IT’S FINALLY HAPPENED! The moment I’ve dreamed of since I was around 11 years old has finally come true!
All those years ago, when I first started writing about brutal wolves and sexy vampires back on the Neopets roleplay boards, I had no idea how difficult this journey would be.
You mean I don’t just write something and magically see my book in a bookstore? Damn.
I’m going to warn everyone that this post is going to be loonggg, and perhaps not all of it will feel directly related to writing, but it is. I’ve been fortunate to know what I wanted to do from a very young age, and have had friends and family who have supported me so much throughout this journey. I’m 23, and the majority of my choices in life have been made solely with telling stories in mind. If you just want the nitty gritty about the actual book and offer, skip to the next break!
I wrote my first full book when I was in 6th grade. It was 140k, about bloodthirsty vampires fighting against evil slayers. In this stage of my life, I was addicted to writing. Not in love with it, but thoroughly addicted to the point where it might have been a bitttt unhealthy. I’d wake up, write, go to school (where I would work on writing at lunch and during breaks), then come home and write throughout the entire night. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words, roleplaying with wonderful strangers I met on the internet.
And then Twilight came out.
Now I know that people love to give this book crap, but Twilight was revolutionary, and I don’t care what anyone says (#TeamJacob). I was in middle school when Twilight came out. Living in Arizona, I was able to attend Stephenie Meyer’s first book signing (followed by many subsequent ones; shout out to my parents for driving me and attending more of these than they probably ever wanted to), and see her career blossom and the books explode into a phenomenon. This was the first time I’d really paid attention to the author behind the books I read; to the fact that there was an actual person writing them.
That the thing I loved to do could actually be a career.
I was a very serious kid. The moment I set my mind to something, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to stop me. I knew what I wanted—to be a published author like Stephenie Meyer. To have people love my characters and my stories like all these people I saw at these signings loved hers. The moment I made that decision, my life became about achieving this goal. Everything I could think of to bring me closer to that goal was what I had to do.
I learned about querying in middle school. But I determined I couldn’t do anything with a vampire novel after Twilight’s success, so I decided to work on something new. As a wannabe Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, giving up this vampire novel at such a young age was tough! But so worth it.
Between those two projects, high school came. I was writing a ton, still always working on stories, but as I said, I’m stubborn and felt like there was more I could be doing to learn about stories. I wanted to be part of a more creative environment, so at the age of 15 I got an internship at a live musical theater. I ended up being hired and working there for around 4 years, all through high school and some of college.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of school. All I wanted was to tell stories, not do equations. But I earned a scholarship that provided me with a free ride to college, so I wasn’t about to drop out and pass up that incredible opportunity. Instead, I decided to take year-round classes so I could graduate a few years early, apply for internships, and try to find other writing or creative opportunities. I ended up becoming managing editor of my college paper, a role I held for one year before I moved to Los Angeles for an amazing adventure.
My love of storytelling led me to try my hand working in the film industry, and I ended up getting a truly amazing internship at Nickelodeon Animation, on the show of my dreams: The Legend of Korra. (Proud firebender, here!!) I screamed so much when I found out I got the job, you guys. I never thought I’d be chosen. I really, truly loved my time at Nickelodeon. I was convinced that I was meant to do this. That maybe I didn’t need to be an author; that I should be a screenwriter, or work in production to tell these amazing stories, like Korra. And for a while, I was happy doing this. But I was never quite as happy as the other interns around me were as they were truly living their dreams, and I was wrong about what mine was.
While I was in LA, I had the opportunity to attend dozens of book signings and festivals. I went to the wonderful LA Times Festival of Books two years in a row, to as many panels as I possibly could, and it was such a different feeling than the days I spent at Nick. I was in love. LOVE. I had never felt more in my element than I did at these events. I realized that while I loved and appreciated the opportunities I had been given, publishing had my heart.
In the downtime I had at Nick, I would work on the book that later got me into Pitch Wars 2016, a YA sci-fi. It was my first full book since that vampire story and I loved working on it. It was no secret at Nick that I was a writer and I’d often talk about it with my amazing crew. But when the time came for me to decide to get serious about animation, one of my managers pulled me aside and asked about my game plan. I think he somehow recognized where my true heart was at before I did. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I told him I wanted to write books. He looked at l8-year-old me, youngest person in the studio and still trying to figure out how the heck I even got this dream job, and said, “Then why are you doing this? Don’t put 50% toward animation and 50% toward writing. Pick one, and put 100% toward that.”
