Monday, December 3, 2012

BOOK DEAL!


It’s official! I signed a two-book deal with Disney-Hyperion! As a life-long Disney fanatic I’m not  sure which part of that statement I’m more excited about, the “I signed a book deal” part or the “Disney” part. To talk about what could be the most significant event of my professional life thus far I've decided to conduct a Q&A with myself. I'll also cover some basic info for those of you who are visiting my blog for the first time. If, after reading this, you have any questions you’d like to ask then please do. I'd love to hear from you.

Q: Seriously? Are you really going to be writing for Disney or are you just making up stories?
A: Yes and yes. publishersmarketplace.com announced today:


Q: How did this happen? Did you storm the gates of the Magic Kingdom and hold the park hostage with a BB gun, a la Clark Griswold, until Disney agreed to your demands?
A: Oooh, good idea, wish I’d thought of it sooner. I might have saved myself three years of Herculean effort. But no, it was a little more complicated than that. I’d always wanted to tell stories in some capacity, but like many people I found myself distracted by a job I didn’t particularly care for. I ran the service department for a commercial roofing company. Great company but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

One day I had an epiphany and decided it was time to get serious about pursuing my preferred career of writing children’s books. I gave my two week’s notice and headed to the beach to live and write. I did odd jobs here and there (one example, designing and painting set pieces for local theatre productions), but I still managed to write nearly full time. It was a struggle, but I’d made the commitment and had no intention of giving up.

I wrote my first book, Lucy Clayfoot, in about fourteen months. It’s still the story closest to my heart, but I recognized that it wasn’t quite ready for publication. I set Lucy Clayfoot aside and worked on another book as a palate cleanser. I completed Journal of a Super Villain Sidekick in about a month. It just flowed. I submitted it to a handful of agents and after receiving multiple offers of representation, I chose Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency. Her clients seemed very happy, she had a blueprint for my future, and I was impressed with her use of social media, especially Twitter, to promote her clients.

When Journal of a Super Villain Sidekick didn’t sell (due to a glut of super hero books flooding the market), I pressed on and wrote Frenzy. Frenzy took about six months between inspiration and completion of the second draft. Lauren shopped it around, Disney presented their offer a few months later, and here we are. I have a book deal three years after leaving my old job behind.

Q: Do you really love Disney or are you just being a major kiss @$$?
A: I honestly love almost everything about Disney (the price of food in the theme parks is the noted exception). I’ve considered moving to Florida just to live near Disney World and Epcot. I applied to CalArt’s animation program so I could become an animator for The Mouse (didn’t get in). Animators like Glen Keane and Andreas Deja had a profound influence on my art. I even painted a Disney mural on one of the walls of my old house.

So yes, I’ve been Team Disney for a long time.
And now that they’ve snapped up so many of the other companies I love—Marvel, Lucas, Pixar, Henson Studios—I feel unbelievably lucky that I get to play in the world’s most creative sandbox.

Q: Did you have any help along the way or do you claim to be an island?
A: I’m so grateful to my agent, Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency.
She may look and sound sweet, and she is, but she’s also a powerhouse negotiator with impeccable business sense. Every day I come to appreciate her more and more, as do her other clients, all of whom are on the fast track thanks to Lauren (Well, Lauren plus their ridiculous talent). And it doesn’t hurt that she’s one of the most social media savvy agents ever.

I’m also grateful to my editor, Ricardo Mejias, and for senior editor, Christian Trimmer, the two gentlemen who championed Frenzy to their company. I’m excited to work with them on all of my upcoming books.

And then there’s my support system, my family and friends who encouraged me every step of the way. Especially Funmi Oke (My #1 reader), Chris Cannon (best boss ever), fellow Glitter City Writers Group member (and author of the Past Midnight series) Mara Purnhagen, my parents, my sister Suzanne and her husband Glen (for providing me with a peaceful environment while I wrote Frenzy), and my brother Ron. And I’m grateful for all of the many people who have been there for me in one way or another to keep me moving forward. Thanks everyone!

Q: What other books has Disney-Hyperion published?
A: I’m in excellent company. According to Wiki: Hyperion is the home of numerous bestselling novels, including Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven and For One More Day; Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, Candace Bushnell’s Trading Up and Lipstick Jungle; Laura Moriarty’s The Rest of Her Life; Percy Jackson & The Olympians and Ridley Pearson's The Kingdom Keepers. The company's bestselling memoirs include J. R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar; Duane “Dog” Chapman’s You Can Run But You Can't Hide, and Bob Newhart’s I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This. They are also home to influential business books like Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail; self-help books like Dr. Phil McGraw’s Relationship Rescue and the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff library; and celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Dave Lieberman.
Visit their website for more examples.

