that anyone has the right to be yelling with their whole chest, so I wish I knew to be wary and take advice with a grain of salt, especially if the advice-giver doesn’t have the credentials regarding the topic they’re talking about.
Anna: It’s going to hurt. Truly: sometimes it feels like all your dreams are just being crushed, again and again. The writing sometimes feels impossible; getting an agent feels impossible; getting a book deal feels impossible. But the only way through is forward: you have to keep writing, to love the work as much as you want the end goal (being published). Loving the work and grinding away until you’re proud of what you’ve produced is all you can control.
Dante: Ultimately that there is nothing “normal” in publishing. Every author has a different experience, and while there are similarities across the board, you can’t base your expectation off of any one person’s journey.
Brigid: How so much about being a published author isn’t really about the writing, it’s about marketing, or responding to inquiries, or interacting with readers.
6. Tell us a little bit about your book(s)! What is it about and where/when can we get it?
Liselle: BLOOD LIKE MAGIC follows a young Black witch living in Toronto in the near-future who after failing to come into her powers is forced to choose between losing her family’s magic forever, a heritage steeped in centuries of blood and survival, or murdering her first love, a boy who is supposedly her genetic match, who she hasn’t actually fallen in love with yet.
The book isn’t yet available for pre-order, but I would love for people to add it to their Goodreads shelf.
Chloe: These Violent Delights is a YA historical fantasy, coming November 17th from Simon & Schuster in the US and Hodder & Stoughton in the UK/Australia/NZ. It’s a Romeo & Juliet retelling set in 1926 Shanghai, about a city caught in a blood feud between two rival gangs, but the teenaged heirs of those gangs — Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov — must work together when a series of mysterious supernatural deaths start to kill members on both sides. It’s made all the more complicated because Juliette and Roma were childhood lovers before the feud tore them apart, and they’ll have to put aside their own personal grudges to save their city. All links for preorder are over on my website at www.thechloegong.com! :)
Anna: I wrote a there-and-back-again fairy tale duology called The Beholder series (THE BEHOLDER and THE BOUNDLESS), about a girl named Selah whose whose stepmother sends her away from home when her marriage proposal is rejected. She’s sent away to court suitors in kingdoms across Europe and told not to return without a ring on her finger, but Selah quickly learns that her ship’s crew has a secret agenda and that her journey will take her through dangerous territory. You can buy signed copies of THE BEHOLDER and THE BOUNDLESS at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA!
Dante: My debut novel THE TRUTH PROJECT is a novel in verse (with texts and emails) about a girl who finds out via an online ancestry kit that she is the product of an affair. It comes out on October 13th, 2020 with Quill Tree Books and is available for preorder now here.
Brigid: My most recent is the Cursebreakers series, which starts with A Curse So Dark and Lonely, a loose Beauty-and-the-Beast retelling about a girl named Harper who is snatched off the streets of Washington, DC and into the cursed kingdom of Emberfall, where the only way out is to fall in love.
*querying: When an author is “querying” it means they’ve sent out a short query letter pitching their manuscript to potential agents (people who will represent you and your work).
**on submission: When an author is “on submission” it means they’ve signed with an agent who is pitching the manuscript to editors at different publishing houses, in hopes of getting the author a book deal.