Wednesday, August 17, 2011

8 WOW Wednesday: Anne Greenwood Brown on Climbing Through Windows

Today's WOW guest, Anne Greenwood Brown, writes MG and YA fiction on a quiet suburban street in Minnesota. LIES BENEATH, the first book in her debut series about mermaid assassins on Lake Superior, will be published summer 2012 by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books. You can "like" her on Facebook, or "follow" her on Twitter, or just say "Hey," when you pass her on the street.

Climbing Through Windows

by Anne Greenwood Brown

There are two kinds of people in this world: Control Freaks and Flow Goers. When it comes to writing, the Control Freaks outline. If you go with the flow, they call you a “Pantser.” I am a major Control Freak. I plan; I outline on index cards; I draw lots of arrows on Post-it notes. So it should come as no surprise that when it came to pursuing a writing career, I had The Master Plan to End All Plans.

What a waste of an index card.

My mother said not to worry. She said, "When God closes a door, he opens a window." I'm not a big fan of this line. I mean, it's pretty awkward climbing through windows, plus there's that big drop on the other side. But, of course, she was right. That's exactly what happened to me on my road to publication. Planning schmanning.

In April 2010, I was querying my second novel and finishing my third. (Don't ask what happened to the first. It did not meet with a pretty demise.) The second novel was a Serious Piece of Work. The third was a MG novel I wrote for fun and for my kids.

So, armed with that Serious Piece of Work, I went to my first writers' conference and prepared for the terrifying tradition known as the agent pitch session. I couldn't believe I was going to pitch my novel to honest-to-God literary agents from New York City! New York City, people! AGGGGH!

The First Door.
Friday morning, I met with an agent who shall remain nameless. She was everything my Midwestern mind conjured up when I thought of publishing professionals from Manhattan: tall, beautifully dressed, glossy, didn't pronounce the letter R. She proceeded to tell me that my Serious Piece of Work was derivative and uninspired.

And Then a Window:
But never fear! I still had another pitch session scheduled! Maybe agent Molly Lyons would like it. Based on the brochure, she looked nicer anyway. Plus she went to Amherst College, my dad's alma mater. I reasoned that she had to be nice to me because I knew all the words to the Amherst fight song.

Then a Second Door.
Thirty minutes before my pitch session with Molly, the conference coordinator announced that Molly was sick and unable to make the trip.

Then a Second Window.
But her colleague, Jacqueline Flynn, had come in her place!

Then Another Door.
I quickly googled Jacquie on my Blackberry. Her bio said she represented Nonfiction.

Moment where I Go with the Flow and Make Crucial Decision.
I almost bailed on the meeting. I'd already been told my Serious Piece of Work was a piece of something else. Why bother?

Nevertheless, I decided to meet with Jacquie, for no other reason than to practice my pitch. Strange thing though. When I sat down, I forgot to mention my Serious Piece of Work and instead told her about that MG novel I wrote for my kids.

Then a Window.
"That sounds interesting," Jacquie said. "Send me that."
So I sent my MG manuscript to Jacquie, expecting nothing. She was just being nice, right? She represented Nonfiction! Four months go by.

In August 2010, I get a call while in the fast-food drive thru. Honestly, by that time I'd nearly forgotten about my MG submission because I was deep into my fourth novel. This is how that conversation went:

Jacquie: Hi, Anne. This is Jacquie Flynn. I was at a hockey tournament this past weekend, and my son forgot his book at home.

Me: I'm sorry, who is this?

Jacquie: Jacquie Flynn from Joëlle Delbourgo Associates. My son forgot his book at home and he pulled your manuscript out of my bag for something to read. He loved it and told me to sign you. So I finally got around to reading it, and I think he's right.

Then a Door.
We submitted that MG project all fall and winter. The resounding response from editors was, "I love this, BUT..." There was always a "but," and there were no takers.

Finally a Big, Open Window.
By January 2011, I'd finished my fourth novel, LIES BENEATH*, a YA novel about mermaid assassins on Lake Superior. Jacquie agreed to send it out, and Random House Children's Books, Delacorte Press bought it within the week in a two-book deal.

Several months later, the translation rights are selling, and a film agent is submitting the story to studios.

So, if you’re a Control Freak like me and you think you have a clear idea as to how this whole publishing process is going to go down for you, forget it. You can’t plan for it, but the opportunities are there. The only thing you can do is jump through the windows, no matter how far the drop.

*Title may still change!


  1. Love this, Anne! It's too true, we can only plan to a point. But you've done the most important part . . . continued to write, submit, and put yourself in a position to get noticed.

  2. Great post, Anne! Way to keep moving, no matter what obstacles came your way. Many people would have given up after that first pitch. Congratulations on your success and what a story!

  3. Thanks for the comments - when it comes down to it, you just have to love to write. Otherwise, why bother, right?

  4. Mermaid assassins! I love it. (The Pirates of the Caribbean kind, eh? all slashy teeth and beautifully vicious?) Loved your story of doors and windows, too. How cool that your agent's son loved the MG novel! Fun to read that. :)

  5. Thanks, Carol. I wrote it before I ever heard of the movie (actually I haven't even seen the movie yet), but looks like mermaids are going to be making a big splash in 2011-2012!

  6. A child saying, "I like this."

    It happened for you.

    It happened with "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

    It happened with "Eragon."

    I am sure it has happened with others.

    Sounds like that is the trick.

    Now, if only I can find a child to read my book.

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