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)


Rachelle Christensen said...

I really enjoy hearing/reading how a "real" author got to the success point. You are funny!
While you were writing your book were you completely absorbed in the process? I ask because I am currently querying for a children's novel that I finished a couple of months ago. I wrote 20,000 words in two weeks and was thinking about it all the time. I guess I'm a nerd on a lower level because each day I wrote down my word count in my planner, but it kept me motivated.
*I'd love to see some tips on finding the right agent. I've queried a bunch of them- had two of them look at my work, one which actually read the whole thing, but no takers yet- you know that popular line: It's not right for me... Would love any advice you have!
P.S. I'm so glad that we can have run-on sentences in the blog world.

Luisa Perkins said...

Love it.

I do the spreadsheet thingy, too. Yup, that's a scarlet letter 'G' on my shoulder.

James Dashner said...

Rachelle, you are officially in the queue for my Q&A posts. Great questions, look for thoughts soon.

Luisa, it pleases me greatly to know that you are just as nerdy as I am. Oh, the shame.

James Dashner said...

One more thing. Rachelle, 20,000 words in 2 weeks is awesome!

And trust me, I know EXACTLY what you mean about being completely absorbed. It was literally all I could think about during those 7 weeks, every minute of the day and night.

(Don't you love it when people misuse the word literally? Like I probably just did? My favorite example of all time, true story: A guy told me his chest literally exploded when he was told some good news.)

Rachelle Christensen said...

I love it! Literally, I do.

Don said...

Thanks for sharing your publishing saga. It's nice to see some details about how the process can work.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Go, James! Go, James!

Christine Kersey said...

I do the spreadsheet thing too. In fact when I was having trouble falling asleep last night I was trying to decide if I wanted to create cells that would subtract my starting word count from my ending word count each day.

And it's not a nerdy thing to do - we're just organized. Yeah, that's it.

david mcmahon said...

G'day from Australia,

I'm also an author and photographer and there are many parallels in our experiences.

Good luck, mate. Hope there's a bidding war on your rights.



Anonymous said...

Love the pick-up lines. You should post your proposal letter one day. To The Wife, not to The Agent. I still think that was one of the most cleverestestestest ways to propose. And look! I made up a new word!

I'll try and update the roster soon, I have a sinus infection or something and Law & Order is running a marathon.

Unknown said...


Thanks so much for writing about this. Hysterical pickup lines.

One thing jumped out at me. Your agent negotiated your deal with Shadow Mountain?

James Dashner said...

Sis, sorry to hear you're sick. Better you than me, however. Just kidding, get well soon.

David, you officially win the award for person posting from farthest away. In fact, pretty sure you couldn't BE farther away. That's awesome. I love Australia and really, really want to visit there. One of my best friends is from Sydney.

I checked out your blog - quite impressive. A photographer and an author. Good on ya, mate.

James Dashner said...

Candace, my agent did indeed negotiate my contract with Shadow Mountain. Made some good changes, too. Especially regarding foreign rights, so that we would get the majority of the money when rights sell.

Of course, ideally, this contract would have only been U.S. or North American rights, but what we ended up with was pretty darn close.

Did I mention that I love my agent? She's Da Bomb.

Marta O. Smith said...

James, have you considered writing nonfiction? Maybe a book on CD about the writing process and tracking your goals on spreadsheets and all that other accountant-like stuff? I would love to have something like that available, but trying to set up spreadsheet files makes my brain hurt. It would be great to have some program I could just buy on CD and install (I do know how to install programs).

James Dashner said...

Marta, I have to think there are things out there for that. Mine is a very simple thing. Anyone got ideas?

As for me writing nonfiction, I think a blog is about as close I'll get. :-)

Annette Lyon said...

It's fun hearing the story after the fact. Of course, it was also fun watching you sweat it out. You definitely earned this, though. I've never seen anyone pound the pavement like you did.

Rebecca said...

aaaah - great story! Congratulations!

Sharon said...

This was all very helpful. I think I'll now be able to deal with everything I know will happen before my book ends up on the shelves. If you could answer one question that would be great!

What do I do if I have no way of getting my book into any publisher?

I'm in the third to fourth revision and I'm feeling better about it every day, but I have no way of getting it out.
I'm 17, only just over a month, and My job right now doesn't quite...well it won't do it, that is if i have no other way to get it up, and have to pay part of it like you did. I first started my book in 7th grade. I stopped just after doing the first few chapters becasue it knew I wouldn't have any possible way of getting it published.
I need help...

Julie Belnap said...

That was cool. Now you've got your book out, but you still hit the pavement all of the time.

it's dinner time, I need to go now.

bartonjd said...

Any word on when the next 13th Reality book is coming? I'm dying to know what will happen to Atticus!