Q: What does this mean for other books you've written, specifically Lucy Clayfoot?
A: I love Lucy. She’ll get her time in the spotlight someday. Just not sure when. I know I want to do an extensive rewrite. She’s like my daughter, so I want to make sure that her book is perfect before I turn it over to the powers that be. Hopefully, when the time comes, they’ll love her as much as I do. Personally, I think Lucy and Disney would be a match made in heaven.

Q: Didn’t you go to school to be an artist? Does that mean you’ll be illustrating your own books?
A: Yes, I earned my BA in Fine Art at Atlantic Union College, but I probably won’t be illustrating my books for awhile. At this point I’m not even sure my editor knows I can draw. We haven’t discussed it. My first two books will be illustration-free, with the possible exception of a wildlife chart in Frenzy. Someday I’d love to do a project that would benefit from visuals. Possibly Lucy Clayfoot?

Q: What age group are you writing for?
A: My first two books are for middle grade readers. That puts my readership in the 8-14 range. However, a well written book can appeal to all ages. I aspire to write for that coveted 8 to 80 crowd.

Q: When does your first book come out?
A: My first book, Frenzy, is tentatively scheduled for hardcover release in the summer of 2014. The publishing business is a bit like the DMV trapped in amber. But things move slowly for an important reason—quality control. The next step for Frenzy is a round or three of editing based on notes I’ll get from my editor. These notes may involve changes to characters, plot, pacing, etc. Sometimes these edits can take months.

After Frenzy is polished, Disney will need to do some advance promotion and booksellers will need to be made aware of its existence so they can put their orders in. All of this takes time. And often, just like with movies, the content of a book can be a factor when determining its release date. Publishers look to the summer to put out books that will appeal to the out-of-school and vacation crowds. In today’s market, a novel like Peter Benchley’s Jaws would most likely come out during beach season. Frenzy is set at a summer camp, which may have been a factor when Disney determined its release date, don't know for certain. 

Q: And your second book?
A: Once the ball is rolling, assuming I don’t drop it, you can (fingers crossed) expect a new book every year. My second book is scheduled for a 2015 release.

Q: After reading the Publishers Marketplace announcement I have an idea of what your first book is about. What about your second book? Will it be a sequel to Frenzy or something else?
A: It probably won't be a sequel to Frenzy, although I was given that option. This is a situation where my editors have put their trust in me to write whatever my heart desires, as long as it falls within the boundaries of middle-grade and appeals to the audience we’re targeting with Frenzy. I'm working on something. Like Frenzy, it’s a mix of three genres: horror/adventure/science thriller. The only specific I can offer for now is that I had the bizarre idea of putting characters in a horrific situation set in vividly colorful locations. As I’m writing, I’m envisioning brilliant blues, lush greens and hemoglobin reds.

Q: What’s a science thriller?
A: Michael Crichton, one of my favorite authors, was the king of the science thriller before he passed away. His books, Jurassic Park, Congo, Sphere and Prey, to name a few, are fast-paced adventures loaded with interesting bits of advanced science and technology. That’s basically what a science thriller is all about.

Although I doubt I’ll ever attain Crichton's level of skill at the genre, one of my favorite things about writing is finding some obscure and fascinating bit of information that I can throw into a story. For example, while researching for Frenzy I discovered that the silvertip grizzly bear’s sense of smell is seven times greater than that of a bloodhound. Not only can they smell your fear, they can smell your fear from the next county over. Grizzlies can pick up the scent of a dead animal twenty miles away. I like to add those kinds of details to my stories, not just to ground my fiction in reality, but also to motivate kids to do independent research on topics they might not otherwise take an interest in.

Here’s Amazon’s list of top science thrillers currently on bookstore shelves.

Q: Where will I be able to buy your books?
A: Presumably the usual places. Bookstores (traditional and online). I’ll be sure to post links on Twitter and my website when the time comes. I’ll also be holding contests, so it will be possible to win copies. Just keep checking in on me for details.

Q: Will your books zoom up the charts and sit perched at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List for decades?
A: According to my mom, yes.

