Monday, March 12, 2018

Guest Post: Mari Mancusi on A Once and Future Book

Mari Mancusi pulls the sword from the stone.
By Mari Mancusi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Fourteen 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 bookstores. 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 hero and heroine, Stu and Sophie, to fill in for the Once and Future King and get him back where he belongs, 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 (Dutton, 2008) 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 (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.

Mari talks about reading, writing and presents her books to young readers.
To make matters worse, as I was revising, my editor moved houses. Then Dutton reorganized into a boutique publisher 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 quite middle grade, it’s not quite young adult. We don’t have a place for this book in our line.” This was a tween book—and there was no tween market out there anymore.

I refused to give up at first—scouring the internet for YA publishers I might not have heard of and forwarding them 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.

Mari and Avalon
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 (by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008)). 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 six-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 or the timing is wrong. And we can’t let that break us or cause us to lose faith in our work and ourselves.

And while not every publishing story has a happy ending (and that’s okay!)—I’m pleased to say The Camelot Code finally did end up with a full-on Disney happily ever after—from Disney itself!

A full ten years after its original sale to Dutton, Disney Hyperion scooped up The Camelot Code and a sequel, with my new editor helping me revamp the book to perfectly fit a middle grade audience at last.

This book of my heart—the book that changed my life in so many ways—the one I could never walk away from—the one that led to my beautiful daughter’s birth—will now be on store shelves and stocked in libraries around the country starting in October.

I have an amazing editor and it feels as if all my writer dreams have finally come true.

I think back to all the tears shed, the sleepless nights, the endless revisions—and kind of wish I could time travel myself. To let past-me know that it will all pay off in the end. (And even if it hadn’t, the journey would still be worth it.)

When I do school visits, I always tell the kids, the only secret to publication (or anything else worth doing) is perseverance. And after this experience? I truly believe it.

Cynsational Notes

Mari cosplays "Princess Rey"
Mari Mancusi always wanted a dragon as a pet.

Unfortunately the fire insurance premiums proved a bit too large and her house a bit too small--so she chose to write about them instead.

Today she works as an award-winning young adult author and freelance television producer, for which she has won two Emmys.

When not writing about fanciful creatures of myth and legend, Mari enjoys traveling, cosplay, snowboarding, watching cheesy (and scary) horror movies, and her favorite guilty pleasure—playing videogames.

A graduate of Boston University, she lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Jacob, daughter Avalon, and their two dogs.


Claire Bobrow said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing your story of perseverance, Mari. I look forward to reading the Camelot Code!

Susan said...

Thank you for sharing your struggles and triumphs. It's inspiring, and I wish your dear book a host of devoted fans to make up for the years it waited.

Pony Writer said...

Thank you for sharing. My own “Camelot Code” book comes out January 2019. Even with two books sold to HarperCollins in the 12 year gap, I couldn’t let this particular book wither away forever. You are right, hard work and perseverance win every time. And I truly love the part about your daughter coming from this. It makes me think differently about so many things I considered failures in the past. Thank you!

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