chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

QUITE THE QUERY: LAURA RUECKERT AND A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN March 22, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!

 

Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences, but for those who don’t I wanted to provide a resource where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Laura Rueckert. This great query connected her with her agent, Zoe Sandler at ICM Partners.

 

 

 

 

I hope you’ll be interested in my YA Fantasy with Vietnamese and Maori-inspired elements.

 

 

When an assassin kills Princess Anh’s older sister Mai, her ghost is doomed to walk the earth. Blinding rage leads her to punish loved ones until the killer is brought to justice. Before anyone can track down the murderer, King Matewa, from a country far away, requests that seventeen-year-old Anh take her sister’s place as his betrothed.

 

 

Anh couldn’t be more torn. She’s never forgotten that breathtaking moment—back before her sister’s engagement—when the tattooed king’s laughing eyes had locked with hers. But due to dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, her chances of learning a new language are slim. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land, where she’d be unable to communicate.

 

 

Then Anh discovers evidence that Mai’s assassin came from Matewa’s country. Marrying the king would allow Anh to seek the murderer and release herself and her family from Mai’s spirit, whose thirst for blood mounts every day.

 

 

With a translator by her side, magical bracelets on her forearms, and a dagger strapped to her calf, she makes her way to the country of her sister’s assassin. But Anh hasn’t even reached her new home when the first attempt is made on her life. To save her family, Anh must find Mai’s killer…before he murders her too.

 

 

A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN is complete at 76K words and would appeal to fans of Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore and The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.

 

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

I only sent a handful of this version of my query. Then I rewrote it. Just goes to show a query doesn’t have to be perfect—only good enough to make the agent interested in reading more. I also actually sent the query to a different agent which proves many of them really do share queries if they think someone else is a better fit!

 

 

 

 

Laura grew up in Michigan but dove into a whirlwind romance just after college, which meant moving to southern Germany without a job, but with a lot of love. She and her husband married a blink of an eye later, and they’ve now lived there happily for more years than seem possible. By day, Laura manages process and system projects, and she’s a mother of two. Nights and stolen daytime hours are devoted to living in her head: writing YA science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and her work is represented by Zoe Sandler of ICM Partners. You can find her on Twitter (@LauraRueckert) or on her blog.

 

 

 

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with McKelle George October 26, 2016

 

 

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Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.

 

 

In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.

 

 

Today, I’m pleased to share McKelle George’s writing journey…

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?

 

McKelle: 2011. I remember, because I’d been living in Hungary for almost two years. Before then, I’d been studying illustration. I switched to English (which isn’t necessary to write, but it was for me and my focus) when I started university the fall of 2011, and now here we are!

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: How many completed YA manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?

 

McKelle: One and a half? I queried the first book I ever wrote, and it was terrible, and though I did get a few full requests, it really wasn’t that good and I’m glad it will never see the light of day. The half is because I submitted my next book to a contest before querying, and it got signed with a small press as a result. However, when I signed with my agent with my next book, we got out of the aforementioned contract.

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?

 

McKelle: It wasn’t easy, exactly, but also not that hard. For my first book, that was because I didn’t put as much time into research because I had no idea what I was doing. For the book that got me my agent, I only queried 20 before it was in the Brenda Drake’s Pitch Madness contest, and also got some requests from #PitMad. From first query to offer was only about two months, and I blame those two contests for propelling my querying process so quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE?

 

McKelle: I wrote the first word of the first draft July 20, 2013. And I had the phone call with the editor who signed my book December 2015. So, two and a half years.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Do you have critique partners? If so, how critical are they to your writing process?

 

McKelle: Yes! Sometimes I will give my manuscripts to other author friends and I always appreciate their feedback. But I have two critique partners who read everything I write. I met them in college and we went on a study abroad to the UK together and are still really good friends. It’s not at all necessary for CPs, but even more valuable than their feedback on my writing is their friendship, so I love being able to call them to get ice cream with me if I need it—as well as critiquing my work. (:

 

 

 

 

Amy: What one thing are you looking forward to most as a debut author? 

