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My slush pile story (a little late)

Hey y'all, sorry to be posting my slush pile story so late, but I promised myself I wouldn't write this entry until my round of edits were finished and handed in (done and done).  

I can remember exactly when I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I was in high school and was a voracious reader -- especially romance novels.  Then one day I read about how one of my fave romance authors started writing because she read a novel one day and thought, "Hey, I can do that," and on reading her words I thought, "Hey, I can do that too!"  Right away I started plotting out my first romance novel  -- a western romance -- but then decided I was too young to be an author and put the story aside. 

Fast forward to my senior year in college a few weeks before graduation.  I was sitting at the kitchen table in our dorm and suddenly realized "Wait!  I'm not too young to write novels any more!  I better start writing!" 

And so, remembering the story I'd plotted out in high school, I pulled out that old notebook and started writing again.  I joined RWA, finished that book, and queried.  I'm still shocked I got a few requests for fulls, though none of them panned out.  I wrote another book, realized it had a fatal flaw and chalked it up to practice rather than submit it.

Then, for various reasons that would make this entry way too long, I gave up writing for four years to go to law school.  In law school I fell in love with a writer and once we graduated we decided to pursue writing very seriously, creating a 10-year plan and everything.  For the first year I cast about, writing over 170k words on various projects, but essentially getting nowhere.  During this time I also rejoined RWA and started meeting tons of awesome writers.  I learned that YA was gaining traction in the marketplace and I thought back to all the YA books I'd read and loved growing up and knew that I wanted to be a YA author.  

My first YA attempt was a chick-lit I called Dead Bodies and Debutantes.  Before I'd even finished it, I was on a loop with a guest agent who offered to critique our pitches and she requested pages from me.  I didn't want to send pages before the book was done, but I was also having problems finishing the book.  So I polished the partial and sent it out -- form reject.

As I was fretting about what project to work on next, my boyfriend said "Write what you love, what interests you."  And I laughed and said, "The zombie apocalypse!" as a joke.  But then... well... as I was walking home from work one night a first line slipped into my head.  I loved this line so much I pulled out my blackberry and emailed it to myself.  When I got home that night, I put everything else aside and wrote and wrote and wrote - 20k in 10 days.  I thought I was crazy, that they story was too strange, but my beta readers told me I had something so I finished that book: THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH.

And having learned from previous experiences, I polished polished polished.  Of course, I was also using "polishing the book" as an excuse to not query and so finally one of my CP's just sent my pitch (rather, the pitch Diana Peterfreund wrote for me) to her agent and the agent asked for the full.  Gulp!  So I hurried up and sent out query letters to the other 10 or so agents I had on my list.  I was straight sluh pile -- I'd never met any of these agents, had no connections with them, just had heard of them on boards, or they'd sold books like mine, etc.  One of the agents I'd snail mailed a query to, Jim McCarthy, emailed to ask for the first 100 pages on a Tuesday and then asked for the full on Friday.  Monday he offered representation.  I still had 4-5 fulls out and so emailed the rest of the agents to ask if they were still interested.  Most of them were, but in the end I went with Jim (who is fabulous!).  

We did a quick round of edits and he sent my manuscript to a few editors for a sneak peak on a Friday afternoon before our official submission process started on Monday.  On Sunday, one of the editors contacted him to say she was going to pre-empt and first thing Monday morning we had her offer which we accepted at the end of the day -- we never did go through a formal submission process :)  

So that's how THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH went from nothing but a first line written on my blackberry to a Spring 2009 release from Delacorte.  When I queried Jim, the only thing I knew about him is that he'd already sold another zombie book and that he was with a great agency -- I was a complete stranger to him.  So it really is true that you can go from a random query in the slush pile to a published author! 
-Carrie Ryan


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 16th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)
Wow - that's really one of the best comments I've ever gotten. Thank you!! You've really made my day!
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 16th, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC)
Originally, I just used The Forest of Hands and Teeth as a working title (that's the actual name of the forest in the book), expecting to change it later. But over the course of writing the story I've fallen in love with it :) I've been so overjoyed at the responses I've gotten based on it. Now I'm strugging to come up with a title for my new WIP!
Dec. 16th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
Dang that's a great story. And, oh, what a happy ending. Looking forward to your book.

