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!

open discussion: how do you get work done during a pandemic?

I know a lot of us are struggling to meet deadlines right now—or even to maintain some kind of structure or schedule to our lives. Working from home is challenging in the best of times, but right now we’re all struggling against a tide of bad news and fear and isolation.

For me, I’m staring down the barrel of several deadlines (I got my new A Lesson in Vengeance edit letter, for one, but also dissertation stuff!) and I know I need to get my act together if I’m going to get everything done in time.

I’ve tried to have some self-compassion, give myself a total day off every now and then, but it’s hard. I can’t imagine how much harder it is, too, for people dealing with child or elder care.

So here’s my question:

How are you getting work done during the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you have any suggestions for me or other readers?

View 9 comments →

in which i revise the fever king

because everything can always get better

My New Year’s Resolution was to stop giving writing advice on the internet.

I used to spend hours giving advice on reddit and twitter, and most of what happened in response was people arguing with me because the truth wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Which you know, I get it. When The Fever King was still a 145,000-word draft and I saw people talk about how YA fantasy needed to be closer to 100,000 words at the querying stage, I didn’t really believe them. Or if I did, I thought my book was the exception.

Spoiler: it wasn’t.

But anyway, point is, it’s really hard to see the big picture or to accept unwanted truths about the industry when you’re starting out. And even now, I find myself falling prey to the same biases. That doesn’t apply to me.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that my judgment of what counts as good writing is constantly changing. When I reread The Fever King now, all I see is a list of things I would have done differently.

So I figured for this, my sophomore post on this substack, I’d edit a section from the published version of The Fever King to show you how I would have written it differently today.

Strap in.

Bolded content is new additions from me.

Italicized content is deletions from the original content.

“I’m sure it’s not personal,” Bethany reassured him one evening, after Noam had pitched the third crumpled-up attempt at his intro math assignments at Dara’s empty bed. She lowered her copy of They were both up late with curriculum work, Noam’s intro math books sprawled next to Bethany’s Cardiovascular Physiology to offer him a tiny smile

Noam flushed. “Sorry.” 

He was pretty sure Bethany had never lost her temper in her life. Maybe infinite patience was something that came as a bonus to her healing magic.

Her presenting power was healing, apparently. Bethany had her toes tucked under Noam’s leg and holoreader propped up against her thighs, slouched so far down on the sofa her head was below the armrest. She was the only cadet willing to spend time with him—and that, he suspected, was just because she was nice.

But… How is locking away their socks not personal?”

When Bethany glanced up to meet his gaze, Noam made a face.

“Dara’s a really private person,” sheBethany said. “Taye’s probably just taking his lead.”

As usual, just hearing Dara’s name sparked a new flame of irritation. Of course Bethany made excuses for him. Dara was perfectly charming nice enough when she and the others were around, all smiles, but as soon as it was just him and Noam,—or him and Noam and Lehrer—all that charm switched off like a lamp going dark.

Noam took it as a compliment. If the only person Dara despised as much as Noam was Minister Lehrer, then Noam must be doing something right.

“Where do you reckon they are, anyway?” Noam asked, tipping his head toward the empty bed barracks.

“The others like to go to this club over in Raleigh on off weekends,” Bethany said, putting her book aside at last tapping her holoreader screen. “I expect they’re still out.”

And Bethany hadn’t gone with them. Was that because she didn’t want to go, or because she felt sorry for Noam staying home alone?

Noam had never really enjoyed partying. After Carly died Noam had tried to get out more he went out some, mostly from a misguided sense that he needed to move on, to meet somebody. And yeah, he met people. But he’d never been able to muster the energy for much more than fumbling hands in anonymous backseats, names forgotten as soon as they fell from Noam’s lips. the kind of relationship they wanted from him. Those romances fizzled out, quick and ephemeral as the rush from a tequila shot.

He chewed the inside of his cheek to keep from saying anything he might regret and tried to pay attention to precalculus—a difficult task, as he couldn’t quite ignore the little blips of electrical current every time Bethany’s word processor autosaved.

He eyed his precalculus problem set. The prospect of trying the assignments for a fourth time made him want to crawl under his bed and never come out again.