 

McKelle: Holding my physical book in my hands, seeing it on a shelf. So many of the “perks” of publishing are not in your control, and every journey is different. But nothing can take away from having the published finished result of your hard work in front of you.

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: What was your “call” like with Katie Grimm? How did you know she was the right fit for you?

 

McKelle: So, I actually had another offer and another phone call with another agent first. After I sent the courtesy will-you-let-me-know-if-you’re-interested-because-I-have-an-offer e-mail to the other agents who had the full of SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE, she was one of the ones who got back to me and was still interested. And her e-mail was like, ha ha, this huge paragraph of things she thought needed to be fixed in the manuscript, and the end of it was basically, “I would expect a lot of work, but if any of my notes are resonating with you, I’d love to chat.”

 

I remember being really stressed out about choosing the right agent between the ones who offered, because there wasn’t a bad choice. Katie had all the professional things I was looking for in an agent (I had a small checklist of qualities), but in the end, it was also a gut feeling. She just sounded so smart and tough on the phone! I knew she was someone I’d want to have in my corner, and someone I could trust to know the business and get things done. I haven’t regretted the choice once.

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you receive early on in your career that you still use today?

 

McKelle: I don’t know if I still use it, but I still stand by it, and that was: put your first project aside. It was revelatory to me, to stop picking at the same story again and again. Writing more books taught me way more than revising the first old one.

 

The other thing (and sorry to be cliché and use Stephen King) was reading the book On Writing, and reading the passage that starts: do not come to the blank page lightly. It was the first time it clicked for me that I would need to sacrifice other things to do this, that it was a serious thing that deserved to be pursued seriously, and not just some fun hobby.

 

 

 

 

 

mckellegeorgeMcKelle George is an editor, perpetual doodler, associate librarian at the best library in the world (the Salt Lake City Public Library), and lover of quiet adventures. Her debut novel SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd. For more on McKelle, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@McKelleGeorge).

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY – Rachel Lynn Solomon and FINGERS CROSSED September 9, 2016

 

 

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If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!

 

Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences, but for those who don’t I wanted to provide a resource where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Rachel Lynn Solomon. This great query connected her with her agent, Laura Bradford.

 

 

 

 

Seventeen-year-old viola prodigy Adina only feels whole with a bow in her hand. Even though her instrument is usually in the background, she’s determined to become a soloist. Her fraternal twin sister, Tovah, has her own ambitions: MIT, med school, become a surgeon. 

 

But the most important test they’ll take isn’t an audition or a college entrance exam. It’s a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. Huntington’s is a death sentence, and Adina and Tovah have spent the past few years watching it make their mother stumble and hallucinate and forget their names.

 

When the test results reveal that one twin will develop Huntington’s and one won’t, they self-destruct in different ways. One sister realizes testing negative doesn’t give her the freedom she thought it would, and her guilt sabotages her future plans. The other realizes testing positive means she can do whatever she wants — no matter the consequences. And then one concocts a dangerous plan that could change their family forever.

 

FINGERS CROSSED, a dual POV YA contemporary novel, is complete at 90,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Corey Ann Haydu, Amy Reed, and Nina LaCour.

 

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

Here are some query stats:

Queries sent: 80

Requests: 26

Offers of rep: 3

 

 

 

 

rachelsolomonRachel Lynn Solomon is a Seattle native who loves rainy days, tap dancing, red lipstick, and new wave music. Her debut contemporary YA novel, FINGERS CROSSED, will be out from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse in spring 2018, with a second book to follow in 2019. She’s represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency. You can find Rachel online at rachelsolomonbooks.com and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.

 

QUITE THE QUERY: Gwen Katz and AMONG THE RED STARS August 17, 2016

 

QuiteTheQuery

 

 

 

 

If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!

 

 

Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences, but for those who don’t I wanted to provide a resource where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Gwen Katz. This great query connected her with her agent, Thao Le.

