Friday, September 28, 2007

Obert Skye and the Line of Infinity

I saw something amazing last night. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

Obert Skye is the author of the Leven Thumps series. The third book, LEVEN THUMPS AND THE EYES OF THE WANT, was just released on Tuesday. His publisher is the same as mine, Shadow Mountain. In fact, he paved the way, being their "guinea pig" in jumping into the national juvenile fantasy realm. Needless to say, he's done very well, having sold something like 300,000 copies of the first 2 books.

Obviously, I was very intrigued and have a vested interest in this guy. Having never met him, I ventured out to attend his book signing at Barnes and Noble last night.

Again, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

I got there before it started and saw all these strange strips of tape on the floor everywhere. On closer inspection, I realized they were mapping out a route for his "line". Having done many a signing myself in the last few years, I couldn't help but chuckle, despite what I'd heard about Obert's success. A line? Yah, right. I had a line once. It was about 6 people and they were all related to me.

As I continued browsing, I saw several tables, SEVERAL, and each one had at least 200 hardback copies of his latest. So we're talking hundreds of books. Probably a thousand. Then I made it to the back of the store, where his signing table was set up. I picked up a copy and this hilarious, gruff kid nudges my elbow.

"Hey," he said. "You here to see Obert Skye?"
"Yeah," I replied. I expected the kid to spit on the ground and wipe his mouth with his sleeve.
The kid jerks his thumb over his shoulder. "There's a line."
My eyes looked up. Sure enough, a long line of salivating children and their parents were all looking at me like I'd just told them they were ugly and their fathers smelled like elderberries.
"Sorry," I said. "Don't worry, I won't break in line."
The bouncer sneered and went back to his position, first place.
"Hey," I said, trying to reconcile. "I have a book coming out next March, same publisher."
"What's your name?" This came from a sweet little girl behind the tough guy.
"James Dashner."
The bouncer rolled his eyes. "I've never heard of you."

That is a true story, I promise. I truly hope to see that kid again, he was awesome.

Anyway, I left to go and get something to eat. When I came back, there were at least 200 people in line, wrapped around the store along those nifty lengths of tape. I caught a glimpse of Mr. Skye, signing furiously but taking the time to give each kid a high five and a few words of encouragement. Awesome.

But that's not the amazing part. Knowing there was no way I could meet Obert Skye in the conceivable future, I left.


There were still 50 or more people in line. Three hours later. Unbelievable.

It was odd, actually. It's hard to describe the mixed emotions I felt. Amazement. Jealousy. Excitement. Pressure. Anxiety. Amazement.

Obert Skye, I salute you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My kids

Since I am evidently an ogre for not having any pictures of my kids, here you go. I can honestly say this without any bias: best kids on the planet.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NY Times, ARCs

Good news for my publisher, Shadow Mountain. As you will recall, they are relatively new in the national market. But they just keep on keepin' on, having one success after another. My editor (Lisa) told me yesterday that their latest release, THE WEDNESDAY LETTERS, debuted at #6 on the NY Times bestseller list (to be published on Sept. 30).

This, after FABLEHAVEN 2 hit the list back in May. Pretty cool, huh?

Jason Wright is the author of the latest, and he's a great guy. I've met him a couple of times. His first book, CHRISTMAS JARS (also by Shadow Mountain), has sold hundreds of thousands and is currently being made into a movie that will be coming out in theaters next year, I think.

Of course, then Lisa turned into a smart aleck and said there's no pressure on me. I mean, no big deal if my book doesn't do as well as everyone else's. No big deal if SOME of their authors don't hit the NY Times Bestseller list. She's evil.

I do feel pressure, but not too much. Both of these guys had their SECOND books hit the Times list. Their names were much more established than mine will be with the little ole Jimmy Fincher Saga. We'll see what happens.

In other news, looks like the ARC (Advance Reader Copy) is going to press on Thursday. And this blew me away: they're printing 4,000 copies. Four THOUSAND. I know many authors who didn't even sell that many copies of the real thing, and these are for the sole purpose of getting reviews and giving away to libraries and schools to spread the buzz.

