Kissing Frogs and Fairy Tale Endings: Britney Lewis
Publishing is like dating. It's all about finding the right match. Find the right one and things will align. Fall upon a bad or nit-so-good one and well...things will probably never fall into place. The first guest for this week is author Britney Lewis. A very special person whose writing journey might've involved kissing a few frogs before finding her HAE (in both the literal and figurative sense. She signed with Disney...more on that below). In our conversation, Britney discusses everything from knowing which manuscript is worth fighting for, schmagents, author social media expectations, and bringing back the undead (Zombies!).
1. Welp, the first question for these sort of things usually is the ‘how did you get your agent’ question, but you’ve had quite a bit of movement since your signing. Instead, please tell us about your journey to the yes (querying, going on submission, publication offer).
Phew. Where do I even start? It really does feel like so much of this has happened overnight, but I try to tell people that I’ve been writing with the intention to get traditionally published for the last 11 years, and the last year, alone, has been the best. I started querying The Undead Truth of Us in early April. I had a few, quick full requests that turned into rejections overnight. Then I participated in #dvpit (a book pitching event for un-agented, self-identifying historically marginalized authors & illustrators), where I got a few more requests, but those ultimately turned into nothing, too. In June 2020, I participated in #pitmad (a twitter pitch event, where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts), and everything changed. Within hours, hundreds of people had retweeted my pitch, and I had Authors like Emily X.R. Pan, and Brittney Morris sharing it, too. Not only that, but then TWO agents that had been reading requested a phone call, and countless others requested the full. The whole day I freaked out. By the end of the week, I had five calls set up, and 17 fulls in the hands of literary agents. By the end of week two, I decided to partner with Katelyn Detweiler of Jill Grinberg Literary. You can find the longer story here. Then Katelyn and I revised for two weeks straight, and my book went on submission on July 9th, 2020. By July 24th, we found out The Undead Truth of Us was going into an editorial meeting with the Head editor at a Major publishing house, and by July 28th, we learned they were taking my book to acquisitions--which is basically where a lot of books go to die. Cue all the freaking out here. Then, on August 12th, Disney officially offered to buy my book in a two-book deal with publication in Summer 2022! It was a whirlwind and a very exciting time for me. The longer story can be found here!
2. What particular advice would you give to fellow authors when dealing with rejection and considering offers? What are the biggest red flags?
Rejections are always hard, and everyone processes them differently. I try to tell people to use that energy and turn it into forward momentum. Art is subjective. So if one agent doesn’t like your story, that’s their opinion. If multiple agents don’t like your story, that’s a trend. Find out why they don’t like it (if you can. Though, most agents unfortunately give auto rejects). Connect with critique partners who are going to be honest with you. Fix the problem. And keep going. Take a break if you need it. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and then get back in there when you’re ready. The key isn’t just to “keep” going, it’s also to keep GROWING. You can query the same book for six years, never change it, and continue to get rejections. OR, you can query a new book (this counts as big revisions, too), with a better premise, a stronger plot, and jaw-gripping characters. That’s how you own your craft. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but this is what’s worked for me.
Now onto offers. A bad agent can be subjective, while a smagent (a shady-agent) HAS A TREND OF BAD BEHAVIORS. I say this because two people can have the same agent and have two totally different experiences. While, a group of people can have a smagent and share similar experiences. You can find out red flags by talking to past and current clients of the literary agent that’s offering. Ask them why they left (if they left), and ask them what they wished could have been done differently. If you can, look up that agents sales history on Publisher's Marketplace. Who are they selling books to? Is it consistent? Is it to houses you’re familiar with or that you’ve heard of? Do as much research on the agent as possible. What kind of agent are they, and does that particular agent line up to what you want? For example, shark agents aren’t for everyone. When you get “the call” ask the agent questions like, “What are your plans for my book? How do you tackle submission? Are you a career agent? How do you deal with conflict? What’s your communication style?” etc. Even if you forget a question, you can always request a second call before you make your decision. I think Alexa Donne might have a completed list of “questions to ask for ‘the call’” on her website. I also want to mention that newer agents don’t have big client lists or sales history, so it’s important to note what agency they work for (is that agency reputable?), and who trained that agent (is that agent reputable?). I understand this is all overwhelming, so please do connect with a writing community (Twitter, Instagram, youtube) and ask other writers/authors about their experience. You can also reach out to me!
