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How Shannon Delany’s cell phone novel ended up as a St. Martin’s Press book

After posting short stories to Textnovel.comShannon Delany (previously writing as Saoirse Redgrave) ended up with a St. Martin’s Press book contract for 13 To Life, a new YA paranormal werewolf novel. Shannon kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her experience:

What got you interested in cellphone novels?

I was a naysayer to until they changed their contract to make things fairer for authors and then I decided to test the system by posting two stories.

How did you find out about Textnovel (

13 to Life started as just a title and a very vague set of characters. I wrote it “by the seat of my pants” and even had readers participate in polls so I could use some of their choices to challenge my preconceived notions of where the story might go and how characters might look. I posted 2 brief serial sections daily, each with a “hook and a hang.” I incorporated the internet where and when I could to build more depth and interactivity (those links are now gone, though).

Could you give me a one-sentence description of what “13 To Life” is about? How long is it? How long did it take you to write?

My main one-liner is : A tale of teenage love, loss and–oh, yeah–werewolves. I went with this because although the werewolf presence is significant in the books, I’m dealing even more heavily with plain old humanity and our many mistakes and struggles. 13 to Life is not what many traditionally consider a standard werewolf (or monster) novel. I’ve had a number of authors who are generally not fans of werewolf stories say they loved mine because it wasn’t the norm.

The Textnovel version of 13 to Life took me five weeks to write (posting two short sections most days, morning and early evening). Then it was an additional month to flesh it out so I was generally satisfied.

After copyedits I think the debut novel in the series is right around 370 pages (a far cry from the original cellphone novel which was probably around 50 pages).  

What was the Textnovel contest called? What were the rules? How much did you win?

Geez. Hmm. In 2008 it was the only contest Textnovel ran, so I think it was simply Textnovel 2008. Rules were simple–you needed a certain number of “chapters” (I believe it was 20), you needed a decent popular vote (but didn’t need to be the most popular), needed to show a strong marketable story and voice and integrate the technology available in some way (that last bit being more of a suggestion than rule). Two of my stories wound up in the top group as the contest was getting ready to close and I focused my attention on 13 to Life.

I won $1,000 (which definitely helps on a farmstead during winter when hay’s running tight).  

You mentioned that you got agency representation — was this part of the contest winnings?

Yes, I still sort of chuckle when people ask how I got my agent and I can say, “I won him.”

Were you nervous about being the agency’s first client? What is the agency’s name and what’s your agent’s name?

Yes, I was definitely nervous about being the first client. I figured I’d be the guinea pig and that the third and fourth clients would benefit a lot more because of what my agent learned through working towards getting me published. I had a long phone conversation with him and (having heard a talented friend bemoaning the fact agents were nearly impossible to find) decided having someone in my corner was better than not having anyone. And, frankly, I’m a big believer that there’s still a lot for me to learn about all this (and I hope folks have patience with me) so having patience with someone else as they start out is just sort of what I’d expect. 

How did your agent approach St. Martin’s Press? Did he/she just send them your winning story? Propose a full-length book? etc.

He actually put out a press release about the contest win and St. Martin’s Press contacted us before queries were even out. Yes. I know. It all sounds crazy.

Wow, exciting that a movie producer and another major publishing house contacted you as well! Did your agent approach them? If not, how did they find out about you? What made you decide on St. Martin’s Press?

Yeah, the sudden attention blew my socks off. And all that attention was totally unsolicited (just that press release). I remember giggling a lot during those first few months because everything was so richly surreal. My agent chatted with all of them and asked me if I didn’t think 13 to Life could be a series. I had actually been chatting with my husband about that and knew I could get 4 or 5 books out of my characters and scenario with absolutely no stress, but I only really had three firmed up, so we asked about three and St. Martin’s Press agreed. I think the thing that really made me say yes to St. Martin’s Press was knowing how excited they were about my series and getting to talk to my editor quickly. Communication is VERY important in this business. Knowing my opinions and concerns are being listened to are big things for me.

Was it difficult turning your cellphone novel into a “traditional” novel? How long did it take you?

It took about a month. I knew from pretty early on what I really wanted to do with 13 to Life so it wasn’t like I needed to build brand new subplots or deepen characterization–I just needed the time and space in word count to make it work. When I started 13 to Life on it was November 24 and I only had until December 31 to complete it (and watch my son and run our farmstead)–there was no way I could pump out the quality and quantity I needed at that point for a full novel.

Why did you decide on the pseudonym Saoirse Redgrave?

I did it because I figured there’d be some backlash from people. One of my CPs told me repeatedly she didn’t think my participation was a good idea and I wanted to be able to just walk away if the whole experiment was a failure. 13 to Life was what I call a “cannon fodder” story initially. I was just shooting stuff out there to see if I’d get anywhere near target. I had almost nothing invested in it initially–until I really found Jess’s voice and I realized she and I have a bunch in common. The pseudonym was also partly because I know some people who have a real issue with fantasy or paranormal elements in writing and I balked at having them discover I was writing werewolves. Saoirse means “freedom.” I think every author and artist should have that. But it’s also miserable to spell, so now I’m being listed under Shannon Delany (Delany means “dark” or “defiant”). Eh. “What’s in a name, right?” 😉

How are you publicizing the book before its June 2010 release?

I joined 2k10
(a great group of YA authors making their debut in 2010), I’m lining up a blog tour thanks to some great authors who want to host me, I’ve reserved a spot at Free Book Friday Teens, I’m speaking at RT Booklovers’ Convention in Ohio and I’m making it clear that I’ll happily chat with nearly anyone who wants to talk to me or have me as a guest blogger. I was a teacher and I firmly believe that creative writing–and the arts overall–are necessary to encouraging the development of more creative personalities instead of destructive ones. Know a book club or creative writing group that wants a speaker? I’m game. We’ll have at least one more book trailer for book 1, and I’m also being mentioned in a couple magazines between now and then. Once book 1’s out and book 2’s on its way we’ll make an even bigger push (signings, a couple events to help service groups and charities I support–all that tie into the books) and the website will become much deeper and much more interactive for folks who want a more involved experience in the town of Junction.

You can find out more about Shannon and her book on the Class of 2K10 site