Maybe I should actually start believing my publisher when they tell me they're going to market this thing heavily. It just seems too good to be true, ya know?

Friday, September 21, 2007

I got my galleys!

Derk Koldewyn, editorial assistant to my editor, called me this morning with exciting news (for me, anyway). The galleys were complete and ready for my review. For those of you who may not know what that means: galleys are the typeset version of the manuscript. In other words, it now looks like a book. In fact, this is exactly what the inside of the ARC will look like. (Above are 3 examples from the galleys)

It will now go through the final proofreading process (including my own review). However, they are going to move forward and make the ARC, which is not unusual. It will have some kind of statement on it informing the reader that it has not been officially proofread.

Proofreading does not quite mean what some of you may think it means. The book has been heavily edited (trust me, I know, and will tell you more about that process) by Shadow Mountain. Proofreading is just one final look to make sure no mistakes or errors were overlooked.

In short, I love it. I really love it. The font, the look, the style, the chapter headings, the dingbats (those little thingies that break up sections within a chapter), everything. The artist is working on 12-15 inside illustrations that will be added later.

Now I'm REALLY excited. :-) Oh, one final thing. Now we know the page count (pending illustrations): 385 pages.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How I got here, Part 7: Shadow Mountain

The only good way to write a book in a short period of time is to set some goals. And if you can throw in a few ounces of complete nerdiness, all the better. To convince myself that my education in Accounting was not a complete waste, I've always kept a spreadsheet that tracks my writing and goals. Yes, at least I am aware of the fact that this makes me a dork beyond measure. We're talking, like, Erkel-range dorkiness, here. But it works.

(I don't know if I'm saddened or amazed that I remember Erkel. Anyone else remember him? Has there ever been a dumber show on television?)

Anyway, Shadow Mountain told me they wanted the book by March (2007). It was the first week of December (2006). I knew that if I wanted ample time to send the manuscript to trusted friends and do some serious rewriting and editing, I needed the first draft to be completed by the end of January at the latest. And, at that time, I thought the book would be about 70,000 words.

So I set a goal to write 1,000 words a day at the very least. If I went over, great. But the next day I still had to write at least 1,000 words. This worked perfectly. By New Year's I had written 31,000 words (I know this because of my NWL - Nerdy Writing Log). And this included taking an entire week off for Christmas.

On January 24th, I wrote "The End" to my first draft, and the book was 88,639 words (which means I averaged about 2,000 words a day for 3 weeks or so). Much longer than I had anticipated. And, of course, quite different than I had originally envisioned the story. Some really cool elements came together during the writing period which made it much better than it had started. After the billion reworks in the coming months, it would end up around 95,000 words.

Okay, I better take a breather. I'm pretty certain I've never written so many boring paragraphs, lined up in a row in all their dull non-glory, since I wrote a paper on balance sheet ratios in college. We need something to break the ice. For those of you still dating out there, here are some really bad pick up lines that I highly recommend you avoid:

"You're ugly, but you intrigue me."
"Hi. You'll do."
"You must be Jamaican, because Jamaican me crazy."
"You smell like feet, and I love feet. Wanna party?"
"Did it hurt . . . when you fell from Heaven?"
"Is it me, or am I gorgeous?"
"Do you believe in love at first sight, or do I have to walk by again?"
"Soooo . . . how am I doing so far?"

None of these worked on my wife, and I finally gave in and just asked her out.

So, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, the boring part of my story. I wrote the book, sent it to friends, made a ton of changes, yada yada yada, finally submitted it to Shadow Mountain. (you'll get a glimpse at all the wonderful people who helped me when you see the always-most-anticipated-section of my new book. Yeah, the Acknowledgements. I'll leave you in suspense.

Now, turning this manuscript in was very frightening for me. Talk about pressure. These guys had given me a contract, an advance, a marketing plan, a release date, everything. But they hadn't read the book yet. They'd only read 3 chapters. What if they didn't like it? What if they didn't LIKE it? WHAT IF THEY DIDN'T LIKE IT!!!!!!!

