Wednesday, 8 April 2015
Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Guest Post By Taran Matharu - The Novice (Summoner: Book 1)
It was November, and I had a whole month to myself before I flew to Australia to go backpacking.
I heard about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month from a Facebook group I was part a few days before it started. I had an idea for a book, one that combined everything I loved about fantasy into one story.
So I sat down and wrote the first chapter and uploaded it to Wattpad, using a cover I made using Microsoft Paint. The next day, I wrote the second. It had maybe sixty reads at that point.
Twelve days later, I hit twenty-five thousand reads. At this point, I knew I had something special. People were really enjoying my work, and although there were other books with millions of reads on Wattpad, their authors had been members for years. So I kept going, staying up into the early hours of the morning to make sure my promise of a chapter each day was kept.
When December came along, I had written fifty thousand words and Summoner: The Novice had been read almost one hundred thousand times. But the book wasn’t finished and I knew that I would soon be backpacking around Australia, with limited access to the internet. Amid some protests but also a lot of encouragement, I told my readers I would now upload a chapter once a week.
Thus, the second half of the book was written in the back of juddering buses and dingy hotel rooms. I would hoard my access to the internet jealously, making sure to reply to every comment whenever I found a spare moment and noting down my daily read count, using my phone’s roaming if I couldn’t find it. On Fridays, I would hunt through the streets looking for free wifi, occasionally forced to pay the extortionate fees that the hotel charged for access.
It was a whirlwind trip, where I cage dived with saltwater crocodiles, skydived onto the beach on Surfers Paradise and scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef. I ate kangaroo, crocodile, camel, emu and barramundi. I learned to surf in Byron Bay, hiked in the outback, hung out with aboriginal tribes and wandered through the jungles of northern Australia.
Four months after I uploaded the first chapter, I hit a million reads. It was a surreal day and I celebrated my success by popping open some champagne and telling my friends via Facebook what I was doing for the first time, to their amazement.
The day after I hit 1 million reads, a reporter from NBC news got in touch and we had an interview. A few weeks later, an article was uploaded to their site, “Must Read: Serial Novels Get Second Life With Smartphones, Tablets”.
The next day, I received another email from a big audiobook publisher. They wanted to buy the audiobook rights to my book.
This one email kicked me into gear. I decided to contact some literary agents, looking for advice. In order to make it less formal, I found a few by searching “literary agent” on Facebook. I explained my situation and waited for a response.
I received three replies within a few hours. They all said I shouldn’t sell audiobook rights and they all requested the manuscript. One of them read the book overnight on Wattpad itself and offered representation there and then.
Eventually, I had six offers on the table, all from the best agencies in the world. Three were from the UK and three were from the US.
At this point, I was still uploading a chapter every two weeks to Wattpad and the book still wasn’t finished, but I needed to buy myself some time. I wanted to sign with an agent before the entire thing had been uploaded online, so I stopped uploading while this was all happening. I had numerous phone calls with the American agents and meetings with all the UK agents.
The night before I changed my mind a dozen times, but the final decision before I fell asleep was Juliet.
The weeks that followed were quite anticlimactic. Then, I got a phone call from Juliet. We had received a preemptive offer from a UK publisher. Juliet had already decided we should turn it down, as they wanted rights to publish it in the entire world and she didn’t think it was a good enough offer.
A few days later Juliet called me again. We had received another preemptive offer, this time from Brazil. Since I am half Brazilian myself, it was especially gratifying, as my extended family would be able to read it in their native language. I also knew that the deal would signal to other publishers that my trilogy was worth considering.
Soon after, my trilogy went to auction in the UK with publishers bidding against one another. It was extremely tense, with me checking my email and phone every few minutes. They bid against each other, until Juliet told me they could make a last bid each, without seeing how much their opponent had
offered. We reserved the right to go with either publisher, regardless of whose was higher. Juliet thought it best to take me to their offices so we could meet them before the final offers were sent.
I went and met both publishers in their offices on the same day. Juliet was fantastic throughout, telling me the questions she would be asking and what I could expect.
They had all of Malgorzata’s artwork printed on the walls. They also had marketing plans and schedules in a specially designed booklet, with ideas such as demon trading cards and temporary tattoos. Both were incredibly professional, genuine and I met the entire team that would be working on my book on both occasions, something that Juliet said rarely happens.
It was a difficult decision but we finally made the choice to go with Hachette children's publishers. A few weeks later, my book went to auction in the US, with three publishers. This time I dealt with Juliet’s US counterpart, Sasha Raskin. I had phone calls with all the publishers and one even had a conversation with Wattpad.
Ultimately, the trilogy was won after a highly competitive auction by Macmillan.
Later, the book went to auction in Germany and sold in several other territories. At the time of writing this article, it will be published by Hodder Children’s (Hachette) in the UK, Australia and Commonwealth, Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan) in the US and Canada, Hachette Jeunesse in France, Heyne in Germany, Planeta in Spain, Crown in Taiwan and Record in Brazil, EKSMO in Russia, Jaguar in Poland, Ecliptic in Bulgaria and Alpress in the Czech Republic.
On the day I finally announced it was going to be published, Summoner: The Novice gained one hundred and fifty thousand reads within 24 hours. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
It has also been amazing to get to know my two brilliant editors, Liz Szabla in the US and Naomi Greenwood in the UK, who’s combined insight have taught me more in one year than a lifetime of my own study of the craft. They have been a stellar team and have managed to polish Summoner: The Novice into a book I am hugely proud of.
Juliet has been my guiding light, helping me navigate the world of publishing with a steady but firm hand. I don’t think there is another literary agent like her, nor one more suited for my needs as both a person and an author.
While some might look over their shoulders and wonder what might have been, I am very fortunate to know in my heart that I can stand by my decisions.
I can safely say that I have entered the new year with no regrets, only eagerness for what 2015 will bring.