[Join us at the 2018 Writer's Digest Annual Conference in NYC, August 10-12!]
In our "Breaking In" column in Writer's Digest magazine, we talk with debut authors—such as Tomi Adeyemi, San Diego-based author of Children of Blood and Bone—about how they did it, what they learned and why you can do it, too. This is an extended interview with Adeyemi, who appeared in the February 2018 issue. Learn more the author and Children of Blood and Bone on her website, tomiadeyemi.com.
What was the time frame for writing the book?
This book’s process has gone so fast I still feel like I have revision whiplash. I had my “I want to be a full-time writer” revelation in April 2016, but quickly after that came the realization that I was going to have to pursue this dream with a brand new book (or several new books).
I also knew I wanted to enter Pitch Wars—a writing competition with a great track record for getting writers agents and sometimes even book deals—that August, so the countdown clock to write and revise CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE began ticking very quickly.
I switched to a part-time job in May and began outlining CBB. In June I knocked out the first draft (83,000 words) and in July I knocked out a heavily revised second draft (95,000 words). I submitted that to Pitch Wars and got in, and then revised like crazy again for two months (up to 105,000 words) before signing with my agents. After that (you guessed it)–revision, revision, revision, revision, revision, and the more revision.
How did you find your agent?
My agents are the incredible Hillary Jacobson and Alexandra Machinist of ICM Partners and I found them through Pitch Wars (the contest I mentioned above!) Since I think this contest could be really helpful to all the writers reading this, I’ll talk more about it now.
Pitch Wars was started by the unbelievably generous and talented Brenda Drake. It’s an annual online competition where agented/published writers mentor un-agented writers for two months. With a mentor’s help, Pitch Wars participants revise their book intensely and at the end of the two months, all participants get to be in an “agent round” where agents read pitches and excerpts from their manuscripts and make requests from there.
Hillary Jacobson was one of the 30+ agents who requested my manuscript from the agent round and when I got on the phone with her and Alexandra Machinist, I knew that these were the fierce women I wanted to work with. They have been nothing short of incredible – in helping me revise my book for submission, navigating the submission process, and in being my champions now that I’m working with my wonderful publisher. I love working with them and they are open to queries! Query them!
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
Nothing is wasted. You can make something out of every unfinished story and every rejection if you work at it. You’re never wasting your time as long as you learn from every single thing you do, whether you feel like those attempts are successful or not.
You need a community to succeed. In the back of every book is an acknowledgments page full of all the people it took to get that writer to the book you’re holding. With the internet, there are so many ways to connect with other writers who will be some of your best friends and best sources of support for your entire life. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and go meet them!
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
I think the most important thing I did right was move from my first book to my second book when I did. I talked about my fast timeline above, but I had about 75 days to outline, write, and revise a 95,000 word fantasy so that I could enter Pitch Wars, which then changed my life and writing career forever.
I queried about 60 agents over 4 months with my first book, and got 15 full requests. Everyone rejected the book, but 10-ish of those full requests gave me great feedback along the lines of “You’re a good writer, you have something special, but I couldn’t sell this book in the current marketplace.”
By the time I heard that from enough agents that I respected, I knew my first book wasn’t going to do it for me, so I pivoted to my second and started making plans.
Had I queried 300+ agents just waiting for one person to say yes and take a chance on me, I never would’ve been able to write and revise my breakout book in time. I also wouldn’t have found the agents who were right for me.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I wouldn’t do anything differently, I would just change my mindset. If I could go back, I would’ve told myself that I will be published one day and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. (Of course, one of my very wonderful writing friends Romina Russell —author of the ZODIAC saga—did tell me this, but I was too dumb to listen to her when she did—lol—so be smarter than me and take her wonderful advice now).
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I did! I started a blog on writing—tomiadeyemi.com—in May, 2015 and one of my proudest moments was when I wrote a column for Writer’s Digest titled “3 Reasons Every Writer Should Go To A Writer’s Conference.”
By the time I was soliciting agents with CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, my blog had around 3,500 subscribers. Ultimately it was my book and not my platform/readership that got me to where I am, but it doesn’t help to already have 3,500 people who might want to buy your book since you’ve been helping them for free for so many years.
Also, to all the writers reading this now, [the blog] is full of free resources and communities to help you reach your writing dreams so check it
What’s next? (Upcoming projects? Future plans?)
The sequel to CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE! And after that, the final book in the trilogy!
But I do have a few secret projects in a few different storytelling mediums that I’m excited to scribble away at as well!
By the way, the video of Tomi unwrapping the first copy of her book is impossibly heartwarming, and we could watch it all day long.