Letter Off Dead is off to the publishers (again). And a new manuscript is complete.

August 3rd, 2011

I’ve completed another manuscript on a new book. I think as of today it is officially done and ready to send to my agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun.

The new book is called A Matter of Life and Seth. It is, as Abi calls it, teen noir. A young adult murder mystery about a teen named Seth investigating the murder of his own mother. Seth, a recent high school dropout, comes from a rough neighborhood, but has a serious, complicated romance with one of the richest girls in town. While trying to solve the murder of his mom, he deals with issues of class, race, family and love. The book is violent and emotional.

I’m pretty happy with it. Nervous to find out what Abi thinks. Yikes.

Letter Off Dead is on its way to publishers this coming Tuesday!

July 31st, 2011

Thanks to the great work of esteemed agent and editor Abigail Samoun, of Red Fox Literary, Letter Off Dead is done–after many rounds of revisions–and is finally on its way to a group of “lucky” publishers. Let the bidding wars commence.

OK, kidding about that bidding wars thing. I’m just hoping some publisher will see the value in the story and give it a shot. Abi put together a great submission package, so we’ll say a prayer and hope for the best. I have no idea how long it takes to get a response when a real live agent is involved. We’ll see.

Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards

May 18th, 2011

My first book, The Tilting House, is a finalist in the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards, in the grade three-to-six category. It’s a pretty short list. I wish I knew some sneaky, underhanded way to get these brilliant Penn State kids to vote for my book…

Anyway, if you want to see the list, go here: http://tinyurl.com/3j6769k

It’s alive!

May 13th, 2011

Just a quick note to update the status on the long and winding journey from idea to publication. The esteemed Abigail Samoun is about to officially launch her agency. More on that later. In the meantime, I just sent her what I hope are final changes to the Letter Off Dead manuscript. Abigail had a handful of young readers read the manuscript and they all had the same issues with the story.

I’m not overly fond of writing to please focus groups, but I agree with their criticisms and am happier with the story after the changes.

Abigail The Esteemed will begin shopping around the story, likely in early June. I’m happy to let her take on that part of the process. In the meantime, I’m full steam ahead on another story. It is a yet untitled young adult murder mystery–intimate, violent, set in Tacoma and jammed with local characters and landmarks. Classic noir meets Stadium High School. Hilltop vs. The North End. And a bit of Romeo and Juliet.

Stand by for news.


Working on a new book

February 3rd, 2011

I’m getting close to done with the outline phase of the new book, an as-yet-untitled YA mystery set in Tacoma. I’m really excited about it. I can hear the voice of the main character rattling around inside my head.

I’m trying to think of a way to blog the book, but don’t want to force it. Letter Off Dead worked because it was a series of letters. But a mystery novel won’t work that way. I guess I could just do really short chapters. Any ideas, anyone?

O! The travails of publishing!

December 9th, 2010

Random House has officially passed on Letter Off Dead. And, might I add, dammit.

According to my editor, the still-esteemed Abigail Samoun, they passed on nearly the entire Tricycle catalogue, which is a bummer for everyone, because the Trike folks consistently had high standards and delivered great books.

The only lining on this black cloud is that they’re paying me the rest of my advance. And Abigail has promised to shop the book around a bit, assuming RH gives her permission.

This is drag, to be sure, but it’s the most common status in the publishing industry and I’ve been there before. My plan is to keep plugging away on promoting this book and keep plugging away on writing the next one.

In the mean time, I’ve got a fully-edited book based on a popular blog that has been carefully edited by a talented, meticulous editor. It’s ready to go to galleys. If anyone’s interested in publishing it, let me know.

And, might I add, dammit.


December 7 – That’s when the fate of Letter Off Dead is decided.

December 4th, 2010

On December 7, the list of proposed Fall 2011 books by the now defunct RH imprint, Tricycle Press, will be decided upon by Random House. “Letter Off Dead” is among that list. So on 12/7, it will either go forward with another Random House Children’s Books imprint, or go back into limbo, which may be appropriate, considering the subject matter, but dang.

In the email I received from my editor, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, she said: “Ugh. Makes my stomach twist up in a knot.”

That pretty much sums it up.

I’ve been reading and rereading the list of these imprints to figure out where I might possibly fit in. Here’s the rundown, from my ridiculously uninformed opinion:.