“Do you ever get to go home?” Noam asked, tossing his math book aside. giving up. “Your mother’s still alive, right?”

Bethany snorted. “Yeah, she’s alive. I never see her, though.”

Noam tried to imagine not visiting his mother, if he had the option. He still saw her body sometimes, when he was trying to fall asleep, her face swollen and red and her neck bruised where the rope bit into her skin. Her limp feet dangling inches above the floor.

He put his book aside and twisted to face Bethany properly. “Why not?”

She shrugged. “My mother doesn’t understand magic. It’s like she’s in awe of me and scared of me at the same time. The way she acts, you’d think her real daughter died in the red ward and I’m some impostor come to replace her.”

Noam hadn’t considered that. His mother died a long time ago, but what if his father hadn’t gotten sick? What if Jaime Álvaro had survived the outbreak, only to watch Noam transform into a witching and be snatched away to Level IV?

There was a strange guilt about witchings among the older generations. Seeing a witching was to remember your grandparents’ sins, a stain that wouldn’t wash out. Noam went to the memorial with his school once, the black basalt monument carved with more names than Noam could count.

His parents fled Atlantia because they were worried about the virus outbreaks there. They thought Carolinia was safer.

They’d been wrong.

Atlantians didn’t share Carolinian guilt over the catastrophe, even though their ancestors were equally complicit in the genocide. To them, witchings represented Carolinia—Carolinia, with all its careful protections against the virus, with its militarized QZ border, weekly disinfectant sprays, and government-subsidized respirator masks—Carolinia, which refused to use those same protections to shelter Atlantian citizens. Carolinian armies, which marched south with promises of humanitarian aid and then refused to leave.

No. If Noam’s dad survived, he’d hate Noam just as much as Brennan did.

“I’m sorry,” Noam said.

“Why? It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know. It just felt like the right thing to say.”

“Anyway, she’s the reason I got the power I did, I think. So I’m grateful to her for that.” Bethany shrugged gave him a slight smile. “She’s a doctor, so I was exposed to a lot of medical stuff growing up. She used to take me in with her to work and let me watch the med students dissect cadavers.”

“That didn’t gross you out?”

“Me? Nothing grosses me out. Seriously. Try me.”

Noam grimaced. “I’d rather not,” he said. “I just ate.”

She laughed and kicked his thigh.

They worked in silence for another hour or so until Bethany went off to bed, taking her books with her. Noam wandered back out into the common room, taking the math books with him stayed. Sleep seemed a long way off,  a reward he’d only earn if he finished this goddamn problem set. chased away by an anxious determination to read just one more chapter, two more, three. Everything was finally knitting together, concepts he learned in math reappearing in physics, the physical laws threaded into the fabric of chemistry, chemical reactions shaping biology . . .

He could catch up. He could.

Ames and Taye returned around one, draped in clubbing clothes and exhaustion.

“Hey, Noam,” Taye said. He was so drunk that when he waved, even his hand looked slurred.

Noam’s grip tightened on his textbook. “Hey.” A beat, Noam turning the question over in his mouth a few times, before deciding he didn’t give a fuck what they thought of him for asking. “Where’s Dara?”

Ames tried tugging her jacket off and got her arm stuck in the sleeve. She laughed, stumbling as Taye tried to help her get free. “Dunno,” she said at last. “Probably went home with someone. Probably suffocating himself on dick as we speak.”

Right. Noam tapped the tip of his tongue against his teeth. Well. It wasn’t any of his business what Dara did. “Does that a lot, does he?”

Taye laughed. “Can’t take him anywhere.”

Ames’s mouth twisted, her expression was somewhat less amused. “He usually makes it about fifteen minutes before abandoning us for better prospects.”

She must have seen the look on Noam’s face because she shook her head. “Whatever. If he hasn’t given himself alcohol poisoning again, I’m sure he’ll stumble back here eventually.”

Noam felt like they were talking about two totally different people. Dara being an asshole was unsurprising. Dara losing his grip on that perfect self-control for even a second, on the other hand, struck Noam as less characteristic.

