How I Got A Book Deal

A while ago on my old blog I made a post about how I got a book deal. When I was querying, posts like these were what I wanted to read. I wanted to know what happens behind the scenes in a very hush hush industry, and so here it is, the story of how I got a book deal.

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I HAVE A TWO BOOK DEAL!!!!!!!

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I've dreamt of this day since I was a kid and I can't believe it's finally a reality!

*cue non-stop stream of tears*

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This time last year, I was still querying a different book, getting rejections and feeling like publishing a novel wasn't going to be something I could achieve in this lifetime.

BUT IT'S HAPPENING. IT'S ACTUALLY HAPPENING.

Okay but...how did it happen?

As mentioned in my How I Got My Agent post, I owe it to my favourite TV Show Gossip Girl for this. Thank you Blair Waldorf for everything. 

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I accepted the offer of representation from my amazing agent, Hannah Sheppard, on the 3rd of August, and we got to work right away. I received my edit letter and an annotated version of my manuscript a few days after and began planning how I was going to tackle my edits! My editing period was quite short, about three weeks, and when I was done I couldn't believe how much more I loved my manuscript. 

While editing, it is so hard to love what you're writing/re-writing until you see the full picture. On some edit days, I felt like throwing my laptop out of the window. Others, I loved the way things were going. 

In the end, I created something I was really happy with - which is the best upside to writing. Loving the things you produce at the end of the messiness of drafting and edits.

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After line edits, big picture changes and a lot of reworking, my agent finally told me that I was ready to go on submission to editors! I was weirdly shocked by that. I knew it was coming but I never really thought I'd get to this point.

So at first I was like...

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then I was like...

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Then my agent told me that she'd sent out my manuscript and that it was official.

And...I died.

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I called Mum and told her "I'm officially on sub!!" 

Her: What is sub?

Me: My book is going to editors!!

Her: I thought your book is going to publishing houses...

Me: YES. EDITORS AT PUBLISHING HOUSES.

Her: ahh...when will we hear back?

(Guys, explaining publishing to your mum is an extreme sport)

But yes. When was I going to hear back? Her question was one I didn't want to think about. I told her, it could be weeks or months. That I'm going to try not to obsess over it - I failed at that by the way - just try to go on and pretend that everything is fine... (also failed at that). 

So, I went on Sub on one rainy Friday in the middle of September. Expecting silence for at least 4 weeks...

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But then Saturday and Sunday passed and Monday rolled around and I was distracted by my friend from London - who came up to visit me in Scotland. We had a fun day out in town and I remember at the end of our town adventures, we were on the bus back home and I decided to check my notifications. First thing I saw were some twitter updates, my phones low storage warning and...a message from my agent. 

The subject line had the name of an Editor in it and I thought to myself...oh my god...I knew it was some form of positive news because, with many agents, you get to decide whether you want to hear about everything or only positives. Given my mental health, I only wanted positives in the beginning and hoped that if we were still on sub a few months down the line, that I would get the nerve to hear everything. 

So...after a few seconds just staring at the email, heart racing, fingers shaking...I open it. It was news...an editor finished reading my book over the weekend and loved it...

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I had to hold back from screaming in public - I actually think being a writer is 70% trying not to scream in public. 

I got home, acted semi-normal...although my friend asked why I was smiling like a maniac...I still maintained some level of normality. 

So let's call this Editor...Editor A. Editor A told my agent that she was going back to her team to get more reads - aka get 2nd opinions on my book - which editors do before taking your book to an acquisitions meeting (aka meeting where they decide whether or not they want to buy your book). 

I was so excited but nervous, and so with that first bit of speedy news, the refreshing of my inbox began. The reads could take weeks! Plus, I still had to hear back from other publishing houses - who could also take weeks to get back to us. I dreaded having to wait...but with luck, the next day - Tuesday - I got more news. A second Editor...Editor B also read my book over the weekend and loved it.

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I almost fainted - no joke - I kind of blacked out. 

I had to remind myself that a whole team of people have to approve my book before I get anywhere. I'm a huge pessimist, I hate being disappointed so I never expect anything. I told myself again that I'd probably hear more in a few weeks... 

Then on Wednesday, I heard that more publishers were sharing with their teams and I just sat on my couch in shock.

A few days later - 6 days after to be exact -  my agent told me that another Editor...Editor C loved my book and wanted to speak to me. I called my mum and I screamed on the phone to her. I couldn't believe it - I still can't. At this point, I started binging every Alexa Donne video on publishing, trying to figure out what this call might mean. 

Then the next day, I got another email from my agent. Editor B had gone to an acquisitions meeting and wanted to make an offer!!!!!!!!! 

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Editor B also wanted to speak on the phone and so I obviously had to rewatch all of the Alexa Donne videos!

I spoke to both editors that week, and it felt like an out of body experience. Hearing people excited about my book and talking about their favourite parts was so shocking. I was silent for a lot of the call, trying not to scream.  I remember how one of the editors spoke about how much she shipped my characters, how Gossip Girl is also a fave of hers and how she couldn't put my book down once she started reading it.

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So more days passed, And I got more positive feedback but ultimately decided with my agent to go with the editor we both knew from the get-go was the most passionate about my book.

And that editor was...Becky Walker from Usborne UK!!!! AHHHHHHH

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Speaking to Becky on the phone was so surreal. She GOT my book and was so enthusiastic about the characters and the story and after my conversation with her, I told my agent right away that I thought she was the perfect fit.

Of course, we had to wait and hear other proposals, but ultimately, Becky was the editor I felt I connected with most.

I'm still in shock...I can't believe this is real...

