Kathleen is a young adult author and her debut, Girl in Pieces, is now available from Random House/Delacorte! She is represented by Julie Stevenson at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin.
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What advice would you give to querying writers?
Relax! Just kidding—that never works, ever. Do your research. What books have they previously worked on that are similar to yours? Are there interviews with them online? If so, read them—you can get some insight into their working process and what they are looking for. Don’t submit to too many agents at once. Give yourself some breathing room. Wait for responses—it may be that several agents have the same reasons for turning the book down and if so, you might have things to work on! Proofread your query letter over and over. Proofread your writing sample. Make sure you follow the submission guidelines carefully. And if you never get a response from some agents, so be it. You’ll get responses from others. After my book deal was announced, I actually received two rejections from agents for the book, so….there you have it. I will say that one agent wrote back telling me, “I’m not the right person to champion this book,” and you know what? I waited a bit, researched some more agents, queried again, and I found my champion in Julie Stevenson.
What do you wish you’d known back when you were in the query trenches?
I wish that I’d learned more about querying agents earlier on. I’d never even queried before I landed my first agent through a writing conference and I wish my MFA program had discussed this process more.
Are there any conferences you attended that really helped you move forward as a writer during this stage?
I attended the Taos Writers Conference twice, which was the best thing I ever could have done for the book that became Girl in Pieces. I needed thoughtful feedback from peers, plus a concrete workshop experience with writers I admired and I needed all of this in one affordable, beautiful package. Thus: TAOS. Which could not be more beautiful, by the way. The first time I went, I took a workshop with Antonya Nelson that was fairly mindblowing and really altered the novel. On her advice, I ended up writing the novel in third person, instead of first. This helped me add a lot of detail for setting and atmosphere and also gave me great insight into the other characters. I took advantage of the meet and greet with an editor at Viking and she was very enthusiastic about the excerpt she read, which gave me some much-needed confidence. I also met my first agent at Taos, which started things rolling. The second time I went, I worked with novelist Summer Woods, and she was truly instrumental in shaping the book, even long after the workshop had ended. I also met some wonderful peers in that group. I recommend attending a conference at least once, because the experience will definitely help you as a writer, and will also introduce you to some great, long-lasting writing friends. Choose wisely, though: how many people attend this conference? How much does it cost? Are you likely to get a scholarship? Sometimes big name conferences are not right for all writers, so do some investigating. Take advantage of any meet and greet opportunities with agents and editors—you never know what might happen.
Are there any specific questions you’d suggest writers ask an offering agent during “The Call”? (answers below)
How are you going to sell this book? What is your pitch and why?
Will you work with me on preliminary editing before we go on submission?
Will you tell me where we are submitting, when, and to whom?
How do you see your relationship to editors? Are you my champion, or do you let me handle the relationship? (i.e., how involved will you be during the publication process, with publicists, etc)
How did you know your agent was the right one for you?
I signed with Julie Stevenson because she offered several pages of notes right from the get go, plus a whole paragraph of her thoughts on the book and its strengths and how she would pitch it to agents. She just “got” the book in ways other agents perhaps did not.
Did you have any previous contact with editors that you shared with your agent?
I did. I let Julie know that I’d met with an editor from Viking at the Taos Writer’s Conference and she followed up on that when we went out on submission.
Do you send sample chapters to your agent or do you wait until the manuscript is finished?
I’m new to all this. My first book took nine years to write (full-time job, kids, etc) so I just had one manuscript when I signed with my agent. I signed a two-book deal with Random House, so for the second book, my editor asked for ideas and outlines for book 2. I sent her two ideas with notes and she picked one, then I was off and running. I didn’t send samples or chapters of book 2 to my agent. I just sent the whole thing when I was done and she made notes, I revised, and we sent on to my editor. But I know writers who are constantly working on several books at once and who send chapters and ideas to their agents all the time.
What is the next step if an editor shows interest?
Generally, you have a phone conversation with the editor to talk about the book and kind of feel each other out to see what a working relationship will be like, what ideas the editor has for the book, what changes they’d like to make. In the case of Girl in Pieces, we had offers from adult editors and YA editors, so my phone conversations varied according to this.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Try not to refresh your email constantly, though I know that’s hard. Go to the movies. Go for a run or take walks. Don’t ignore your day job or your kids. Sometimes the first round might not pan out; your agent should have a second round of houses to submit to and you might have better luck. But also: this book might not be the book. I know people who didn’t get book deals until they were on their eighth book.
Can you check in with your agent if there hasn’t been any news in a while?
Ha! My agent emailed me to let me know we were going out on submission and I was like, “Okay,” and proceeded to bite my fingernails for four days. I didn’t really know how any of this worked, because my first agent never submitted my book to editors. I sent an email on the fifth day, like, “So, how are things going?” And she emailed back and said, “Actually, things are getting a little crazy and we should have a phone call.” We had several offers within four days and it was all kind of overwhelming, to tell you the truth. But very, very exciting. But overwhelming! But yes, you should check in with your agent. Don’t wait, but don’t be a pest, I think. This could be one of the things you ask when you are deciding on an agent: how often can I contact you during this process?
Is there anything you learned while being on submission that you didn’t know before?
I didn’t know I’d be talking to editors on the phone, one after the other, all day! Stock up on water!
Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?
Yes, my agent was upfront with me about the interest, right away, and kept me informed about all offers, foreign sales, next moves.
How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?
I put down the phone and cried in my office. I was at work and the door was closed. Then I cleaned my face up and went and got a vanilla latte.
What is the best thing about being a debut author?
Meeting so many new writers and finding a community. Getting emails from readers telling me how much my Girl in Pieces meant to them.
What’s involved in promoting a book?
All books are different and the marketing for books can vary wildly. Sometimes your house puts a ton of effort into marketing your book, and sometimes they prefer to let the book gather readers through word of mouth. Sometimes you get social media share images and preferred placement on a publisher’s website; sometimes you get sent on tour; sometimes your house just sends you bookmarks. And sometimes you have to do bookmarks, postcards, mailings, and the scheduling of readings yourself. You should be upfront with your editor (or potential editor) about what the plan will be for your book.
Have you done any conferences, book festivals, or events as an author? What was it like?
I have done ALA (the American Library Association’s annual conference) and that was a complete blast. I met with teen readers, librarians, and educators and talked about my book. I had my first book-signing, which was nerve-wracking and thrilling, and I met many, many readers. I have several readings set up for this fall (a tour!) and I am very excited about traveling to meet readers and booksellers.
What was it like to see your cover?
Scary, haunting, beautiful, tearful, lovely.
What do you wish you had known about being a debut author?
How much extra stuff there is to do. And also how much of that stuff you maybe don’t have to worry about.
What advice would you give to writers who are working hard to get to their own debut year?
Don’t give up. Someone out there needs your story and if you give up, they’ll never know it.