 

 

 

Eighteen-year-old tomboy Valya and the boy next door, Pasha, breathlessly follow the adventures of Soviet air navigator Marina Raskova. When World War II breaks out and Valya discovers that Raskova is getting airwomen into combat, she’s first in line. Valya hopes to become a fighter pilot, but Raskova assigns her to the night bombers. Instead of a high-tech Yak-1, Valya ends up flying a wood and canvas biplane no faster than a car.

 

 

On the front, Valya braves anti-air guns, blinding searchlights, and deadly Luftwaffe night fighters, all under the command of an air force that still believes women are only suited for the home front. When Pasha, now a Red Army radio operator, finds himself trapped behind enemy lines, one small aircraft might be able to slip through. Valya sees her chance to rescue the boy who has begun to capture her heart—but in Stalin’s Russia, defying orders could land both of them in front of a firing squad.

 

 

Valya’s regiment, the 46th Guards, really existed. Its aviators so terrified the Wehrmacht that the German soldiers nicknamed them the “Night Witches,” yet the brave Soviet women and girls who served in World War II are little known in the West. My 84,000-word YA historical novel, AMONG THE RED STARS, highlights many of these real-life heroes. It is a semi-epistolary novel that will appeal to fans of FLYGIRL and CODE NAME VERITY.

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

My query barely changed from its first iteration, but the manuscript itself needed a lot of work. Although it got a lot of attention in contests, I ultimately found my agent through the regular slush pile.

 

 

 

_DSC2444Gwen C. Katz lives in Altadena, California with her husband and a revolving door of transient animals. When she’s not writing, she’s usually drawing, listening to rock music, and leading nature walks. For more on Gwen, follow her on Twitter (@gwenckatz).

 

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Jilly Gagnon March 9, 2016

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I love humor in Young Adult fiction, and I wish we saw more of it. In today’s W.O.W., Jilly Gagnon shares how humor always finds a way into her work. There are so many facets to building an interesting main character. By including humor, as Jilly points out, we can see how characters process and relate to the world around them, which I think is so important when writing Young Adult fiction.

 

 

 

Many thanks to Jilly for sharing her writing journey today…

 

 

 

 

Amy: What drew you to write a Young Adult manuscript?

 

 

Jilly: Honestly, I think the most important, formative years for almost anyone are the teenage years. There’s such an incredible emotional intensity at that age, and it means that even the smallest thing can have huge repercussions for the choices you make, and for how you see yourself. Obviously people grow and change a lot beyond that–I’m by no means the same person I was in high school today. But I think my sense of my place in the world, what kind of person I am and where–or whether–I fit in, was shaped almost entirely between ages 15 and 18.

 

 

As a writer, that makes those years really rich, exciting ground. Your characters can grow and respond in ways that adults–who are more set in our ways–never would.

 

 

And that emotional intensity extends to how you read; that indescribable feeling when a book feels like it was written just for you? For me that always happened when I was a young adult. The idea that I could create that experience in a reader is really exciting.

 

 

 

 

Amy: How many completed YA manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?

 

 

Jilly: Just one (it’s currently in the vault), but I completed two other novels that fell awkwardly between “literary” and “commercial” adult fiction before I realized that my voice, and the stories that interested me, made more sense in the YA world. So I definitely spent some time in the trenches!

 

 

 

 

Amy: I love that you are a comedy writer. Do you think humor will always find a way into your manuscripts?

 

Jilly: I don’t think I’d know how to keep it out! Seriously, sarcasm is my default setting–it’s how my family has always expressed love.

 

 

That said, as a writer, I’m super interested in character and voice, and I think a person’s sense of humor, the way they see and comment on the world, is one of the best ways to let readers in–I love what it can show about what’s going on in a character’s mind.

 

 

More importantly, I think humor is such an important way for us to process things. There’s a saying, that people either see life as one grand tragedy, or one long comedy. I’m definitely in the latter camp. Adding humor even to dark topics is to me not only a relief, it’s an important way to work through them, at least for me.

