publishing a book: the illustrated guide (part 1)

The Fever King didn’t get published overnight. I was working on this book for years—scribbling away in notebooks on the Stockholm tunnelbana, revising and rewriting and losing sleep over all those dead darlings—querying, revising some more, revising some more.

And I thought it could be interesting to make a post about how The Fever King got created. Not because there’s anything special about this book, but because before I go published I would have been really interested in seeing the whole process from start to finish. So that’s what I’m creating here.

It’ll be a two part post. The first part will go from developing the idea up through querying and getting my agents. The second post will track revisions with my agents, submission to publishing houses, and publication.

Okay, so let’s get started!

2013

I have the idea for The Fever King, or at least a version of it. I set the idea aside; I’m too busy writing fanfiction to worry about writing anything original right now.

2014

I start grad school, and for some reason that seems like perfect timing to start writing a novel on the side. Obviously first things first: you gotta create character profiles.

…Of course, I still find plenty of time to care about fanfic, and had my first encounter with Goodreads:

2015

I’m getting into the actual writing of the thing now, which means it’s time for a playlist.

Yes, the original draft of TFK was terrible. Observe:

My critique partner (or “alpha reader” if you prefer that system) has been reading the book as I write it. She and I used to write fanfic together, so she’s pretty familiar with my style and has a good sense of what I need to improve.

I’m writing this book for NaNoWriMo (because of course), so the main thing I care about is getting to 50,000 words at all costs. Excessive setting description helps.

2016

I finish writing the first draft of TFK in early 2016. This was during my era of pure “pantsing,” so no outlines whatsoever. The whole plot basically got invented in phone conversations I had with my critique partner, which meant that sometimes I couldn’t remember what the hell I was planning to do….

As soon as I’m finished, I do a quick round of revisions…

…and then move on to writing the second book.

And the third.

And the fourth.

All in 2016.

(Photo caption: judging myself.)

By the way, they’re all awful. If you watched my Instagram Lives (or if you stick around here long enough for when I start having the private subscriber-only posts) you’ll figure out why, specifically. But for now? Just trust me.

Here’s a snippet of the original book 3:

Look familiar?

It should, because I basically cannibalized it for the start of The Electric Heir. The astute reader has already noticed that somehow I managed to fit a whole book (and a whole four years) between the end of The Fever King and the start of this third book—a book that doesn’t exist anymore.

Yeah. It was all filler. And the worst.

Here’s a less familiar excerpt:

LIKE I SAID. 2016 was a different time.

2017

In 2017, in March, I attend a conference as part of my graduate education. There, I meet this guy Nick who asks me about my hobbies, and when I tell him I write, he asks if I’ve ever tried to publish anything.

This question used to irritate the shit out of me. You wouldn’t ask someone who likes to play soccer for fun if they plan to go pro, would you? And yet no one seems to see any utility to writing unless you plan to make the big bucks.

But I was drunk enough to say no, I hadn’t, and when he asked why, I told him the truth:

I was too perfectionistic. Nothing was ever good enough. I liked to write books then put them aside and never look at them again. The Fever King and its three sequels were just like that: I’d written them, and now I was done.

He asked if I ever wanted to be published. I said sure, eventually. So he threw down a challenge:

Whatever book I’d just finished, I had to pick a date, and by that date I needed to be ready. The book had to be revised and in publishable shape, because that was the date I’d start querying agents.

Welp.

I agreed.

For some dumb reason, I agreed.

(Spoiler alert, jumping ahead a year and a half…it worked out.)

Anyway, back to 2017.

I start revising The Fever King (first titled Wasteland, then titled Witching). I find another critique partner on reddit, because the more the merrier. We trade our books back and forth, and his feedback is impeccable. Like, get a load of this:

OOF.

But if revising is good, then rewriting is better.

Draft 2? Aw, cute.

I rewrite this book five times.

Both my critique partners, bless them, put up with me throughout all this.

…and at last, at last, after rewrite number 5, I finally got the nerve to show my book to my mom. OOF.

Pitch Wars is upon us.

For those of you who don’t know what Pitch Wars is, it’s a mentoring contest where you submit your book, and have the chance to get mentored by agented or published authors while you revise the book in prep for an agent round. I’d planned to go to a writing contest in August as my “due date,” if you recall, but this seemed even better. I knew that my book still needed work, I just didn’t know what to change about it anymore, and neither did my critique partners.

That’s where Pitch Wars came in.

I created a tumblr describing my book and pitching it to potential mentors, and also created my twitter (aww!). I looked for snapshots of my old twitter on the wayback machine, but sadly, my twitter has not been indexed. Womp.

My critique partner is also applying to PW, in the adult category.

Yes, as you can tell from this email, I’m still doing last minute revisions on TFK:

I apply, and I get in. My mentor is Emily Martin, author of The Year We Fell Apart (Simon Pulse, 2016) and Five Ways to Fall Out of Love (Inkyard, 2021).

Aw even my dad is happy for me:

But champagne doesn’t last forever. I get my edit letter, and like an idiot, I read it immediately.

FUCK.

NOOOOOOO

See, The Fever King originally was a dual-POV, dual timeline book that switched between Noam’s story and the story of young Calix and Adalwolf Lehrer during the catastrophe.

Emily wanted me to delete about 60% of the book.

Here’s an excerpt of the Calix Lehrer POV that got cut:

All in all, between the Pitch Wars revisions and the many rewrites I did with critique partners, almost nothing remained of Wasteland, the original book that became The Fever King:

After Pitch Wars edits were over, it was time for the agent showcase—when all the mentees post a short pitch and excerpt of their books and agents request partials and full manuscripts for consideration. I spend quite a long time working on my query letter for this. Note the doc title:

Anyway.

The posts go up. And I send out a round of cold queries, too, including a query to Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary.

I am lucky enough to get an offer of representation almost IMMEDIATELY. Not from Holly and Taylor, but from one of the Pitch Wars requesting agents. But that means I basically have to send out a nudge email the day after sending out my queries telling agents that I have an offer on the table.

I’m very worried they’ll think I’m making this up, so I include a little disclaimer:

I don’t hear back from H and T for a while. I do get some other offers, though!

And then the deadline is upon us.

As you can see from the time stamp, it’s pretty late in the day. I’d told the original offering agent Nov 29, actually, to give myself extra time to deliberate. But by 6:30 PM, I’d basically given up on hearing back from any agents who hadn’t already been in touch.

I’m on the phone with my critique partner when my cell dings with an email. It’s from Holly and Taylor at Root Lit. (I remember I’d told my critique partner that I’d decided on which agent I was going with, and the only thing that would make me change my mind was if Holly and Taylor offered—and, as I told her, “they aren’t gonna, at this point.”)

“Hold on,” I say with a groan, “I gotta read this rejection real quick.”

Only it isn’t a rejection.

WHATTTTTT THE FUCKKKK MANNNNNNNN???!!!!!

I immediately lose my shit.

A lot of screaming ensues. And the next day, Holly and Taylor call me at around 4:30 PM to offer representation. I scramble to talk to their clients, and have several minor panic attacks, but honestly?

The decision is already made.

Stay tuned for part 2, in which I revise the book (again) and submit it to publishers!

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