A while ago I wrote a post questioning whether or not there was such thing as an original idea left in the world. This was after the release of the re-boot of the Spiderman series, and the last installment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga hit the theaters.
Well today, I am pleased to say I have discovered an author who brings a completely “unique” twist to the world of publishing. Her Young Adult manuscript, while having modern elements, is completely original in the fact that all the characters have red hair. That’s right, I said red hair. Who you are, your social standing, etc… is all determined by how deep your red runs.
Now, I must admit, I’m biased. Both my sister and my nephew are natural redheads, and I’ve been known to experiment with several copper shades courtesy of Clairol and L’Oreal. So perhaps this is why I find today’s featured author, Alison Cherry’s concept so intriguing. Her debut novel, of course, titled RED, will debut in the fall of 2013.
Here is Alison’s writing journey…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
Alison: I started writing my first book in November of 2007, but I wasn’t very serious about it at the beginning. I’d write a little, abandon the manuscript for months, and revisit it when I had nothing else to do. It probably wasn’t until I was about halfway that I thought, “Huh, this isn’t bad, maybe I can write a book.”
Amy: When did you complete your first Young Adult manuscript?
Alison: My first manuscript took me two and a half years. It was complete and ready for querying in April of 2010.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Alison: RED was the second book I queried. There were good things about that first manuscript, but in the end, it was too small and quiet a story to make much of a splash.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Alison: I think the query process is pretty laborious and frustrating for everyone. I did tons of research, made a spreadsheet, honed and re-honed my query letter, and I still got tons of rejections. The waiting is the hardest part. (It’s still the hardest part—I’ve discovered that even after you get a book deal, there is still a ridiculous amount of waiting. You’re just waiting for different things.)
Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?
Alison: That’s an interesting story, actually. After nine months of rejections on my first manuscript, I got a lovely email from Holly Root at Waxman Agency, detailing all the reasons why she loved my writing and my voice and explaining why she didn’t think she could sell that particular manuscript. She suggested we get together and talk about revisions, then asked if I was working on anything else. I was about halfway through the first draft of RED at that point, so I sent her the first few chapters. When we met up a few weeks later, Holly told me she was smitten with RED and that I should concentrate on finishing that, then send it to her right away. I spent the next five months doing so, during which I completely stopped querying the first book. Holly had convinced me that RED would make a much better debut novel—and also that she was the right agent for me, if I could just produce the right book!
Amy: If you had bites on previous manuscripts, and then was ultimately turned down by agents, what kept you pressing forward?
Alison: That did happen five or six times, and it never got easy. But I didn’t start writing because I wanted an agent—I started writing because I loved writing. Even if I had never gotten an agent, I guarantee I would still be telling stories. If you’re writing because you want to be published, it’s really easy to be disappointed. But if the process of putting words together brings you joy, nobody can stop you from being happy.
Amy: How many agents did you query for RED?
Alison: Holly was the only agent who ever saw it! She signed me five days after I sent it to her.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
Alison: The very first query I sent was an anomaly—the agent answered forty minutes later (on a SUNDAY!) and asked for a full, which he then rejected three days later. Most of the other agents I queried took months to reply, some as many as seven or eight months. It was extremely frustrating at the time, but now that I’m agented, it makes total sense to me. We keep Holly really busy, and I have no idea how she has time to read queries at all.
Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with agent, Holly Root?
Alison: I knew I’d be a nervous, babbling mess on the phone if Holly called to offer me representation, so I wrote down a bunch of questions in advance to help me guide the conversation. But as it turned out, Holly totally took the lead. First she told me everything she loved about my book, and then she told me how she liked to work and what her submission strategy would be. I had heard you were supposed to end agent calls by saying you’d think about the offer and call back within a week, but that seemed insane—I was absolutely sure I wanted Holly. So after about twenty minutes, I told her that. There was a very long pause, and then she said, “Oh! That was easy!”
Amy: What parting advice can you give aspiring writers who may be on the cusp of giving up on their writing dream?
Alison: Oh, please don’t! You all have stories to tell, and I want to hear them! But here are some (more concrete) pieces of advice to help you on your way:
1) If an agent says a book isn’t right for her but that she’d like to see the next thing you write, she’s not just saying that to be nice. She really means it. She saw something special in your writing. Send her your next project.
2) Reach out to the writing community, whether through Twitter or forums or going to conferences. I’ve found that most writers are ridiculously supportive. There are many, many people in the same situation as you, and it helps so much to talk about the process with others who know what you’re going through.
3) I know hardly anyone who sold the first book they wrote. If nobody’s snapping up your first manuscript, write another one. You have practice writing a book now, and your second project will be better for it. If you want to be a writer, every minute you spend writing is valuable. Don’t let all that new knowledge go to waste!
Alison grew up in Evanston, IL. She is a professional photographer and spent many years working as a lighting designer for theater, opera, and dance. Now she lives in Brooklyn and writes young adult novels full time. Her debut, RED, is coming from Delacorte in October of 2013. She is represented by the lovely and amazing Holly Root of Waxman Leavell.