Many times when I do an interview with a new author they say something that resonates with me. In today’s interview with Alexis Bass, I was struck by her comment about continuing to write during the query process. It’s true that the constant “refreshing” of your inbox can drive you mad, but if you can focus on something new it helps keep the insanity level in check. And it’s true what Alexis says, (even though it may be hard to hear) but every novel that doesn’t get published is great practice.
Many thanks to Alexis for sharing her nuggets of advice and her amazing writing journey today…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
Alexis: I always, always, loved writing and dreamed about being published. But actively going about it—revising, getting critiques, researching agents, sending out queries—probably happened when I was three years out of college. Prior to getting serious I was a first draft junkie with several completed novels under my belt, none of which had been revised or edited. When I was in college I always thought, Oh, writing is such a hobby for me, I’ll do it in my free time, and eventually get published. It makes me laugh now. I did work toward getting published in my “free time”—but really, for me that meant pursuing it like it was a second job. I lost a lot of sleep, took a lot of working lunches, and my laptop came with me on any and all vacations. But I loved it, so it was worth it.
Amy: When did you complete your first Young Adult manuscript?
Alexis: About four years ago I spent time revising and editing a novel to get it to the point where I thought it was acceptable to start pitching to agents; and it happened to be YA.
It was not LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES. 😉
Amy: I love the Marilyn Monroe quote you use in LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES. Was this the inspiration behind the book?
Alexis: Thanks! That quote was a huge part of the inspiration for LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES. I was also greatly inspired by general conversations I’d had with my girlfriends in high school and college about dating, about boys, and about the way we examined what other girls went through thinking either, “that’s not going to be me” or “she’s got it figured out.” So it was natural writing about these characters who treat avoiding heartbreak as a serious business.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Alexis: Once I got the hang of it, it didn’t seem so bad—but writing the query for that first YA novel was so torturous. I took a class, which helped. I also had critique partners going through the same thing—HUGE help. But what really worked best for me was writing a query-type summary (250 words) whenever I got an idea for a novel, even before I started drafting it. I’d recommend this to everyone, because when the idea is the freshest it’s easiest to break down query-style, highlighting the most pivotal plot points to paint a picture of the main conflict. The query for LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES was drafted before the novel was finished. It just required some tweaking after the manuscript was revised and ready to be sent to agents.
Amy: How many agents did you query for LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES?
Alexis: Since this was my second time in the query-rodeo, I approached it much differently. I was very selective about who I sent the query to; it reached around fifteen agents, if memory serves. I also tested the query first, through webinars where agents were offering critiques, and through pitch sessions, just to see if my idea and my pitch were drawing any attention.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
Alexis: Some query rejections came quickly; some full-manuscript requests came quickly; some I had to wait for. Once your manuscript is out with agents, waiting is always part of it, but that’s the kind of waiting that’s a bit more fun (I think!).
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Suzie Townsend? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Alexis: I wish I could recount more details from The Call—I was all too nervous, stunned, happy, to remember specifics. There was this checklist I got off the internet, “what to ask during ‘the call’” or something, and I printed it out, ready to ask everything I was “supposed” to ask. I think every question on the list Suzie addressed and after a while I stopped looking at it. 🙂 I do remember I said, “I want to scream!” instead of actually screaming. I’m sure that was much appreciated, by both my neighbors’ and Suzie’s eardrums.
Aside from the general things I knew about Suzie and New Leaf Literary and Media from my research, I knew she was the right fit for me because of how much she loved and understood my book. She also gave me one of the best revision notes I’d ever received, and changed the book for the better x 100, while not changing the themes of the story.
Amy: As many writers know the publishing world is very hard to break into. What was the one thing you did to help garner agent attention?
Alexis: Followed the rules. (Is that boring? haha) I knew agents got 300 plus queries a week, so I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to read my query. And should it have peaked their interest, I didn’t want to give them any reason to suspect that I might be anything but completely professional about writing and my writing career. A short, carefully edited query, with as many pages as the agent preferred included, was what I concentrated on.
I also knew the market I was entering very well, so I was able to make a comparison. Love and Other Theories will appeal to readers of Nina LaCour and Courtney Summers. I’ve been told that was helpful, too!
Amy: If you were giving a keynote speech at a writer’s conference what would be the most important piece of advice you would share?
Alexis: Keep writing. Maybe that’s basic advice, but really if you’re writing it’s because your ideas are demanding you to. So indulge. Remember that every book that doesn’t get published was great practice. Listen to what other people tell you about your story, without getting defensive. Be willing to go outside of your own head, and see the story through others’ eyes. Fix it. Delete the long sentences you love. Delete entire chapters. Keep reading to always discover new things you love about what you’re doing. Participate, even though the publishing world is sort of daunting and feels exclusive. Go to conferences, online or in person. Pitch your novel even if your hands shake and voice stutters (I’ve been there—agents are very understanding about this!). Talk to other writers even though you don’t want to answer that dreaded question: What is your book about? Query ‘that one agent’ even though you think they’re out of reach since signing Famous Author X. Cry over rejections. Get excited when your book makes your beta-readers emotional. Obsessively check your email during submission. But don’t stop writing. Unpublished words are never useless, they are process.
Alexis Bass grew up in Washington, went to college in Arizona, and currently lives in Northern California (by way of Seattle). She loves fashion and good TV as much as she loves a good book, and she is a huge advocate of the three C’s: coffee, chocolate, and cheese. Her debut novel, LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES, will be published by HarperTeen in Winter 2014. For more information on Alexis, visit her blog, Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.