Since Publishers Weekly ran a story about Brittany Geragotelis, an unrepresented aspiring writer with a self-published YA novel and a huge online following, her life has taken a dramatic turn. Geragotelis’s novel, Life’s a Witch, self-published this fall via Amazon/CreateSpace, has been acquired at auction by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in a three-book, six-figure deal that features an e-book prequel series to be released in 2012. Life’s a Witch will be published in fall 2013 and a sequel will be released in 2014.
The deal was negotiated by Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of S&S Books for Young Readers and the author’s literary agent, Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. S&S has U.S. and audio rights to the books and Gerogatelis retains foreign rights. Gerogatelis will be edited by BFYR senior editor Alexandra Cooper whose authors include Jane Yolen, Nikki Grimes and Heather Vogel Frederick.
The books were sold at an auction that included at least four major publishers, including Amazon, which Gerogatelis used to self-publish Life’s a Witch last year. The initial release in the deal will be a three e-book prequel series called What the Spell? slated to start in September 2012. The three e-book episodes of What the Spell? (priced at 99 cents each) will then be released as a collected book in December 2012. Life’s a Witch is the story of Hadley Bishop, descendant of a woman executed for being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. She’s a teen witch in contemporary times and must face down an evil and supernatural presence from the past while dealing with the usual problems of a popular high school teenager.
Geragotelis’s story is all the more remarkable since it has all happened since December 2011, a time when Geragotelis would have settled for just getting an agent, let alone a six-figure book deal. After years of rejections from publishers and agents, Gerogatelis, an aspiring author with six unpublished novels, initially published a new work, Life’s a Witch, on Wattpad, the online writing community, and ended up developing a large and enthusiastic following (more than 16 million reads) for the book. Crediting the support of fans who wanted a print edition, Gerogatelis decided to release a print volume herself, using CreateSpace to produce a POD trade paperback, and published the book late last year.
“It's hard to argue with 18 million Wattpad reads," Chanda said, "But the truth is that it was the strength of Brittany's writing, these wonderful characters she's created that convinced us—here is someone we want to be working with.”
After the first PW story about her ran in December, Geragotelis was overwhelmed with foreign rights interest in the book (she was immediately signed by a literary agent and a foreign rights agent). Not long after the second PW story in January, the book began to attract interest and bids—her agent was “bombarded by calls” —from big-time publishers. She has also signed with Brandy Rivers of Magnet Management, adding a TV and film agent to her team. (Geragotelis also says her foreign rights agent has sold rights to Life’s a Witch to Romanian publisher Rao and Piemme in Italy and more foreign rights deals are pending.)
Geragotelis’s story is almost a publishing fairy tale—much-rejected writer is finally discovered in a big way—with a nifty digital publishing subtext to go along with it. She is the latest example of a self-publisher snatched up by a mainstream house at a time when these kind of deals seem to be happening regularly. Geragotelis is a hard-working writer bewildered by constant rejections, who nevertheless found her audience (and a large publisher), using a powerful combination of self-publishing technology and social media.
In an interview, Geragotelis told PW “how quickly my life has changed. All my dreams are coming true. It’s weird after so many years of rejections to have this happen, at least at this level [of success].” A former PAC-10 college cheerleader at Washington State, Geragotelis has worked as the managing editor at American Cheerleader magazine for 10 years. But shortly after Life’s a Witch began attracting publishers, the magazine was acquired by a new owner and all the staff was laid off. After 17 years of working toward being a writer, it’s as if her life is automatically transitioning itself into the life of a full-time novelist and writer. She acknowledged a “few panic moments” but also said that “I realize my life is changing and it will be OK. It’s been crazy and interesting but now I’m at home and able to focus on my career.”
Geragotelis said the auction lasted two days and all the final offers were in the same financial range. “It came down to which house offered me more of what I wanted for my career.” She chose S&S because of the editor, Alexandra Cooper. “You can tell how passionate she is about the story,” Geragotelis said. “Her personality is like mine. She’s upbeat.” She also said she was impressed that Cooper had a history of working on creative online publishing projects as well. “I got my start being open to new ideas like self-publishing,” Geragotelis said, “I like that S&S likes to try new things.”
It's been a crazy three months, she said, but it's been good nonetheless. “This is beyond anything I dreamed up. I can’t wait for everything that's coming up,” she said, reminding PW that there are additional publishing-related ventures in her future. “For people who think it can’t happen to them, they can see that hard work really does pay off. I’m proof.”