It is a well known fact: writing isn’t just about talent. Sure, talent has a lot to do with it, of course, but it’s also a business. There are those who go into writing with the sole purpose of getting published. Forget “exorcising demons” on a page; it’s about cash flow. Making a career out of it.
And it isn’t just about the writer. Oh no. It takes a small village to get a book onto the shelves at your local Barnes and Nobles. Agents, editors, cover illustrators, etc.
Melissa Marr, bestselling author of the books, Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, and Fragile Eternity knows this well. She gets that people want to be published and make money. Not saying that she’s all about the money. Anyone who’s ever met Melissa or talked with her knows very well that she didn’t even think publication was an option. But she’s savvy. She’s smart. And she’s sharing some trade secrets with us today.
Okay, first question: Wicked Lovely, your debut, won the prestigious RITA award for best YA book. When you first began writing this story, did you think it would be as well – received as it has been? That it would be bought for seven figures? That you’d gain legions of die-hard fans??? Did you feel like this book was going to be huge?
No. Not at all! The RITA, in particular, was a huge surprise. In the past decade or so, there wasn’t a RITA awarded in Young Adult (although a YA novel did win in another category!). To be honest, I’m still just sort of stunned that real, live people are reading my books. It never occurred to me that it might get awards or stars or . . . well, anything. My big plan was that—if I got lucky—I’d sell the book and offset my teaching salary a bit. The way things happened wasn’t even something I’d dreamed of. It’s been utterly surreal. The universe has been kind to me in allowing me this experience, and I feel extremely fortunate.
What do writers need to look for in choosing an agent?
It varies to some degree. Attention to business details, organization, punctuality, contract cleverness, and negotiation skills are all good. Personally, I require experience, professionalism, and realism. What I thought I needed and what I discovered that I needed were a bit different. When I wrote the query to Merrilee, my current agent, I indicated that I was seeking “an agent who is savvy enough to handle the issues that arise and knowledgeable of what is reasonable to expect.” I wanted an agent who could deal with the weird stuff that was cropping up, whereas a writing friend prefers an agent with editorial skills and personal attentiveness. Those weren’t priorities for me: I have an editor for notes and friends for sanity. It varies according to your individual situation—although I do think that some traits (my aforementioned list) are pretty universally desirable.
A query letter is a very integral part of getting a book published and sold. Have you looked at your very first query recently? If so, what was your reaction to it?
I only had one before I wrote Wicked Lovely. The primary difference was the one prior to WL had a different paragraph for the “about the book” part (that book was a MG about faeries). Both queries were terribly dry. I’m an academic at heart, so they were straight up business letters. 1) I am writing bc I want you to rep me, 2) here’s the project, 3) here’s me, and 4) thanks. Actually, that was what my query for my second agent looked like too. It was pretty standard formal letter.
Who’s query letter would you LOVE to read? Personally, I’d love to read Stephenie Meyer’s and Harlan Coben’s!!!
*sheepish look* My list of books to read is pretty long, but queries don’t appeal to me. I think, for me, part of the aversion is that “about the author” paragraph, and I simply prefer not to know folks’ private lives or credentials unless they choose to share them with me specifically. I’m exceptionally weird about privacy (a quirk that sometimes makes being an author very awkward). I’d rather just read book jackets and reviews (I subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly, Romantic Times, Locus for that—among other—reason).
Okay Melissa, last question: What’s next!!!
I have sold a total of 6 YA books to the Bowen Press (an imprint of HarperCollins)—Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange are out now. Fragile Eternity will release in April 09 (in the US & Canada). I’m writing the fourth faery novel (2010) now. The fifth and final faery novel will follow in 2011. A sixth novel follows in 2012.
Aside from those, I have a 3 volume manga series (Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales) with TokyoPop/Harper that begins in April 2009. I also have a short story about a glaistig (“Two Lines”) in Unbound. That one is only for adult readers.
I’m pretty excited about the variety of projects I’ve been able to explore. My publisher has been really cool about indulging my tendency to write several different texts all at once, and they are reaaaally cool about giving me my “black-out months” where I can stay home and just write. So, I guess the “next” is more of the stuff I enjoy—writing, travels, and exploring a few new things along the way.
Thanks so much!
Thanks for inviting me : )
*ETA: Melissa has a great new book out on shelves now! It’s not a part of her Wicked Lovely series, but it’s on my To Be Reviewed Pile and I’ll post as soon as I can. In the mean time, learn more about it here.