 

 

 

Amy: Did your query for #famous come easily or did it go through many revisions?

 

 

Jilly: It was pretty straightforward–the idea is loosely based on the “Alex from Target” story, and what might happen if you suddenly had that sort of instantaneous, unearned fame. I think all the major themes and plot points were there from the very beginning!

 

 

 

 

Amy: Did you have critique partners for #famous? If you did, how critical were they to your writing process?

 

 

Jilly: I had both my longtime critique partner, Jen Russ, and my amazing writing group, Carrie-Anne DeDeo, Ken Marden, Jillian Melnyk, and Ben Miller, weighing in on the manuscript.

 

 

They were all absolutely indispensable–I’m very lucky to have a writing group where everyone comes with a slightly different set of strengths, and therefore spots different things the manuscript needs. You get so close to a story at some point that it’s hard to know what’s working–or whether anything is working–and what’s not.

 

 

And Jen and I have been doing full on MS swaps for a few years, now. She’s seen so many versions of all my stories, and yet she’s still impressively capable of seeing a new version with fresh, critical eyes. Seriously, I cannot thank all of them enough.

 

 

 

 

Amy: What can you tell me about your call with your agent, Heather Alexander?

 

 

Jilly: Heather is amazing and possibly my spirit animal. That’s probably the most important thing to know about her. That, and she has great hair.

 

 

By the time we had “the call,” we’d already spent an entire weekend together at Squam Lake–it’s an amazing SCBWI retreat for a small group of writers, and you really have a chance to get to know the people there, including the mentors. There was a lot of wine, and a lot of exciting, in-depth conversations about my writing goals and the manuscript I was working on at that time, and I just felt like she was a person I could see spending an entire career with.

 

 

Needless to say I was thrilled to learn, a few months later (after a more formal submissions process), that she felt the same way! It was like that moment when you learn that your crush likes you back–you can’t stop smiling, even though you know you look like a total goof.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?

 

 

Jilly: I’ve never really considered giving up on writing, but there was a point where I had to change my expectations pretty significantly. Through most of my twenties, I worked low-stress jobs–I managed a boutique, waited tables, and nannied a couple awesome kids–specifically so I would have more time and mental energy to focus on my writing. But a few years back, I just felt stuck. My writing wasn’t progressing along the lines I wanted it to, at least not as quickly as I’d hoped, and the thing about those jobs that was supposed to be a bonus–the extra time and flexibility they gave me–was starting to feel like a burden. I wasn’t working as hard as I had been, and I just felt…well, stuck is the best word, even if it is redundant!

 

 

So I went on some interviews and ended up taking a full-time marketing position. And counterintuitively, at least to me, that motivated me in a way I hadn’t felt in ages. I think I knew from the start that the job wasn’t a great fit, and the discipline of it–every day, week in week out–made that so much harder to deal with. Think of it as a wool sweater that’s a size too small; you can’t stop noticing it constraining you, rubbing every part of you the wrong way.

 

 

That feeling made me want to succeed more than ever before, because I knew that career path wasn’t going to make me happy on its own. I started waking up extra-early to write, taking freelance jobs after work (something I thought I’d have to give up), and jotting down ideas, or a few hundred words of a WiP, during my breaks.

 

 

I was once told by a writing professor that you shouldn’t try to be a writer unless you don’t think you can be anything else (he was warning us all about the difficulty we’d face). I think that job was the moment when I realized “shoot, I really can’t be anything else.”

 

 

 

 

Amy: What advice did you get early on in your career that you still use today?

 

 

Jilly: One of my first mentors was the amazing, talented E. Jean Carroll. She’s always encouraged me to try everything–she’s a fantastic cheerleader for her friends, so whether I was considering writing a short humor piece, or an entire novel, she pushed me to see it through.

