How I Got My Book Deal For HERE AND NOW AND THEN

Update: I’m Goodreads official now — add HERE AND NOW AND THEN to your read list!

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I’ve agreed to a two-book deal with MIRA Books as sold by Eric Smith of P.S. Literary Agency. Under the watchful eye of Michelle Meade (whose enthusiasm for my work is so palpable I’m still blown away) I can’t wait for you all to experience the journey of stranded time-traveling secret agent Kin Stewart as he tries to raise his daughter Miranda before she’s erased from history in HERE AND NOW AND THEN.

When I first started discussing this super-secret deal with people, I was often asked how it came together. There’s a practical answer to that, but then it got me thinking about something a little bigger picture.

But first, the practical.

After nearly two years of getting a number of close calls where editors wanted to acquire the book but the business people felt it was either “too sci-fi” or “too literary” for their imprint, I was getting despondent.  So despondent, in fact, that I told Eric I was ready to shelve HERE AND NOW AND THEN and move onto my next manuscript. He insisted on one last round because not only is he stubborn as fuck (which is a good trait in an agent) but he also noted that the constant close calls meant there was something here and we just needed for the stars to align between creative teams and business teams. He then rattled off names of editors he’d recently informally pitched.

“This one editor from MIRA, she told me the pitch gave her chills. She really wants to read it.”

A little while longer wouldn’t kill me. In that time, I drafted and sold a short story and worked on a few other things, so it was productive. I had, by then, become jaded enough to not expect anything. So even when we got news that Michelle loved the book and was sharing it with her team, I remained skeptical. When we heard that she was taking it to acquisitions, I remained skeptical. When she even told Eric that she’d have an answer on September 26 and would call around 4 PM EST, I remained skeptical.

I remained skeptical all that time, even on that day. While chatting with Diana Urban about how skeptical I was, my phone buzzed with this text:

I dashed outside of my office holding my phone with shaking hands. Logically, I knew there might be a positive outcome, but after facing so many marketing-driven near-misses, this all seemed impossible.

Then Eric called with news of Michelle’s offer and then for the next fifteen minutes, I kept repeating how I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. But it did. It was real.

So, practically speaking, that is how I got my book deal.

From a bigger picture perspective, I got my deal — and my agent — because I wrote what I wanted to, not what I thought could sell or dictated by genre.

See, for the longest time, I always associated sci-fi with epic storytelling or hard sci-fi even though it’s always been my true love (fantasy, though, rarely does it for me; give me Mass Effect over Dragon Age any day). I’d taken creative writing in college, and when I read Nick Hornby, that voice spoke to me. I tried writing contemporary in that vein for three aborted manuscripts. While those were fun and important learning experiences, it still didn’t feel right. At the same time, I found myself loving side stories in my favorite franchises, the ones that tell character stories and aren’t necessarily related to the major plotlines (think the Lower Decks episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation). I decided to forget what the traditional contemporary and sci-fi markets went for and to simply write what I wanted: character stories in sci-fi settings.

The first manuscript in this vein, about a wedding planner in a post-apocalyptic society, was a close-but-no-cigar work — though plenty of agent feedback told me I was onto something. Another story idea came to me, one that was inspired in equal parts by my wife and I talking about finally having a child after years of “we don’t want kids” and the episodes School Reunion (Doctor Who) and The Inner Light (Star Trek: TNG). After Sierra Godfrey, my main critique partner, told me to rip apart the needlessly complicated first half, it eventually became the manuscript that landed me an agent…and a book deal.

And it all started with one simple decision: to write for myself, not for outside expectations. Doing so created a manuscript that was true to my writer heart and set my direction for where I want to take my career. Whenever I question that, I’m lucky to have an agent who reminds me to write what I want — and I hope to bring many more of these stories into the world soon.

P.S.  I wrote this book with Idris Elba cast as Kin from the very beginning. Please universe, get this book into Idris Elba’s hands and convince him to be in the movie.

* * *

Okay, self-indulgent Oscar speech acknowledgements time. I’m sure this will be repeated later in the book acknowledgements, but paper doesn’t have hyperlinks. Hey, I’m a web developer, hyperlinks are important.

As supportive as family can be for writers, it’s still kind of a weird thing that only other writers get. Because of that, a support team is critical during any writer’s time in the trenches. I wouldn’t be here without these people and they deserve a quick thank you. First off, my agent Eric Smith for providing unwavering support through every up and down (and also for sending my daughter Doctor Who children’s books). Sierra Godfrey, my longtime critique partner who’s never been afraid of telling me when I need to rewrite an entire half of my book. Jessica Sinsheimer, who is NOT my agent but is a good friend and a bringer of industry sanity when I need it.

All of TeamRocks (Eric’s roster of magnificent people, past and present), who have provided endless support and Seinfeld gifs (thank you Rebecca Phillips) during this journey. In particular, Dave Connis, Diana Urban, Laurel Amberdine, Rebecca Enzor, Sangu Mandanna, and Samira Ahmed who all provided feedback on various drafts and sections, in addition to many laughs. Kat Howard, who is the best fucking freelance editor you can buy, as well as an amazing author and owner of adorable cats. Randy Ribay, who meets up with me once a week to gripe about publishing over In n Out Burgers — and who agrees that Five Guys is trash. Kristen Lippert-Martin, because every support team needs that one person who WILL NOT ACCEPT NO FOR AN ANSWER and provides a hearty kick in the ass as needed.

And finally, I should mention my college writing teacher. Wendy Sheanin is now an executive with Simon & Schuster, but when I met her, she was a grad student teaching a lower-division undergrad elective at UC Davis. She started my journey, and I wouldn’t be here without her encouragement of “keep writing” when the quarter was over.

Those are all excellent people and you should follow them on Twitter and/or buy their books. (Especially Kat Howard’s AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS, it’s one of the best things I’ve read in years.)