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July 16, 2008

How I got here, Part 9: The Tale of THE MAZE RUNNER

This book has had quite the journey, and there’s so many little lessons wrapped up in its tale, that it needs to be told. I think I’ll do it in the form of a timeline.


Fall 2005: I did some serious thinking about my author career. The JIMMY FINCHER SAGA was complete, the fourth book having come out in August that year. Those 4 books had been with a small regional publisher, and had done very well, relatively speaking (20,000 or so sold).

But I’d known from the very beginning that I wanted more, much more.

My publisher at the time wanted another book, and I was dinking around with some ideas. But I made a very important decision. I would no longer settle for small regional sales. I’d either make it nationally, or I’d never have another book come out.

Nov 2005: I went to bed, and somehow this idea popped in my head about a bunch of teenagers living inside an unsolvable Maze full of hideous creatures, in the future, in a dark, dystopian world. It would be an experiment, to study their minds. Terrible things would be done to them. Awful things. Completely hopeless. Until the victims turn everything on its head. I thought of it as LORD OF THE FLIES meets ENDER’S GAME meets HOLES.

And then the “twist” popped in my head, and all hope of getting any sleep that night was gone.

I got up, went downstairs, and jotted notes for a couple of hours on the basic story.

Dec 2005 – Mar 2006: I wrote the book. It ended up at 68,000 words. I felt like it should be longer, have more depth, a lot more character development. But the STORY was so cool, and I was so in love with it, I lost patience. I started submitting to agents. Looking back, it was a mistake. The book wasn’t ready.

Feb 2006: I drove Stacy Whitman of Mirrorstone Books to the airport after a writer’s conference. She really loved the concept of the book, and told me to send it to her.

April 2006: Everyone rejected me, except for my former agent, Jenny Rappaport. She thought it needed some work, kind of said “maybe.” She was changing agencies, and told me she’d get back to me. Meanwhile, Stacy also said it needed a lot of work, and promised an editorial letter when she could get to it.

May-June 2006: I once again showed impatience and abandoned MAZE (thinking I’d wait and see what happened with Jenny and Mirrorstone) and started writing a book that would end up being called THE WORLD SIFTER (another story for another time).

July 24, 2006: Jenny called me and offered representation. She still thought the book needed work, but decided to send it out to a handful of publishers to see their reactions. If it got rejected across the board, we’d do some major rewrites. (In hindsight, this seemed like a terrible mistake. If the book needed rewrites, it needed rewrites. But Jenny and I were both young and new in this business.)

Aug-Nov 2006: We received some very nice rejections, which made me realize this book had a lot of potential. The editor from Harper Collins said she had a hard time letting it go, but in the end the committee just couldn’t commit to it. Another editor said I was an excellent worldbuilder, but the writing and the characters weren’t strong enough. Out of 5 submissions, we received 5 personalized rejections, all of which basically said it just wasn’t quite there.

Nov 2006: Having met Lisa and Chris from Shadow Mountain, who’d had a ton of national success with FABLEHAVEN and LEVEN THUMPS, I decided to submit to them. They rejected it, but liked my writing and potential enough that we eventually ended up partnering on THE 13TH REALITY series. In fact, my contract specifically said they had no rights to MAZE since they’d rejected it.

Dec 2006-Dec 2007: I completely put MAZE in the closet, too excited about 13TH REALITY and with too much work to do. I knew it needed to be rewritten, but didn’t feel like I had the time or energy to do it.

Jan 2008: Stacy Whitman wrote me a very detailed editorial letter on MAZE. Yes, it was a very long time after I’d submitted it to her, but I certainly don’t blame her. She has plenty to do without devoting serious time to a book that’s not that great.

But man, this letter was brilliant. She nailed everything that was wrong with it. I decided that despite everything going on with 13TH REALITY, I could at least devote enough time to rewrite the first 50 pages of MAZE. Stacy agreed that Mirrorstone would make a decision based just on that and a synopsis. And so THE MAZE RUNNER officially became a proposal, not a full manuscript.

Feb 2008: I spent a full week working on those first 50 pages. You can find out some of the things I learned from that by reading a prior post I did: CLICK HERE. (I never did a Part 2, by the way. I couldn’t think of anything else to say about it.)

Not only had Stacy given me some great advice, I’d grown a lot as a writer in the last couple of years. The rewritten 50 pages were about 1,328 times better than the original. In my humble opinion.

By the way, along about here, I decided to part ways with Jenny. Please don’t read anything into that – I just felt it was time for me to move on. Sometimes business relationships work out, sometimes they don’t.

Mar 2008: Stacy told me that she loved the rewrite, and would send it to committee with her full endorsement. I’ll just say here that they ended up rejecting me, right before I got the eventual deal. Stacy was disappointed, and so was I, but they have a very limited number of titles. A lot of people there liked it, but in the end not enough. You can read Stacy’s reaction to my deal on her blog: CLICK HERE. I owe her a LOT!

April 2008: My good friend, Sara Zarr, author of the 2007 National Book Award finalist STORY OF A GIRL, kept telling me how awesome her agent is (Michael Bourret). I believed her, and took advantage of her recommendation. I emailed him the proposal for MAZE. (You can read Sara’s reaction to my deal: CLICK HERE.)

May 2008: Michael liked MAZE enough to sign me. We spent 2 weeks going back and forth, making changes to the proposal. I realized he’s very good at what he does, and once again MAZE became better. The biggest thing he did was push me to come up with ALL the backstory, even if no one ever sees it. I can’t tell you how valuable that was.

Once we were both satisfied, Michael submitted MAZE as a proposal (50 pages, synopsis) to 10 publishers.

June 19, 2008: Michael calls me while I’m at lunch with my mom and family. He asks me how I’m doing. I say fine. He says he bets I’m about to be a lot better. I say hit me. He tells me that Krista Marino from Delacorte has made an offer. Later I google Delacorte and realize they’re an imprint of Random House (I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know that). It hits me then just how big a deal that offer was.

June 24, 2008: Unfortunately, I can’t say much more. Some agents are open about their deals with the public, some are not. Michael has asked me not to give any details. But suffice it to say that on this day, the deal became official, and it was much better than the original offer.

So there you have it. THE MAZE RUNNER, after being kicked around the block a few times, finally has a home. I owe enormous thanks to Stacy, Sara, Michael, and Krista. All of them believed in me and made this happen.

It’s scheduled for a Fall 2009 release, which means I have until September 15th to (re)write the rest of the book. That’s 2 months from yesterday.

Folks, I have a LOT of work to do.

EDIT: And the rest, as they say, is history…

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