Urban fantasy author's novel gets a great book deal — after 50 agents turned it down

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A night nurse goes to work at a secret ward, where she treats supernatural creatures, and gets involved in a 300-year vampire feud. Cassie Alexander's Nightshifted has an intriguing premise... and the story of its road to publication is inspirational.

According to Publishers Marketplace, Cassie Alexander's first novel got a three-book deal with St. Martins, after an auction — which means other publishers were also vying for it. As summarized by PM, the book's "about a hospital's secret ward dedicated to treating supernatural creatures, and the feisty night nurse who gets caught in between a three-hundred-year-old vampire feud and a young girl in need of rescue."

We were excited by that premise, and curious about what it takes to make publishers want to bid on a new novelist's first three novels. So we got in touch with Alexander to ask her how she pulled it off — and she told us that 50 agents had turned down her manuscript before she got a nibble.


Here's what Alexander had to say about getting her book published:

I didn't directly pitch this novel to publishers, my agent, Michelle Brower, did. She is completely amazing. Perhaps it's worth noting for the other newbie authors that read io9 that 50 agents passed on my book, before Michelle took it in from the cold, where it'd been shivering like someone's lost three-legged puppy. When I reached 56 agent queries, and 40 some-odd rejections, sometimes after quite a lot of attention, and full book reads before passes, which was becoming soul crushing, someone told me an anecdotal story about someone else who'd made it to 72 agents before their YA book got agented. I figured I could make it to 75, and by then, I'd almost be at a hundred, dammit, so why the hell not.

As it turns out, Michelle was lucky number 46, and within a month after me turning my edited copy into her, she had multiple publishers bidding for it. Just goes to show you the possible disconnect in the system there — and the difference a fantastic and committed agent makes.


So how does a nurse come to be taking care of supernatural creatures? And just how weird is this world? We asked Alexander. She said:

Nightshifted is about Edie Spence. When Edie's heroin-addicted brother overdoses, she's given a choice at the County Emergency Room: she can watch him die or buy him an unconventional treatment by quitting her current job and transferring to Floor Y4. She agrees to transfer and finds herself in the bowels of the County hospital, working with vampire-exposed humans and were-creatures in their mortal phases. Caring for her new patients is stressful enough — and when she rescues an abused little girl from a vampire prince, she realizes that saving her brother may have come at the cost of her immortal soul.

It is basically set in our world — I spent my "difference" money with my protagonist and my supernatural creatures.

I wanted to make sure that everyone has a possible flaw in this world. First off, vampires always have hangers on. What happens to those people? I mean really, in most books, vampires and/or groups of them living together, would be like the Green River Killer times a hundred. People would notice eventually. (In most books where vampires are actually capricious and violent, which is how I like my vampires to be ;).) So I've got sanctioned donors, who occasionally need medical attention because they've been gnawed on, and I have a class of vampire-exposed humans called daytimers, who do the daytime jobs that supporting an underworld empire is sure to have, and are eligible to receive vampire blood to heal themselves, depending on how in favor they are with their Throne at the time. Secondly, my weres have powers that cycle directly with the moon. When there's no moon visible, they're fully mortal, and have to keep their heads down just like the rest of us.


And finally, Alexander told us about creating an urban fantasy protagonist that people will care about and want to root for:

My protagonist is a normal person, put in extraordinary circumstances. She doesn't always do the right thing, she makes mistakes — the book starts off with her accidentally killing someone — but she fucking tries, really hard. And not from a place of generic strength, with special powers or guns — but with her own two hands, like most of us have to, every damn day.

While I love me some urban fantasy, it feels like when I read so much of it, that there's a distance there between me and the protagonists — like when author-me looks at a fashion magazine. I like looking at those people for a little bit, but then they all blend together Barbie-style, and I start to feel that what they are and what they stand for is unattainable. For me, unattainable's no fun. I wanted to write about someone who could be in danger, who would have consequences for her actions, someone who isn't always right or the best at life. I wanted someone who would have to struggle. That's what interests me, always has, always will.

Which isn't to say there's no levity or joy or really hot sex ;). There most certainly is. But all of it is earned.

She's also a nurse, and I happen to be a nurse, so there's the whole medical drama angle, which is all really real, and was fun to write. I have to do gross things at work sometimes, and I try to make myself believe, "I am doing this really gross thing for book-science!" and sometimes it even works when I tell myself that.


No clue when Nightshifted will be out, but no doubt we'll be reviewing it when the time comes.

Top image: Cover of Night Nurse #1 from Marvel Comics, via Oscar Vieyo on Flickr.