Inkpop Blog

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How First Time Novelists Sold a Series: Inside the Mind of Rina Onur

Posted by inkpopbecki on August 11, 2010

They were best friends, college roommates and now co-authors of a new series called The Ivy. This series, by Rina Onur and Lauren Kunze, about girls at Harvard, is not just their first novel, but their first series. Find out what it takes to sell a series as a first time author today in our live chat. Join us on the inkpop forums at 2 p.m. EST to talk with Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur. We sat down with Rina Onur for some quick questions before the chat. Check out her answer.

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How did your real life experience of attending Harvard together as roommates impact your novel?
Once we decided that we wanted to work together to create a series, we immediately knew we wanted to write about Harvard. To us, it was only natural, because we could only write about something we knew first-hand. Harvard had been such an important experience for both of us thus far; consequentially, we gravitated towards a story that follows the travails of a freshman girl coming into Harvard. The feelings of insecurity, fear and not belonging were common to a lot of people coming into college, so we wanted to dwell on those topics along with the fun, the drama and the occasional glamour.
We realized there were so many YA books out there about junior-high and high-school, along with many more belonging to the genre which people named as “chick lit”, focusing on younger women and their lives, but there was nothing that focused on the period in between! We wanted to take advantage of that and offer people something different.

How did you two come up with the idea to do this series together?

Lauren and I got the idea of writing a book together from the failed attempt of a Harvard classmate, who sold the rights to her book during our Sophomore year. What could have been a very successful YA book back then, failed even before it got a real chance. It’s actually easy to figure out what book we’re talking about (google people?), but there’s no point in naming names right now.

We knew we could do a series and we could do it differently. That’s where our own Harvard experiences played a huge part.  We also knew that it’d be an incredibly fun thing to do together and we weren’t wrong!
What was the most challenging part of being first time authors selling your series?

You always hear the stories of first-time authors with finished manuscripts, who can’t get the right people’s attention from the publishing world and waste months, if not years trying to show their book to publishing houses. We were kind of lucky on that front. Lauren and I had a kick-ass query letter even before we had written a chapter of our book, which got us the attention of quite a few editors.

I think what we had going for us was a marketable idea and a lot of enthusiasm. During a publishing meeting at Harvard for the literature students, Lauren had managed to acquire the email address of a VP from Little, Brown. During his talk, he had said that he would read an email from unsolicited authors, only if he were sent a “very interesting letter.” Thankfully we had that: a very interesting query letter, which managed to get the attention of many senior editors, but unfortunately following the initial interest, there was a long chain of disappointing answers. So first lesson right there: don’t give up that easily; know that a lot of published authors get rejected before they get snatched away!
BUT, the editors were right; the first few chapters we had written were very rough and in the wrong direction. So lesson two: learn to listen if everybody’s giving you the same feedback, but work harder!

Fortunately we had the time and the will just restart from scratch. Big kudos to Lauren for not giving up back then!
I’m glad we got all that feedback, because it steered The Ivy series in the right direction!

How did you find your agent and publisher?
A couple of the senior editors, who passed on the opportunity themselves, recommended us literary agents. Along with contacting those candidates, we also compiled a long list of reputable agents from literary marketplace and publisher’s marketplace. Signing up to those services really pays off if you want to get some solid information.

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After we sent out our manuscript to a list of agents, we started narrowing the list down based on the answers and the level of interest we received. Once we cut the list down to only a couple people, we had phone interviews with the candidates to talk about what they planned on doing for us and the series. We then happily decided to sign with Rosemary Stimola, who got us the Greenwillow deal about a week later!

Want to hear more from Rina Onur and chat with her co-author Lauren Kunze? Join our live chat at 2 p.m. EST today on the inkpop forum events.

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