(I need to insert here that my wonderful agent, Jenny Rappaport, negotiated the contract during my frantic time of writing. She persuaded them to make several changes, but all in all it was a very pleasant experience. What I really look forward to now is watching Jenny go for foreign rights and movie rights. I know she'll work wonders for both of us.)

So I turned my book in. Lisa loved it. Chris loved it. A focus group made up of kids loved it. Shadow Mountain's Board loved it. I'd worried 3 years off my life for nothing.

Now, I fully realize that this post is about as discombobulated as you could get. And I had planned to get us up to present day with this one. But there's still probably one more solid post before that happens. Then we can just have fun as we move forward.

I'll end for now by saying this: It was kind of cool to write a book that we'd already sold because of several things. Firstly, I could bounce ideas off of Chris and Lisa during the writing process, just to make sure I wasn't going in a completely bad direction. Secondly, I avoided that "why am I doing this it'll probably never see the light of day" feeling. Thirdly, I was never lacking motivation. Fourthly, why am I even telling you this - OBVIOUSLY it would be cool to write a book that you had already sold.

But remember one thing, in case you didn't read the earlier parts, or, if you did, you have the memory of a toad. Remember all that jazz about "pounding the pavement"? I paid my dues to get to this point, and that's why I think I enjoyed it so much.

Keep on writing, people, and I hope to have the new cover on this site very soon!

(to be continued)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Free Book Thingy Extended

Okay, since we hit 30 so fast, the Committee On The Disposition of Freebie Artifacts From The Dashner Estate (ya know, the COTDOFAFTDE) has decided to extend it and give away more ARCs. Most people asked for ARCs anyway, so we will make it easy and keep it at that. Mainly because I found out I'm getting a lot more ARCs from my publisher than I thought.

Same rules as last time, except now please comment on this post, not the other one. I'm sick of scrolling down on that one. To see the rules, look here:

The new cap has not yet been decided by the COTDOFAFTDE. Maybe we've exhausted our supply of takers, who knows.

Friday, September 14, 2007

How I got here, Part 6: The 13th Reality

Needless to say, I was pretty pumped about Chris and Lisa wanting to take me to lunch. I mean, publishers dont buy people lunch just to be nice for crying out loud. We all know they're blood-sucking demons. Okay, just kidding, just kidding.

I went to work immediately to come up with some ideas. If I remember correctly, I had about a week. One idea was about a boy who finds out he's actually part of a virtual reality universe and that he can become a real boy if he makes it to this mysterious section of the . . . okay, I'll stop there. It was basically Pinocchio meets The Matrix. Sound lame? You bet! (Actually, it's not as lame as it sounds, and I fully plan to write it someday)

Another idea was something about aliens. Enough said. Lame. As the kids say, gag me with an iphone. (okay, they don't really say that, but they SHOULD say it. That's funny stuff.)

There were other ideas. Some were cool. Some were mediocre. Some flat out stunk.

But one of them, I really liked. I'd always had this general idea of a kid getting weird messages in the mail, full of riddles. A test of sorts, to weed out the less-than-worthy and seek the brilliant. Throw in really dangerous stuff so they have to be courageous, too. A grand mystery that leads to a certain place, on a certain day, at a certain time. Where something extraordinary will happen and change the world forever. Something that makes you want to use a lot of cliches.

Of course, that whole idea would be really stupid if the kid solved the mystery, made it to the end, and his only reward was a deciphered ad for Ovaltine (name that movie!). No, I had a much better idea. It involved everything from Quantum Physics to things called Gnat Rats. Really tall people and really short people. Alternate universes and really good spaghetti.

But more on that later. The whole thing came together and I fell in love with the story. I decided to focus on it, leaving the other ideas as nothing more than short paragraphs. For this Big Idea, I wrote 3 full chapters and a 10 page synopsis. The main character's name was Mason McGee and I called the book: THE NINETEENTH REALITY.

