Query.Sign.Submit.Debut! with Brittany Cavallaro

 

cavallaro

 

Brittany is a young adult author and her debut, StudyInCharlotte_Cover
A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE, releases from  HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books on March 1! She is represented by Lana Popovic at Chalberg and Sussman.

 

 

Connect with Brittany . . .

Website * Twitter

Preorder the book . . .  Amazon

Query into

Now for insight from Brittany on querying, signing with an agent, going on submission, and being a debut author!

QUERY

What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?

One thing that was really important was considering whether I wanted an agent who was close to the beginning of her career or one that was already very established. I spent some time talking to agented friends about what they liked about their representation, how much attention they expected, what the submission process had been like for them, etc. My take on this might be slightly different, because I started out as a poet. Poets don’t have agents, generally (there’s no money for an agent to make!), and so I had published poems in journals, as well as a chapbook and a full-length collection, on my own. More than anything, what I was looking for was an agent who could walk me through the fiction world (a place that was very new to me) while providing editorial guidance. I also decided, after watching a few friends be ignored by their agents in favor of more famous clients, that I wanted someone near the beginning of their career that I could grow with.

What advice would you give to querying writers?

Don’t rush. It’s really tempting to—we want to have our work be seen, we want to feel legitimized, we want our novel to be in print. We’ve already put so much into it, and the process can be excruciatingly slow. But in the end, what I took from my experience is that it’s absolutely worth it to take the time to polish your book and to really research the agents that you’re querying. I’m so happy with where I ended up, but when I look at the initial list I made (and then later discarded), I’m happy I took the time to research and figure out who might be the best fit for me. When I read an interview with Lana Popovic, where she listed favorite books and TV shows and films that lined up exactly with mine and where she talked about an editorial philosophy that was dead-to-rights with what I wanted, she went right to the top of my list. But it took some digging to find that information, and I’m really relieved that I took the time to do so.

What was your method for querying? Small batches? Query widely? Wait for feedback?

Small batches, and wait. I sent out to six initially, I think. When Lana Popovic sent me a revise and resubmit (that was brilliant, grueling, and spot-on), I stopped querying other agents and stepped back to work on my manuscript. I returned it her, along with the first forty pages of what would be A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE!

SIGN

How did you know your agent was the right one for you?

I did a lot of things you’re not supposed to do, I think! When she called to offer representation, I agreed right away. Oops.

THAT SAID. We’d gone back and forth via email over the course of a month, talking about my manuscript and the work I was doing to make it better, and I felt like I was in perfect hands. This might sound absurd, but I feel very safe with my agent, and also like that she understands the place my work comes from—what I want to accomplish tonally, with narrative, with my characters, what my influences are. Mostly, when I got the call from her, I felt relief. Because I had no idea where I was going to look next if I hadn’t signed with her!

What is the revision process like between you and your agent?

Lana is in a lot of ways my ideal reader. Like I said above, she really has a handle on where I’m coming from, and she knows how to help me move my manuscript to the place I ideally want it to be (which is where she wants it to be, too). She gives me notes on the line level and on the macro level. We went through 2.5 major rounds of revisions before CHARLOTTE found a home.

At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?

I tend to come up with a general idea (usually grounded in genre) and then wait for it to attract character beats, world beats, narrative beats. Only when I can really describe it in paragraph form do I bring it to my agent. So far I’ve only talked through one additional with her, but I’m finishing a contract right now for the Charlotte Holmes novel series, so it’ll be a little time before I get to sit down and write it.

SUBMIT

Do you see the feedback from editors?

I do! My approach to this…well, I have a thick skin until I don’t. I asked Lana to send along editorial comments on A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE when it went out, which I actually found immensely useful. And then I was at a conference in Denver and got a note that just ended me, out of nowhere (it wasn’t even that harsh), and asked Lana to call me. I was in a designer denim store, sitting on a giant puff in the dressing room, crying. Definitely a low point. But it was important for me to know that I did have limits, and to know when to back away and take some time for myself.

What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

Try to keep writing, if you can. It’s so difficult, because you have so much focused on this one project, and it can feel like every word is trying to wiggle out around that anxiety. I worked in other genres. I spent a lot of time reading, reminding myself why I loved books and why I did what I did. I threw myself into my teaching, and got a lot out of encouraging student writers to continue ploughing away.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

When I got the call, I remember being in my PhD adviser’s office—she was away on sabbatical, and I’d been given it for the semester—staring at all the pretty vases on her bookshelves, trying to write a poem, and then just…my phone ringing, Lana on the line, total disbelief. My memory sort of fizzles out there. I know my husband and I went out to dinner that night. And I told myself when my advance came, I could buy one totally insane, frivolous item, so when it did, I went to Anthropologie and made a beeline for the full-price dresses. It’s a nice memento. And it’s pretty cute.

DEBUT

What other 2016 debut books have you gotten to read?

I’m part of the Sweet Sixteens debut community and have been really lucky to read a number of my peers’ books through an ARC tour. Some favorites have been Emily Henry’s THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD, Anna Breslaw’s SCARLETT EPSTEIN HATES IT HERE, Parker Peevyhouse’s WHEN FUTURES END, Jeff Zentner’s THE SERPENT KING, and Kali Wallace’s SHALLOW GRAVES – all books with gorgeous writing and strong, complicated characters.

What do you wish you had known about being a debut author?

That nothing happens, and everything does, all at the same time. Everything and nothing is different. And that the best thing you can do is focus on writing the next book. I feel like that’s my advice for everything, but it’s something that can be difficult for me to focus on in the thick of things, that really, the thing I can control most is how the next book turns out. It’s the best (and most pleasurable) place for me to put my energy.

Also, you don’t need to be on every social media platform if you don’t want to. Don’t be afraid to compartmentalize. I really love Twitter to connect with other writers and readers, but I am hopeless at using Facebook for anything but friends-and-family kinds of things, and my Instagram is mostly pictures of my cat. That’s okay! I don’t think it’s affected anything for me at all.

What advice would you give to writers who are working hard to get to their own debut year?

Breathe. Remember to celebrate the small victories. And try to get out to meet your editor, if you can—they’re your champion in all this, and I’ve loved getting to know Alex Arnold as we’ve worked together this past year.

Thanks, Brittany!

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