Staying positive. It’s a hard thing to do as a writer. But as today’s interview with author, Veronica Bartles, shows it can be a very helpful thing. While publishing does have it’s ups and downs, putting your best foot forward can resonate in unexpected ways. And in Veronica’s case, it paid off by catching the attention of an amazing agent!
Many thanks to Veronica for sharing her writing odyssey today…
Amy: How long have you been writing Young Adult fiction?
Veronica: I used to write short stories, just for fun, back in high school and college, but I finally got serious about my writing and wrote my first novel-length YA manuscript in 2008.
Amy: Was TWELVE STEPS your first completed manuscript?
Veronica: No. TWELVE STEPS is actually a companion novel to my first completed manuscript (which was the story of Andi’s older sister, Laina). And I wrote two middle grade novels and a picture book in between, so I guess that makes TWELVE STEPS my fifth completed manuscript. I’d still like to come back to that first manuscript one day, because writing Andi’s story made me fall in love with those characters even more. But even if it never happens, I’m glad I wrote the other story first.
Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish TWELVE STEPS? If so, what did they add to the process?
Veronica: I had several critique partners and beta readers for TWELVE STEPS. Some read the full manuscript, and others read only a chapter or two, but each gave me valuable feedback and insight without which my story wouldn’t have been nearly as strong. My teenage daughter read the full manuscript many times over, looking for any kind of voice issues. (And she had no qualms about telling me when I started to sound like an old lady instead of a teenage girl!) Rachel Solomon read an early draft and pointed out plot holes that had been completely missed by my readers who already knew the back story from reading my first manuscript. Ashley Turcotte pushed me to dig deep beyond the surface to really bring my characters to life. She called me on it every time I tried to skim by with lazy descriptions, and she was great at catching my go-to gestures. Without her, there would have been far too much eye-rolling, shrugging and winking on these pages!
Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?
Veronica: Oh, I absolutely abhor writing queries! It feels like I take as much time revising my query as I do for my whole manuscript. I don’t even want to think about the number of drafts my query for TWELVE STEPS went through before I felt like it was ready to send out. Critique partners are absolutely essential for this part of the process. I actually had more CPs for my query letter than I did for my novel. Many of my query critiques came from people who had never read my manuscript, and that feedback was probably the most helpful, because it really made me see where I needed work to catch the attention of agents/editors who also hadn’t seen my manuscript yet. (Of course, it was also essential to have feedback from people who had read the manuscript, so I didn’t end up misrepresenting the story in my attempts to write an eye-catching query.)
Amy: How many agents did you query for TWELVE STEPS? Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
Veronica: Most of my querying for TWELVE STEPS actually came in the form of entries into online pitch contests. I received several requests for full or partial manuscripts from Pitch Madness, The Write Voice, PitchMAS, and Pitch-a-Rama. In addition to the requests from contests, I only sent out 18-20 queries, mostly to agents who had responded with encouraging rejections to my first manuscript. I got immediate responses from a handful of the agents I queried, but I had to wait for most of them. (They’re busy folks!)
And actually, I didn’t end up signing with an agent for TWELVE STEPS. I hadn’t realized that it’s frowned upon to query both agents and editors simultaneously for the same manuscript, so when I got a couple of editor requests alongside the agent requests from the contests I entered, I happily sent off my manuscript to everyone. And both editors who requested ended up offering on my book. When I nudged the agents who were considering my manuscript, most of them bowed out immediately, wishing me luck and congratulating me on my sale. Several of them asked me to keep them in mind when I had something new to query, but they didn’t feel right about offering representation on a manuscript when I already had an offer in hand.
It all worked out, though, because the encouragement I received gave me the push I needed to finish revisions on the most difficult novel I’ve ever written, LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, and that’s the one that caught the attention of my fabulous agent, Jessica Sinsheimer! One week after I sent my query, she requested the full, and less than an hour after I sent the manuscript her way, she was already tweeting about how much she loved it! A few days later, she offered representation, and the rest is history.
Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with your agent, Jessica Sinsheimer? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Veronica: Well, as I mentioned, I knew Jessica was excited about my manuscript, because she had tweeted about it and messaged me privately prior to setting up the call. I was thrilled beyond words, too, because I’d had a major agent crush on her for years. (I had desperately wanted to query her with my first manuscript, but I didn’t because I felt like a rejection from her would have been too crushing to my fragile ego at the time.) Add to this the fact that I have a major phone phobia, and as you can imagine, I was a little bit of a basket case in the hours before our call. But once we started talking, it was like chatting with my best friend, and I totally forgot to be nervous. We talked about all kinds of things, and we had so much in common! It was obvious from the start that we were destined to be friends. But getting along and being friends with someone isn’t really enough to make a great agent/author team.
I suspected that Jessica was the right agent for me, because when we talked about my manuscript, she pinpointed all of the little parts of the story that were still bothering me as “not quite right,” and she suggested revisions that could easily have come from my own brain. And she already had a growing list of editors in mind for subbing the manuscript. From the start, we had the same vision for LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, and I knew I wouldn’t have to fight her on the direction to take.
But I really KNEW she was the right agent for me when we started talking about my other manuscripts. She not only adored the middle grade manuscript that caught her attention, but she enjoyed TWELVE STEPS and happily agreed to help me through the confusing publication process for my debut. (I actually officially accepted Jessica’s offer the day my contract arrived from Swoon Romance for TWELVE STEPS, so she was able to help me through the contract process too. I’m so glad she was there to help me! – If you don’t have an agent to walk you through a publishing contract, I highly recommend hiring a contract lawyer to help you understand it all.) And she was excited about my other manuscripts and works in progress as well. I wanted an agent for my career, not just for one manuscript, and Jessica was (is) that kind of an agent for me. I love that we can chat as friends about fun, non-writing things, but we can also work together in a true business partnership.
Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?
Veronica: Other than writing a great book, one thing that Jessica mentioned was that she noticed my online presence. Specifically, she mentioned that before I even queried her, she saw this blog post that I wrote for Sub It Club, to encourage my fellow contestants in Brenda Drake’s amazing Pitch Madness contest: http://subitclub.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/are-pitch-contests-worth-it-behind-the-scenes-of-pitch-madness/ – And because this blog post had already planted my name in her mind, she noticed my query right away when it showed up in her slush pile.
I didn’t expect any agents to see my little blog post, and it definitely wasn’t written with the intent of getting myself noticed. I was simply going through a ton of contest anxiety, so I wrote a post for my fellow contestants, who were certainly as anxious as I was. But it just goes to show that agents may be more aware of us than we know. You don’t have to be everywhere or involved with every type of social media, but it really helps to have a positive online presence.
Amy: What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?
Veronica: Never give up! I know it’s totally cliché, and you hear it all the time, but it’s the best advice I’ve ever received. This business can be disheartening and crushing at times, and if you’ve never thought of giving up, you probably haven’t been writing very long. But every single good thing that’s happened in my writing career can be traced directly back to one of those major discouraging moments. In fact, those moments when I wanted to give up and didn’t pushed me to grow in ways I never would have otherwise.
Find a group of great critique partners, who will encourage you to grow beyond your current self, but who won’t let you quit when the going gets tough. These friends are golden!
Sixteen-year-old Andi is tired of being a second-class sibling to perfect sister Laina. The only thing Andi’s sure she has going for her is her awesome hair. And even that is eclipsed by Laina’s perfect everything else.
When Andi’s crush asks her to fix him up with Laina, Andi decides enough is enough, and devises a twelve-step program to wrangle the spotlight away from Laina and get the guy.
Step 1: Admit she’s powerless to change her perfect sister, and accept that her life really, really sucks.
Step 4: Make a list of her good qualities. She MUST have more than just great hair, right?
Step 7: Demand attention for more than just the way she screws things up.
When a stolen kiss from her crush ends in disaster, Andi realizes that her twelve-step program isn’t working. Her prince isn’t as charming as she’d hoped, and the spotlight she’s been trying to steal isn’t the one she wants.
As Laina’s flawless façade begins to crumble, the sisters work together to find a spotlight big enough for both to shine.
Veronica Bartles grew up in Wyoming and currently lives in New Mexico with her husband and four children. As the second child of eight children and the mother of four, Veronica Bartles is no stranger to the ups and downs of sibling relationships. She uses this insight to write stories about siblings who mostly love each other, even while they’re driving one another crazy. When Veronica’s not writing or lost in the pages of her newest favorite book, she enjoys creating delicious desserts, exploring new places, and knitting with recycled materials.
TWELVE STEPS is Veronica’s first novel.