Hi everyone. I'm really excited for the month of October. It's the sixth year anniversary for the Speculative Fiction Group on AQC and this month I'll be bringing you some great interviews with writers from that group who have found agents and publishers.
And I'm super super excited for this first interview with one of my own critique partners, Margaret Fortune. So here we go!
And I'm super super excited for this first interview with one of my own critique partners, Margaret Fortune. So here we go!
1) How long have you been writing? What are your favorite genres to write in?
My very first story was written in first grade. It was called "The Numbers' Birthday Party" and made a huge splash at my elementary school. I remember having to sit in the front of my class and read it to everyone while they followed along in their own copies--these lovely purple dittos, for those of you who are old enough to know what a "ditto" is. :) I think it was the most terrifying and embarrassing experience of my life!
While I wrote some in my youth, I didn't start writing seriously until the summer after I graduated college in 2003. It was that summer I started writing my very first novel. So I guess I've been writing for about 10 years now. My favorite genre is speculative fiction. Whether it's short stories for adults; books for middle grade and YA; serious or humorous; fantasy, dystopian, sci-fi; as long as it falls into speculative fiction, I'm there!
2) What are your favorite genres to read? Which books have had the greatest impact on you?
I read a lot of YA speculative fiction, as that's the main genre I write in. Aside from that, I read a variety of books including adult SF, romance, and historical fiction, as well as non-fiction including biographies and books about travel and sports. Oh, and I have this special spot in my heart for non-fiction books about how to survive extreme conditions--don't ask me why!
I've read a lot of books in my life, and rather than having a few that impacted me significantly, I think I've taken a little bit away from every book I've ever read. Even if what I took away from it was--Don't do that! However, I can say that my favorite short story of all time is Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day." I'm also very partial to Dr. Seuss's "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"
3) Aside from writing, what do you love to do?
I love to read, of course. Other hobbies include music--I play the piano and sing. I also like to hit the gym, swimming approximately 3 miles a week as well as running, walking, rowing, climbing on the stairclimber, weightlifting--whatever strikes my fancy on a given day. When I have time, I like to design and sew purses and dresses for myself.
4) What can you tell us about your new agent and the process of signing on with her?
My agent is Lindsay Ribar of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. She joined the agency in 2007, and represents YA and MG. As well as being an agent, she's also a YA author herself. So far, I've found her to be friendly and enthusiastic, as well as a good communicator. She also seems to be knowledgeable and on top of her stuff, as things are moving along nice and quickly.
I queried her on a Tuesday, she requested the full on a Friday, and on Saturday night around 11pm I had an email from her saying she wanted to represent me. Less than a week from query to offer! Her email was a writer's dream come true--she'd been unable to put the MS down, she loved every character, she knew the moment she finished she had to have it. As a writer, you dream about having an advocate with that sort of passion and enthusiasm for your book. Even though I had to give everyone else a couple weeks to request/read/make an offer, I knew from the beginning that it would be very hard for anyone else to top her passion.
So the process of signing with her was extraordinarily fast once I queried her, as I officially accepted her offer within about three weeks after querying her. As I'd already been waiting around for months on other agents, it was nice to have things finally moving.
5) May we see your agent-winning query letter?
Yes, you may.
Ohhh, you mean you actually wanted me to provide it here?? Oh, okay! Here is is:
Sixteen-year-old Lia Johansen is a genetically engineered human bomb with just one problem. She’s a dud.
Her task seems simple: to strike the next blow in an ongoing galactic war by sneaking onto New Sol Space Station with a group of released POWs and exploding. But her mission goes terribly wrong when her inner clock malfunctions, freezing her countdown with just two minutes to go.
With no Plan B, no memories of her past, and no identity besides a name stolen from a dead POW, Lia doesn’t know what to do with a life she was never meant to have. When she meets Michael, the real Lia’s childhood best friend, she learns what it means to have friends and family. She learns what it means to live. It is only when her clock begins sporadically shedding seconds that she realizes—
Even duds can be dangerous. Even duds can still blow up.
Now Lia must find a way to unearth her past and the truth behind her mission before her time—literally—runs out.
NOVA is an 84,000-word YA science fiction novel which may appeal to readers who enjoyed Beth Revis’s Across the Universe and Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Glow. My short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in multiple magazines, including Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine and Space and Time Magazine.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
6) How long did you query before finding your agent?
A looooong time.
To be more specific, I began querying my book Nova at the end of January, when I sent out 20 queries as a trial run. When I began getting requests, I sent about another 30 or so during the month of February. I got about a dozen requests out of the those queries and settled down to see what would happen. Well, August finally rolled around and everyone had rejected me with the exception of a few agents who had literally had the manuscript for anywhere from 3-6 months. That was the point where I threw up my hands and said, "This is ridiculous. This one agent has had it over 6 months!" So I decided to query everyone else in the world I wanted to query, and que será, será. So I queried another 25 agents in the last week of August and another 25 in the first week of September. I queried my agent Lindsay Ribar on the last day I sent out queries, and had an offer from her within a week. So while the process with Lindsay went very fast, overall the process was very slow.
