Backstory. It’s something we writers are told to be very careful with in our manuscripts. Trickle in the details where necessary – but don’t info dump (we all know the drill!). But backstory is the key to any good story, and today’s featured author, Steven dos Santos, has a backstory you must hear!
Like many of the authors featured here, Steven has had his writing struggles, but what is so amazing about his story is the number of times his work was knocked down, yet he still soldiered on, knowing in his heart one day his work would be published. His dedication to his craft, and the belief in his characters, is something we can all learn from.
Here is Steven’s writing odyssey…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
Steven: My first serious attempt at getting published was back in 2001. I was stuck at a dead end job and one of my co-workers, Denise, mentioned that she attended writing groups at a bookstore, which really piqued my interest. That Christmas, Denise gave me the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold D. Underdown and Lynne Rominger. That was the turning point. I proceeded to write a minimum of two pages a day (uh, not at the office every morning when I got there—I would never do that 😉 And so began my first novel, a Middle Grade tale entitled Darius Devine & The Necromancer’s Curse, the story of a young boy determined to bring his beloved, dead mother back to life.
Amy: When did you complete your first manuscript?
Steven: Unfortunately, my first novel proved to be prophetic in a way. As I continued writing in 2002, I was dealt a major blow when my own mother, whom I was very close to, passed away. Soon after, I lost my job. But I continued writing almost as a form of therapy, and vowed I would finish the book for my mom, who was always my number one cheerleader in realizing my dreams. By early 2003, and weighing in at 452 pages, my first novel was born.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Steven: It wasn’t until several years later, after countless failed queries, that I joined the SCBWI Aventura Critique Group where I worked on honing my craft with a terrific bunch of the most supportive people I’ve ever met! I also started attending the Florida SCBWI conferences in Miami and Orlando. By then it was 2007, and I decided a foray into the world of Young Adult novels was in order. I wrote a second book, a Paranormal/Espionage thriller called Dagger. This was the novel that caught the interest of my agent, Ginger Knowlton, when she critiqued the first chapter at the 2009 SCBWI Miami Conference.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Steven: How much time do you have? LOL. I can laugh now, but the querying process was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever been through. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster! The highs of sending out queries to agents I was sure would love my book—only to deal with the cycle of depression from rejections and non-responses. Little did I know at the time that there were even more frustrating stages to come on the winding road to publication…sigh…
Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?
Steven: Putting aside my first baby, Darius Devine was very difficult. My critique group was really behind that book and it’ll always have a special place in my heart. If you would have told me at the time that it wasn’t going to get published, I would have been utterly devastated. The same thing with Dagger. Here I landed an agent with that manuscript! How could an editor not want to publish it? I was certain a sale would come within a few months after landing an agent. Boy, was I wrong about that! In both cases, I knew it was time to move on when I felt that I had done all that was within my control with those two novels. There comes a point where you say, this story is the best that I can make it. It can be hard to let go, but then that new story starts to percolate, and the new characters start talking to you (at least that’s what I hope those voices I hear in my head are 😉 and then you know it’s time to create something fresh and utilize those new skills you’ve picked up on.
Amy: If you had bites on previous manuscripts, and then were ultimately turned down by agents, what kept you pressing forward?
Steven: Dagger was my first novel that went out as an agented submission to editors. I’ll never forget that my first rejection coincided with the tragic and unexpected death of my brother, which numbed me to pretty much everything else at the time. During those first few months of agented submissions, the rejections began to trickle in—mostly positive, “Oh, this was so much fun, but…,” “I really loved it, BUT…,”—as the months went by, I started to get that sickening feel that, while editors seemed to enjoy Dagger, they weren’t going to bite. I can officially say this was the WORST phase of the journey for me. Having an agent and being so close—but unable to seal the deal. It’s the ultimate in frustration because there’s not much you can do. And in my particular case, I had an added challenge. Dagger featured a gay male protagonist, and some of the rejections hinted that this was an impediment. On a side note, before signing with the wonderful Ginger Knowlton, I had an agent actually put it in writing in her rejection that she LOVED the book, but Young Adult books catered to heterosexual females, and no one would buy a Young Adult book with a gay male character. I can’t tell you how crushing it was to hear that, and it really made me paranoid when I sensed the some of the agented submissions were getting rejected because of the same reasons.
