Jenny is a young adult author and her debut, SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN, is now available from Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)! She is represented by Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg Rostan.
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Now for Jenny’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, going on submission, and being a debut author!
What advice would you give to querying writers?
First, be sure your manuscript is ready to query. This may be your one chance to impress a particular agent. The tricky part is—you may not realize that your draft isn’t ready. This is where you either take a step back before querying and reassess the manuscript, or ask some trusted advisors to help you decide. I queried my agent twice with SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN. After an initial pass, I wrote to her months later to see if she was interested in seeing a revision. I was lucky to get a second chance.
If querying was a long time ago for you, what do you remember most?
I remember one day receiving two e-mail rejections at exactly the same time. It was if they fist-bumped in cyberspace. Querying was truly a grueling experience. I still sometimes can’t believe it had such a positive outcome.
What do you wish you’d known back when you were in the query trenches?
I wish I’d been more concise in my queries. When I look at them now, they seem long and perhaps explain too much. A query needs to be complete, but it is only a teaser.
Are there any conferences you attended that really helped you move forward as a writer during this stage?
I didn’t attend a conference, but I did seek out a manuscript consultation from a well-known Canadian short story writer, Zsuzsi Gartner, who also teaches creative writing. Her advice on the manuscript was useful, but her enthusiasm for the story meant even more. I think a well-timed manuscript consult with the right person can make a huge difference both in drafting and your self-confidence.
How did you know your agent was the right one for you?
There were several factors. My agent is with a top agency and she has her own track record of success, particularly in YA. But the main things that impressed me were her suggestions for revising my manuscript, her sheer enthusiasm for the book, and also her character. She’s an astute negotiator with incredible drive and energy, but she’s also someone I truly like and admire as a person—and that’s a great place to start a business relationship.
At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?
I’ll give her a heads up that I’m working on an idea—if I’m actually drafting. I have lots of ideas, and she has other clients, so I generally only let her know if I am really moving forward on a new manuscript.
Do you send sample chapters to your agent or do you wait until the manuscript is finished?
So far, I’ve waited until the manuscript is finished. I tend to plow ahead without revising—adhering to the idea of just getting that messy first draft down. So I need to make sure the place I end up is the place I started before sharing with someone else. My early drafts tend to have name changes halfway through and sometimes eye colors switch—so it’s nice to fix those inconsistencies up first.
Do you see the feedback from editors?
I did, and I am glad. It’s difficult when critical feedback varies from editor to editor—it leaves you wondering about a path to revision. Still, a published book will receive a lot more scrutiny and it will all be public. The submission stage can help you realize that while one reader may adore a voice; another will not, and that’s just the way it is.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Work on something new if that calms you down and fills you up. Many writers need to write to feel grounded. If not, focus on something completely different and unrelated to books—baseball, yoga, kickboxing, movies, your adorable dog or kids—whatever else makes you happy, and you, aside from writing.
How much contact do you have with your agent when you are out on submission?
My agent would let me know who was reading and also send me any rejections so that I was kept in the loop. I liked that system because my agent’s not there to sugarcoat things for me (though I know she sometimes does), but we’re partners in this, working together.
What is the best thing about being a debut author?
Right now the best thing is hearing from real teens who have enjoyed my book—whether they are half a world away in Sydney, Australia, or closer to home in Washington State. I hope I never get over being thrilled about that. I also love seeing mentions of my book pop up at different libraries around North America.
What other 2016 debut books have you gotten to read? Did you get to read them early?
I have read some absolutely wonderful 2016 debut YA books, and there are dozens more I would like to devour. A few I read early and enjoyed include: THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, ASSASSIN’S HEART, THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED, MY KIND OF CRAZY, DON’T GET CAUGHT, and THE GIRL WHO FELL. I recently purchased UNDERWATER and loved it, too. I went on a YA buying spree. I also read a warm and wonderful middle-grade book: MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS. There is a real range in this Class of 2016 mix: from complex fantasy, to suspenseful, heart-wrenching contemporary, to fast-paced and funny.
Is there a lot of support among debut authors?
Yes! I joined The Sweet Sixteens group of debut authors, and they are a fabulous, generous and humorous bunch. I’ve learned so much from the fine writers in this group—about the publishing process, about book promotion, about being gracious, even about the pursuit of diversity in books. Children’s literature is dynamic and competitive, but there’s room for everyone at the table.
What was it like to see your cover?
My cover surprised me. I thought it might have some aspect of Kurt Cobain on it—some graphic allusion to him. Instead, it looks like the knee of a torn pair of jeans. I love it now. I think it really stands out, which was definitely the goal. Seeing the cover made me think: “Here we go. This is really going to be a book!”
What advice would you give to writers who are working hard to get to their own debut year?
The author Courtney Summers once shared the advice that authors have to play the “long game.” So I am going to borrow her advice. In the case of querying and trying to break in, playing the long game means being professional with everyone you deal with. It means continuing to work on new projects so that these can distract and sustain you when your first project is not going as you’d hoped. It means thinking of the bigger picture and not dwelling on every injury or omission—the snarky reviews, or the lists your books doesn’t make. I am still working on all this myself. I’m a WIP!
Thank you, Jenny!