In an extremely rare burst of foresight on my part, I decided to send this proposal to Chris and Lisa BEFORE our lunch together, in hopes they would actually read it so we could have a worthwhile discussion. Lisa did, and emailed me to say she really liked it. And then, on the big day, as we all entered the restaurant together, I remember Chris saying something to the effect of, "I just finished THE NINETEENTH REALITY proposal. I love it."

Lunch was a whirlwind. I had gone prepared to get down on my knees and beg them in the name of all that is good and green on the earth to give me a chance. But instead, it was nothing like that. From the first scraping of the chairs across the floor as we took our seats to the last delicious bite of oriental chicken salad (yes, I remember what I ordered), we talked business.

As in, "We wanna do this book" business.

I couldn't believe it. I kept expecting Chris to break into snorts of laughter, pointing at me and slapping Lisa on the back, saying, "We got HIM good didn't we? What an idiot. Now get out of here, Dashner, you're makin' me sick." But no, it was for real.

We talked about contracts, advances, artwork, ideas for the book and the series, release schedules, marketing plans. I almost choked on an almond when Chris said he wanted to send me to BEA in the summer of 2008. (That's Book Expo America, a really big thingamajigger where all the big publishers pimp their latest stuff.)

I knew, even before we left the restaurant, that this was the biggest break of my life and that my lifetime dream of being a full-time author was now a distinct possibility. This would become even more real as the deal came together, as Jenny got involved, the contract completed, the advance issued, yada yada yada. Chris wanted the book to come out in February or March of 2008. That was only 15 or 16 months away.

There was just one thing. I, uh, actually had to WRITE the book. Three chapters wouldn't quite cut it.

And that was how Mason McGee became Atticus Higginbottom. It was how the Nineteenth Reality became the Thirteenth Reality.

And it was how I wrote a 90,000 word book in 7 weeks.

(to be continued)

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Okay, so I've been going now for a couple of weeks and we've had 500 or so visitors. I have no idea about these things, but man does that seem way lame. Sounds like it's time for some shameless promotion.

I hereby declare a free book contest. Anyone who writes up a little sumthin-sumthin about The Dashner Dude on their own blog or website and provides a link to this site, I will send you a free book when it comes out. You can choose to get an ARC in October or the hardback when it comes out in March. It better be a really nice sumthin-sumthin if I'm gonna send you a hardback!

Here's the rule: Post a comment to THIS post with a link to wherever you wrote the sumthin-sumthin. Then send me an email via my website (or, author at jamesdashner dot com) giving me your home address. To get the book, you must do both of these things. And, of course, have written a nice sumthin-sumthin (it can't just be a link on the side).

I have no idea what I'm getting myself into here, so we better have a cap. Let's say . . . the first 30 people for starters. I'll be shocked beyond measure if I get half that many, but at least I have a cap to protect the substantial Dashner Estate coffers. And I promise that you WILL get the book. (yes, I will pay the shipping)

Thanks, and have a wicked awesome day. (that's hip talk for have a nice day)

9/15 UPDATE: Well, we hit our cap of 30 in 36 hours. That's not bad! I will consult with the Dashner Estate Officials to see if maybe we could extend it. Perhaps with ARCs only or something. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cover art coming soon!!!

It's been a fun week. I met with my editor and she told me they're on schedule for the ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) to come out early next month. In the next couple of days I have to finish stuff like the dedication and the acknowledgements. Plus, they want questions for book clubs and classrooms to include at the back of the book. And yes, they told me to do this awhile ago, but of course I procrastinated. Shameful.

Also, they told me today they're hoping to have the cover art from the artist by the end of this week. You can imagine how anxious I am for that. Who cares what I wrote, the success of the book could ride solely on how cool the cover is! My fingers are crossed and I may not sleep for the rest of the week.

It will be posted here the second my publisher lets me. I can't wait to see it!!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How I got here, Part 5: The Three Amigos

The next book I wrote after Jimmy Fincher said his goodbyes was THE MAZE RUNNER. I love this book. It might be my favorite book so far. I now know what it needs to become a really good book. And I plan on doing it. Soon.

