It’s my pleasure to feature Precy Larkins on today’s installment of W.O.W. I first got to know Precy (a.k.a Cherie) through Agent Query Connect when I read her good news about becoming agented. Shortly thereafter, I sent her a message asking her to critique my query. Her response was kind and the feedback extremely helpful. After pestering her about my query, I then bothered her again to ask for this interview. Again, she was VERY gracious and agreed to share her amazing journey.
Precy: Let’s see… I started writing the concept for HIDDEN, which was called BEDFORD’S SECRETS back then, about 4 years ago. That was my first attempt at novel writing, so as you can imagine, it was total crap. I was then pregnant with my second child, and maybe it was the hormones egging me to do something I’ve never done before, or maybe I was just antsy and needed something to distract me from the common pregnancy aches and pains. Anyway, I wrote 122K words in about 3-4 months. Being a newbie, I sent a total of 3 query letters—2 rejections and 1 no response. I knew my ms wasn’t ready so I trashed it soon after.
But I didn’t stop writing. Instead, I decided to learn all I could about the craft, and also about the publishing business. I frequented Agent Query Connect, where I made friends with aspiring writers like me. I rewrote HIDDEN from scratch maybe 4 more times, only to discard them without finishing. I struggled to find my “voice”. At the same time, I started other writing projects—an MG Fantasy and several short story pieces. Let’s just say they were practice pieces. A prelude for the book I would have the heart to write and query someday.
Amy: When did you complete your first manuscript?
Precy: As I’ve mentioned, my first [terribly written] manuscript took me about 4 months. HIDDEN, my current ms, was written in two phases. By late 2010, I decided to revisit the original concept and turn it upside down. Then I began writing the first half of the book. Personal life got in the way so I put writing on hold. Until I started blogging in April 2011.
Now the thing about blogging is that you are certainly going to meet excellent people and make new friends. When my blogging friends decided to create a challenge, to accomplish whatever it is that we need to accomplish by a certain date, I jumped on the opportunity. I needed the motivation to finish HIDDEN. I finally finished it on October of 2011. Then I let it stew while I geared myself up for NaNoWriMo that next month.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Precy: HIDDEN is my first completed manuscript to query. I didn’t count its earlier version since I never really pursued querying it—I guess I was smart enough to recognize it didn’t stand a chance. At all.
Amy: If you had bites on previous manuscripts, and then was ultimately turned down by agents, what kept you pressing forward?
Precy: Like I said, HIDDEN’s my first ms to query. It took me 6 weeks of intermittent querying to land my agent. I had 2 other full requests before I queried my agent. But since the publishing business is slow, I wasn’t expecting any responses from those bites…at least not right away. My agent, Ms. Julia A. Weber, was really fast with her turnaround. It only took her less than a week to offer me representation. I queried her on a Thursday, and two hours later she asked for the partial. The next day, Friday, she asked me for the full. By Tuesday, she offered me representation.
Prior to querying Ms. Weber, I had queried at least 30 agents with different versions of my query (I was still working on my query so I sent them in batches. Maybe 3 out with version #1, 5 out with version #3, etc.) The responses were slow because agents were just coming back from the Bologna Book Fair and other local writing conferences. I also encountered problems with the spam filter (I knew this because sometimes, I wouldn’t get an auto-response when there was supposed to be one). All in all, it was very trying on my patience…the waiting part was hard, though it wasn’t particularly terrible. I just kept my focus on getting my query right. Plus, being pregnant kept me distracted from checking my email every five seconds.
The thing is, you have to accept early on that this business really requires a lot of patience and waiting. Once you’ve accepted that, it’s easier to go through the motions and not go psycho. If you really believe in your book, your story, your writing, and yourself, then by all means, do not give up after a few rejections or inactivity in your email inbox. Just keep on going, but be productive at the same time.
Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish HIDDEN? What did they add to the process?
