I’ve heard it several times, and in several interviews, but you can never underestimate the power of the slush pile. As today’s W.O.W. with Lauren Spieller shows, if you have a solid submission package, the slush can help you attract the attention of a great agent. It may take time (and perhaps entering a few contests) but having an impressive query and first pages can help you make a career-changing connection!
Many thanks to Lauren for sharing her writing journey today!
Amy: What inspires you to write both Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction?
Lauren: I’ve written two YAs and one MG, and MAN are they different experiences! Right now I’m connecting with YA more (I’m really interested in the changes–both internal and external– that happen during the teen years), but I plan on working on another MG in the future. I might even go back to my second manuscript, which was a really fun, magical MG.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
Lauren: I didn’t query my first YA widely, because by the time I finished it, I realized I had out-grown the project, both in skill and interest. My second manuscript–the magical MG–brought in quite a few requests, three of which eventually turned into R&Rs. However, I started CAPTIVE during the MG querying process, and by time I received the last R&R, I was EXTREMELY excited about querying my new project. Turns out it was “the one!”
Amy: Did your query for CAPTIVE come easily or did it go through many drafts?
Lauren: BOTH! It came pretty easily, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t nitpick it! I run a freelance editing business, and query critiques are my specialty, so I felt very prepared to write my CAPTIVE query. That being said, my critique partners still helped me fine tune the wording, and were extremely supportive when I asked them to read draft after draft even though I’d only changed a word here or there!
Amy: Did you have critique partners for CAPTIVE? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?
Lauren: Absolutely! I worked with early draft critique partners, multiple rounds of beta readers, and 2 Pitch Wars mentors. All told, more than 10 people gave me feedback on CAPTIVE (be it the first page, the first 50 pages, the synopsis, or the entire manuscript). I am extremely grateful for their feedback, especially since my manuscript hinged on eliciting the right emotion at the right time. I couldn’t have nailed down the pacing without my talented CPs!
Amy: How many agents did you query for CAPTIVE? Did you receive immediate responses, or did you have to wait a while for replies?
Lauren: I queried about 38 agents total, quite a few of which went out *after* I had already received full requests. Some agents responded within days, others took weeks, and some never responded at all! I also received a few requests via Pitch Wars, the amazing contest run by Brenda Drake. Though I ultimately signed with an agent I queried on my own (Go Team Slush!), the mentoring aspect of Pitch Wars helped me polish my first page, which definitely contributed to my querying success.
Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Jim McCarthy? How did you know he was a good fit for you?
Lauren: Jim was my #1 choice, so when he emailed me about scheduling “The Call,” I went into a state of shock. Luckily I managed to email him despite my catatonic state, and we ended up talking immediately. Most of the call was a blur, but I do distinctly remember warning him that I was probably going to cry.
I knew Jim was the right agent for me for four reasons: 1) He told me right off the bat that he had read my book twice and couldn’t stop thinking about the main character’s twisted journey. It was important to me that an agent be enthusiastic! 2) He told me about the strengths AND weaknesses of the manuscript. I wanted an agent who would be honest with me, and Jim was. 3) We saw eye to eye about revisions (in fact, he called me out on the very thing I knew I needed to improve!) 4) We got along right away! It also didn’t hurt that he made me laugh within the first two minutes of the call.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Lauren: I’ve never been tempted to give up writing in general, but I HAVE been tempted to give up on individual manuscripts before I should. In those cases, I relied heavily on my friends and family, in particular my amazing boyfriend Patrick and my friend and CP Juliana Brandt. Without them, I’d probably have gone crazy by now. If there was an acknowledgments section of my life, I’d dedicate my years as a querying writer to them.
…And to cocktails and pizza. They supported me when I needed them most. Love you, guys.
Lauren Spieller is a California girl living in Brooklyn. When she isn’t longingly gazing at interior design blogs, searching for Brooklyn’s best latte, unintentionally collecting owls, or complaining about the weather, she spends her time writing young adult and middle grade novels, as well as short stories for adults. She also works as a freelance editor, specializing in query and manuscript critiques. Lauren welcomes you to contact her about any and all of these things!
Lauren is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
Follow her on twitter @laurenspieller