By Samantha Sotto as told to Excel V. Dyquiangco
“The Slight Detour,” the offbeat European tour that the characters in Before Ever After take, is an amalgamation of my adventures during this backpacking trip, my other family vacations, my European honeymoon, and the time I lived and studied in The Netherlands.
The trip to Europe years before was a spur of the moment adventure that I took with a good friend during a time when we were both sick and tired of our corporate jobs and had just watched the movie Before Sunrise. The film hopelessly infected us with a bad case of wanderlust.
We flipped a coin on our lunch break to decide whether to take a camel tour of Mongolia or make our way around Europe. We hopped on a plane without any firm plans other than the fact that we needed to be in Athens on the date printed on our return ticket. While we were backpacking, my friend and I signed up on a whim for a quick tour around Austria. We saw a little tour counter at the train station called “Bob’s Bavarian Mountain Tours” – how can you resist a name like that? We were the only ones on the tour apart from our tall blond tour guide. He was our age and we had tons of fun just laughing in his van. He even volunteered to ditch the van and take us around in his dad’s convertible instead.
I lived, studied, and traveled through Europe and have always been drawn to its crooked cobblestone alleys and tucked away corners. These forgotten nooks whispered stories that the history books left out. The “gaps” I found between by my travel scrapbooks and formal research became the places and times Max, my main character in my story, filled in with his secrets.
Max’s style as a tour guide was heavily inspired by the walking tours I’ve taken around London. They’re offbeat and fun. The guides are always hilarious –whether you’re visiting crumbling cemeteries at night or following the trail of Jack the Ripper.
The Road To Publishing
When my brother’s appendix burst and my family took turns staying with him at the hospital, I decided to read The Time Traveller’s Wife during my “shift.” While I liked the book, the death of one of its main characters gave me a “hangover.” It made me think about creating a story with a character that couldn’t die.
So the book was born out of necessity. I had three hours to kill while waiting to pick up my son from school and I needed something to do that didn’t burn a hole in my wallet. I decided to kill time at a cafe near my son’s school by writing a book. I figured that it was cheaper than driving all the way home and spending money for gas and toll fees.
It might have been the Dr. Who marathon I had just emerged from or the “hangover” I was nursing after reading the Time Traveller’s Wife (I couldn’t stop crying about Henry!) or a combination of both that made Max, my main character, hitch a ride with me that afternoon. I didn’t know much about him then, except that he had a talent for staying alive, had a soft spot for chickens, ran an offbeat European tour, and was not a vampire. I began to wonder more about his “lifetimes” and the people he had met along the way. That’s when I discovered that he had a wife, or rather, a widow – who had no idea who he really was. I knew then that I had to hop aboard Max’s Volkswagen van and take a detour into his and Shelley’s story.
The book was finished a year later. I had no intention of publishing the book when I started writing it. The dream began when I typed “The End” and my husband asked me what I was planning to do with the manuscript.
I stumbled upon a second hand copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published on a random trip to the mall and took it as a sign. That’s where I picked up the basics of the process and discovered that I needed to find a literary agent. Google became my best friend during my three-month agent hunt. I scoured the web for agents whom I thought would be a good fit for my book. I made a shortlist, sent out my query letter, and crossed my fingers. But I didn’t send out my letter to everyone on my list. There was an agent that I particularly liked and so I decided to “save” her until I got feedback from the other agents. I was rejected a number of times, but luckily, I also received requests.
When about four or five agents had my full manuscript, I found the courage to send my letter to her. She read my query, requested for the full manuscript the next day, read the book overnight, and made me an offer before the other agents had finished reading what I had sent them. She asked me to make a few revisions and when the book was ready, she pitched it to publishers. After about a month, she sold the book. The title of the book, meanwhile, came out after a long brainstorming process with my editor and agent. It was not the original title of the book. The original one was horrible. I’ll take it with me to the grave.
So in effect the most challenging part of the process was all the waiting it involved. I just tried to keep myself busy while I was querying agents so that I wouldn’t go crazy staring at my inbox.
Being the first Filipina to be represented by the internationally-acclaimed Random House shouldn’t matter that much. Pursuing your dreams isn’t a race so I don’t really think it’s a big deal whether you achieve it ahead of anyone else. Everyone’s journey is unique. I think Wayne Gretzky sums it up best: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
When my new book came out, the only thing that has changed is the amount of email I receive. Answering everything takes time, but I figure that if a person took the time to write me to show her support or to express her appreciation of my work, I should be grateful.
MY MONEY LESSONS
Samantha Sotto attests that having a book published is not done overnight. Here she shares some tips on how to get your manuscripts in print.
- Go back to it. Let your manuscript “marinate” before editing it. It’s good to let some time pass before going back to your work so that you can look at it with a fresh eye.
- Research. Research literary agents well. It’s easy to get scammed. Make sure the agents you send your manuscript to are accredited and work for reputable literary agencies. Legitimate agents don’t charge “reading fees.”
- Send in batches. Send your query letters in batches. This way, you can learn from the feedback you get before going through your entire shortlist of agents. It will help you determine if it is your query letter or your actual manuscript that needs polishing.