I’m always curious to see what a writer‘s responses are going to be when I send them interview questions. Most of the time, I learn each and every author has a VERY different experience when it comes to getting an agent and being published. Some toiled in the query trenches for years before hitting agent gold. Others got lucky and reached an agent at just the right time, as today’s featured writer, Jessika Fleck did.
No matter the journey, one element remains the same among all writers – their belief in their work and constant commitment to following their dream. Each week I’m inspired by their journeys enough to slog deep down into query hell again because I KNOW if I keep trying, maybe, just maybe, it will happen for me one day too!
Many thanks to Jessika for sharing her personal journey today…
Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
For me it was an exact moment. Sounds cliche’, but really it was. I’ve always been artistic, but after we had our two daughters less than two years apart, the art supplies were tucked away in a closet for safe keeping and I slowly lost my creative person. A couple years passed and that artist inside of me started clawing to escape. I found myself desperate for something more…so full of passion and desire to create yet without an outlet to dump it all into. That’s when a story hit me. I was brushing my teeth (romantic, I know) and —BAM— a memory along with an entire storyline came bounding at me. I began writing, not knowing anything about what I was doing. Writing always seemed an academic practice to me, less creative, less inspiring than, say, slapping paint on a canvas. But I was doing it. I couldn’t NOT do it, the story and characters wouldn’t leave me be. Later I realized I’d been telling stories all along, only my medium had changed.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
Jessika: One. My first manuscript (the BAM! moment story) was a complete and necessary learning experience for me. It was during that year (yes, an entire year) I evolved into a writer.
Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?
Jessika:Well, it took me several rejections (more than it should have) to realize that 180K words (part of why it took me a year to write) is way too long to garner any interest, not the positive kind anyway. Once I researched proper word count, I began cutting it down, but was then hit with the idea for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL. With that, I knew I had to shelve my first manuscript and commit to the next.
Amy: Did your query for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL come easily or did it go through many drafts?
Jessika: Query and easily aren’t two words I will ever put in the same sentence! It is one of the most daunting things to attempt smashing the compelling points of a manuscript into three short paragraphs, while maintaining an authentic voice and making good selling points. In many ways I find writing a query letter more difficult than writing a full manuscript.
My conservative guess is that the query for FAMILIARITY went through roughly thirty drafts (towards the end many of the file names including impressive use of expletives). 🙂
Amy: Did you have critique partners for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?
Jessika: I was still new to the writing world when drafting FAMILIARITY. I had friends beta read for me before I queried. However, once I realized I was getting more rejections that anything I hired an independent editor to look it over. After doing an intense round of edits, I started entering contests, connecting with other writers and eventually found a couple of wonderful critique partners. So, while I didn’t utilize their insight and support as I wish I could have with FAMILIARITY, I now know how invaluable CP’s are to the process and wouldn’t consider a project complete without running it by them first.
Amy: How many agents did you query for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?
Jessika: The real number? Really, really? I’ve never said (but no one’s ever asked) and truly I haven’t gone back and counted – until now – and I do believe it deserves a drum roll! I received 49 rejections and 26 non-replies that were to be considered rejections, so 75. Out of those I got five full requests and 10-12 partial requests.
Response times varied between agents and agencies. Some would get back to me in minutes, others six weeks. The BEST was when I actually got feedback. Whether it was negative or positive it was always constructive and so very helpful. I really appreciated those responses.
Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Jamie Bodnar Drowley?
Jessika: Ah…the call. Jamie had the full of FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL out and read it at superhero pace (a day and a half at most). She emailed me after completing it and asked if I could chat over the phone about a question she had regarding the word count. Of course I said yes and, trying to keep a steady head about me, assumed she liked it, but was going to ask me to cut it down and resubmit.
When I got the call the next day, it wasn’t just Jamie on the phone, but also Marisa Corvisiero – a simple question about word count had somehow landed me on the receiving end of a conference call! At that point I knew there was more than “word count” to discuss. Marisa and Jamie explained how much they loved my project and they wanted to offer me representation…me representation! I believe I mumbled something completely incoherent like, “Um…wow, oh my gosh…thanks!” After we talked some specifics and hung up I literally walked circles around my living room staring at my phone in my hand, trying to remember how to use it so I could call someone, anyone, and share my news. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
Amy: Publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to attract agent interest?
Jessika: Honestly, I’d say it was part pure luck, part hard work, and part catching the right agent at the right time. There are so many factors that go into why agents reject projects. I like to think for me it was querying the right agency/agent for my genre/style, that my writing was compelling, and draft #30 of my query somehow caught her attention. Jamie’s enthusiasm for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL rivals my own passion for it and THAT is what you want in an agent – someone who believes in you as a writer, in the work you produce, who wants more than anything for you to reach your goals, and who will push you to do your best so you’ll get there.
I’ve come to realize that finding an agent is like finding a life-partner, but for your manuscript. There’s a perfect match out there…somewhere. Odds are if you don’t give up, eventually your paths will cross. I couldn’t be happier about crossing paths with Jamie!
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Jessika: No. I mean, there were times I had fleeting thoughts wondering if all of the hours upon hours of writing was a waste of time, but they were few and far between. Not to say I didn’t experience moments of frustration and dismay. Getting rejected isn’t easy and often times it feels very personal. Even with the sting of rejection and if nothing ever panned out as far as finding an agent and getting published, writing is my passion. It’s enlivening and lovely and all of the things that take my breath away. So, agent or not, book deal or not, I am living my writing dream simply by writing.
Always a lover of art and books, it wasn’t until she put the two together that Jessika discovered the magic of storytelling. Growing up with an overactive imagination lent to many a day exploring new worlds and characters. She still has the overactive imagination, but now puts her stories to paper. Jessika lives in Colorado with her sweet family, growing collection of vintage typewriters, and bevy of characters who often keep her up at night. She is represented by Jamie Bodnar Drowley with Inklings Literary Agency and both her NA Paranormal, FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL, and YA Dystopian/Dark Fantasy, THE OFFERING, are currently on submission. To learn more about Jessika, check out her blog, Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @jessikafleck.