Anyway, it was this book that brought me my first big break. Her name is Jenny Rappaport, and she's an agent in New York. I actually found her the old fashioned way: query, then 3 chapters, then the whole manuscript, then months of agonizing, then a phone call.

This is embarrassing, but I remember the exact moment she called. My family and I were eating at Pizza Hut in Park City, UT on July 24th, 2006. She called my cell phone at 12:14 pm and said she wanted to represent me and try to sell THE MAZE RUNNER. Needless to say, I was ecstatic and all goose bumply. I'm pretty sure I went back inside and ate an entire pizza to celebrate. It was a lot of fun to tell my wife.

And I remember thinking, now my career has really begun.

Hardy har har. I've heard the following many times, and now I'm yet another to testify that it's true: ofen an agent does not sell the first book of an author he or she represents. So it was with me.

But man oh man did I get some dang good rejection letters! Jenny forwarded some very encouraging, personalized emails from editors at such places like Harper Collins, Tor, Little, Brown, etc. Although I was dejected as usual, deep inside I felt a confirmation that I wasn't so bad a writer, and that if I kept at it good things were in store.

Jenny also tried to sell a proposal for a vampire novel called THE ANGEL DISEASE that she had specifically asked me to write. I love that book, too, and hope to write it in full someday soon. But again, nice rejections.

Meanwhile, I met two people who are now officially listed in the Top Twenty People Most Favored By James Dashner List. This is an exclusive list and includes such well known people as Mom, Dad, siblings, Abraham Lincoln and Jerry Seinfeld. The new inductees' names are Chris Schoebinger and Lisa Mangum.

Chris is a product director at a publisher called Shadow Mountain. Lisa is the Acquisitions Editor there. Shadow Mountain had recently delved into the national fantasy market for middle readers and young adults, finding a lot of success, including the New York Times Bestseller list, paperback sales to Simon & Schuster, movie rights, etc.

I met them both at various book events and writer's conferences. Each time, I tried my best to simultaneously brown nose, share my so-far humble success, and avoid looking like a complete idiot. Both of them kept telling me to submit something to them, but for some inexplicable reason I thought they were just being nice.

Then, the real kicker. Lisa and I both just happened to be invited to speak at a writer's conference in Arizona (ANWA). This was October of 2006. Since the conference set up and paid for our travel arrangements, Lisa and I sat next to each other on the plane and spent a lot of time together. I did my best to craftily hypnotize her into wanting a book from me.

Turns out we authors don't really need to try that hard. We just need to be ourselves. After I finally realized this, it was quite simple. I said, "Would you like to read my latest manuscript?" She said, "Yes." Wow. Should've tried that tactic earlier.

Here's how the next month went (by the way, Jenny was involved in all of this, too):

Lisa read THE MAZE RUNNER. Loved it. Gave it to Chris. He liked my writing, but didn't think that book was right for them. Meanwhile, I had finally finished another book called THE WORLD SIFTER. Lisa liked it, but not as much as MAZE. She didn't even give it to Chris.

Instead, they surprised me. Lisa asked me to come up with several proposals for other books, and they'd take me to lunch to discuss them.

And that, folks, was how a boy named Atticus Higginbottom was born.

(to be continued)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Q & A: Publicity

Shaunda Wenger asked me how I was able to get signings, school events, writeups in the newspaper, etc. Unfortunately, I don't think my answer will be all that enlightening.

My publisher set up 90 percent of my booksignings. The others were as simple as visiting a bookstore, speaking to the manager, schmoozing them with unprecedented brown nosing (wow, books in your store seem so much . . . bookier than in other stores!), then asking if perhaps you could do a signing sometime. You can pretty much expect them to say yes.

But here's the thing. Signings are worthless without something to promote them. And if you write for children, school visits are BY FAR the most valuable thing you can do. I got really lucky in this regard.

Angie Wager, who is the community relations rep at my closest Barnes and Noble, became my bestest friend in the whole wide world. For some inexplicable reason she seemed to like me, and started setting up school visits that were sponsored by Barnes and Noble. These were a big success and led to referrals, more appearances, etc. Moral of the story: become buddies with a bookstore community relations person!

