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Kurt is a Young Adult author and his debut, DON’T GET CAUGHT, is now available from Sourcebooks! He is represented by Kerry Sparks of LGR Literary.
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What was your method for querying? Small batches? Query widely? Wait for feedback?
I know a lot of people say to target your queries to a few, but I’m a nuclear bomb sort of guy, wanting to hit as many agents as possible. So when I queried, I emailed them in big batches. Because look, a bunch are going to not respond, some aren’t going to receive your query because of an email filter, some aren’t going to like your query, and if you’re lucky, a few may want to see the actual manuscript. But all agents are busy, and you’re playing a numbers game, so I say get the query out there to as many as possible. The only risk is if your query letter isn’t in top form, you’ll be getting lots of rejections before you realize the letter needs revised, so get it right the first time.
Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?
I queried another book that was read and rejected by nineteen (!) agents. I had a lot of R&R’s, but they were all contradictory, so I eventually gave in and just buried the novel for good. I went through the normal grieving process, and got to work on the next novel, which is the one that hit. I got bored and counted one day and discovered I sent out over 250 query letters and had my books read by over 30 agents before signing. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
How did you know your agent was the right one for you?
I had offers from two agents and after talking with both of them, just knew. It was more a gut feeling I had more than anything; although Agent #2 was probably too business-y for my tastes and Kerry Sparks is just friendly and fantastic, something I knew I wanted in my agent.
Did you sign as a client of a career agent or on a book-by-book basis?
I signed on a book-by-book basis, which freaked me out at first, but makes sense now. Kerry is willing to look at anything I have ready, and although the book is out and her role in DON’T GET CAUGHT, is slowing considerably, we still keep in touch and I’ll send her the next book when it’s ready.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Look, you should probably be working on something else. That’s what everyone says. Me, I couldn’t do it. Either I’m too nervous a person or I’m a one-project-at-a-time guy, but I kept checking and rechecking my email to the point I was going to enter a mental asylum.
How much contact do you have with your agent when you are out on submission?
I tried--and failed--not to email asking for updates. Usually on a Friday Kerry would bundle the rejections we’d received from editors. Oddly, I handled all of those rejections pretty well because they were mostly very positive and Kerry kept telling me the book would sell. She was right because about a month into the process, Aubrey Poole at Sourcebooks jumped all over the book!
What have you learned about being a debut author?
Being a debut author has been a job. Seriously, like the best job you’ll ever have, but a job. It’s a lot of work: doing blog posts, hunting down opportunities, getting buttons made, mailing out arcs, answering questions, and then obnoxiously and compulsively checking and rechecking Goodreads to see if anyone’s rated your arc yet.
Is there a lot of support among debut authors?
Easily the best thing about being a debut author is meeting the other people going through the same thing. I’ve made a lot of new friends and read a lot of great new books. There’s a decent stress level tied to having a book come out, so it was nice knowing others who had the same questions, the same struggles, and even the same freakouts. It was like being in a fraternity/sorority with a like-minded nutcases.
Have you done any conferences, book festivals, or events as an author? What was it like?
I’ve done a couple of book festivals/conferences, and that’s an entirely different world. You have to go in ready to be “on” the entire time--friendly, interested, and personable, all while also being a salesperson for your book. I’m lucky because I’m really comfortable talking to people I don’t know, but at the same time, I’m always exhausted after these events.
What was release day like?
I’ll give you the same advice I was given--enjoy release day. Celebrate it; don’t overthink it. Go to a favorite restaurant for a meal, visit a couple of book stores to see your book live in the wild and maybe sign stock, and keep up on social media as best as you can. But mostly, take the time to enjoy that fact that you’ve accomplished something most people never will experience in their lives. When the book is now “out”, you’ve done pretty much all you can. If the book catches on and finds an audience, great. If it doesn’t, that’s okay, too. But regardless, the day your book comes out is to be celebrated. I had to keep reminding myself this, and did a pretty good job I think. Mostly, I didn’t want to look back on the day and think, “Man, I did a whole lot of worrying for nothing, and now I can’t go back and relive that day.”
Margaret is a middle grade author and her debut, MOMOTARO BOOK ONE: XANDER AND THE LOST ISLAND OF MONSTERS is now available from Disney-Hyperion! She is represented by Dan Lazar, Writers House.
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What resources and websites did you use when querying?
Did you ever have a Revise & Resubmit? What should a writer consider when deciding whether or not to take one on?
Consider whether or not it agrees with your vision of the book. Sometimes it may make your book stronger and sometimes it does not.
At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?
I want to share them as soon as they come into my head. But I develop them a little bit, then ask if he thinks it’s a good idea. I submitted a list recently and he and his assistant were really into this one idea over all the others.
Do you send sample chapters to your agent or do you wait until the manuscript is finished?
I send samples to make sure I’m on the right track. Then he asks me to make some revisions.
Do you see the feedback from editors?
It depends on the agent. I see all the feedback. It can be a bummer, or puzzling, but mostly you have to shrug it off. It’s clear they’re looking for reasons to turn down the book. Everyone has something different to say, usually.
What is the next step if an editor shows interest?
The agent calls up the other people who have it. Other editors might want to make an offer, too. Or the editor might do something called a “pre-empt” which is to make an offer that is good enough to take the manuscript out of circulation.
My first women’s fiction book, How to Be an American Housewife, was smuggled to my editor through a leak in another publishing house, somebody’s assistant or someone like that, whose boss had turned it down. So we didn’t even submit to this editor, and she’s the one who ended up buying it. Thank you, still-anonymous assistant.
Can you check in with your agent if there hasn’t been any news in a while?
Of course. You can always check in with your agent. Your agent knows that authors are prone to freak-outs!
Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?
I did. Stephanie Lurie at Disney-Hyperion must have read it the same day she got it because I think it was just a day later when she said she was interested. Secretly I knew Disney-Hyperion was my dream publisher, so I was very happy with this. I then talked to her on the phone and I felt like I already knew her. She really gets me.
How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?
For MOMOTARO, I bought a bottle of the nicest sake I could find.
What’s involved in promoting a book?
A lot of social media. For middle grade fiction, you want to reach out to schools, teachers, and librarians and try to set up school visits. The publisher tells me this is still the best way for a kids’ book to get started—old-fashioned word of mouth.
Is there a lot of support among debut authors?
There really is. Everyone knows how nerve-wracking the process is and shares information. You don’t know how much you don’t know, really!
Thank you, Margaret!