How We Got Our Book Deal for Mirror Witch!
Updated: May 11
Hi, all—I’m Mary Morris, one half of Phoebe Walker! Because I’m active in the writing community in various ways and am fascinated by the publishing process, I’m a sucker for “how I got my…” blog posts, whether the thing that has been “got” is an agent, a deal, or some other publishing milestone. Here is the story of our path to publication!
A bit of background:
My best friend Jennifer “Jay” Bull and I co-write as Phoebe Walker, and that bit of serendipity grew out of our time writing letters to each other during the first years of the pandemic. Jay and I, along with our friend Jen, had started an editing and design company and were all trying to make it work. During this process, Jay asked me to edit a manuscript of hers. While reading it, I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, I have so many ideas for this”; however, those ideas went beyond a simple developmental edit. When I talked to Jay about it, she was enthusiastic about us becoming true writing partners, and thus “Phoebe Walker” was born.
Once we had Mirror Witch in shape for submission—after rewriting and editing, then getting feedback from beta readers and editing again—we decided to submit directly to publishers rather than agents. There were a few reasons for this, including time, which was certainly a factor. At the time, I had an agent, but after a few months, she had yet to read the chapters I’d sent, and Jay was getting antsy. What clinched the matter was entering #PitDark, a Twitter pitch contest for horror/dark fantasy, in October 2021 and getting a few publisher/editor likes. At that point, we got our submission package ready, ran it by some folks, and started sending it out.
I did extensive research into indie pubs and larger pubs that took unagented submissions before submitting, and we sent out our first queries in December 2021. (I have a great deal to say about what to look for in a publisher and how to vet publishers that catch your interest, but that will have to be another post for another day.) Once we began getting full requests from publishers that specified only partial submissions for initial submitting, our hopes began to rise, and then a few "likes" during the December #PitMad and the January 2022 #IWSGPit got us very excited.
Of course, the rejections came, as well—mostly form rejections of the type any querying writer is familiar. However, one rejection from an editor at City Owl Press offered a reason for the rejection that would turn out to be incredibly useful:
“Thank you for submitting to City Owl. While your story sounds interesting, I am going to have to pass on the chance to read the full manuscript as I was not drawn into the story as much as I need to be to champion it. I want to give you a tip because the query had me so excited. Too much info dump in the opening. It's a common mistake, but can be a killer.”
I thought, Well, damn. This editor, in particular, had felt like she might have been a good fit.
Then I thought, Hmm. Maybe we should look at that first chapter again.
And we did. And we overhauled it, moving some of that infodumpy stuff and rewriting to emphasize the action in the opening over establishing the backstory. And lo and behold… it felt so much better. However, I was bummed that we’d blown our one shot with that editor.
We continued submitting over the next month or so, getting more requests and more rejections, and then another pitch event, #SFFPit, rolled around in February. (So many pitch events in this story! I'm exhausted just thinking about it.) We pitched and got a few more “likes”… including one from that City Owl editor who’d rejected us back in January.
It’s not unheard of to get an industry like on a project pitch from someone who’s already rejected a cold query for that project, as I’m sure any querying author will tell you; agents and editors simply get so many queries each month, and a Twitter pitch is a very different animal than a query letter.
Still, we debated what to do with that editor’s “like,” and after debating it with each other and with various writer friends (all of whom were basically screaming “Submit again! Shoot your shot!” as your best writer friends will always do), we decided to shoot our shot. I began our second query to that editor with an acknowledgement of her “like” on our SFFpit pitch and her feedback on our earlier submission, explaining that we had taken her note and revised those early chapters. I explained that we were only querying again because of that “like” and our revision, and I told her that we would fully understand if she didn’t want to take another look.
Then, we waited—but not for long. Later that day, we received this message:
“Nice job on the revision. Please follow the instructions below to upload your full manuscript. I have quite a bit on my list, so if I don't get back to you in the next month or so, feel free to nudge me. I'm looking forward to reading it.”
Cue the fist pump of triumph! We sent off the manuscript and hoped for the best.
Less than three weeks later, we got our first offer of publication—not from the City Owl editor, but from another indie publisher. In the wake of that excitement, we went over the sample contract, decided that we were interested in continuing with this publisher if everyone else passed, and sent out our “offer of pub” nudges to the other editors we’d queried.
Things began happening very quickly after that. Two more offers of pub rolled in within days, along with more very kind rejections wishing us well—and an email from that City Owl editor, congratulating us on the offer and promising to read Mirror Witch over the weekend and get back to us.
In the end, we got five offers of publication, including one from our second-chance City Owl editor, Lisa Green. Jay and I met with Lisa over Zoom and immediately felt a connection: Lisa loved our book, but she also understood it, and it didn’t hurt that she and Jay bonded quickly over being professional psychics. When everyone in the Zoom loves to read fantasy and has glasses, short curly hair, and a similar sense of humor, the vibes are fated to be immaculate.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now—or know, if you’ve seen our publication information—we signed with City Owl Press for Mirror Witch, and working with Lisa and everyone at City Owl on the production of the book has been a delight. We have zero regrets, and we’re looking forward to putting (hopefully many) more Daughters of Hecate books out in the world with their help!
So that’s our story! If you have any questions or comments, please add them below—we love to hear from our readers. And if you’re a querying writer interested in learning more about publishing with an indie press, feel free to reach out to us via the Contact form here on the website or on Twitter @PhoebeWalker20 or @mary_loquacious. Our DMs are always open!
(If you’re new to the site and would like to read the first chapter of our urban-fantasy romance MIRROR WITCH for free, click here!)