 

 

I think the advice–to try anything and everything–was, and is, incredible for two reasons. As writers, we all get stuck sometimes. Trying lots of different things gives you a great way to feel productive when the “main” thing just isn’t coming. But it also forces you to hone different aspects of your craft. You don’t use the same exact skills writing a marketing email as you do for a novel, but having both of those in your toolkit is really important.

 

 

That, and the advice I got from just about everyone I knew who had “made” it as a writer: to never give up. I don’t even know if it’s something you can learn, it might just be a stubbornness in your personality, but enduring in the face of literally hundreds of rejections will pay off if you just keep perfecting your craft, and trying new things, and generally working to improve your writing. I’m proof of that!

 

 

 

JillyHeadShots-12 croppedJilly Gagnon has been living in the Boston area since she graduated from Harvard, but she’ll always be a Minnesota girl at heart. When she’s not writing, she’s probably either deep in a video-game rabbit hole, talking to her cats like they understand her, or practicing her violin, which for some inexplicable reason (masochism) she took up less than a year ago.

 

Jilly’s short humor, personal essays, and op-eds have appeared in all kinds of places that it’s too tedious to list. In addition to young adult fiction, she also writes adult comedy books; her Choose Your Own Misery series, co-authored with Mike MacDonald, launched in 2016.

 

Visit Jilly at www.jillygagnon.com, find her on twitter: @jillygagnon, or connect with her on facebook: facebook.com/JillyGagnonWriter

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Kristy Acevedo October 28, 2015

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Each manuscript provides an opportunity to learn and grow. Your first attempt at writing a story may not be easy, but if you work at your craft, and allow yourself to learn, your work gets better. In today’s W.O.W., Kristy Acevedo shares her journey on the path to publication and explains how taking her time, and allowing herself to mature as a writer, led to selling her debut, CONSIDER to Jolly Fish Press.

 

 

Many thanks to Kristy for sharing her journey today…

 

 

 

Amy: What inspires you to write Young Adult Fiction?

 

Kristy: Teens have always been my natural audience, which is why I also decided to teach at the high school level. My teen years were rather tumultuous, so I want to give back to that age group. Teens also respect honesty, and I’m someone who tells it like it is.

 

 

 

 

Amy: From reading your bio, I know you are a high school English teacher. How much does that affect your writing if it does at all?

 

Kristy: Tons. I spend the majority of my time surrounded by teenagers, including AP students and more reluctant readers. When I write, I try to engage both types of readers with fast-paced and thought-provoking stories.

 

 

 

 

Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to CONSIDER?

 

Kristy: I completed two manuscripts, one that I received great editorial feedback on but haven’t made all the changes yet. My debut idea begged me to write it. Glad I listened. Prior to that, I worked on two manuscripts that are half complete. Writing those stories definitely taught me how to write my debut novel.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?

 

Kristy: No, but I did put it on hold. I had my daughter when I was only 19, and I left college after freshmen year due to her medical needs. I returned to college a year later and finished my English undergrad degree in record time. Then I started teaching, got married, had another daughter, got my master’s. I was writing during all this time but not on a regular basis. I’m actually glad that I didn’t seek publication immediately; it gave me time to experience life and mature as a writer.

 

Four years ago, I decided it was finally time to focus on me and my writing dream. I joined SCBWI, attended conferences, found a fabulous critique group, and started a Twitter monthly writing challenge group to keep me accountable.

 

 

 

Amy: What advice did you get early on in your writing career that you still use today?

 

Kristy: Write in layers. Don’t expect to get everything right in a rough draft. Focus on one aspect and see it through to the end, then go back through and add another layer.

 

I was also encouraged to join SCBWI and find a local critique group. Both have been crucial to learning about the industry and building my craft.

 

 

 

Amy: If you met a struggling writer at a book signing and they told you they were on the verge of giving up, what would you say to them? 

 

 

Kristy: One day at a time. On March 11, 2015 I participated in #PitMad on Twitter. One little favorite by editor TJ da Roza led to my two-book deal with Jolly Fish Press ten days later. You never know what’s right around the corner.