Ames and Taye departed for their separate bedrooms, leaving Noam in the common room still clutching his math book. Any hope of sleeping tonight had evaporated; Noam got up and made himself coffee instead of following Taye to bed. No point in wishing he’d gone to Raleigh, too, when he could barely summon an electric charge. Better to focus on p-sets. Better not to be such an embarrassment to Level IV. And then maybe one day Lehrer would say, I’m impressed, Noam—you learned this so quickly, and Noam would perform feats of magic far more magnificent than eating a goddamn apple.

He wasn’t worthless. He wasn’t.

The door finally opened again around five in the morning. It was still dark out, the world blanketed in a midwinter silence broken only by the click of Noam’s keyboard and the turn of the latch. Dara slipped inside. He didn’t see Noam at first, too focused on pulling the door softly shut and glancing down at the glowing white screen of his phone. His hair was messy, like someone had been dragging their fingers through it over and over, party glitter caught in the curls and dusting the line of a cheekbone.

“Ames and Taye got back ages ago,” Noam said, just to watch Dara startle. A dark twist of schadenfreude coiled up through his gut. He smiledHis lips twisted in a grim smile. “Where’ve you been?”

Dara stuck his phone in the back pocket of his jeans, which were tight—really tight. “At the library,” he said.

Noam arched a brow and sank back against the sofa, coffee cupped between both hands. He was exhausted, and he’d held his tongue for weeks now—so he said, in a light tone that was very nearly teasing and tapped his fingers against the curve of his coffee cup. “Oh yeah? Those jeans’re so tight I can see your religion. Does the librarian make you bend over to get the good books?”

His words didn’t quite garner the reaction Noam anticipated. Dara, usually so cold and dispassionate, turned a delicate shade of red. It was fascinating, a sea change that sent little shock waves of anger radiating between them. Or it would’ve been, if Noam didn’t suddenly taste magic crackling in the air.

I’ve gone too far.

Dara looked like he wanted to reach for that magic and fashion it into a weapon. Like he might be far more dangerous than Noam anticipated.

“I don’t need to pull all-nighters to do well,” Dara said at last, voice laced with frost but steady—too steady. He started off past the common room toward the bedrooms, but he paused right by Noam’s sofa. Noam could smell the alcohol on him.

Dara’s gaze dragged over the books Noam had scattered across the coffee table and seat cushions, the discarded eraser nubs and scribbled notes. It lingered on the cover of A Physics Primer, then lifted to Noam’s face. Dara’s eyes were black wells, pupils bleeding into iris.

“You can study all you want,” he said softly. “It isn’t going to make a difference.”

And then he vanished down the hall, leaving Noam to clutch his coffee and stare at those same notes, wishing Dara hadn’t carved out the guts of what Noam already feared was truehe didn’t know, deep down in his gut and bones…

Dara was right.

the strange guilt of promoting a book during a pandemic

“Nobody wants to hear about your book during a pandemic.”

That’s what I told my friend over instagram DMs the night before my second book was due to release. It was around one in the morning and I was already in bed, tousle-haired and depressed and five hundred miles from caring about how shitty I looked—even though this whole discussion was taking place via video message. I didn’t bother waiting for a reply; my friend lives several time zones ahead of me and is probably already asleep—which is what I wish I could be. 

Instead I’m up late wondering if I’m allowed to self-promote when people are in quarantine, sick, and dying—if anyone will read my book at all. It feels selfish to even worry about these kinds of things. I’ve looked at other people using the pandemic as an excuse to hawk their book and felt derision, even disgust. I would never use the pandemic to promote—I would never say wanna read about a magic pandemic during our real one? pick up my book!—but I feel like I should say something. I shouldn’t let the book I’ve worked on for years vanish into the next news cycle.

Eventually I fall asleep, and I wake up to a reply: “You should talk about it! Everyone needs good news right now, and you should be proud of your book.”

Fuck it.

I am proud of this book. 

And I want people to know about it.

It’s a strange guilt, promoting a book during a pandemic that has killed thousands across the globe. It feels cold somehow, callous, to say look at me instead of look at the death toll, look at how our government fails to handle a crisis

But when it’s your launch day, it’s kind of a necessity.

