It’s likely true that Brent Weeks was presented to the world on one balmy summer night in New York in 2006. Legend has it his agent was enjoying a nightcap on a sidewalk patio in Brooklyn that fateful evening and—according to an anonymous friend sitting next to him—wondered aloud when the Next Great Novelist would emerge from the dark recesses of unpublished obscurity. By some accounts, a choir of angelic voices could be heard singing a wistful “Ahhhhh” in C minor when the sky opened up, and Weeks fell from the heavens directly into his agent’s lap.
But we’re not here to discuss legends, per se. We’re here to present a more believable story of writing, revision, research, rewriting, blood, sweat, tears, aphorisms, more revising and rewriting, and landing your dream agent.
First, Brent wrote a novel in college, a sprawling manuscript full of… words. Then he revised it. Then he revised it again. Then he abandoned the book entirely. But one particular character stuck with him, and he decided to take that character and…. Write a screenplay.
Which he then abandoned.
Then he wrote another novel, focusing entirely on this one kid. He called it
Reaper of Shadows Mortal. He went through every word to the point where he was changing things back to the way they were before his last editing pass. The manuscript sparkled. The climax shattered expectations, broke hearts, moved mountains.
Brent, being an industrious and intelligent fantasy reader, found some 40-odd authors whose books were similar to his and looked in the acknowledgements. The result of this research was a list of 33 agents who he thought he would be happy to have represent him. Some were longshots that he knew were too big for him. He tried anyway.
Fifteen never wrote back. Fifteen rejected him. Three were interested enough to ask to see more. Two dropped out after seeing the whole MS.
While waiting to hear the wet squish of rejection from those agents, he looked into writing conferences. As luck would have it, two agents from his list were going to the Willamette Writers’ Conference–and they both were accepting pitches! He almost didn’t go. The cost was a huge stretch for him and his wife. He went anyway.
He walked into that conference with a checklist of weapons:
great novel (or so he thought).
logline– wait, huh?
one paragraph pitch–what?
two minute pitch–ummmmm…
At this conference, one of the agents was… well, a little too strange for Brent. But the other one gave a talk that blew Brent’s mind. Donald Maass asked, “What is the one thing your main character would never do?” Brent imagined his response, and the agent followed with, “Now what happens to your novel if your main character does that?”
It was at that moment a small, hard shell in Brent’s brain cracked open with a faint “Ahhh, shit.” Because inside that shell lay the key to making
Mortal Then Dies A Hero twice as good. (What would Kylar never do? What would Durzo never do?)
He’d come to the conference thinking his novel was ready to sell. Now, knowing he needed to do a major re-write, he had to pitch it anyway.
The first pitch to Don Maass went something like this: “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon meets Pulp Fiction meets Batman.” Don gave Brent a very puzzled look, like he was really trying to follow and just had no idea where he was going. Weeks had blown it.
But the inimitable Maass knew that the people with whom he met at writing conferences were serious about treating writing as a profession. (Unlike many of the other 300 pitches that cross his desk every week.) So he told Brent to remind him that they had met at the Willamette Writers’ Conference in his next query letter. (Brent didn’t mention Don had already rejected this book.)
Nine months later, Brent was ready. He sent a second query. The blacker-than-black sky parted, and Don heard what may have been bells ringing—the sweet, tinny chime of a cash register. A mere two years later, Don sold the book to Orbit. It became a New York Times bestseller, and continues to sell well to this day. Oh, did you want to see some of this legendary correspondence? Well, I happen to know where you can get an exclusive look.
We’re celebrating Night Angel’s 10th birthday with a special edition Hardcover Omnibus, to be released in the US on September 18, and in the UK on September 20, 2018. (Because 10/10 would read it again.) If you haven’t already, pre-order a copy today!