 

 

 

 

Consider

(Available April, 2016)

 

 

As if Alexandra Lucas’ anxiety disorder isn’t enough, mysterious holograms suddenly appear from the sky, heralding the end of the world. They bring an ultimatum: heed the warning and step through a portal-like vertex to safety, or stay and be destroyed by a comet they say is on a collision course with earth. How’s that for senior year stress?

 

The holograms, claiming to be humans from the future, bring the promise of safety. But without the ability to verify their story, Alex is forced to consider what is best for her friends, her family, and herself.

 

To stay or to go. A decision must be made.

 

With the deadline of the holograms’ prophecy fast approaching, Alex feels as though she is living on a ticking time bomb, until she discovers it is much, much worse.

 

 

Kristy AcevedoKristy Acevedo is a YA author, high school English teacher, and huge Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter fan. When she was a child, her “big sister” from the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program fostered her love of books by bringing her to the public library every Wednesday. A member of SCBWI, her debut YA science fiction novel, CONSIDER (Jolly Fish Press, April 2016), won the 2015 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. In 2014 she founded the Monthly Twitter Writing Challenges (see writingchallenge.org). She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. She believes coffee and dark chocolate were put on this planet for the good of humankind. For more on Kristy, check out her website or follow her on Twitter – @kristyace.

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Karen Fortunati October 21, 2015

 

 

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In my opinion, one of the biggest struggles for a writer can be deciding when it’s time to move on. We all have stories that are close to our heart, but for one reason or another, the timing, or the market, isn’t right for that book. It can be difficult to put that idea away, but once we make that choice it can open doors to new possibilities.

 

In today’s W.O.W., Karen Fortunati shares how she made this difficult choice . She had a deep love for her first story, an MG Fantasy, but realized after some difficulty that it was time to move on to a new idea. That new project turned into her debut, THE WEIGHT OF ZERO which will release in the fall of 2016.

 

Many thanks to Karen for sharing her writing odyssey today…

 

 

 

Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?

 

 

Karen: Five years ago, I started a middle grade fantasy story. This was my first attempt at novel writing and I worked on nothing else besides this one story. Now, I absolutely loved this story (still do) but the problem was that I was the only one. After getting query rejections numbering thirty or forty or maybe even more (probably more) over a three year period, I decided to begin a Young Adult story.

 

 

 

Amy: When did you complete your first Young Adult manuscript?

 

 

Karen: I got the idea for The Weight of Zero while attending a full manuscript workshop organized by Kathy Temean in September of 2012. (She runs one or two workshops every year and also has a super helpful blog: https://kathytemean.wordpress.com. Kathy is the former Regional Advisor of the New Jersey SCBWI, a wonderful person and writer and an amazing resource.) As part of the workshop, Kathy had scheduled a first page session. Attendees could present a first page and get professional and group feedback. I had nothing else besides my middle grade manuscript that had already been workshopped. When I told Kathy, she said to write something new. So I did. It was the first page of The Weight of Zero. During the following year, I let the story brew and wrote the first chapter, then a synopsis and then character summaries. By the end of 2013, this story fully grabbed hold of me. I put aside my other manuscript and I finished it in the fall of 2014.

 

 

 

Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?

 

 

Karen: For my middle grade manuscript, the three year query process was demoralizing and discouraging. (I remember getting one rejection back in less than two hours.) It was completely different this time around with The Weight of Zero. I had early agent interest and an offer from Sara Megibow within four weeks of sending her my query.

 

 

 

Amy: How many agents did you query for THE WEIGHT OF ZERO?

 

 

Karen: I probably queried around fifteen agents.

 

 

 

Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?

 

 

Karen: I did not receive any instantaneous responses like my middle grade query. The requests for partials or fulls took approximately one week although one agent got back to me the next day.

 

 

 

Amy: The subject matter in THE WEIGHT OF ZERO is an important one. What influenced you to write the manuscript?

