Author Interview – Leah Cypess

13 May

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

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Hey all!

So today it’s my pleasure to introduce to you author Leah Cypess! Her debut YA fantasy novel, MISTWOOD, was just released earlier this month; and so far, it’s been getting rave reviews! I highly suggest you check it out. She’s even got a blurb for MISTWOOD from author Megan Whaler Turner, whose novel, THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA, is a favorite of Leah’s (and is another book I suggest you check out). Now if that isn’t just icing on the cake for a debut author, I don’t know what is!

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Vanessa:  Thanks so much, Leah, for joining us – and congrats on having your first novel published! How does it feel?

Leah: It feels great!  This is a goal I’ve been working toward for a very long time, and every little step along the way has been incredibly exciting.  Walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on my shelves was a surreal moment.

V: Your novel, Mistwood, is now in stores. Tell us a bit about it.

L: Mistwood is the story of an ancient shapeshifter bound by a spell to protect the kings of a certain dynasty. And of a confused girl found in a forest who is told she is that ancient shapeshifter, even though she can’t remember anything about her past. Possibly they’re the same story… possibly not. She’ll have to figure it out while protecting the current prince, navigating his intrigue-filled court, and making sure nobody finds out that she has lost both her memory and her powers.

V:  I read that you were a publishing house slush pile pick! What was that experience like? How long did it take to hear back?

L: With Greenwillow, the experience was fantastic and incredibly fast.  I had previously submitted a different manuscript to my current editor, Martha Mihalick, and she had emailed me a very nice rejection letter saying that she liked the manuscript, explaining why she wouldn’t acquire it, and inviting me to send my next book.  Mistwood was already finished, so I sent her a query with the first three chapters.  She emailed me within a month asking me to email (not snail mail!) the rest of the manuscript; and then she emailed me 7 days later to say that she loved it and was going to pass it around to the other editors at the imprint.  Less than a month after that, I had an unofficial offer.

V: Are you considering getting an agent now? Did you ever wish during the publication process that you had one? Why did you decide to forgo one in the first place?

L: I got an agent as soon as I received the unofficial offer, because let’s face it — I had been trying to get published for years, and now HarperCollins wanted to buy my book?  I would have sold it to them for a couple of free movie passes.  I was aware that’s not the best frame of mind for entering negotiations, so I told my editor I would want to get an agent to negotiate the contract.  They recommended Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman, who had previously sold them Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, another YA high fantasy.  Even though I had already verbally accepted the offer and thus not left him much wiggle-room, Bill negotiated a great contract for me.

I originally decided to forgo an agent 15 years ago, when I started submitting my writing to publishers.  At that time, the other writers on various listserves I belonged to were split down the middle as to whether it was better to go with agents or submit directly to editors.  By now, I think, the consensus has come down more on the agent side.  (Months after signing my contract, I found out through the grapevine that Mistwood was one of the only unagented manuscripts my editor had ever acquired.)

Right before I submitted Mistwood, I decided to switch tracks and try the agent route instead.  I had sent 3 previous manuscripts exclusively to editors, and each of them got positive responses — at least one revision request per manuscript, multiple requests to send my next manuscript, two trips to the acquisition committee — but no sale.  It seemed like I was almost there but somehow not managing to bridge that final gap of getting the right manuscript to the right editor at the right time, and I thought an agent could help.  So I sent queries to 10 carefully-researched agents, and got 10 immediate form rejection letters.  Even though ten agents is not a lot, by this time I was getting requests for fulls on at least half of the queries I sent to editors; and I realized that by switching over to agents, I was essentially throwing away the 15 years of credibility I had built up with various editors.  (I also considered the possibility that maybe Mistwood just wasn’t as marketable as my other books.  But Greenwillow was one of the first imprints I sent it to, and they expressed immediate interest.)

V: How did you research to determine if you were getting a fair deal or not with your novel?

L: Like I said, I wasn’t going to haggle over price; I had already unofficially accepted the offer.  With respect to the specific terms of the contract, I read the contract in its entirety, checking it against SFWA and SCBWI’s contract guides.

V: Would you recommend that other writers follow your path to publication or not, and why?

L: I honestly don’t know.  Obviously, my path worked out very well for me, but there were also a lot of frustrations along the way — among other things, if you have an agent, publishers will usually get back to you faster than if you are a lone writer.  On the other hand, I’ve been told that getting an agent can be just as difficult as getting an offer from a publisher, and once you’re past that hurdle you still have to go on submission to editors — two rounds of anxiety instead of one. So I would encourage writers to think about the pros and cons of each path and make an informed decision.

V: I saw in the bio of your website that you studied biology and law by mostly your mother’s guidance. Do you feel regret for the years spent studying and building a career in a “safe” field for the sake of being, as your mother put it, practical?

L: I regret studying biology; I never used any of that knowledge, I’ve forgotten a lot of it, and since I was always terrible at lab work, it made my college experience much less pleasant than it could have been.  I really wish I had studied history instead.  I’ve always been interested in history and I think it is incredibly important.

I don’t regret studying law.  I found law school incredibly fun, for the most part.  The analytical thinking used in legal research is something I really enjoy, plus I took a lot of non-practical but interesting courses involving constitutional philosophy and social issues.  Working at a law firm was grueling, but also a good experience (now that it’s over!); plus, the money I earned gave me the ability to write full time after I quit.