And dang. He was right. I’d been working SO, so hard at this internship, trying to do everything I could for anyone who needed anything, but for what? Animation is a difficult industry. All of film and television is cutthroat. So if I wasn’t in love with doing this, then why continue to fight so hard for it?
I’m not sure if my manager even remembers saying this to me, but it hit me hard. I graduated the semester after that, moved to San Diego, and decided to really put my degree to use by working at a bar while seriously pursing my writing.
And hey, it worked. I definitely have some stories about my time working at a super busy bar, but more than anything it provided me with the time and opportunity to throw myself into finishing the YA sci-fi and enter a little contest known as Pitch Wars in 2016.
By some miracle, the mentor Brian Palmer decided he liked my weird little book, and changed my life by selecting me as his mentee for Pitch Wars. (Thank you, Brian!!!!)
I won’t go into too many details about Pitch Wars here, because there’s soooo much about it out there already, and I’m linking some info here. But I will say that this contest is life changing and you have absolutely no reason not to enter. I love it so so much that I’m now a mentor for it!
Though I didn’t end up getting an agent with that manuscript or through that contest, I learned SO much about writing and editing. And beyond that, I met some of my best friends EVER through this contest (Hi, Tomi! Hi, Shea! <3) I also met the most incredible CPs, who helped elevate my writing immensely. Seriously, find your writing people and never let them go. They are gold, and I couldn’t have done this without them.
Right after PW, I quickly wrote a new manuscript I was in love with. But it wasn’t the right book to query. I knew that I needed something different. And though it was difficult to say goodbye to that first draft of a manuscript I loved after just having also shelved my PW manuscript, I had a new character who kept nagging at me to write her. She kept telling me to stop wasting my time with all these other stories and pay attention to her. This character was a girl inspired by my frustration with how some media portrays powerful women, and how society has been programmed to think of them. Sansa Stark is so hated and considered “weak” by many GOT fans, simply because she likes dresses and romance, while Arya is a favorite because she knows how to fight and is thoroughly unforgiving. Several reader friends I spoke with didn’t like Celaena Sardothien because she was “too full of herself,” while I saw her as badass and confident.
The character who kept nagging at me was Amora Montero, a ruthless animancer who manipulates souls and stabs some people while wearing beautiful gowns and jewels. I really wanted to write a girl who was confident with herself. Who could love fashion, jewels, and being a princess just as Sansa does, while being as ruthless and skilled with blades as Arya is. Someone who knows her worth and doesn’t need a man, but who very much enjoys them and doesn’t mind their attention.
I didn’t know what this story was going to be right away, or that it was meant to be a high seas fantastical adventure. I just knew I needed to write this morally gray girl who I loved, and that Amora had a story worth telling. I ended up actually being in a car accident that prevented me from working for several months (and from ever working a physically demanding job again), but instead of being sad about it, I decided this was the time I needed to really go hard and get her story written. I gave up a career in animation to focus on writing, and that’s what I needed to do.
I wrote the first draft of this book in 3.5 weeks. 2,000 words minimum every day, with an occasional double day thrown in there when I was really into a scene. I spent another two weeks editing it before I hired the amazing Ashley Hearn as a freelance editor, then another two weeks editing her notes. It doesn’t sound like a ton of time, I know, but with few other responsibilities (no kids, no work, a supportive boyfriend who doesn’t mind when I disappear into the cave for weeks at a time, etc) I worked incredibly long days. While Ashley had my manuscript, I worked on my query and spent hours creating a detailed list of agents I wanted to query, with their submission requirements and reasons for querying them (typically a tweet or MSWL request for work like mine, or based on feedback from my previously queried Pitch Wars book).
I started writing this book during the last week of February. In April, I queried. This part is going to sound totally wild, but within the first few hours I had an offer from an agent. Within the first 24 hours, I had 2 offers. I want to stress for everyone reading this who is querying that this situation is NOT normal. I got over a hundred rejections on my Pitch Wars book, and was in no way expecting this. I think a lot of it had to do with how thoroughly I researched agents this time around, as well as the fact that my skills grew dramatically after Pitch Wars, and I had a strong set of betas and critique partners I really trusted to help me get this book right.