But that is the story of my book deal!!!! I'm so excited for this journey and I can't wait to hold a physical copy of my book in my hands. 

The Query Letter That Got Me My Agent

So today I will be sharing with you the query letter that got me my agent - as well as a whole bunch of full and partial requests! I started writing my query letter in the early stages of writing my book. I think it really helped me see the bigger picture and understand what the key themes were in my plot. I got it checked dozens of times before I sent out my first query - and I advise that you do too!

Ace of Spades was the 3rd book I queried, and so I had a bit of practice before hand on query writing. The most helpful resource I found was looking at successful queries like the query of author Amelie Wen Zhao. Her advice was invaluable and really helped to tighten my query and understand how to hook agents using carefully crafted language.

This query letter not only got me an agent but it is the query letter for the book that got me a book deal! (click here to add it on Goodreads)

So…here it is!

Dear Ms. Sheppard,

I addressed most agents as Ms. or Mr, but do your research and make sure you use their correct pronouns - i.e. some agents may use Mx.

From sex-tapes to covered up murders, Devon and Chiamaka have a lot at stake if their secrets ever get out.

This was my first paragraph. Short, simple and effective. I showcased what my stakes were, and gave them an idea of what sort of character’s and themes this story is dealing with. From this first sentence, we know we are dealing with major secrets and the threat of these secrets being exposed. But by who? This was my hook.

Start with something compelling about your character(s) or the world you are writing about. A fact that makes your book stand out, out of the hundreds of queries agents read in a week.

Anyone that knows them knows that they are furthest from friends; some may even call them enemies.

Here I established what the relationship is like between the two main characters - this was important for me as i needed to create an understanding that this ‘quest’ to find who is possibly blackmailing them is made harder by the fact that they do not get along. While following other successful queries and their structure, I noted that while there was a formula they still made the query their own. So instead of moving straight on to the inciting incident, i first wanted to establish what the relationship between the two looks like. Doing this showed that there was tension prior to the inciting incident.

But when ‘Aces’, an anonymous texter, starts spreading their secrets around their private school, they have no choice but to team up and expose their tormentor’s identity.

Now, I move onto the inciting incident. Their secrets being spread. After revealing what kind secrets they are hiding in the first paragraph, the revelation that they have been spread is even more shocking. Which begs the question…what does happen if they get out?

If they fail to act fast enough, they risk social annihilation and losing out on a place at their dream colleges. 

Here I state what they have to lose if they don’t stop their tormentor in the initial stages of their secrets being spread. I use two things that would be important to many High School seniors - having friends and getting into University.

Devon and Chiamaka set out to find the person or people behind Aces, what they find, however, is the soiled history of their school’s past and that Aces is not just a game of high school mean girl’s, but instead a powerful institution that dates back 400 years ago: an institution with the power to ruin not only the lives of the only Black students at the private academy, but also historically the lives of millions that looked just like them.

Building on what they have to lose if their secrets get out, I allude to a much bigger, scarier system. With contemporary books, a lot of queries I have read tend to focus in on plot points that are not central to the plot/ not compelling enough. There is so much that happens to my characters within the story that I have left out. So many side characters who are SO important, but are not relevant when it comes to delivering an interesting and succinct pitch - which is essentially what a query is. If you name drop too many characters the query becomes confusing. Same with dropping too many differing plot points. Try and find the major theme/themes and expand on them as you write your pitch/query. In my case, my major theme is secrets, and i expand on this theme by revealing why these secrets matter as well as what’s at stake for my MC’s if their secrets get out.

By not stating exactly what i mean by powerful institutions, I keep the mystery and intrigue alive without my query being confusing. This makes the reader of my query more intrigued and willing to read on.

Now it’s not just about them – Devon and Chiamaka must expose Aces or risk a violent and treacherous history repeating itself.

And to end my query, I finish on a very contrasting final sentence. The query starting with what seems to be an anonymous bully, like in pretty little liars or gossip girl, ending with something that seems bigger and more dangerous than anything the two main characters can imagine or control.

Told in dual-POV’s, ACE OF SPADES is a YA Mystery stand-alone, complete at 70,000 words, and can be compared to Jordan Peele’s GET OUT and the TV drama GOSSIP GIRL, and will appeal to readers of Karen M. McManus’ ONE OF US IS LYING.  Per your submission guidelines, I have included the first 3 chapters for your review.

And finally…I end my query with stats. Stating the POV - just so they know what to expect when reading. The genre and age category - YA Mystery, although this has since changed to a YA Social Thriller as I think it’s better suited. Then comp titles - very important aspect of your query. Comp titles allow for a concise description of your story. You can use movies, books, tv shows anything that accurately describes what your narrative can be compared to.

And that’s it! That’s how you write a query letter! Of course, you end the query with a short paragraph about yourself - in my case I just wrote about what i study at University. You can also include a small sentence describing why you sub’d to an agent, but I picked my agent list very carefully and the ones I sub’d to were ones that enjoyed dark narratives and had an editorial style that I preferred.

Thanks for reading my post! I hope it helps <3

Don’t give up on querying and finding an agent. It will happen, keep practising and perfecting your craft.

XOXO

Faridah

Author Blog

Hello! So I have decided to create an author blog. A blog I will be posting things to whenever there’s a milestone, or something I want to share that is writing/querying/publishing related! I hope you all enjoy my words and because this post is already extremely short, I wanted to add this quote that I really love and think is important for all creatives to remind themselves:

“Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s part of it.” something to remember in this industry. Rejections are part of your journey to success <3

Thanks for reading!

XOXO

Faridah