As for the newspaper thing, I have no answer. I've never personally contacted a newspaper. The only time I've been featured is when a school called the paper or a paper contacted me. But I'm sure calling them could never hurt you. Give it a shot.

In the future I will definitely give more detailed posts about promoting. Especially about school visits (which is definitely my favorite part of being an author) and book signings. Shaunda, thanks for the great question.

The next part in my author journey is coming very soon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

How I got here, Part 4: Michael Phipps

Cedar Fort had realized that sales were pretty good DESPITE covers that didn't really shout to kids and parents that, Hey! This here book is a little sumthin-sumthin for people who like that fantasy sorta stuff! Imagine, they told me, if the books actually had cool covers! (I just used three exclamation points in one paragraph. Please never do that, or I vill be forced to cut off zah fing-ah.)

Cedar Fort wanted to revamp and redo the whole series. The plan was to release the fourth and final book in the series with a whole new look, then announce that the first three books would be re-released with new covers and artwork in the coming months. Looking back, I think we would all agree that it was a mistake to do it this way. They should have re-released the first three books first, then have the last book come out. But I guess there are worst things than a publisher wanting to hurry and get your book on the shelves.

The search for an artist began, and luckily they asked me to help. I recommended one guy that I really liked, but that didn't work out so well. He pulled out around crunch time because he had too many bigger projects from his agent. This was a bad thing because Cedar Fort had been counting on him, and there wasn't much time left. They called me one day, a little desperate, asking if I knew anyone else. They'd been looking, but couldn't find someone they felt good about.

Well, call what happened next whatever you want. But to call it a coincidence would be pushing it.

I had just been transferred to a different location at work. The week I started was the LAST week of a certain guy leaving for a new job. Talk about a small window of opportunity. When I told some new coworkers about my book stuff, and the dilemma of trying to find the right artist, they nonchalantly told me about a dude who worked the vending machines in the building. Apparently, this guy was really awesome with a little thing called art. You better hurry, they said, this is his last week.

I won't bore you with any more of the details. This guy's name was Michael Phipps, and he and I are now good friends. Oh, and he also painted awesome covers for all 4 of my books and did inside illustrations as well (see examples above). I absolutely love what he did, and I think I still owe him one of my children for doing so. You have to check out Michael's website---he's now a full time artist and well on his way to fame and stardom. (By the way, the cover for Book 2, A GIFT OF ICE, won some kind of fancy-schmancy artist award.)

You can also see all 4 of the new covers at my website:

And so it was that the fourth and final book, WAR OF THE BLACK CURTAIN, came out in August of 2005, sans any photograph of the poor little stranger kid who was supposed to be Jimmy Fincher. The new and improved version of A DOOR IN THE WOODS came out later that fall, then the other two came out in the spring of 2006. Now, this created a really awkward time when some of the books had the old covers and some of them had the new covers; but in the end, it was all hunky dory and glorious.

Sales took off. Again, relatively speaking, here. We're not talking Harry Potter numbers here. We're not even talking Lemony Snicket numbers. Or Eragon. Or Artemis Fowl. Or . . . okay, you get the point. No need to sit here and make me feel bad. I was with a very small publisher with no real good way to get the word out. But for them, my sales were wonderful, and the books are still selling to this day, growing inch by inch across the country. (They may be in Costco stores soon!)

Then I remembered that I had a disease. You know, the Imneversatisfiedandwanttobemoresuccessful Disease. I was very, very happy with Jimmy Fincher and its success, but it only got me more excited to seek bigger and better things. I had a million ideas for new books. In fact, as much as I love Mr. Fincher, I was sick to death of writing about him. I wanted to move on. I wanted to write new stories, new books. And I did.

But none of that writing business had anything to do with the next steps in my career. I mean, I'm only an author for crying out loud. No, my career took its next few turns because of three people, two of whom I met in person, the other via a letter and a phone call.

Their names were Jenny Rappaport, Lisa Mangum and Chris Schoebinger. (Actually, those are still their names, but the word "were" seemed appropriate there, so leave me alone.)

(to be continued)