Jim reps so many great writers, many of whom I've read and enjoyed (Richelle Mead, for example).

Congrats to you!!! And your boyfriend... that guys a genius!!
Dec. 16th, 2007 07:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I first heard of Jim when I saw the PM announcement for Mark Henry's book and thought "well, here's an agent who isn't going to auto-ding me when he reads the word 'zombie!'" Clearly it all worked out -- he's really wonderful to work with.

I have to agree with you about my boyfriend -- he's been an increadible help with this book!
Dec. 16th, 2007 07:50 pm (UTC)
That's a great story--what a whirlwind! I love that your agent handles other zombie fiction. Your book sounds great!
Dec. 16th, 2007 08:13 pm (UTC)
I know -- I've told him he's going to get a reputation for being the zombie agent if he's not careful :) What's fun is that I've since gotten to know Mark and other 'zombie' writers out there -- I'm constantly awed at how open and inviting the writing community can be!
Dec. 17th, 2007 02:00 pm (UTC)
Great story. The Zombie Apolocalypse interests me a lot too. Not that I would want to be in one, mind you. Anyways, I really can't wait for this book.
Dec. 17th, 2007 07:51 pm (UTC)
What a great slush pile story! It's more encouraging than you might realize - especially because I'm in law school right now (I have my first semester 1L finals right now, actually), but I also dream obsessively about finishing my WIP. I worry sometimes about those two passions meshing, or, rather, failing to mesh, and whether I will have to give one up for the other. It will probably be law that gets the boot if I do, as much as I, alarmingly, quite like it.

More to the point, though, it's just so nice to hear about other writers who are also lawyers, or vice versa - it's very reassuring that I'm not the only one. Both can be such single-minded passions.

If I may ask - if you are still working for a law office, did you use a pen name for your novel? Something I'm curious about, especially since FFF had that discussion about pen names a little while ago.

By the way, I also love your title. Color me intrigued!
Dec. 17th, 2007 08:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the compliment on the title! I know exactly where you're coming from :) One thing I will say is that I never thought I had free time in law school... boy was I wrong! I will say that first year is tough as is the first semester of your 2L year but after that... you have tons of time, even though you might not feel like it. But I completely sympathize with you going through your first exams -- those stunk!! Though I'm with you -- I really loved law school and really love the law.

I've been surprised at how many lawyer/writers there are out there. I feel like I run into them all over the place! Right now, I work at a big firm and I'm worried about balancing billable hours versus writing time (I just moved to this firm a few months ago). For me, it's really come down to making the time to write -- honestly, I don't do much else other than work, write, sleep and eat. But right now that works for me. We'll see once I get farther into my writing career...

I also had a lot of up and down time. We had a really big trial last year and I couldn't write as much then, but during the slow periods (end of the year) I really cranked out the words.

In the end, I didn't use a pen name. First, with my big mouth I never could have kept it a secret about my book anyway. And in fact, the firm's put my sale on their webpage :) Second, I'll be getting married in the next few years and will probably change my name which will effectively turn my current name into a pen name. Finally, I'm not writing anything that risky, I might have felt differently if I'd written more sex :)

Congrats on making it through the first semester of law school! If you have any more questions, feel free to comment on my LJ or email me at carrieryanwritesATgmail.
Dec. 21st, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC)
even though i usually kind of resent it when things that i love become popular - i think i can make an exception for the zombie apocolypse :D

you're book sounds awesome, and even though i'm sure that it will slip my mind in the next year and a half, i will hopefully remember it again by the time it actually comes out.

congratulations and good luck.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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