As a #1 bestselling author, you would think the road to publishing would be bump free and easy. That’s not the case with author Aprilynne Pike. Before her bestselling Wings series came out, this author, just like you, struggled to find the right agent and publisher. She even had her first book rejected! Want to hear more from New York Times #1 Bestselling author Aprilynne Pike? Join us for a live chat tonight at 5 p.m. EST in the inkpop live forum events.
Can you tell us how you found your first agent and publisher for the Wings series?
I had a friend who was published who really mentored me through writing my first book and when my book was done, she recommended it to her agent. I sent it off with stars in my eyes, expecting that call within DAYS.
Which did not happen. What did happen is that I queried over 180 agents on two different books over the next ten months and eventually realized my original manuscript had problems. I had to tear it apart, combine it with it’s “sequel” and cut about 60K words. Then I changed the title, wrote a better query, and re-sent it to about ten agents.
How did you land an agent from there?
About that time the agent from the beginning of the story emailed me. She had literally lost my manuscript and found it that day on the floor in the corner of her office and was it still available? Problem was, she had that terrible, unrevised, half-a-book version. Luckily, she was open to receiving a new version. I sent it off and we worked on revising the book for about four months before she offered me representation. It was a very nerve-wracking time.
Finally the book was ready to send out. My agent—Jodi Reamer—who is one of the powerhouse agents in the industry, sent my book out to the six big publishers, and to all top editors within those publishers. I am convinced that no manuscript in the history of the world has ever had a better shot than this one. I tell you that not to brag, but because that book never sold. To this day, three of those editors have never even responded. As aspiring authors I think we all believe—I know I did—that if we can just get our wonderful book in front of the right agent and editor, that it will sell. And the fact is, sometimes, even after all that hard work, the book just isn’t good enough. And that’s okay.
Now I had to write another book. I spent that summer coming up with something that I thought was pretty special and sent it off to my agent. There were another couple of months of revisions and then the book was ready to go to editors. Sincethe YA market is bigger than the fantasy market (which is the genre my first book was) this time it was sent out to ten editors.
Within 24 hours I got my first rejection. From a prominent editor who said that my mythos would just not work in the YA market. (I am still tempted to print out that rejection and frame it side by side with a copy of the NYT list the week I hit number one.:D) Over the next few weeks more rejections poured in until I had six rejections. Over half of the submissions. Well, I had been down this road before and I knew where it led. And it wasn’t to a publishing contract.
So I gave up.
I had written four and a half books, no one wanted them, I was clearly a hack writer, and I needed to go back to teaching childbirth classes to help support my family. (My husband was in law school at the time). I was literally sorting through my teaching supplies when Jodi called to let me know that Tara at Harper Teen wanted to acquire the series. You know that saying about the darkest moment being just before dawn? That was me.
How did you develop the mythology for Avalon in your Wings series?
*WARNING: Some Spoilers*
The mythos of the faeries and Avalon is really the driving force behind the series and is what came first. Like I said above, I was trying to write a new book for Jodi and I decided to write a YA about faeries. I have loved faeries for basically my whole life, I wanted my faeries to be special. Something truly different. That is easier said than done. I came up with an idea at like 4:00 in the morning about this goth faerie who lived with three old women and couldn’t go out after midnight because there was no power from the sun. It was this goth Goldilocks and the Three Bears meets Cinderella meets Superman. It seemed like a really cool idea at 4:00 in the morning and significantly less cool at 8:00. But the idea that faeries could get their power from the sun stuck with me and I asked myself why that would be. Well, the science geek in me (yes, that is where David gets it) came up with the obvious answer, which is that they photosynthesize. From that realization sprang the entire series.
Faeries have always been associated with nature. They live in nature, or use it for their magic, or get their power from it. But as far as I can tell, no one has taken what felt was the most obvious next step and actually made them plants. From there I started thinking about how a plant person would survive among animals like us and how her chemical make-up would affect her daily life. That is, essentially how Laurel came to be.
I honestly don’t remember how the Avalon mythos got tangled up in all of this, but I think it was simply when I was trying to decide what to call the faerie realm. I considered making it in the Bermuda Triangle, and then the lost city of Atlantis, and I believe it was my husband who suggested Avalon. In the end, my Avalon is a combination of all three, with some of the legends about each one included.
However, calling it Avalon was a clear invitation to twist in some of the King Arthur legends as well. And while the first two books hint at those legends, Illusions is much more explicit. It’s been interesting to see reviewers question why I would include bits of Arthurian legend without actually doing something with them and I have been squirming in anticipation for this third book so readers can see what I’ve been leading up to with all of it, of course, culminating in the fourth book.
What does it take for a debut author to become a #1 New York Times bestseller? What did you do when you first heard your book was a #1 bestseller?
When you are a debut author, no one knows you. They can’t. Word of mouth hasn’t even had a chance to get going. Wings got massive support from Harper Teen in the form of pre-publication buzz and ARC distribution, sales support for a large buy-in and print run, displays in the chains stores, touring both before and after publication, and a well-timed release date. All of these combined for a perfect launch for Wings. I did what I could; I did basically everything Harper Teen asked me to do, but it is my publisher’s efforts that really made the difference.
I hit number one my second week out. I did hope to hit the list and when I found out I did my first week out, I admit, I was relieved. The work my publisher had put into my book worked! They weren’t going to hate me forever! Even in my secret pie-in-the-sky dreaming, I never considered it could hit number one. That just doesn’t happen for debuts because, like I said, no one knows you. So when my agent and editor conference called me on Wednesday night (the night the list is released to industry insiders) I figured I had hit again, and I was totally thrilled, but when they told me I hit number one, it was like having a huge bucket of icy water dumped over my head.
I yelled, “Are you kidding me!” (The one and only time I have ever yelled at my editor or agent on the phone). My husband comes running in, worried, because I don’t yell very often, and I am just listening, pretty much dumfounded. He whispers, “What number are you?” and I hold out one finger. However, that also looks like the universal sign for Just a minute, and he goes, “Just tell me.” I widen my eyes and hold my finger out again. “Number one?” he whispers, almost as shocked as I was.
Then the terror set in. It was a joke. The whole world was ready to have a laugh at my expense. I didn’t want to tell anyone. The more people I told, the more mockers I would have when everyone found out it was a terrible practical joke. My mother called and I made my husband tell her. I literally stopped feeling my fingers and toes for a few hours; I kinda went into shock. Several hours later when my husband (he’s such a good husband!) made me post the news on my blog, it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. My editor had sent me the announcement from the New York Times, but honestly, it wasn’t until they posted it on their website that Saturday that I actually started to believe it.
And then it was awesome!
People often ask me what it felt like to hit number one and when I reply, “Terrifying,” they look at me like I have three heads. But that’s how it felt.
Want to hear more from bestselling author Aprilynne Pike? Check out our live chat with Aprilynne tonight at 5 p.m. EST. You can post questions for her to answer in the inkpop forum events.