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Monday, November 11, 2013

We Hear the Dead author Dianne Salerni

This week I have author Dianne K. Salerni here to tell us about her journey as a writer, from her small beginnings as a self-published author to being picked up by one of the big six for a three book deal - every writer’s dream.

First off, tell us what you were doing before We Hear the Dead –

Before I published We Hear the Dead as an un-agented author with Sourcebooks in 2010, I self-published that same book under the title High Spirits with iUniverse. This was back in 2007 – before the explosion of e-books … before iUniverse was bought out by Author Solutions … and back when self-publishing was still a dirty word.
High Spirits wasn’t the first book I’d written. I’d previously written two MG novels and attempted a couple more, as well as a non-fiction book on the Revolutionary War in Pennsylvania. I made several half-hearted attempts to seek publication, but I was prone to giving up quickly.  My husband was the one who suggested self-publishing as a way to get a book to readers and find out how it was received. We engaged iUniverse without seeking any other route to publication for that particular novel.

How did you get from there to see the book in print under its new name We Hear the Dead?

As I said, self-publishing was still a dirty word in 2007, and marketing self-published books was really hard. But I made a pretty good attempt at it, and even helped establish a cooperative of like-minded authors for the purposes of cross-promotion and emotional support. High Spirits received a number of really good reviews, but sales were slow.
Then, in 2009, the book caught the attention of an editor at Sourcebooks – and a producer in Hollywood. (Amazon Recommends gets the credit in both cases.) Within a few weeks, I signed a book contract to publish a revised version of High Spirits under the title We Hear the Dead and, almost simultaneously, a film option with One Eye Open Studios.
We Hear the Dead released in 2010, but fruition on the film option took longer. A 10-minute short film titled The Spirit Game premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and the producer is now pitching the premise as a possible television series. There is still hope!
A trailer for the short film can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/64738099

Did you make any mistakes along the way?

My biggest mistake was that I had no idea how to negotiate a contract, and I made several mistakes related to option clauses. I had no professional advice and no advocate. I did ask one of my self-published author buddies who’d also scored a contract with a small publisher if I needed an agent, and she said no. I believed her. She was wrong.
However, if I had gone seeking an agent with a contract in hand, I might have ended up with someone who wanted an easy sale – not someone who was really good for me. Things looked dark for a while, but months later, I ended up with the right agent.

What was the highlight of that experience?

The highlight of my publishing experience with Sourcebooks was participating in the launch event for their new YA imprint at Books of Wonder in NYC – followed by a memorable dinner at a nearby Cuban restaurant, where I (accidentally) sent the son of the company owner looking for olives to put in my martini. (He asked if I was enjoying my drink. I said it would be better with olives. When he ran off to talk to the bartender, the editors and authors at my table were quick to clue me in to who I’d just sent on an olive run. Ooops! Well, he asked!)


Want to know how Dianne acquired her agent and sold The Caged Graves to Clarion Books? Come back on Wednesday for part two of how Dianne moved from self-published, to big-six.


Natalie Aguirre said...

Fantastic interview. I didn't realize Dianne started as a self-published author. I'm impressed with Sourcebooks as a publisher so it sounds awesome that Dianne started there. I'm a huge fan of Dianne's. Can't wait to read her new book.

Angela Brown said...

Such a wonderful story of getting out there, self-publishing and getting a chance to get picked up :-)

StratPlayerCJF said...

Great interview, Dianne!

It's refreshing to hear that talent eventually pays off. :)

Of course, that talent first has to write, and then actually finish what it started writing, and then get the work out there in every possible way, and keep writing, and keep working, and keep on doing it, and not giving up, no matter how long it takes.

But other than that and a healthy splash of good fortune, there's really nothing to this writing business, right? ;)

Crystal Collier said...

Yay! Every writers dream, indeed. It's amazing when you look at the whole long journey, where it starts and how a success gets to be just that. Dianne, thank you for your inspiring words. Awesome.

Julie Flanders said...

What a great story and an inspiring journey. Congratulations, Dianne! Thanks for sharing with us.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Even though I know Dianne and already knew some of this backstory, that was still a fun interview. Love the olive story! Hadn't heard that before.

Johanna Garth said...

It's great to read your experience Dianne. If it makes you feel any better, I'm a lawyer and when I tried to negotiate my contract with the agent I signed with in the spring she kindly told me no on every bullet marked point and assured me she'd push just as hard when it came time to negotiate on my behalf...so my knowledge of a contract was...you know, kind of useless ;)

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Oh how the world has changed. Yes, self-publishing was a dirty word in 2007.

Huntress said...

Excellent trailer!

Julie Musil said...

I love hearing about other writers' journeys! Thanks for the fun interview.

Robin said...

Very interesting Dianne. I have a migraine right now, so forgive me if I ask something that should have been clear... Did your agent help you to navigate the existing contract that you had already signed? Or was the agent helpful in your Next contract? Or both? And how did you find this person vs the one just looking for The Easy Sale? I hope this isn't coming off as nosy. I am really curious. I hope to one day NEED this information desperately:)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments! And Robin -- it's not nosy at all.

My agent negotiated future contracts for me. However, she did get the one weird option clause straightened out in the contract I negotiated myself so that I could move on in my career.

I suppose when I made the comment about agents looking for an easy sale, I meant this: When I signed with Sara, I knew it was because she believed in my work. If I'd gone looking for an agent with an offer from Sourcebooks in hand, I might not have been SURE that an agent believed in my writing, or was just happy to negotiate a contract that was already on offer.

There are plenty of agents who would want to read the manuscript first and still might say "no thank you" if it didn't appeal to them -- offer or no offer. But I have heard of agents who offer representation without even reading the manuscript, if there's an offer on the table. It might work out great anyway -- or maybe down the road, it might not be a good author/agent fit.

I was unhappy when I did not get an offer of representation as soon as I started looking, but the months of rejection were worth it because they spurred me to write a better manuscript before I found Sara!

Liz A. said...

Oh, how the book market has changed. I wonder how much more change is in store.

Unknown said...

I LOVE the story of your publication journey better than anyone else's It's like a beacon in the dark, promising that if a writer tries, does the right things, and doesn't give up, they actually can advance and make it to the big leagues! It couldn't happen to a nicer person - I'm so happy for you and grateful to know you. <3

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Well, now, aren't you the tricky one? Serializing this post is a sure way to get "buy-ins" on the next installment.

Interesting stuff. Some of it I already knew, but it's a story we all need to hear, because your successful journey is the beacon of light in publishing's dark moldy tunnel. So to speak.

Mina Burrows said...

What a great interview and an awesome journey.

Lots of things have changed since 07, huh? Very cool.

So happy for you!

Elise Fallson said...

Wonderful interview, thanks for sharing your writing journey with us Dianne. Sending the company owner's son for olives made me laugh. I really hope the tv series project pulls through, that would be incredible!

Robin said...

Yes, we learn so much on our publication journey. So fun to read more about your story!