Oh, and did I mention that Nova is the THIRD book I've queried now? So yeah, I think a looooong time covers it.
7) What advice would you give to those who are actively querying or getting ready to query?
a) Don't skimp on your query. If you have to write 50 hooks to get a good one, WRITE 50 HOOKS. Don't give up and use a crappy one because you can't think of a good one. If you have to write 100 pages of query material to get a good query, DO IT. You don't get any do-overs; once you query an agent, you can't query them again. At least, not until you write another book! So do the work and make the best query you can, so that even if you don't get requests or an agent, you know you did the absolute best you could.
b) Have a checklist for when you're sending out queries. There's nothing more embarrassing than spelling an agent's name wrong or having the wrong agent's name on your query letter. So have a checklist you go down right before sending each query: is it addressed to the right person, is their name spelled right, are the email address and subject line right, etc. So by having a checklist you go through before hitting the "send" button, you may save yourself from making dumb mistakes. And since I know everyone's probably wondering now--No, I did NOT spell anyone's name wrong or put the wrong name on a query letter. Why not? Because I had a checklist! ;)
c) Be persistent. Nova was the third book I queried, and even once I queried it, it was over seven months before I had an offer. I didn't get an agent with my first fifty queries for Nova; I had to go out and query another fifty. So it wasn't easy, it wasn't quick, and there was plenty of emotional suffering involved. Querying is tough--you go through cycles of hope and desperation and despair all in their turn, and it's hard. Yes, some people do get lucky and get an agent right off the bat or meet their agent at the first conference they attend, or get a foot in the door through a friend/family member. But for a lot of us, it's not quick and it's not easy. But if you really want it, you'll keep at it.
As you can tell from the query, Nova was an easy book to query because it's so high concept. I knew agents would read the first line and immediately be all over it or else know it's not for them. But a lot of books are not easy to query--I know because I queried two of them with little luck. Some stories just don't lend themselves well to a query. So if you're unable to get anywhere querying, you may need to be really savvy about planning your next project. I purposely chose to pursue my Nova project because I knew it would be easy to query. YA sci-fi was starting to trend in the market, and my book had such a high concept, I knew people would be interested even if YA sci-fi started to fade. Don't get me wrong--I made that project my own and I absolutely love my book. But I was savvy about the market and smart about choosing my project. So if you find yourself at the end of the query line with no requests or offers, be smart. Don't keep writing books in the same passé genre hoping things will change. Find a way to take your ideas and make them fresh and salable. Make sure you can write a great query before you spend a year writing the book. If you want to be more than a hobbyist, you have to remember writing is a business, and you need to supply something people will want. Which isn't always easy to figure out, but it's worth trying.
8) What have you learned from writing and querying that you didn't know before?
I think it's easy to get intimidated by literary agents. After all, they have the power to make or break our careers simply by saying 'yes' or 'no.' And we get radio silence or form rejects from a lot of them, and it only feeds our frustration. But honestly, a lot of these people are super-nice! They're friendly, and even when they pass they'll say kind, encouraging things. One agent who passed even encouraged me to keep in touch, even if it was just to let her know where my book finally sold or if I wanted someone to brainstorm with. I never realized agents did that! Unfortunately, radio silence and form rejects are going to remain part and parcel of the query process, but that doesn't mean that the people behind them aren't fabulous people.
9) How important were your beta readers/critique partners?
They did me absolutely no good! (Ha, ha! Just kidding! ;)
Beta readers that aren't afraid to tell you the truth are worth their weight in gold. Period. I remember getting feedback from an agent with my full. He loved my characters, concept, and writing, but hated my plot. He wanted me to rewrite the whole book! Panicked and having no idea what to do, I went to the coolest, savviest beta reader I know and begged her to read it quick and tell me if I was crazy for choosing the plot I did. Well--that beta reader who shall remain nameless (Starts with 'joy,' ends with 'ton,' and rhymes with 'Boyce Dalton') helped saved me from making the biggest mistake of my life. Enough said!
10) What are you most excited to experience in the whole being agented process?
Seriously, I have to pick just one thing? I'm excited about everything!
I think what I'm most excited about is the fact that I'm finally getting to move forward to a new point in my career. For the longest time, I've been writing and writing with very few tangible marks of success to show for it. And that can be pretty tough at times. By finally getting an agent, I'm taking huge leap forward and I'm excited for all the new things to come.
Oh, and I've cherished this long time hope of having my books published in Italy. See, I read a bit of Italian, so then I could read my books in Italian and be like, "They translated that line like that?!" I'm especially interested to see what they would do with "Nova" since "No va" literally means "It doesn't go" in Italian!
Thank you, Margaret! (And I can't wait for Nova to find a publisher next.) In all fairness, she's one of the sharpest, best critique partners I've had and as anyone who has read Margaret's work can attest, she's practically flawless in her writing. My first thoughts on finding out her good news were "It's about time!"
To connect more with Margaret: