Client Spotlight: Rachael Garza

Client Spotlight is a feature on the blog to highlight the incredibly talented writers I work with. I ask them a few questions about their writing and querying process and then they get to turn the tables and pose a few questions to me. Today I'm talking with Rachael Garza.


Agent Asks Author

Tell us about your book!

Ruin and Refuge is a YA fantasy about refugee sisters who must use magic and their wits to escape a civil war and keep their dreams, and each other, alive. It’s about protecting the people you love and struggling against societies that don’t care whether you live or die. There’s magic and dragons, love and sacrifice, two timelines, two verb tenses, and a somewhat unreliable narrator. There’s also a high probability that it will make you cry.

It will most definitely make you cry. I can say that from experience!

What is your writing process like?

When I’m working on a new idea, I buy a notebook and just start brainstorming. I ask myself questions about the world and list all the possible answers until I find one I’m happy with. For fantasies, I also like to draw a map to get a feel for the physical constraints of the world and how that could interact with the plot. This early worldbuilding stage is a really fun time when anything is possible, but nothing is set in stone. Later, as I get deeper into the book, I’ll go back and rework bits of worldbuilding to better suit the needs of the actual story as it develops. Even my maps get redrafted!

I don’t outline extensively before starting to draft, but I do need to know the major story beats I’m planning to hit and usually I’ll have some ideas for other cool scenes I’m looking forward to writing. I’m not a big fan of first drafts, so I like to do them quickly without giving my inner editor a chance to worry about quality. The NaNoWriMo challenge is always good motivation for me to just power through and get that done, and luckily they have events three times a year, so I don’t have to wait for November. There’s also a great website called Write Track that has an adjustable word count tracker. I usually move over to Write Track once NaNo is over and I have to finish the rest of a draft.

Since they’re quick, my first drafts tend to be pretty sparse, but they get longer and longer as I edit and layer in more details and side stories. Editing is what I really enjoy about writing because it’s like working on a huge puzzle, moving lines or scenes around, cutting parts, adding parts, making all the ideas and threads fit together. I think Ruin and Refuge has been through five complete drafts so far, including one which was a major structural overhaul.

 What was your experience in the query trenches? 

This was my second time querying. A little over a year earlier, I’d queried my first novel, which had a good response rate but ultimately no offer. For that novel I only ended up querying about 25 agents before deciding I wasn’t happy with the book anymore and diving into a new one, which became Ruin and Refuge.

This time I started with a round of 12 agents, but other than an early form rejection it was just radio silence. (Which is funny to say because it was actually less than a month. At the time it felt like ages, though.) I was very worried about my query letter and not sure whether it was presenting my novel well, so I spent a few days writing a new version of it. I had just gotten to the point where I was satisfied with the new version and shared it with an online forum to critique when you emailed me.

It had only been about three weeks since I’d queried you, but because you’re usually so fast and because I could see online that you’d responded to other queries from around when I’d queried, I thought you were going to be a rejection. So I was very surprised to get that request and I was so relieved just to get a request at all. I sent you the full that evening and you wrote back saying you got it and that your usual reading time was about eight weeks.

I went to bed satisfied that things were back on track. I hadn’t lost my querying touch. When I woke up the next day, the first thing I saw was that you were suddenly following me on Twitter. I took that as a good sign, but I was still blown away when I finally checked my email and saw that you’d actually stayed up all night reading the book and wanted to talk. All I could think was that this was a lot sooner than eight weeks! I was not mentally prepared for that much excitement so soon!

Whenever time allows I try to sort my queries when they come in: Reject, Request, or Starred. Rejections and Requests get sorted more or less immediately (though sorting is not equivalent to sending a response! Depending on how my week is scheduled, those queries might sit in those folders until I have dedicated time blocked off to respond. And some months--like May--are busier than others!) Starred queries are ones that come in when I'm really, really busy and don't have time to read the full sample chapter, but something about the query has peaked my interest. I don't know enough yet to sort into the Rejection or Request folder, so I star them and come back to them later when I can evaluate them properly. That usually happens at the end of the month. Yours was a starred query, which gives some insight into the three week wait before the request came through!

Tell us about The Call!

Even though we didn’t talk until a few days after you emailed me, I was still in a state of disbelief. I have to be honest and admit that while I’ve always enjoyed writing, getting published was never a life-long dream for me like it is for so many authors. Even when I got serious about finishing my first book, it took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea of pursuing publication. I did all my research and worked hard at querying, but part of me still didn’t really believe anything would come of it. And that was okay.

So, basically, while I had some questions and knew what to do, emotionally I was totally unprepared for The Call. I’m a longtime listener to the Pub(lishing) Crawl podcast, so I was also a little star-struck hearing your voice on my phone, saying such lovely things about my book, instead of on the computer. Between the podcast, my querying research, and a few days of additional online stalking, I felt like I already knew you well. After hearing about your agenting philosophy and your ideas for how to make Ruin and Refuge stronger, I knew before we hung up that I was probably going to accept your offer.

This was the third Call I've made, so I was pretty comfortable during our conversation (over the moon excited and full of hope, for sure! But I felt like I'd found my groove and knew how to describe myself and the way I work, so that part was easier for me). But then a few days later you let me know you had a competing offer! And I was dead certain I was going to lose you. We went back and forth a few times that week and you had a lot of follow up questions (as you should! Writers: ASK QUESTIONS. ANY AGENT SHOULD BE MORE THAN HAPPY TO ANSWER THEM. And if not? Run). I did my best to give you thorough, nuanced answers and be as open and honest as I could. But my husband had to endure several days of me fretting that I was going to lose out on this incredible project. I was so, so surprised and overjoyed when you accepted my offer. I could not believe it.


Author Asks Agent

What was it about RUIN AND REFUGE that made you feel passionate enough to represent it? And in general, how do you know when you’re reading a submission that it’s something you want to represent?

As soon as I read the first chapter I knew that this book was different, and that I was going to fall in love with it. It's true that the worldbuilding in RUIN AND REFUGE--together with its magical conveniences that mirror our existing technology and the fictional parallels to real world crises--is unique and fascinating. But for me books are always about the characters, and I fell in love with yours. I fell in love with them, and was so moved by their story. And so impressed with you for giving them the space to breathe, to try, and to fail, and to feel a vast, honest range of emotion. You give your characters incredible emotional journeys and you treat those journeys with respect. I knew I had to represent this book, and any others that might follow. I just love the way you write. 

And in general? It's cliché but it's true. When you know, you just know. If I can't stop thinking about a book, if it touched me deeply, if it delights me or lights me up or makes me feel something real. There's some kind of kinetic, magic moment. A jolt of electricity. And I just know: I need to be a part of bringing this book into the world. 

When I was writing my query, I tried to be specific and avoid clichés. What are the most common clichés you find in queries?

Oh, there are many. "Everything will change!" is a really common one. It's easy to lapse into hyperbole because space is limited and you're trying to create tension. And I just wrote my first pitch letter and it was HARD! So I sympathize! But be specific whenever possible; that helps. 

You’ve been an agent almost six months now, how has your style or routine changed now that you’re settling in?

Things are definitely different because now I have clients! Only three, so my list is by no means full. I'm still very much aggressively acquiring. But all three of my clients are active; I'm working to sell your books right now. That means editing, cultivating submission lists and strategies, writing pitches, touching base with editors and establishing new contacts, and so on. That stuff takes up so much time! I just sent out my first submission this past Monday, and I spent almost every single day of the month working almost exclusively on it in some respect or another. And then any free time I had was spent editing for my other clients, and then trying to get through my requested reading. I'm still responding to queries that were sent in April!

My days are now spent on client management and editor relationships. Evenings and weekends are for queries and reading. Once I get through this round of edits and subs things will be quiet on the client front and then I'll throw my energy into building my list again. A friend of mine who is also an agent once told me that the work flow will have a natural life cycle of taking on new clients, prepping those projects, selling those projects, then taking on new clients. I'm finding that to be true!

As a writer there are several other writers who’ve mentored me along the way. Do you have any mentors as an agent?