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers – This is cream-of-the-crop stuff. Bestsellers like Carl Hiaasen (who I love and who doubles as a best-selling crime novelist), Christopher Paolini (“Eragon,” which my son Abel loves) and Marc Brown (“Arthur,” about which my youngest daughter and I got into an argument–what kind of animal IS Arthur, anyway?). It seems highly unlikely I’d jump up to that level. I rate this one an unrealistic longshot.

Bantam Books publishes highly commercial paperbacks with a focus on movie and television properties as well as original paperback series. – Not a possibility, based on what I know about the way paperbacks work.

David Fickling Books -  dedicated to bringing the very best of England’s children’s books to the young readers of America. To make this list I’d have to travel back in time a few years, move to England, and change all “cookie” references to “biscuits.”

Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers – Another collection of seemingly bestsellers, such as R.L. Stine of “Goosebumps” fame and Louis Sachar, who wrote “Holes,” one of the greatest middle reader novels in the history of the universe. Maybe slightly less of a longshot than Knopf, but not by much.

Delacorte Press Trade Paperbacks – I should admit that I don’t really understand the whole paperback thing. I’m guessing you have to sell a bunch of hardbacks first to make this list, so I’m guessing this one isn’t gonna happen.

Dragonfly introduces children to talented and award-winning artists and writers through affordable paperback picture books. This isn’t me. I don’t do picture books.

Yearling Books – more paperbacks. Not gonna happen, as far as I understand it.

Laurel-Leaf is another paperback imprint that focuses on reprints. I’m not at the reprint phase yet, so not gonna happen.

Disney Books for Young Readers is based solely on Disney properties. Since there is, as of yet, no Letter Off Dead ride in Fantasy Land, this one is not a possibility.

Doubleday Books for Young Readers – the country’s oldest children’s book publisher, which, as far as I can tell, does only picture books and coffee table books. So no go.

Golden Books – In 1942, the launch of Little Golden Books revolutionized children’s book publishing by making high-quality picture books available at affordable prices. But since the titles include The Saggy Baggy Elephant and The Poky Little Puppy, it’s pretty unlikely Letter Off Dead will fit in there.

Knopf Trade Paperbacks publishes paperback editions of novels for middle and young adult readers originally published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers in hardcover. So first I’d have to make the Knopf hardcover list.

Random House Books for Young Readers does Dr. Seuss, Babar, the Magic Tree House, Junie B Jones. But it also includes middle reader and young adult. It seems like a long shot to go from a small independent like Tricycle right up to the mothership, so I’m gonna list this one as a stretch as well.

Robin Corey Books only does pop-up books. Could be cool, but not gonna happen.

Schwartz and Wade Books is a small little imprint, so maybe a possibility. When I see their list online, though, I only see maybe two middle reader books a year and no Young Adult. I’m pretty sure LOD fits in the YA category, so this will be a stretch, too.

Wendy Lamb Books says they focus on innovative middle-grade and young adult fiction by award-winning writers such as Christopher Paul Curtis, Peter Dickinson, Patricia Reilly Giff, Gary Paulsen, and Graham Salisbury. The imprint also seeks new talent and publishes many first novels. Hey, I’m a new talent! And my first book was a Junior Library Guild selection! They even sent me a certificate and a gold pin, so you could say I’m award-winning! Of all the imprints on the list, this seems like the best fit for Letter Off Dead. Wendy, if you’re reading this, I love you. Can I get you a coffee? And have you lost weight?

Then there’s Tricycle Press, which is still listed on their site, but is now officially closing it’s doors. Fare thee well, Tricycle. Your three-wheeling days are over, but may the words your brought into the world live on forever.

So there you have it: One good possibility, a handful of total long shots and a few not-gonna-happens. Say a prayer, would you?

How much money does a bestselling author actually make?

November 18th, 2010

While I wait anxiously for news on the future of my book, I thought I’d keep the conversation going with some related insights into the process. In fact, here’s one now:

I clearly don’t write for the money–based on the fact that I keep writing without making any–but it’s interesting to shine light on the myths of wealthy writers. I’m sure there are a few, but very few novelists can ever quit their day jobs.

Terry Cordingly is the Associate Director of Marketing at Tate Publishing & Enterprises and he blogs about the business side of publishing. Check out this fascinating post from him about just how much cash an official New York Times bestselling author actually brings home:


Aaarrgghh! My publisher is closing its doors!