 

 

Karen: In a nutshell, The Weight of Zero is about seventeen-year-old Catherine’s struggle to accept her bipolar disorder. After an excruciating episode of depression, Catherine equates her diagnosis to a death sentence. Deeming suicide her only option, Catherine hopes she can complete her one item bucket list before her depression returns. But her plan gets complicated by a new medication, new therapy and new relationships. Life begins to blossom again but the issue is whether Catherine can realize it in time.

 

 

I was moved to write this story for several reasons. First, I’ve witnessed the effects of mental illness and addiction in family members and friends and seen the impact of suicide. In addition, my husband is a child psychiatrist. Through him, I’ve learned about different mental disorders, the role of medications and the positive outcomes that are possible with good clinicians and meaningful therapy. My goal was to write a story of hope to those suffering with mental disorders. And I wanted to do this by getting into the nitty gritty of care and all that goes into it – both the practical and emotional aspects. Another goal was to expose some of the stigma that a mental disorder carries and just how heavy the weight of that discrimination can be.

 

 

 

Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Sara Megibow?  How did you know she was the right fit for you?

 

 

Karen: I had done my research and knew that Sara was well-respected and experienced and savvy. From reading her Tweets, I also sensed a tremendous enthusiasm and desire to help writers combined with the utmost professionalism and graciousness. Talking to Sara confirmed all this but I knew she was the right agent when she perfectly summarized my manuscript, honing in on the points that were most important to me. She got exactly what the story was about. About three weeks after formally starting to work with Sara, we had an offer from Kate Sullivan, a dream editor at Delacorte.

 

I’m thrilled to be represented by Sara. There’s a tremendous sense of teamwork at KT Literary and Sara is amazing – always available to explain things or assist me in this brand new process. I could not have found a better partner in this publication journey!

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Karen: I put aside my middle grade fantasy and started something very, very different. Based on my experiences and what I’ve learned from my husband, I knew the story would cover some aspect of mental illness. I was lucky – and I think this is what garnered agent attention – because the subject matter was in demand. In addition to a relevant topic, my writing had improved significantly from my first novel attempt. (See point #3 below.) Finally, I put tremendous effort into my query, studying examples of successful queries online to get a better sense of what works.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Karen: These are the four things that helped me tremendously:

 

  1. Joining SCBWI! Attend whatever conferences, meet ups or critique groups that you can. Writing is a lonely business and only people in the same boat can truly understand.

 

  1. Reading. When I first heard this advice five years ago, I scoffed. But now I understand. Once you begin writing, you read differently. I inhaled Contemporary YA and adult books as I wrote Weight. I learned about structure and pacing and voice. I usually listen to audio books and would play the first chapter multiple times to see how much was unveiled and what made me want to keep going and why I felt the way I did about a character. Some of my favorites were Reality Boy, Ask the Passengers, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin and Looking for Alaska. And any book by Jonathan Tropper.

 

  1. Finding a Writer’s Buoy. A buoy can be anything that keeps you, yes, floating/ writing. It’s the one thing or idea you can cling to when you’re ready to slam down your laptop for good. For me, it was this story on Kathryn Stockett and her tenacity in getting The Help sold. http://www.more.com/kathryn-stockett-help-best-seller. For whatever reason, this story struck a chord and I promised myself that I would send at a minimum 50 queries out.

 

  1. Sitting down and writing. And not waiting for the muse to strike. I learned she shows up sooner or later.

 

 

 

 

Karen FKaren is a writer of contemporary, realistic YA. The subject of her first book, The Weight of Zero, is mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, and it explores the shame, stigma and anxiety that often complicate the management of this chronic condition. The issue is personal to Karen, having witnessed the impact of depression and bipolar disorder in relatives and friends.  In addition, her experiences with children as an attorney definitely influenced the writing of this story. All of this inspired her to write a story of hope for those who struggle with mental illness. For more on Karen, check out her website or follow her on Twitter – @karenfortunati.

 

 

 

 
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