So I post about it on twitter. And instagram. And facebook. I retweet the congratulations and good reviews, I let myself bask in it—just for a moment. My real-life launch party got canceled, so I hold one online instead. 

In the middle of fear and anxiety and isolation, I let myself be happy.

I think this is something that’s hard for a lot of people, not just authors. Anyone who struggles with anxiety and depression can feel like they aren’t allowed to be happy even at the best of times—as if expressing positivity would erase everything else that’s shitty in the world, who are you to be happy when people are suffering

But here’s the thing:

We have to find a way to carry on. At some point, even if things never return to normal, we will settle on a new normal. We have to find a way to live in this new circumstance. In many ways, life rolls on: people fall in love, the best jokes are still found on the internet, babies are born, books are written and read. I’ve lived with depression long enough to know the warning signs: the days I don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to shower, or read, or write, or even watch television. At first, in quarantine, it was so easy to fall into those habits by default. 

What was the point, I thought. Why bother working or eating or washing my face or being happy when the world was falling down around us?

But I don’t want to let depression win. I don’t want to let misery win, and there has to be a way to balance acknowledging the terrible reality of this pandemic with the need for human comforts. I want my career to continue when this pandemic is over. I want to step back out of my house one day and know that my books are still being read, that people found some pleasure in reading them during a horrible time.

So, I guess I have to promote them. Respectfully, of course, without taking advantage of suffering to make money—but I am allowed to talk about them. I’m allowed to be proud of myself, and my art. I’m allowed to think my art might help someone right now.

And that’s a start.

missives from a writer in quarantine

Welcome to “so said victoria lee,” a newsletter by me, Victoria Lee, dark academic author of the feverwake series, a lesson in vengeance, and other dark and devious books.

Sign up now so you don’t miss the first issue. (If you were already subscribed to my newsletter, you have also been subscribed to this automatically!)

In the meantime, tell your friends!

So…I’ve started a substack!

Many of you might have been subscribed to my newsletter already; that is essentially defunct now. I’m completely transitioning to substack. I want to have a platform that enables me to have free content available to readers—but in this time of coronavirus and uncertainty, I also need to have the option to launch paid subscriptions in the future. I also want to be able to build real community with my readers, and this seems like a good way to do that.

Here’s my plan right now:

For the foreseeable future, all my content is free.

At some point, I’ll transition to a mixed model—one free post a week, and a couple subscriber-only posts a week. Subscribers will also be able to engage in private discussion forums where we can talk about books (my books + others!), I can give personalized industry and writing advice, and we can just…shoot the shit, to be honest. 

I want this community to be an intimate one. I want us to be able to build real relationships and friendships, and have honest conversations—which is part of what I like about the mixed model. I’ll be able to share stuff with everyone, but I’ll also be able to have conversations with subscribers that I wouldn’t be able to have in “public.” Like…y’all want to hear the Real Shit about publishing? About life as a professional writer? Secret spoilers for future books? Headcanons and excerpts and author-created fanfiction? This is gonna be the place.

And we’ll talk. We’ll actually get to talk, in relative privacy, with a small group of likeminded people. I can tell you that for me, it’s been getting difficult to have the kinds of conversations with other authors + readers that I want to have on twitter, for example. It’s very…visible, and public, and as my platform grows I am finding that I have less time to engage 1:1 with readers as I’d like to.

This will change all that.

But anyway…still free for now! All this comes later. Right now I just want to start sharing content with people. 

My plan is to treat the free posts on this substack as a kind of hybrid diary and advice portal. Some of my posts will be me musing about writing and publishing—not Official Takes, just my unedited thoughts. Some posts will be formalized advice about the industry, querying, submission, etc. (I even kept a Very Honest Diary during the editing and submission process for A Lesson in Vengeance, which will be one of my paid posts eventually!) I’ll also occasionally solicit questions from subscribers and answer them on the paid posts (plus having the open discussion posts for subscribers, free excerpts, fanfiction, etc.).

Anyway, I hope you’re down to join me! I think it’ll be fun. :)

My first post is already up. It’s a diary-style one: “The strange guilt of promoting a book during a pandemic.

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