Precy: A BIG YES! My critique partner, A. M. Supinger, helped me spot typos, grammar issues, and inconsistencies in my manuscript. She was also a very tough critiquer, but in a good, positive way. She asked me questions I would never have thought of as the writer, so her feedback was invaluable to me. I also had a few beta readers (Bethany Crandell, Angela V. Cook, T.S. Welti, Suzanne F. Payne) who gave me their thoughts upon reading my work. Their suggestions let me look at my manuscript in a different angle. I’m very grateful to these amazing people. But ultimately, the decision to what stays and what goes was mine. This is something we all need to remember when we receive feedback. Don’t ever get your walls up if there’s a comment you don’t agree with—remember, your crit partners and beta readers are taking the time to read your work. This business is highly subjective too, so opinions can be based on personal preferences.
The same concept goes for querying agents. Just because you get rejections doesn’t mean you should stop (unless if your query is awful and needs polishing). I’ve had agents tell me my writing was beautiful but the premise wasn’t something they were looking for, or that they would invite me to query them with a different project.
Amy: How long did it take you to write the query for HIDDEN? Did it come easily or did you have to go through many drafts?
Precy: I went through a LOT of drafts. I must have had nine or ten versions in all—can’t remember for sure. I had my friends look at it. I posted it for critique on AQC. I even had BBC’s Query Cat slash it with a hatchet. I stayed up until 2 in the morning one day, staring at the jumbled mess of queries I had on my laptop, and then I wrote the version that would intrigue my agent.
Query writing was an ongoing process. Like I’ve mentioned before, I sent them out in small batches. The query that got me my agent was a product of an epiphany. After I sent it to Ms. Weber that fateful day, I immediately sent it to at least 10 more agents, from which I would garner 6 more full requests.
Amy: How many agents did you query for HIDDEN?
Precy: My stats:
40 queries sent
3 fulls requested before my agent offered representation (including my agent)
6 more fulls requested after I sent out notices of offer of rep
12 no response
5 passes because they saw the notices too late
14 query rejections
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
Precy: It varied. Some were fast responders, some slow. But with my full requests, they came pretty fast. I’m still getting late responses right now—mostly congratulations for the offer of rep email notice I sent them last May.
Amy: What can you tell us about “the call” with your agent, Julia A. Weber?
Precy: I wasn’t ready for it. I had gotten used to the waiting and the slow query responses that when her email showed up letting me know how much she loved my manuscript, I went into panic mode. Luckily, I have great friends who are agented. One of them immediately sent me a list of what to ask, and she also told me what to do next. (Thanks, Bethany!)
I exchanged emails with Ms. Weber—our sort of “getting to know you” correspondence. I was thrilled with her answers, and I knew we would be a good fit, personality-wise. Prior to querying her, I had already followed her on Twitter. She was always helpful and funny, offering tips to writers at every chance. So I knew that she would be someone I would love to work with.
Amy: The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart on aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their publishing dream?
Precy: Learn as much as you can. Don’t be hasty. I’ve seen this all the time: writers who immediately query their unpolished mss. Writers who don’t do their research, or don’t take the time to learn about the publishing business before querying. There is power in knowledge. Just as you wouldn’t set out for a job interview sans make-up or shower or with nice, clean clothes on, don’t send out your work if it clearly needs more editing passes. You don’t want to lose your first chance, or create a bad first impression.
And the same thing goes for your query. Ask for help. Keep on working at it. I know queries are HARD to write, but so is getting a job, right? Or writing an essay for a university admissions application form. If you want results, work for it. There are no shortcuts.
Thank you, Amy, for this opportunity to ramble on your blog!
No Precy, thank you, and I look forward to seeing HIDDEN on the shelves one day soon!
Precy maintains a blog and a Twitter account, where her friends know her affectionately by her nickname, Cherie. Her Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy novel, HIDDEN, is a story of a girl battling demons in her head only to find out they are real. With dark magick and soul-suckers on the loose, and a boy who can’t be trusted, she must use her visions to survive the world hidden beyond her own.