Query.Sign.Submit.Debut! with Traci Chee


Traci is a young adult author and her debut, The Reader, will be released from Putnam/Penguin September 13, 2016! She is represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

chee-TheReader-cover-final-600x900Connect with Traci . . .

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads

Get the book . . .

Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Indiebound

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How did you keep track of your queries?

I am a chronic overachiever and a classic Ravenclaw, so when it came time to start querying, I doubled down with Query Tracker (a great service) and a massive spreadsheet of my own making. The spreadsheet included all the research I had done on literary agents: names, agencies, authors they represented, genres they were looking for, little tidbits I gleaned from reading their online interviews, and query preferences (like “query only” or “query + first 10 pages pasted into the body of the email”). Cells were color-coded by how well I thought we would match (with colors of green, yellow, and orange) and by whether or not they had rejected me (red). As the rejections started piling up, it was disheartening to see the red bleeding across the spreadsheet, but it definitely kept things organized!

What helped you get though the query trenches?

Gosh, being in the query trenches was so tough. I didn’t have other querying writers to talk to at the time, so it was mostly me, alone, watching the rejections roll in. I tried taking everyone’s advice and working on another project, but getting rejected over and over again did such a number on my self-confidence that I found myself staring at my screen and refreshing my email inbox more than I did any actual writing.

So I started a book art project called DOUBTS. I printed out all my rejections on tissue paper, stuffed them in empty gel capsules, and put them all in a vintage pill bottle. It was a way to turn something profoundly negative into something productive and positive (and fun!), and get that creative spark back. You can check out the results of my little project on my website. (Click to see it!)


What was the week surrounding your offer(s) of representation like for you?

Okay, so, remember my massive color-coded querying spreadsheet? Every so often while I was researching agents, I happened upon an article explaining some of the questions you should ask if you’re lucky enough to get an offer of representation. Being an optimist, I diligently copied every question into a Word Doc for later use, and once I started getting positive responses from agents, I dug out all those questions I’d found months earlier, organized and consolidated them, and in the end I had an exhaustive (and I mean literally exhaustive) list of questions to ask during “the call.” With all those questions, each of my calls took at least two hours!

As if that wasn’t enough, I also set out to read at least one of the offering agents’ clients’ books (if I hadn’t already), made pro-con lists, set up weighted points systems, and did agent-to-agent comparisons. It was exhausting and thrilling at the same time!

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

While all my preparation helped me to stay organized and think clearly, for me it all came down to my gut. I knew almost as soon as I started talking to her that Barbara Poelle, my current agent, was the one for me. I felt like she spoke my language. I felt like she loved her work the way I  love my work—fiercely, voraciously. I felt like she “got” my book, and I thought if she “got” my book she’d know how to make other people “get” my book too. She’s a powerhouse behind the scenes and yet always finds a way to keep me calm (and working). I couldn’t be happier that I signed with her!


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

Forget you’re on sub! I actually managed this a couple times, and it was the best thing I could have done. I wasn’t agonizing over hearing nothing. I wasn’t wondering who was reading my manuscript. I could actually live my life without the specter of submission hanging over my head.

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

To be honest, I remember sitting and staring and blinking and going, “wait, what?” more than I remember actually celebrating. It was such a shock! I do remember the power was out all the next day, and I didn’t have a landline, so I remember talking to my new editor with my phone battery dying and desperately hoping I wouldn’t accidentally hang up on her on our second call!


What is the best thing about being a debut author?

Hands down, one of the best things about being a debut author is meeting more debut authors! I’ve met so many wonderful people through my debut groups, The Sweet Sixteens and the Class of 2k16, and it’s been incredible getting to know them and their books!

Being a debut author has introduced me to fellow San Francisco bay area authors Parker Peevyhouse (Where Futures End), Sonya Mukherjee (Gemini), Rahul Kanakia (Enter Title Here), Gordon Jack (The Boomerang Effect), and Evelyn Skye (The Crown’s Game), who I get to see every few months to celebrate their books. And of course I could not go without singing the praises of Jessica Cluess (A Shadow Bright and Burning) and Tara Sim (Timekeeper), with whom I now talk weekly—if not daily! They are talented and hilarious and I seriously think I would not have gotten through this year with any sort of grace without them.

What have you learned about being a debut author?

As you can probably tell, I’m a fairly Type-A person. I like to be organized. I like to know what’s happening. I like to be in control. So it’s been a huge surprise to find that, in general, I work so much better when I don’t know everything that’s going on. I think there’s so much in this business that isn’t in the author’s control (reviews, marketing budgets, and media placement, to name a few), and since I can’t control any of that, it’s been a big learning experience for me to sit back, trust my agent/editor/publisher, and focus on the things I can control (my author brand, my social media presence, and most of all my words). Of course, I’m still hustling my hardest to put myself out there, and I still make color-coded spreadsheets and send out a bajillion emails and stress out over everything from trade reviews to event appearances. I am still a Ravenclaw, after all. Smile

Thank you, Traci!

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