For the first half of the conversation, check out Part 1. These two guys were open and willing to answer all the questions we threw at them. Read on for more pearls of wisdom...
When asked about YA word counts, James said, "The average word count for YA is 60,000 words. “But yet Lisa McMann’s books are around 38,000 words, and mine are more like 100,000. Don’t worry about the word count; just write your story.”
On publishers, James notes that “a small publisher can treat you really well and a big one can, but if a big one treats you really well, then they can do way more for you. You may be doing all your own marketing anyway, so it’s both ways. Random house, has so much more power and placement and distribution, that if you are lucky to be published with them… I loved Shadow Mountain—really I do—but Maze runner has sold more in one month than 13th reality has this whole time. For Fablehaven, Brandon Mull has had to work his tail off.”
Jeff says, “a national contract will want a right of first refusal on that genre or on whatever you publish next. The LDS market is a different beast entirely. Deseret book is the largest publisher, and Shadow Mountain is big too. Some of the smaller publishers have contracts that are really tight so you need to be careful. Like you will sign and then everything you have ever written or every will write in this market again belongs to us. BE careful about this type of publisher.”
“A right of first refusal doesn’t mean that your book must go to them,” James clarifies. “They can look at it and they can offer, but you can still look around.” It’s not legal for them to force you to take a tiny amount for a book when another publisher is willing to pay much more for the same book. If your contract says FIRST AND LAST refusal, then it’s not a good thing. Read carefully before you sign.
Jeff notes that “Authors need to be savvy. If you don’t like it, ask if it can be changed before you sign.” Some will change and some won’t, but you should ask before you get stuck in your contract.
Where do you get your ideas for your books? Dashner smiles and says, “Ideas come to me all day long in my sleep, in the shower, on the potty, whatever. I can forget them so I try to write them down. When I was working on the 13th reality, I had to take time away from that. I can’t really do both at the same time, so I do a month at a time on one book and then the other.”
In answer to a question on whether or not to get an agent, Jeff raises his finger and instructs, “first of all, never ever take money out of your pocket to pay ANYONE.” Reputable agents and publishers require no money from you. “I don’t care if you’re the next Stephanie Meyer or not, You still have to market. You have to go on tour. You have to do your blog. There are publishers that can do more for you, but an agent gets your MS in the right hands (like the editor they had lunch with the week before). They do foreign rights, keep track of different trends. I cannot tell you how valuable it is to have a good agent, and it is worth EVERY PENNY.”
“This is a no brainer,” says James. “It is absolutely better to have an agent than not to have one. My agent makes me SO much more than I would make without one.” He noted that in general, the LDS market doesn’t have agents.
Should we submit to agents or publishers first? “Submit to publishers & agents both. If you get an agent, great. If you get a publisher, you can almost start calling agents and saying do you want to represent me?”
“If I could have told myself something 7 years ago…” James rubbed his chin in thought. “It’d be to have patience, both in my writing and in my submitting to publishers and agents. Patience in all those aspects. Something that has changed from my first book to the last, is that I take more time to add depth, and sensory scenes to the story. You can’t sell tons of books immediately. Word of mouth, school by school, book signing by book signing. Patience.”
Jeff’s parting thought was this, “Successful authors believe that they are good enough to be published and it’s just a matter of time. Go find your favorite book on Amazon, and look at a one star review, print it off. Use it as motivation to keep writing. Because every author I know has moment where they think they are terrible. There is a word for determined writers, Published.”
After the meeting, I stayed to visit with them and ask for permission to blog about what I’d learned. Both men were very gracious and offered me their email addresses. I learned a great deal from their “impromptu” breakout and I hope you learned a thing or two as well.
Be sure to check out FARWORLD and THE MAZE RUNNER along with their other books the next time you need an excellent read.
Thank you both for an amazing afternoon!