So when it went to agents, the manuscript and query were ready. After failing miserably in the trenches so many times before, I made sure they were as strong as I knew how to get them.
I had 8 incredible offers, and in the end I went with my amazing dream agent, Hillary Jacobson at ICM Partners. After this experience, I cannot stress enough how important having the right agent is for your career. I’m sorry, but they are not all made the same, and it does not just take one yes. It takes the right yes, from someone who understands your vision and truly believes in your work.
Hillary and I went through a wild ride with this novel. During my time querying, I was promised all sorts of grands things from some agents. I’d go to immediate auction, some said. I’d get a major deal. Film studios would snatch this up! I admit, my ego was quite stoked. Hillary, for the record, was amazing and super smart because she never promised me anything other that her belief that we would get this book to the right home. And to everyone querying, this is what you want in an agent. Because anything else is beyond your agent’s control, and yours.
Since this is a celebratory blog post, I won’t go into the details about sub here, or about how my ego and I should have bought stock in Ben and Jerrys. Maybe I’ll talk about the soul-crushing submission process one day (it’s 1000% worse than querying, in my opinion), but for anyone wondering, just know that you honestly have NO IDEA WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. No agent or author can control what happens on sub. You can have the best book in the world, and it just might not be the right time. You just don’t know.
Like I said, I’ll go into more details about sub in a future blog post, but for now I’ll say that Hillary is an incredible agent who probably read this manuscript 20 million times, and never stopped until we got it right. When I signed with her, ATSAT was 78k. It got up to 110k after multiple edits, and sold at a few thousand words below that. We went SO hard on edits, and I know I’m just ranting right now, but I truly couldn’t have done this without Hillary, and I just want her to read this and know how much I appreciate her. I would not be as proud of this book as I am without her. You should all query her, because she’s fabulous and I’ve no idea how she manages to do everything she does. Wonder Woman, I swear. Query her!
After a little while, we ended up getting a call from an editor who was forwarded my book from a different editor, and who loved it but wanted to see a few changes first. I loved this editor immediately. Everything she said made me internally go, “yes, cool, omg you are so great,” while trying to be super chill and professional outwardly. When we eventually hung up, Hillary called me to see how the call went. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I was super awkward and trying to be all like, “you know, I think she’s great and am excited about the possibilities” about it, but oh my gosh. Internally I was freaking out. I sent a text to one of my close friends right away, and was just like “AHHHH SHE WAS SO INCREDIBLE!!”
So I did the revisions (and then some, and then some, and then some, because you never. Stop. Editing. Omg), sent them back, and had an offer from Nicole Otto at Macmillan a week later.
But not just any offer. A pre-empt, because the editor said she loved the story so much that she wanted to take it off the table.
I had 24 hours to respond to the offer, while many other editors were still reading the manuscript and showing interest. I am so proud of this book. I really, truly trusted it. So it was a lot to try to decide where or not to accept, or to let it go to auction and see what happened if other editors decided to show up.
In the end, I obviously decided to take the pre-empt. I honestly thought this would be a scarier decision than it was, or maybe a little harder? Because I was nervous and this is life changing, after all. But my editor, Nicole Otto, had such a wonderful vision for my book, and I truly trusted that with her as my teammate, we’d get ALL THE STARS AND TEETH to be the best it could ever be. So I accepted the incredible offer, and am looking forward to the journey of working together to bring this story into the world!
And there you have it. I celebrated that night by crying (to Hillary, to my parents, to my boyfriend, to all the people at Barnes and Noble when I got The Call), ordering take out sushi, and eating it in my pajamas on my couch with champagne because I couldn’t stop tearing up long enough to leave the house.
It’s still so new and so fresh that, honestly, I’m still processing everything and half of this is probably just me rambling. But I wanted to go into details because I’ve been working toward this for years and years, and one day I want to be able to look back on how happy I was in this moment. I want to be like, “Oh Adalyn, remember back in those days? Before you started seeing reviews and crying in corners because of deadlines? Oh how cute and naive you were back then!” So thank you, if you stuck with reading this for the long haul! If you have any questions about the process, feel free to ask! I do want to say that I plan to chronicle this debut process in detail on my blog as things happen. So if you have things you want to hear about, just tweet me or comment on this post, and I’ll try to make sure I answer them whenever I can!
THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH! I can’t wait for you all to meet Amora <3
You can add ALL THE STARS AND TEETH on Goodreads, here!