Q: Do you have a website?
A: I’m in the process of building one at www.robertlettrick.com. Right now there’s nothing there but a placeholder image. As soon as my site is up and running I’ll let you know. Until then you can find me on this blog (which I hope to update with regularity) and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robertlettrick.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?
A: Growing up I was an avid comic book collector. Sadly, I lost thousands of comics when my family’s house burned down in 1987. The first MG novel I read was Wrinkle in Time and it's still one of my favorites. I enjoyed The Boxcar Children series, mainly because of the way Gertrude Chandler Warner was able to make crusty bread and boiled potatoes seem so delicious. I read Peter Mayle's travel books for the same reason. J.K. Rowling took food porn to a whole new level in Harry Potter through her descriptions of Hogwarts feasts. If I could have one super power it would probably be the ability to make roast beef, cakes and French fries pop up out of my table top.

Hmmm…where was I? Oh yes, my favorite books. The aforementioned Harry Potter:SS was the book that set my career as an author in motion. The idea that one person could create such an incredibly rich world populated by immensely likable characters was mind blowing. Although I’ll never forgive J.K. Rowling for what she did to (deep breath) Lupin, Tonks, Colin Creevey, Lavender, Mad Eye Moody, Dobby, Fred, Sirius, Dumbledore, Snape, and Hedwig (wow, I just envisioned one of those Academy Awards films featuring Those We Lost Over The Years At Hogwarts), I still owe her an enormous debt of gratitude. The Butcher of Edinburgh and I even share the same birthday, July 31st, so I feel a special kinship. I’m sure it will forever remain one-sided.

I also enjoyed:
Holes
City of Ember
Hunger Games
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Life of Pi
The Highest Tide

Adult novels? I love anything by Michael Crichton, Norman Maclean and Herman Hesse.

Q: You mentioned that you used to collect comic books. Did you ever think about becoming a comic book writer?
A: Actually for most of my teens and twenties I wanted to draw comic books. I did an internship at Marvel Comics which led to some freelance penciling work. I also drew a three-issue mini-series for Harris Publications. I was serious about comics so I entered the Sequential Art MA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I’d love to write comics in my free time and that’s something I’ll actively pursue soon.
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: In my opinion, the trick to good ideas is sensory deprivation. You have to shut out the world around you if you want to tune in to the world inside your head. If I’m alone and not plugged into the figurative Matrix of day to day distraction then my creative juices flow. I’ll admit that I get most of my book ideas in the shower where I’m not bombarded by the internet, music, my phone, etc. Sometimes ideas come while I’m on long walks, driving or, on the rare occasion, in a dream. They never come when I’m sitting in front of the television.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A: I like to explore new places. I've moved around a lot over the years, but there are still so many places I want to visit. My goal is to get to the point as a writer where I can just keep moving from beautiful city to beautiful city, writing somewhere new every month, soaking up the local culture on my breaks.
I’m also an information addict. I’m always scanning the internet for weird, obscure facts, many of which make it into my books.

Q: What are your long term goals as a writer?
A: It’s all about writing books that tap into that little creative nougat in kids’ brains. The part that inspires them to write or draw or compose songs or dress up in homemade costumes. I've been inspired by so many people over the years, it would be great to inspire others in return, especially children. My second goal is just to get better and better at the craft of writing. 

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become a published author?
A: Yes, and it’s the same advice I’d give to anyone with a dream. Go after it with all of your heart. Ignore the naysayers. Ignore that creeping self-doubt. I really believe that if you want something in this life then it can be yours as long as you’re willing to put in the time and hard work to get there. Never give up. Even if it takes twice as long as you thought it would. Just keep plugging away and eventually you’ll get that book deal, that team contract or that show at a top gallery.

The boxer George Foreman once said, “The world is full of people who want to play it safe, people who have tremendous potential but never use it. Somewhere deep inside them, they know that they could do more in life, be more, and have more -- if only they were willing to take a few risks.” That’s coming from a guy who won the World Heavyweight Championship at the age of forty-five, twenty long years after losing it to Mohammad Ali! The point is this: if you want something bad enough, no matter your circumstances, then who can stop you? I mean besides George Foreman. I’m pretty sure he could stop you.

Q: Do you have any charities you’d like to direct my attention to?
A: I like your spirit of generosity! Kudos. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. A friend of mine, Todd Niemi, is writing the screenplay for a movie about elephant activist Lek Chailert. As the founder of the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, Lek is doing some amazing work and it’s very easy to contribute to the cause. You can even choose to sponsor a specific elephant or just buy it lunch.
I suppose I could have saved that last Q&A for another blog, but why wait? Elephants gotta eat.

Elephants love when Lek sings them to sleep.

2 comments:

  1. WOOOOOT!! Congrats, Robert!! This makes me INCREDIBLY HAPPY!!! :D :D
    CAN'T wait to read your book!
    (And yes! Lauren is just AWESOME, isn't she?)

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  2. Whoa, how did I miss this?? CONGRATS, Robert! I can't wait to read it.

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