The Scary Path to a Book Deal
By Derek Taylor Kent (AKA Derek the Ghost)
My name is Derek Taylor Kent (AKA Derek the Ghost). I recently received a three-book deal for my YA horror-comedy series Scary School, which came out June 21, 2011 (scaryschool.com). How this came to be is a bit of a horror-comedy itself.
March 1994. At the age of 15, I undertake writing an epic illustrated fantasy series. It’s an ill-conceived cross between Dr. Seuss and Lord of the Rings, but I spend six long years trying to get it published. Nothing ever comes of it.
April 2005. Painfully abandoning the illustrated book series and inspired by Harry Potter, I spend a year writing my first novel: Scary School, Book 1: My Homework Ate my Dog. After completing the first draft, I submit it to a few agents and publishers. All rejections.
Confused, I gave the manuscript to readers. I receive notes that suggest a heavy rewrite. Reluctantly, I spend months doing exhaustive rewrites, but I had to admit the book was greatly improved.
Early 2007. I feel the book is ready to submit once again. But I had a relentless day job and my spare time was filled with other projects. My Homework Ate My Dog goes on the backburner.
Another year passes.
July 2008. There’s a brief window of time off from my day job. I decide that it’s time to go full-out toward finding an agent or a publisher. If it doesn’t happen, it will probably be the end of my YA writing aspirations.
The task before me is daunting. I have the Guide to Literary Agents and the Children’s Marketplace books. It would take me a year to reach out to every agent and publisher, and I only have a window of a couple weeks. So, I hire an assistant. His job is to send out packages to every single YA lit agent in America. I spend my time focusing on online querying.
Responses start coming in. I’m getting bites. About one in every ten I sent out is asking to read my manuscript or sample chapters. Most are rejections, but if you have a 10% positive response rate to your query, you know that you probably have something good.
August 2008. Eric Myers from the Joe Spieler Agency requests sample chapters. A week later he requests the complete manuscript. On September 20, 2008, Eric Myers is my agent. He is very enthusiastic and has a great track record.
December 2008. Every publisher my agent has submitted to has passed.
The only glimmer of hope is from a junior editor at HarperCollins who says that she “really likes my writing and the humor of the book, but what I was expecting from a book called Scary School: My Homework Ate My Dog was not what I got. I was hoping for a light, funny book about a Scary School for a young audience.”
She was exactly right. My title was screaming: silly/funny book for 8-year-olds, but I had given her a darker Harry Potter fit for 12-year-olds.
The editor concluded with: “I do feel there is a market for a Scary School book series for a younger audience should he feel inclined to write it.”
There it was. A bite from a publisher. The only problem was my “bite” felt like an orca whale. I’d have to write a whole new book for her, and I’d have to write it fast so she didn’t forget about me or buy another book in the same genre.
I sequester myself and complete the first draft of a new book series, just called Scary School.
The first draft is done by January 2009. I send it to my agent. He’s a little shocked that it’s not a linear story like My Homework Ate my Dog, but we agree to send it to HarperCollins as is.
March 2009. The junior editor writes back: “This is exactly what I was hoping for. I love it! I think we really have something here!”
A few weeks later HarperCollins offers me a three-book deal for Scary School.
I dance around my apartment and weep with joy.
The advance is not enough to quit my day job, but it’s enough to create a website, hire a publicist, and print thousands of Scary School T-shirts.
As I write this, I am exactly one week away from the Scary School release date on June 21, 2011. I had to wait another two years before it was scheduled for release.
It was agony.
Over that time I have self-published what is now called Rudy and the Beast: My Homework Ate My Dog! There’s still an issue with the title, but I won’t surrender it. I also self-published an illustrated book called Simon and the Solar System.
This year, I finished a new YA novel called Principal Mikey about a kid who becomes principal of his school. I think it’s my most well-written novel and is absolutely hilarious.
No bites so far.
Thank you for stopping by Derek! Be sure to check out his series and website.