V: What do you enjoy most about writing? Do you have any writing must-haves for inspiration?

L: What I enjoy most are those times when I get an idea and it just flows — the words coming so fast that I’m scribbling to keep up with my characters.  I don’t have any writing must-haves; this is a good thing, since I’ve done a lot of my writing in random places like the playground or the subway.

V: Are you working on another project? Could you tell us a bit about it?

L: I’m working on a companion book to Mistwood, set to be published in 2011.  I can’t tell you about it, unfortunately, because I’m deep in revisions and don’t want to accidentally set anything in stone. 🙂

V: I guess we’ll just have to wait and be patient then! Okay, last question. If you could travel back in time, when (and where) would you go?

L: This answer will change depending on what I’m researching at the time.  Right now, I’d love to see what 12th-century Jerusalem looked like, or get a peek at 16th-century Venice. (As a tourist in a protected bubble, I hasten to add!)

V: Thanks so much Leah!

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

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Leah Cypess is the author of MISTWOOD. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. You can follow her on Twitter, Goodreads or check out her site.



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20 Responses to “Author Interview – Leah Cypess”

  1. Samantha W May 13, 2010 at 1:55 AM #

    Just when I’m in the middle of reading Mistwood, I also get to read an interview with its creator! And there’s going to be a companion book? I’m so stoked! 😀

    • Vanessa May 13, 2010 at 11:44 AM #

      I’m super excited about the companion book as well!!

      • Leah Cypess May 13, 2010 at 8:37 PM #

        Thanks, you guys! And yes, I am revising the companion book as I type this. (Well, not _exactly_ as I type this. But you get the idea.)

  2. Sarah J. Maas May 13, 2010 at 1:58 AM #

    AMAZING interview, V and Leah!!

    I actually went to THREE Barnes & Noble in my area this past weekend, looking to buy MISTWOOD, but they were SOLD OUT at every freaking store! I finally found one sort of nearby (like…20 mins away, lol), and called them up to beg them to hold a copy for me until Saturday! I’m SO freaking excited to read MISTWOOD, you have no idea!!!

    • Vanessa May 13, 2010 at 11:45 AM #

      Thanks! I still haven’t seen MISTWOOD in stores yet. I had to order mine in!

    • Leah Cypess May 13, 2010 at 8:38 PM #

      Really? That’s so exciting (although, not for you, I realize)! I just found out today that the book went into a second printing – yay! – so hopefully there will be more copies around soon. 🙂

      • Sarah J. Maas May 13, 2010 at 8:40 PM #

        OMG wow!!! Congrats!!! That’s so wonderful! 🙂 I seriously groveled with the B&N to hold onto the book until Saturday. I think they thought I was bonkers. 😛

  3. Kat Zhang May 13, 2010 at 7:34 AM #

    I just finished reading the three sample chapters online, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on the rest. Congratulations on a great debut, Leah!

    • Leah Cypess May 13, 2010 at 8:39 PM #

      Thank you! I hope you enjoy it.

  4. Savannah J. Foley May 13, 2010 at 11:12 AM #

    Great interview Leah and Vanessa. It was so intriguing to see a success story in the non-agented route, and I love how it shows that we all have a different path to publication. I’m so glad it worked out for you!

    • Vanessa May 13, 2010 at 11:47 AM #

      I had a great time interviewing Leah! The story about her road to publication is just so interesting!

    • Leah Cypess May 13, 2010 at 8:45 PM #

      Thanks! There was a survey done among the Tenners by Jen Nadol, author of The Mark, and apparently 18% of us made our first sale without agents. (http://community.livejournal.com/10_ers/377542.html)

  5. Julie Eshbaugh May 13, 2010 at 2:03 PM #

    Leah, it was great to get to know a bit about you through this interview. Your story is definitely inspiring! Mistwood sounds fantastic; I can hardly wait to read it. 🙂
    Vanessa, thanks for introducing Leah to us! You did a great job with the interview.

    • Vanessa May 13, 2010 at 6:31 PM #

      Thanks Julie!!! 😀

    • Leah Cypess May 13, 2010 at 8:46 PM #

      Thanks! I hope you enjoy it.

  6. Biljana May 13, 2010 at 4:23 PM #

    Fantastic interview!

    Leah, I was ready to read Mistwood even before the interview, and now I’m just itching to buy it and crack it open. I can’t wait to have it in my hands!

    And I agree with Savannah, it’s great to hear a non-agent success story :). Congratulations on your first novel! 🙂

    • Leah Cypess May 13, 2010 at 8:46 PM #

      I hope you acquire it soon! And thank you.

  7. Vee May 14, 2010 at 2:46 AM #

    Yay! Awesome interview Vanessa and Leah 🙂 I loved reading about Leah’s route to publication submitting directly to publishers. Pretty interesting and cool.

    I’ll be looking out for Mistwood next time I’m shopping 😀

    • Vanessa June 19, 2010 at 2:51 PM #

      Thanks Vee!! I thought Leah’s road to publication was very interesting as well! You don’t hear about many authors getting deals directly, without agents.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Book Recommendation: Mistwood « Let The Words Flow - June 19, 2010

    […] Mistwood is our book of the month for June, and we thought we’d give you a little insight as to why! And in case you missed it, you can read the interview we did with the author of Mistwood, Leah Cypess, here! […]

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