Writing is a very solitary endeavor. Most of us crawl into our hole, whether that be a small office in our home, or a quiet corner of a sleepy cafe, and simply disappear with our characters. But once our MS is complete and we seek the light of day again, we need help getting that baby out into the world.
When I first stumbled onto the site, Cat Woods was one of the first people kind enough to answer my naive questions about how the forums and threads worked. Later on, when I decided to write a short story for an upcoming anthology, called “The Fall,” Cat agreed to look at my work and help me hone it before I sent it for submission.
Now to be honest, Cat only knows me via AQC. She lives in the midwest, I live in the southwest. But even still, she was willing to take the time out of her busy schedule as a mother, wife and writer to help me out. So it was only natural for me to want her featured in the W.O.W. She is not only an amazing person, but a fiercely talented writer, whose writing journey begs to be shared…
Amy: At what age did you truly know you wanted to be a writer?
Cat: I wasn’t the typical as-soon-as-I-could-hold-a-crayon writer. While I wrote well and easily in school, this ability only served to hone my procrastination skills and still put “A”s on my papers. As my children grew, I started writing/telling them stories, but even then, I focused on writing and publishing for adults and small businesses. It wasn’t until about eight years ago that I discovered my passion for juvenile literature–and with that, a burning desire to have my words on night stands across the globe.
Amy: What compels you to write juvenile fiction?
Cat: I love kids. Plain and simple. There is nothing in this world as amazing or as fascinating as children. As adults, we give them so little credit for who they are, what they do and how they feel. We believe we are superior because of our experiences. What we don’t realize is they have the upper hand because they are still unafraid of self-discovery. They still feel passionately. They take risks, and yet they grow despite the outcomes. In my mind, it’s an honor to write for them.
Amy: When did you complete your first manuscript?
Cat: Oh, Lord. I’m not even sure I can answer this properly, as I’ve been writing for small businesses and newsletters since the early nineties. However, my first published fiction (a short story for adults) appeared in a nationally known magazine in 1998. My first “real” story for kids was a chapter book I wrote for my nephew in 2003. This was nothing more than a gift and I didn’t really consider it “writing” in the classic sense. So, my first fiction manuscript in the true sense of the word appeared during the summer of 2004. My daughter asked me to tell her a pirate story. I obliged–verbally, as was our style–and she kept bugging me. “And then what happened?” To which I would add another incident. Within three days, I had a completed 12,000 word chapter book. The following summer I wrote two middle grade novels and have continued from there.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Cat: Again, being the non-traditional writer in every way, I started querying editors, not agents. I would often garner hand-written rejections. Twice I was this close. Remember that little pirate story? It came back to me with little sticky note illustrations throughout the manuscript and a beautiful rejection letter that I cherish to this day. It wasn’t until after I joined AgentQuery Connect that I even considered sending my work to agents. In the spring of 2010, I sent out a very tiny round of queries for a picture book I loved–Still love!–and got some great feedback. A month later, I sent out nine queries for my pirates and landed an agent. That said, my writing closet is full of completed manuscripts, rough drafts and stories between edits. In other words, I’ve penned many, many words to get where I am today.
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?
Cat: As I’m sure you’ve gathered from my answers above, I’m not normal. I love writing queries. Love it! It uses a completely different part of my brain that writing the actual manuscript does not. I think my experience writing non-fiction makes this task far less daunting than it could be. But again, while writing comes easily to me, I’m a tweaker. I tweak for a long time.
Amy: What has the submission process been like for you?
Cat: It doesn’t faze me at all. I’ve already submitted to editors directly and know what it’s like to have my work scrutinized at that level. Truly, querying agents was a much more terrifying experience for me.
Amy: If one manuscript didn’t get sold, how did you know it was time to move on to the next project?
Cat: Well, we’re not quite there yet. When I asked my agent that question, he said, “There’s always a place to submit. We just might need to wait for the right time.” Such words of wisdom. I write, edit and send to my agent. He figures out the timing.
Amy: Can you give us a short summary of your call with your agent?
Cat: No call. We had “conversed” heavily via emails prior to his offer–and I’d done a fair amount of agent stalking, as well, so knew what was important to me. I did, however, get to meet him in person at a conference. He was amazing. Having a professional in your corner who sees something in your writing is very liberating.
Amy: As a moderator on AgentQuery Connect you’ve seen many posts about the ups and downs of the publishing business. What is one piece of advice you would give to a fellow AQCer who wanted to give up on their writing dream?
Cat: For starters, I’m not going to tell everyone they should keep trying to publish a specific story, because not everything should be published. However, I will always encourage writers to keep writing. If writing is a passion that speaks to you and makes you happy, write as often as you can.
The main idea I try to pass along is that we need to educate ourselves on the business end of writing as much as the craft of it. By not understanding both, we lose so much of the experience along the way–and sometimes even lose the way altogether. We also tend to lose focus about why we write, what we want and how we can get there. Each writer has a different goal and must understand himself to be successful. We must also understand that our experiences and outcomes will be as unique as the stories we try to sell. We have to stop comparing ourselves to others because that gives jealousy a foothold, turning our passion into something ugly and impure.
Thank you so much for inviting me to share my journey with your readers!
A self-proclaimed Scrabble addict, Cat Woods pens quirky juvenile fiction for the younger set and dark YA for those ready to explore the intricacies of the psyche. When she’s not raising her family of four kids, two dogs and one devoted husband, she can be found acting as a housewife, speech coach, child advocate for at-risk kids and a freelance writer. You’re welcome to join her at Words from the Woods, From the Write Angle or AgentQuery Connect.