Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Mari Mancusi on When the Problem Is The Market, Not the Manuscript

By Mari Mancusi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Ten years ago, when I began my publishing journey, I was under the assumption that if you wrote it (and it was good) it would sell.

Sell to a New York publisher.

Be stocked at Barnes and Noble and (sniff!) Borders.

Be discovered by readers.

Happily ever after, the end.

And it certainly seemed that way when my tween YA time travel novel, The Camelot Code, sold to Dutton/Penguin at auction in 2007. It was a sweet two-book deal and the editor was very excited about the project.

The gist was this: a teen King Arthur ends up in our world, Googles himself and finds out his true destiny, then decides he’d rather play football than pull the sword from the stone. And it’s up to our intrepid 21st century heroine, Sophie, to get him back in time before history is changed forever.

All was going well, until through a series of events, a change was made. The editor asked if I would do the second book in the contract first—as it seemed more “timely” – (and, of course, a time travel novel is supposedly timeless).

So I did—writing Gamer Girl instead. And when that was finished I went back to my precious Camelot Code, excited to finally finish it and get it out there at last.

But at that point, a year and a half after the original deal was made, the YA market had changed. Publishers had realized there were profits to be made on the so-called crossover audience (i.e. the adult readers) and YA started growing up—growing edgier and darker and deeper. And when my editor read my version of The Camelot Code, she realized she could not publish this book as it was and asked for a major revision.

To make matters worse, as I was revising, my editor moved houses. Then Dutton was reorganized into a boutique imprint that put out only a few titles a year. Many of the current authors were sent to Dial to finish out their contracts.

Me and my ill-fitting book, however, were dumped.

“No problem!” I said at the time. “I’ll just sell it to someone else!” Certainly a novel that sold at auction the first time would have some takers the second time around.

But I was wrong. No one wanted it. Everyone said, “It’s not middle grade, it’s not young adult. We don’t have a place for this book in our line.”

With Cory Putnam Oakes & Christina Soontornvat at Lindsey Lane's launch.
I refused to give up at first—scouring the Internet for YA publishers I might not have heard of and forwarding their names to my agent. To her credit, she was intrepid, sending out manuscript after manuscript, long after I’m sure she gave up on the book.

But the rejections still came in. Each one a knife, twisting in my gut. The worst part, I think, was that I knew it was a good book.

The problem was the market. No one was buying light, funny, tween. They wanted the next Hunger Games. And I was not going to sell this book by sheer force of will.

I felt like a failure. I felt like I’d wasted years of my life. I lost faith in the publishing world and I felt adrift in my career. If a book I felt so strongly about couldn’t sell, what made me think I could ever master this publishing thing? Yes, in the meantime, I was selling other books to other publishers, but The Camelot Code remained a big Excalibur in my side.

Then one day my husband took me aside. He brushed away my tears and reminded me of all the good The Camelot Code had brought me. The original advance money had allowed me to move to New York City, a lifelong dream, and the place I met him.

When the manuscript was rejected by my editor and I realized I wasn’t getting paid, I ended up moving in with him to save money, bringing us closer than ever.

And eventually, out of this cursed book, came the most precious blessing of all. My three-year-old daughter Avalon. Imagine—an entire human being—on this planet—all because of a publishing deal gone south. Of course I had to give her an Arthurian-inspired name, right?

Publishing can be a brutal industry. But roses can still grow in the cracks in the pavement. And it’s important for authors to look at the big picture. To remember that sometimes it’s just timing or trends or an editor having a bad day—not a reflection of the quality of your book.

Sometimes good books just don’t fit the mold.

And we can’t let that break us or cause us to lose faith in our work and ourselves.

Now, seven years after the original sale, I’ve decided to self publish The Camelot Code. To make it available to readers for the very first time. And who knows, maybe New York is right—maybe there’s no market for this tween book and I won’t sell a single copy.

But maybe they’re wrong. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to find out. That, in and of itself, feels like a bit of a happy ending.

Deanna Roy, Mari & Sam Bond chat Alternative Publishing Options with Austin SCBWI.

About The Camelot Code

The Camelot Code is available in print or digital formats on all major platforms, including Overdrive for libraries and Ingram. It is age-appropriate for 10+.

To purchase, see paperback at Amazon, paperback at Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, and Overdrive

All fourteen-year-old gamer girl Sophie Sawyer wants to do is defeat Morgan Le Fay in her favorite Arthurian videogame. She has no idea the secret code sent via text message is actually a magical spell that will send her back in time to meet up with a real life King Arthur instead.

Of course Arthur's not king yet--he hasn't pulled the sword from the stone--and he has no idea of his illustrious destiny.

And when a twist of fate sends him forward in time--to modern day high school--history is suddenly in jeopardy.

Even more so when Arthur Googles himself and realizes what lies in store for him if he returns to his own time--and decides he'd rather try out for the football team instead.

Now Sophie and her best friend Stuart find themselves in a race against time--forced to use their 21st century wits to keep history on track, battle a real-life version of their favorite videogame villain, and get the once and future king back where he belongs. Or the world, as they know it, may no longer exist.

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20 comments:

Yamile said...