Amy: How many agents did you query for THE CULLING?
Steven: Fortunately, I decided to write THE CULLING about halfway through the Dagger submission process, when I sensed that no one was going to buy it. Rather than curl up in a fetal position and throw a pity party (okay, I confess I did a little of that, too), I got angry and determined that I would write another book that would be so good they’d have no choice but to publish it, Gay Main Character and all! It wasn’t just about me getting published anymore. It was about proving the close-minded naysayers wrong and demonstrating that as long as a story is compelling, anyone, regardless of whether or not their sexual orientation and/or gender matches that of the main character can enjoy it. A year and a half later, THE CULLING was born.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
Steven: THE CULLING went out on submission in early 2011. I was filled with very high hopes. I felt that this would be it. The book that would finally make it. Well…the rejections started trickling in and I got this awful sense of déjà vu. Oh no! Not this again! But it turns out that editor Brian Farrey at Flux Books, who had also been very interested in Dagger and came so, so close to buying it before regretfully having to pass, finally broke the cycle.
Amy: Can you give us a short summary of your call with your agent, Ginger Knowlton?
Steven: My first call from Ginger came four days after I met her at the SCBWI Miami Conference. I had emailed her the entire manuscript on the Monday, and that very Thursday, while I was on a snack break at work, my cell phone rang and when I saw the 212 area code I got goose bumps! The call basically went something like “Hi, Steven. It’s Ginger Knowlton.” Then me stammering a greeting. Then her saying, “I read your manuscript and I really loved it!” Then me growing weak in the knees and my heart pumping at 200 beats a minute saying something lame like “Oh, that’s nice!” And then Ginger coming back with something like “I’d like to represent you, if you’re interested,” To which I answered in tongue-tied elation “I think I’d like that!”
Amy: What parting advice can you give other aspiring writers who may be on the cusp of giving up on their writing dream?
Steven: NEVER GIVE UP! The VERY day I got the news on June 10, 2011 that I’d been offered a two-book deal for THE CULLING by Brian Farrey of Flux Books, I was talking to a writer friend about what I was going to do now that it looked like this Young Adult writing thing was never going to happen! Cut to two hours later when I’m hopping up and down, wiping drool from my mouth and babbling incoherently, “I sold my book! I sold my book!” Perseverance pays off. Just keep honing your craft and keep writing different books. The people that get published are the ones that never quit.
Recruitment Day is here…if you fail, a loved one will die…
For Lucian “Lucky” Spark, Recruitment Day means the Establishment, a totalitarian government, will force him to become one of five Recruits competing to join the ruthless Imposer task force. Each Recruit participates in increasingly difficult and violent military training for a chance to advance to the next level. Those who fail must choose an “Incentive”—a family member—to be brutally killed. If Lucky fails, he’ll have to choose death for his only living relative: Cole, his four-year-old brother.
Lucky will do everything he can to keep his brother alive, even if it means sacrificing the lives of other Recruits’ loved ones. What Lucky isn’t prepared for is his undeniable attraction to the handsome, rebellious Digory Tycho. While Lucky and Digory train together, their relationship grows. But daring to care for another Recruit in a world where love is used as the ultimate weapon is extremely dangerous. As Lucky soon learns, the consequences can be deadly. Release Date: March 8, 2013.
Born in New York City, Steven moved to Florida at the tender age of five. (His parents’ decision— not like he took off on my own and said “See ya!”) He wrote his first book, The Enchanted Prince, when he was a second grader. It was a critical success— at least his teacher, the ‘rents, and fellow classmates thought so.
He has a B.S. in Communications, but spent most of his career in law, even going to law school before realizing if he’s going to tell “creative truths,” he’d prefer writing fiction! For more information on Steven and his writing journey, check out his website or follow him on Twitter @StevendosSantos.