November 17th, 2010

My book, Letter Off Dead, is being published by Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Or, should I say, it was being published by them. Late last week, I’m told, Random House informed Tricycle Press that they are closing them down.

I just spent the last three weeks on what I thought was the final push toward getting this book in shape for publishing. I’ve been blogging about it. On Monday, City Arts Magazine even called for an interview about the progress. All good fun, right?

Then, later that day, my editor, the still-esteemed Abigail Samoun called. I said, “How’s it going?”

“Well…” said Abigail, “not so good, really.”

She told me that Tricycle Press is being shut down. Random House, which purchased Tricycle last March as part of their acquisition of Ten Speed Press, ran the numbers and just can’t find a way to keep the imprint going. Abigail is out of a job there at the end of January.

I harbor no ill feelings toward the House of Random. It’s hard out there for a publisher. And while publishing may create these wonderful objects called books, it’s still a business. But this news still sucks.

So what does this mean for Letter Off Dead? It means I’m back in the most common of all publishing statuses: Wait And See.

The Tricycle staff is meeting with RH in early December to pitch my book (and all the others in their fall 2011 catalog). Abigail is optimistic that one of their other imprints will pick it up, because it has the following things going for it:

1. It’s young adult fiction, and YA fiction is hot right now.

2. It’s not a picture book, which means it translates to digital sales pretty well (woe to you, picture book illustrator, as sad as that may be).

3. It’s already got a proven following–10,000 visitors a month on this blog.

4. My first book, The Tilting House, is still selling well. Sold out its first printing in a month and currently sits at over 8,000 copies sold.

5. Most of the work has already been done. It’s ready to go to galleys. The cover illustration by Bagram Ibatoulline is done and by this early December meeting the cover design will be done as well. Abigail–heroic woman that she is– just emailed me and said, “Our designer is working on the cover and I told her to do her absolute-very-best-extra-spectacular job on it.” God bless you, Abi.

So right now it’s Wait And See time. Feel free to send up a prayer for the future of this book. And tell your friends about this blog so the numbers stay strong.


The glories of the editing process.

October 26th, 2010

Image of sample page edit for Letter Off Dead manuscript

Above is a sample page, with editor Abigail Samoun’s comments in place. These are just the in-page comments. Now multiply that kind of work times 267 (total number of changes), add on some fairly massive structural changes, multiply it by a deadline of November 15 (a little over two weeks) and you’ll have an idea what I’ll be doing with all my upcoming “free time.”

And might I add, yikes.

Submitted a “final draft” to the editor

October 22nd, 2010

I barely made my deadline to turn in a “final draft” of Letter Off Dead to my Tricycle Press editor, the esteemed Abigail Samoun.

The final word count of the blog was 76,000. The word count of the “final draft” was 60,ooo. This means whole subplots were removed (Mom is no longer dating. Dad only goes into the woods once). Massive plot rearrangements happened. Copious amounts of caffeine and ibuprofen were consumed. But it’s done. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s still far from final. This is just the beginning of numerous rounds of revisions and edits. Galleys are scheduled to be released in February, which means that major revisions will be done sometime before then. After that, copy edits (basically proofreading) happen for a few months.

I’ve decided to keep blogging about this process, because I like the idea of it being transparent along the way. The whole thing started as a blog, and I’m hoping it might be interesting to a few of you to see the inner workings of the publishing process.

If you find this boring, just don’t read it.



    Letter Off Dead is an actual transcript of letters sent between a 7th grade boy and his dead father. It covers the subjects of life and death, faith and doubt, fathers and sons.

    The textual transcript has been edited and presented here by Tom Llewellyn, a writer from Tacoma, Washington. The illustrations have been edited and presented by artist James Stowe, also from Tacoma. None of the content has anything to do with Tom's or James' beloved and very separate employers.

    • Amish Robot Amishrobot is a website by my friend Josh Penrod, a User Experience Manager of substantial talent, with a wacky view of the world.
    • ART by Stowe Featuring the illustrations of the masterful, ahem, illustration editor of Letter Off Dead, Mr. James Stowe.
    • Beautiful Angle Beautiful Angle, a letterpress poster project by Tom Llewellyn and Lance Kagey.
    • Feed Tacoma Tacoma blogs, all in one place.
    • The Angsty Writer Tacoma writer Megan Bostic sharing her angst in her distinct, sassy voice. Check her out.