Awww! What a wonderful story of a real life quest! Your book sounds darling, and guess what? I think there are a lot of readers out there craving light tween novels! My kids certainly do! best of luck with your books, and most importantly, blessing to your darling family!

Meredith Davis said...

Mari, thanks for this reminder, we all need it sometimes. The Market can be so fickle. I'm happy you've kept the faith and are advocating for this book finding its way into kids' hands. If anyone can do it, you can, your energy and ability to connect with so many people will surely take you and your words far.

Deborah Halverson said...

What a beautiful story about the surprises our journeys have for us. I'm sorry there was disappointment at all in your path. Your husband sounds like a wise man to help you step back to see that big picture and an amazing support to be there wiping your tears. The Camelot Code sounds like a great book that will find its readers in a way you couldn't have predicted.

donnaweidner.com said...

That's what I like...determination! And a fairy tale move to NY, meet a true love, and have a beautiful child together story to boot.

Patti Kurtz said...

Thanks for sharing your journey with this book, Mari. It's heartening to know that even well published authors still struggle with the changing market.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Mari. The market is a tricky beast, but I, for one, still love lighthearted, younger YA. (I like the more serious stuff, too, but it's nice to be able to relax and unwind every so often:) ) Good luck with THE CAMELOT CODE!

flip said...

I have been loving your books for a long time as have my second daughter. Thanks you for writing despite the obstacles.
Phyllis Lamken

Vicky Lorencen said...

Thank you for this perspective shifter. I admire your tenacious spirit!

spajonas said...

Congratulations on getting your book out there and to readers. That's the most important part. So glad you decided to self-publish :)

Shari Green said...

Wow, what a journey with this book (this wonderful-sounding book!). Good luck with it! And thanks for the reminder to trust our gut and stick with a story if we believe in it.

Lynda Hilburn said...

I can SO relate to your post! I often say that everything that could go wrong in a publishing career had gone wrong in mine. I'm so glad you're self-pubbing The Camelot Code. It sounds wonderful, and the good thing about self-pubbing is that you never know when something will suddenly catch fire. Wishing you the best.

writersideup.com said...

Mari, as I was reading, my insides were twisted with empathy, but knew your post would end on a positive note, so pushed through with hope :) Your husband is a gem and I love that he was able to see the "lemonade" made from your journey, and oh, what sweet lemonade :) I just got off the phone with a friend, and we were talking about this very thing. Thanks for an excellent article! And good luck with The Camelot Code! :D

Mari Mancusi said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. Brought tears to my eyes. And yes, my husband is definitely a keeper! I couldn't navigate this crazy publishing world without him! :)

I forgot to mention one thing in the article. In addition to self-publishing the book, I also put it up on Wattpad. I don't make money off of that, but my end goal really was to get the book into readers' hands in any way possible. To share the story I wrote and loved. And you know what? Last I checked I had almost half a million reads! So that is also a happy ending - while not a monetary one. Camelot Code has found its audience. A major win for any author!!

Virginia Jennings said...

I too am disappointed that the tween market is being neglected. Its at that time that teens want to read the most- they are still trying to hold on to their imaginations and not trying to fit into adult cookie cutters yet.

I loved this post! Keep pressing on!

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that publishers "know" what the readers want to read. Anybody who works with teenagers knows that they are just looking for a good story and it had nothing to do with what is already out there. Who wants to read a book that is a knock off of a story they just read? Nobody. I am glad you stuck to your guns. L. Olewine

Karin Perry said...

YAY for Mari Mancusi! She definitely doesn't need to feel like a failure. I love her Blood Coven series and Tomorrowland. I can't wait to read this one. ALSO, she isn't the only one moving to the self publishing world. Beth Revis is doing it for her next book. David Macinnis Gill is doing it, too.

Carl Scott said...

What a great story of perseverance. I think TCC sounds like a really fun read, especially the part where Arthur googles himself. I'll bet that's a hilarious scene. I'm looking forward to this better-late-than-never book. Thanks

Michael G-G said...

This sounds right up my alley. (I wrote a middle grade time travel about Shakespeare coming to our time, which my agent was unable to sell.) You give me hope!

And I'm buying The Camelot Code right now.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Well, I'm pretty sure you've sold a copy to me. :)

Thanks for posting your link at Project Mayhem on this topic. The decision not to publish this book baffles me. Not dark and gritty enough for the adult YA audience? What about the teenage YA audience? You know, the actual kids? And obviously I haven't read the book yet, but I don't know why this couldn't be MG.

Perhaps it was meant to bring you and your husband together -- and your daughter into the world. But I'm glad you are getting the book out there, too.

The premise seems *really* familiar to me. Did you talk about this book on another blog somewhere in the last couple years? It rings a bell -- the teenage Arthur who'd rather stay in the present and play football. I think I read about it while I was writing The Eighth Day -- which would have been 2012 -- and fretted a little because my WIP had a teenage descendant of Arthur in it. You know that panic you get when you're writing something and somebody is publishing a book with the teeniest similarity ...? When in fact, the world cannot have enough books with Arthur in them! :D

Augusta Scattergood said...

Such a good post. I am sharing with others who are in the same position and think there's only one way out. This is inspirational.

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