When I first started researching queries, I looked all over the internet for a great example of how to formulate the perfect pitch. I went to many sites: Writer’s Digest, Agent Query Connect, etc… looking for one that really stood out and spoke to me on many levels. Basically, I just wanted to be inspired to write something brilliant. I searched endlessly and then I came upon the following:
16-year-old Dusty Everhart might make a regular habit of breaking into houses late at night, but she’s no criminal. She is a Nightmare, a magical being who must feed on the dreams of others, and in doing so experience those dreams, too. But when her latest dreamer, Eli Booker, the hot guy from her old high school, turns out to be dreaming about a murder which shortly comes true, she goes from non-criminal to reluctant crime fighter.
Dusty learns that together she and Eli posses the rare ability to predict the future through dreams. They are soon enlisted by the magickind government to help identify the person killing students at Dusty’s high school, Arkwell Academy, a secret school for magickind. Now Dusty and Eli must follow the clues both within Eli’s dreams and out of them to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what they’re up to and marks them as the next target.
This was Mindee Arnett’s pitch for The NIGHTMARE AFFAIR, which garnered her attention from super agent, Suzie Townsend. Now back then, I didn’t know who Mindee was, I just knew I admired her writing style. I dug back through my archives and found her name and tracked her down, because I knew I wanted to hear about her writing journey. Her story taught me that you can have many amazing ideas and manuscripts and the writing to back them up but sometimes they don’t take. Eventually though, you hit upon a stellar idea and it all just clicks. Again, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, – it’s all about perseverance and the drive to make your dream a reality.
I learned a lot from reading Mindee’s odyssey and I hope you will too!
Amy: When did you first begin writing?
Mindee: I wrote my very first short story in the sixth grade. My teacher presented the class with a writing prompt, and we had one week to write a story from it. I had always been an avid reader, but I’d never before realized I could write my own stories. It was as if she had opened a door for me to this secret, magical world. And once I stepped through, I never turned back. I’ve been writing ever since.
Amy: Have you always written YA fiction?
Mindee: No, not consciously, although many of my stories and early novels could easily be considered YA. The Nightmare Affair is definitely the first time I knew when I started that I was going to be writing a young adult novel. But this wasn’t a calculated decision on my part by any means. For me, the story is always boss, and Nightmare wanted to be set in a magical high school. The rest just fell into place.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
Mindee: Before signing with my agent, I completed four novels. And by complete I mean they had a beginning, middle, and end, but weren’t necessarily polished and ready to be out in the world. Like most writers just getting started, I submitted material way too soon.
The first book was a high fantasy. I submitted it to a single publisher that accepted unsolicited and unagented manuscripts. It was rejected, of course, but by the time I received it, I was already halfway through the next book, an adult horror. This one I submitted to around twenty agents. I received a couple of partials and one full request, all of which were rejected. Again, by the time these came in, I had already moved on to the next book, an adult sci-fi. The sci-fi never went on submission. I took the book to my first and only writing conference where I received feedback from an editor. It was an incredibly disheartening experience, one awful enough that I abandoned the book completely. The next novel was an adult paranormal. This one I queried to approximately 50 agents with some partial and full manuscript request, all ultimately rejected.
Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move onto a new project?
Mindee: For me, the answer was to always start the next project as soon as the old was finished. This was the only way for me to deal with the stress of being on submission to agents (and later to editors). And of course with five novels under my belt, writing has become a daily habit and something I do compulsively. As far as determining when to stop querying, I just went with my gut feeling. With the book prior to Nightmare, the adult paranormal, I stopped querying once the heartbreak grew to be too much and when my desire and motivation to continue to revise/rewrite had fizzled out. Sometimes you just know when the tale has gone sour.
Amy: Did your query for THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR come easily or did it go through many drafts?
Mindee: Writing a query letter is never easy. And personally, I would be suspicious of any query that I was able to write without days and days of agonizing and restarts and general flailing. A query letter and a synopsis are by far the hardest piece of writing an author will ever do. The query for Nightmare, which you can read here [http://www.mindeearnett.com/query-letter-example-and-tips-2/], went through multiple variations. By the time I finished writing it, I had fifteen pages of rejected content. Fifteen! That’s a lot of writing.
Amy: Did you have critique partners for THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR? If you did, how critical were they to your writing process?
Mindee: Yes, I most definitely have critique partners and they were/are absolutely critical to the writing process. Prior to Nightmare, the majority of my feedback had come from family members and friends. They were all readers, but most were not writers. This is the key difference. Readers tend to be far less critical and forgiving than reader-writers. It took me a long time to learn this (ahem, 4 books). But with Nightmare, I actively started searching for critique partners online, and I was fortunate enough to find them. One in particular—Lori M. Lee [http://lorimlee.blogspot.com/ ] —has been invaluable to my success. She is both encouraging but critical and as sharp as they come. If you’re writing a book, you need a Lori. Trust me. You do. And once your find yours, your world will change.
Amy: How many agents did you query for THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?
Mindee: I queried less than ten agents before signing with Suzie, and it happened very quickly. Within seven days of submitting my query, she offered representation. But honestly, quickness of response is not really an indicator of success. So much of it depends on luck. For me, Suzie had an assistant working for her at the time, and so the query received notice very quickly. But this is not always the case. A lot of the time an agent won’t see your query at all for days and even weeks.
Amy: What can you tell me about “the call” with your agent, Suzie Townsend?
Mindee: It was amazing. I was incredibly nervous about it, and I talked way too fast, but really, it was probably the best phone call of my life. Fortunately, Suzie did most of the talking. She was very professional. She had prepared a list of why she loved the book as well as a couple of questions she had about it and minor areas where she would like to see it revised. I took notes and did a lot of pacing.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Mindee: No. There were times when I despaired about no longer submitting my work to agents, but I knew in my heart I could never give up writing. Writing, and more specifically story-telling, is an integral part of who I am. I could no sooner turn away from writing stories then I could make myself stop reading books or watching movies and TV shows.
Many thanks to Mindee for taking the time to share her story.
Mindee’s book, THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR, will be released March, 2013. She currently lives on a horse farm in Ohio with her husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and an inappropriate number of cats. She’s addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outer space. Her short stories have appeared in various magazines, and she has a Master of Arts in English literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She also blogs and tweets. Find her online at http://www.mindeearnett.com/