I've got so many publishing and agenting mentors, going back years and years! So many people have supported me and given me advice throughout my career and I'm immensely grateful to them all. At this stage the people I'm leaning on most are the other agents at D4EO--particularly Bob Diforio and Quressa Robinson. I'm also a member of a private group for young (in career, not necessarily age!) agents and it's been invaluable to have that resource to turn to for advice or encouragement or support.

I’ve been a long-time listener to your podcast. What other podcasts about writing or publishing would you recommend?

So many!

How Story Works from Chipperish Media's Lani Diane Rich
First Draft with Sarah Enni
Minorities in Publishing with Bev Rivero and Jenn Baker
Shipping and Handling with Jennifer Udden and Bridget Smith
88 Cups of Tea with Yin Chang
The Manuscript Academy Podcast
The Loft Literary Podcast


Rachael Garza Photo by Wes Hope

Rachael Garza
Photo by Wes Hope

Growing up in Northern Virginia, Rachael Garza was the kind of kid who had to fold up her giant, hand-drawn fantasy maps every night before the family could eat dinner. She dreamed of careers in archaeology and diplomacy before finally finding her niche in education. She currently teaches ESL in Tennessee, advocating for children from immigrant families and helping them find their voices. Her career in TESOL also took her to Turkey, where she spent all of her free time exploring ancient ruins and drinking tea. She enjoys taking pictures of her cat, dissecting and crafting stories, all things miniature, and avoiding household chores. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @Rachael846.

How to Nudge An Agent Who Has Your Full MS

Right now I have 21 full manuscripts in my To Be Read pile. I have blown past my deadline on 14 of them. Some of the oldest manuscripts were requested in January, which means I've had them for four months (my quoted response time was two! I've had these twice as long as I said I would). 

I am not proud of this at all. In fact, it haunts me a little bit. I also now know that I've gotta quote longer lead times on requested manuscripts. Eight weeks isn't realistic for me and I need to be more accurate when I set expectations. 

Being late doesn't MEAN anything, other than I have a much heftier workload than I anticipated. That's it. I still want to read your manuscript. The fact that you didn't get an overnight read does not signal disinterest on my part. It just means that other parts of the job have demanded my focus (I'm about to go out on sub with a client's manuscript next week!) and I haven't been able to devote myself to reading the way I want to. This is just human failing, and the fault is mine. 

But that doesn't mean that you should sit waiting in perpetual agony. If I quoted you a response time when I requested your full and we've blown past that deadline, please do nudge me! I will not get annoyed. I want to be reminded that I'm slipping behind and I want you to feel comfortable coming to talk to me (because, after all, if I end up signing you as a client once I finally read your MS, you're going to need to be comfortable doing that!). 

Step One: When to Nudge
I do appreciate a bit of a grace period. If my quoted deadline falls midweek, maybe wait until the following Monday to give me a chance to wrap it up and get back to you. Usually I slate my reading days heading into the weekend, so I'm more likely to read material at the end of the week than at the beginning. But hey, if you want to nudge on a Wednesday, that's OK too!

Step Two: How to Nudge
It's always helpful for me if you reply to our existing email chain. I've got all my email flagged and sorted, so this way when I get your nudge it will already show up as a requested MS and I'm more likely to open the email right away, rather than risk letting the email languish amid other queries and wait to be opened in chronological order.

Step Three: What to Say
Short, simple, straight.

"Hi Kelly, I'm checking in on my manuscript TITLE, which you requested on DATE. Can you please confirm that you've received it and let me know when I should expect a response? Thanks!" 

If you have other pertinent information--like an offer of representation--definitely share that, too. 

Optional Step: Withdraw Your Ms
I really hope that you'll forgive me for delayed responses and allow me to finish your manuscript and give it my full consideration. But you don't have to. At any time and for any reason you can withdraw your manuscript from consideration if you no longer want to potentially work with me. Slow responses on requested material is an unfortunate reality in the publishing world. One I hope to mitigate by adjusting my quote times, and building dedicated reading time into my work weeks. You should never be met with silence; I aim to respond to all nudges within 24 hours whenever possible--if not with a response to the MS, then at the least with an apology and a request for more time. And please also remember that existing clients and their needs will always be a priority over potential clients. So I hope that a slow response alone isn't enough for you to determine that you need to move on. But if it is, or if there's any other reason why you'd like to close out your query, you may absolutely do so. Here's how:

"Kelly, with this email I am withdrawing my manuscript TITLE from your consideration. Thank you."

