I’ve done over 60 W.O.W. interviews now (HOLY COW!) and one thing always stands out when I ask writers about “The Call.” Time and time again, I find that each writer has done their due diligence before choosing the right agent for them. Not a single time has someone told me, “They offered, and I said ‘yes’.” Rather the conversations between the writer and agent have been a tentative dance, with the author swaying left and then right, until finally settling on someone who shares their same publishing goals. That idea certainly holds true for today’s featured author, Adam Silvera. His conversations, and subsequent work, with his agent, Brooks Sherman, proves that finding a good match for your writing style and career vision takes some time, but is certainly worth the wait.
Many thanks to Adam for sharing his writing odyssey today…
Amy: How long have you been writing young adult fiction?
Adam: I started off with writing fan-fiction when I was thirteen-years-old and eventually pulled myself away from writing about a Ravenclaw in Hogwarts at age nineteen to pursue an original YA idea. The Original Idea wasn’t all that original back then, and it’s also proven to be pretty impossible to write because it all hasn’t clicked yet. Someday! (I hope.)
Amy: How long did it take you to write MORE HAPPY THAN NOT? Did you fast draft or was there a long period of writing, edits and revisions?
Adam: MORE HAPPY THAN NOT took me two and a half months to write, and the first draft was about 95,000 words. I went through about fourteen revisions where I cut 20,000 words, completely erased a handful of characters, changed the setting a bit, and killed a primary player. (The character turned out to be really useful dead.)
Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish MORE HAPPY THAN NOT? If so, what did they add to the process?
Adam: I occasionally read passages to my best friend and shared the first few chapters with my writer/illustrator friend, Maggie Heinze, but no one read the entire thing. I knew how much work had to go into it so I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time until it was a little more polished. I also didn’t want any outside opinions swaying me towards a different direction until I tried my way first. But their positive feedback on the little I did share with them made those many all-nighters worth it.
Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?
Adam: Queries are hard and I will never use mine as an example on how to snag an agent because I know it sucks. My approach was to keep it brief, deliver my hook, and tease to the story. Agents are reading a billion queries a day and if you can pack a punch without playing your entire hand, I suggest going down that route.
Amy: How many agents did you query for MORE HAPPY THAN NOT? Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
Adam: I queried under ten agents. I received a request for a full two minutes later from one, a request for a partial an hour later from another one, and still haven’t heard back from one or two. Ha.
My agent, Brooks Sherman – who I didn’t realize was an agent when I was having lunch with him and friends – found out I was a writer and asked me what I was working on. I told him about this middle grade book I was 30,000 words into and he liked that it had a boy protagonist, but didn’t appear too enthused on the concept. (Note: I was stumbling over my words and that couldn’t have helped.) When I pitched MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, he stopped me and said, “Wait. It’s about what?” And we launched into a whole conversation about it… it just sucked that I had only written ten pages by that point, but he knew I would send it to him when it was ready.
Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with your agent, Brooks Sherman? How did you know he was the right fit for you?
Adam: The Call with Brooks was 50% nerve-wracking and 50% fun. We’d already spoken a month before about some big revisions he wanted to see with the ending plus smaller things, like making the voice more consistent and pacing issues. For The Call we spoke for forty minutes about even smaller changes and I thought for sure he was going to make me revise again. But then he finally said, “Well, I’m just going to cut right to it and formally offer you representation.”
I knew he was the right choice because he was always so excited to jump into the manuscript. The first time I sent it to him, he got back to me that weekend. When I sent him the revisions a month later on a Monday, I emailed him again that following Wednesday to let him know another agent requested the full manuscript and Brooks only had a third left of the revision to read. I was grateful for that turnaround. Enthusiasm is key, but understanding the project tops that and Brooks totally gets it.
The rest of the call was spent discussing future projects and the way we bounced ideas back and forth again proved what an excellent partner he’s going to be.
Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?
Adam: I think it helped that I have a publishing background. I interned at Figment (a website for young writers), worked at Paper Lantern Lit (a literary development company), and have been a Shelf Awareness reviewer of children’s and young adults novels for two and a half years now. These jobs dropped me into functions with publishers and editors and agents and authors, and I don’t know where I would be without having had the opportunity to not only network with these wonderful people, but to learn valuable tips from them.
Amy: What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their publishing dream?
Take your time! It’s really important to NOT submit a book to an agent when you know there’s more work that can be done to improve it. There’s a difference between not knowing if something is going to work, and being too anxious to get an agent that you don’t even explore it by yourself first. Publishing may be slow, but submitting a half-baked novel isn’t going to speed things up.
Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx where he wrote fan-fiction in between competitive online gaming and napping. He couldn’t afford to go to college so he got a job working in the children’s department at Barnes and Noble to keep busy. He was a marketing assistant at Paper Lantern Lit and currently reviews children’s and young adult novels for Shelf Awareness. He has a compulsion to walk on everyone’s left side, prefers even numbers, will listen to a single song for weeks, and is tall for no reason.