I love it when friends find success – as writers, we’re all just trying to create cool stuff for other people to enjoy, so when I learned that Angry Robot had signed Emma Newman for a three-book series, The Split Worlds, I was pretty chuffed.
I first met Emma back in October 2010, when she sent me a tweet asking whether I’d ever thought of turning a novella I’d written, The Devil in Chains, into an audiobook. That reading was then stripped five nights a week over at Dark Fiction Magazine, earning a Parsec award nomination in the process. Emma later recorded a short ghost story I’d written for Christmas 2010, which you can listen to here.
Aside from her audio work, Emma is a talented writer – a very talented writer, author of the post-apocalyptic YA novel 20 Years Later and stunning collection of short fiction, From Dark Places. I quickly became a fan of her work, and I’m very pleased to have her as not only a fellow Angry Robot author, but fellow client of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
Emma’s road to publication is really quite brilliant, so I invited her here to tell us about it.
Sitting here, about to tell you about how this three book deal with Angry Robot came about, I’m really starting to appreciate how unlikely it is. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this now if it hadn’t been for a trip in scary weather, a kind man and a missed train.
The Split Worlds series was originally conceived as a self-publishing project with a twist: I secured funding from a private investor to enable me to give up the day job and work on it full-time. If tech companies can find venture capital for the development of tech-based ideas, I thought, why couldn’t I do the same but for a creative endeavour instead? I had no intention of finding a publisher, the project was about finding a way to truly immerse myself in a project without having to write SEO press releases to pay the bills.
That all happened last summer, I started writing the first book of the series in October and in November launched my year-and-a-day long build up to the release of the first book in the series – The Split Worlds: Between Two Thorns - consisting of a short story set in the Split Worlds being released in text and audio formats every week. One was published on this very blog not so long ago.
The Scary Weather
In early January this year, a friend of mine had a certain book launch. That friend was Adam, and the book was Empire State. I live in Somerset, the launch was in central London and that morning there were gale force winds battering the country. I stood at the window, watching the trees bending outside and had doubts about driving, but couldn’t stand the thought of letting Adam down; I know how important launches are, and having friends there to celebrate with you. So I put on my brave hat and drove.
The Kind Man
When I arrived, I knew only two people: Adam (who was a tad busy doing his reading and being the star) and Paul Cornell. I met Paul at Bristolcon in October last year and bless his heart, he looked after me from the moment I went over and said a rather shy hello. He introduced me to people, made me feel welcome and secure and believe me when I tell you he is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met.
Anyway, after the reading and signing we all went to the Phoenix bar. We were talking, having a great time chatting and celebrating with Adam and lots of other ace people, when Paul asked me what I did for my day job. I told him about the investor and he was quite surprised. He said I should tell Lee Harris of Angry Robot Books about it, who was there for an obvious reason, as Paul hadn’t heard of anyone doing something like that before.
It being Adam’s night, I didn’t feel it was right to do it then and there, I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I decided I’d talk to Lee about it at some nebulous point in the future, we partied on, Lee left and I thought nothing more of it.
Then Lee came back.
The Missed Train
He’d missed his train home and in the time it had taken him to go to the station, shake a fist at the departing train and find his way back to the bar most people had left. I asked Adam if it was okay to talk to Lee, as Paul had suggested, and he said it was fine! So I did.
That conversation changed my life. I told Lee what I’d done, the reasoning behind it and my plans for the series and he was… gobsmacked. He couldn’t believe I’d pulled off something so crazy. We talked for some time; Adam told me later that he and Lee continued to talk about it as they headed back to their hotel long after we’d parted ways for the evening.
Lee asked to see my work, he was curious, so I sent a copy of From Dark Places and an ARC of 20 Years Later. Then he asked to see the first Split Worlds book. I saw it as the best opportunity to get amazing advice and feedback: what better beta-reader could I hope for than a commissioning editor for my favourite publisher?
So a few weeks went by, Lee and I chatted on Twitter, I wrote the second book in the series, all was well. Just before Eastercon I had an idea about what to write after The Split Worlds and I decided my goal was to aim for Angry Robot as my next publisher. I mentioned this to Lee and he invited me to pitch at Eastercon (cue immense nerves and excitement). A few days later I described my idea to him. “I like it,” he said and then described the process of sending in a sample for consideration. I was thrilled. “But what about The Split Worlds?” he added and then told me he’d read the first few chapters and really liked it. He wanted to know if I would consider offering it to Angry Robot for consideration.
All Change Please, All Change!
I was flattered, desperately excited and then mostly angst-ridden: not the emotion I had expected to feel when the publisher I was aspiring to be published by in two years’ time was asking for my current WIP. But I’d planned it all differently and there was my investor to consider. It would mean relinquishing total (and slightly neurotic) control over the project, particularly the timeline. After mulling it over and discussing it with a good friend, I promised to talk to my investor to see if it was plausible to change direction.
My investor was unsurprised this had happened (I was still gobsmacked!) and we negotiated a new arrangement. I sent the latest version of the book to Lee, fully expecting him to read the rest and decide to not take it further.
He took it to acquisitions. I fully expected the rest of the decision-making team to turn it down.
After an agonising wait, I had the magical phone call from Lee. I might have screamed. I remember saying “I can’t believe it!” over and over again. In fact, I still say that a couple of times a day. I now have an agent, Jennifer Udden at the Donald Maass Agency (I can’t believe that either – there’s a theme here…) and it feels like the beginning of my writing career all over again.
So there we have it, the unlikely tale of how this book deal came about. If I hadn’t driven to the launch that day, none of it would have happened. Then I think about how I became friends with Adam, which really stemmed from the decision to be brave and ask him whether I could narrate a novella he’d written that I’d really enjoyed. If I hadn’t taken that deep breath and sent him that tweet…
But if I keep thinking like that, I’d go crazy. If you want a take away from all this, I would say it’s to be brave, go out and meet people in your niche and when the unimaginable opportunity comes in ways you probably didn’t expect, grab it.
And always drive carefully in gale force winds…