At Storymaker’s Writers Conference in Provo Utah, I had the privilege of listening to James Dashner (author of the 13th REALITY series and the NY Times Best Seller, THE MAZE RUNNER) and Jeff Savage (author of the YA Fantasy series, FARWORLD) in a very candid breakout.
The charming and witty duo, who have been friends for years, invited questions from the crowd and were refreshingly open about their experiences in the publishing industry.
James’s first 4 books, The Jimmy Fincher Saga, were published by a small LDS publisher. They sold several hundreds of copies, but no glimpse that writing could be full time. Then in August of 2003, He “set a goal to quit my job and be a full time author in 5 years.” He had already written The Maze Runner, but it was rejected for being “too dark.” However, Shadow Mountain did like the writing so he sent the synopsis & query for the 13th Reality. They liked it and it did really well, “but not enough that I could quit my job.”
At this point, James figured he has improved as a writer so he turned his attention back to The Maze Runner and rewrote the whole thing. It went from 68,000 words to 88,000 words—that’s a 20 thousand word difference. He had an agent, but he jokes that they “broke up” and he got a new agent. Random House bought the Maze Runner and the advance was large enough that he could quit his job.
“It turns out that it was 5 years, to the month, from when I had set my goal. Now a movie is being made out of Maze runner.”
Jeff said, “I watched James and thought if he can do it, then I can. One of the things you do in your mind is stop having agents or authors being up here and you down there. The guy selling a million copies is no different than you. You have to get that mindset.” When James told him about Shadow Mountain, Jeff got excited enough to write Far World and sell it to them.
More recently, his publisher requested an LDS Fantasy that is LDS “from the cover to the story to the title.” So, Jeff’s new book, FOURTH NEPHITE is coming out this August.
Jeff’s personal experience shows that even published authors have moments of nail-biting uncertainty with their careers. 5 months ago, because of the economy, Shadow Mountain said they didn’t know they if they were going to publish any more of the FARWORLD series. “400 schools, synopsis, blood sweat and tears and….” He was stuck. Even with published books, he couldn’t write anymore. But then, after going through 4 agents, with the aid of Deseret book and other things—suddenly people wanted it again and Shadow Mountain said, “Hey, go back to that 3rd book.”
Jeff commented, “when you’re giving your all, the time when you are feeling the most hopeless is often the moment when you’re closest to being published.”
When asked about how to find a publisher, James said, “every single successful author I know can trace their success back to someone they met. So, writer’s conferences and things like this are what you want to do.” He met both his editor, Krista Marino (Senior Editor of Delacorte Press), and his publisher that way. “There is no magic formula except keep writing, improve your manuscript, and network.”
Should a non published author hire an editor? Jeff said, “a legitimate editing company will do a page sample and see if you are at the level they think you should be.” He warns to be careful of people who run scams by passing you to so-and-so for money. Also, make sure that what you are getting is worth it because “lots of people have published without an editor.”
Jeff recommended that unpublished authors finish their MS prior to seeking representation. He sent out to 12 agents and got the first response in 3 weeks—though it can be 3, 4, or even 5 months before word comes. “One thing I learned, after you get a message of representation, contact the others and say “I have an offer for representation by THIS agent. Please respond to me within 7 days so I can make a decision.” This is a courtesy for the agents and it helps you get the most offers possible.
As for checking up on the status of your queries, James says, “you can’t freak out, but you CAN email that says ‘Just wondering what the status is’ and they won’t be that irritated. If you can’t sleep at night (and it’s been over 8 weeks) Go ahead.”
How do you feel about Kindle? Jeff said, “Stephen King did a book about a haunted Kindle for Kindle. Brilliant…. I think the biggest thing for me is to still be writing books so you’ll have more opportunities to be read if they liked your name.”
James responded, “I can’t imagine anyone will have a problem with this. Every single page of Diary of a wimpy kid is free online—and yet they sell millions and millions of copies.”
Should I finish the sequel of my book before I submit? James said, “no.”
The audience giggled at his short answer, but then he expanded on the subject. Editors want to be able to publish that book as a stand alone, and then if it’s good it can have sequels. Don’t say, hey I have a 27 book series, publish them please. Besides, if the 1st never sells, what can you do with the sequels?
(Incidentally, this was a great question for me to hear because I was debating whether to write the sequel to COYOTE DREAMS which is seeking representation right now, or work on a dystopian novel I had in the beginning stages. After this advice, dystopia it is.)
Thanks guys for your wonderful information. Part 2 of this visit is HERE Be sure to check it out for the rest of their awesome advice.
What was your favorite part they said?