3. The Undead Truth of Us is a speculative work with zombies! Warm Bodies, The Walking Dead, Dread Nation, Train to Busan, the undead are definitely a favorite undead creature. However, there are always mutterings from the trend crowd about things that are ‘over’. What compelled you to write a novel with zombies? What advice would you give to writers who may hear the ‘this is over’ talk?
The thing about trends is that they always come back. Sure, luck and timing play a big role in what sells in publishing, but nothing is ever “really” dead. Yes, all puns intended. Ha. I wrote The Undead Truth of Us, not because I love zombies (even though I do), but because I wanted to see zombies in a way I’ve never seen them before. I wanted to use them as a metaphor to explore humanity--love, grief, and death. So maybe zombies aren’t beautiful, but maybe their human side is still searching for what their dead side craves: connection—the kind that can only be reached through the heart and brain.
My advice? Write what you love, and write the story that calls to you. If you’re writing in a genre that people say are dead, prove them wrong. Write the story in a way that’s never been done before. And if you’re a BIPOC author, write whatever the frick you want.
4. So, a little birdie--or several birds--told me that you’re on Authortube. You’re also pretty active on Instagram and Twitter. What are your thoughts about social media expectations of authors? Quality over quantity? Or both?
Ah! Where are these birds coming from??? I mean, I guess the birds are true, though. Lol. I have an Authortube! It’s small, but it’s also a lot of work, so it takes time to put out content.
Always choose quality over quantity. Some people can do both, but if you can't, people can see right through that. They’ll know if you’re being authentic or not. So do what you actually like to do. For example, I’ve been doing wayyy more on Tik Tok than on YouTube because the platform takes less time to plan and create--meaning I can give more quality content with little time. It’s no secret, if you’re wanting to be an author, you have to have a platform and develop your brand. No, you don’t need one to get an agent or even a book deal, but when it comes to connecting to your audience, it’s extremely important. Dabble a little on all the platforms, then choose a couple to stick to.
5. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
Britney finds herself at risk of burnout when I absolutely can’t look at any more words. Doesn’t mean I can’t write through it, it means I DON’T WANT to. I also find myself burning out when I start getting really bad imposter syndrome. To take care of myself, I step away from my writing completely and do other things. Maybe that means I dance more (I like to dance competitive west coast swing), so I’ll do that. Maybe that means I walk my dog more, or play board games with my fiance, or splurge on the Sims for a few hours. Maybe I go to sleep early, wake up late, watch TV shows and read books that aren’t mine. All of these things really help me, and they really inspire me, too.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
6. The Undead Truth of Us also includes a good bit of dance. What are your top three dance movies?
Bring It On, Step Up, and Center Stage!
7. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
Sorry, not sorry, but the Twilight series got me through high school. I genuinely enjoyed the writing. Were there some problems? Sure. Absolutely. But did I enjoy the overall story and the movies? You bet your bottom dollar I did!
[Interviewer SN: Cosign.]
8. Guillermo Del Torro adapting your novel or a Vogue photoshoot with the cast of The Walking Dead promoting your work?
GUILLERMO DEL TORRO all day, baby! Vogue can come at me later.
9. Pitch your author brand to the tune of The Addams Family theme song.
Her stories are creepy, but not too spooky.
Dance-ridden, a touch of gory.
Full of mystery and the next Black love story
The Undead Truth of Us - SNAP, SNAP!
Ha, did I do that right????
Bio: Britney Lewis is the author of The Undead Truth of Us, set for release Summer 2022. She has a B.A. in corporate communications with an emphasis in business and art. She strongly supports We Need Diverse Books, and she’s an avid follower of #DVpit and #BVM. When Britney isn’t daydreaming about new stories, she can be found binge-watching TV shows with her fiancé and her pup or practicing West Coast Swing. She lives in Kansas City.