And that's that. 

SO. Please don't ever be afraid to reach out to check up on the status of your manuscript. And thank you again for allowing me to consider your work. Now, I've got quite a bit of reading to do, so I gotta go!

Query Stats: April 2017

I received 440 queries in April! At the beginning of the month I was nearly caught up on responses, but of course that only lasted for an hour or so. #DVpit was also in April. It was my first time participating and it was amazing. I saw so many incredible pitches fly by, and I'm sure I missed many, many more. If you think we'd be a good fit please do query me even if I didn't <3 your pitch. I want to read your work!
 

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Total queries: 440
Number of responses sent so far: All
Total requests: 5 (3 YA fantasy; 1 YA suspense; 1 Adult paranormal)
#DVpit requests: 10 requests, 4 writers have actually sent materials. Although I hope very much that the rest come sliding into my inbox soon, please remember that you do not have to submit to me or to any other agent or editor who requests your material during a twitter pitch. Only send to people you genuinely want to work with. 


Genre Breakdowns

TOTAL YA: 195
43 contemporary
6 dystopian
67 fantasy
14 historical
1 horror
2 magical realism
1 mystery
12 paranormal
4 retelling
2 romance
36 science fiction
1 suspense
4 thriller

TOTAL MG: 52
4 adventure
8 contemporary
26 fantasy
2 historical
1 magical realism
5 mystery
1 non-fiction
1 picture book
2 retelling
2 science fiction

TOTAL ADULT: 193
43 contemporary
1 dystopian
34 fantasy
19 historical
1 horror
1 humor
4 magical realism
1 memoir
13 mystery
3 nonfiction
11 paranormal
4 retelling
12 romance
20 science fiction
1 screenplay
4 suspense
20 thriller
1 stumper. I have no idea what this is, and the writer didn't provide a genre, either. 

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRE: 7

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUB GUIDELINES: 14

TOTAL QUERIES WITH INAPPROPRIATE WORD COUNTS FOR THEIR CATEGORY:  10

TOTAL QUERIES ABOUT NAZIS: 0!

TOTAL REPEAT QUERIES (same writer, same project): 2 :(

TOTAL PERSONAL REJECTIONS SENT: 2. Most of my rejections are form letters, but sometimes I add a personal note in there, when moved to do so. I cannot do this for everyone, so please do not respond to rejections asking for more details. I understand how frustrating it is to not know what to fix or what to improve. I know that silence or generic politenesses aren't something you can work with. Lean on critique partners and beta readers to get the critical feedback you need. And know that if I do send personalized feedback to you on a rejection, that it comes from a genuine place. 

 

The Waiting Game

Publishing is slow, and that sucks. I have so much respect for writers. The commitment and diligence it takes to write and complete a manuscript. The courage it takes to query. The dedication it takes to revise and revise and revise. And above all the patience--the ceaseless patience--required to persevere. 

And as an agent, I'm the one keeping people waiting. Waiting for responses to queries. Waiting for responses to requested materials. Waiting for author agreements. Waiting for edits. Wait, waiting, and yet more waiting at every stage of the process.

I am myself an impatient person. The time between when I've extended an offer of representation to an author and when they get back to me with their decision? Agony. So please believe me when I say that I intimately understand what it's like to live your life clicking refresh refresh refresh. 

I wish I could promise you all that I'll never keep you waiting ever again, but I can't. As I settle in I'm trying to adjust my response times to be reasonably in line with my workload, but it's all very fluid. I do try to be open and honest about where I'm at with things, through posts about query stats and humble emails asking authors for a reading extension, but I know that's little consolation when your book hangs in the balance.

The truth of it is that the work takes the time it takes. And that length of time isn't a measure of the quality of your work, and it isn't a measure of my enthusiasm for it or lack thereof. It is only a reflection of where my workload is at the moment. There are periods where I'm on top of things and the emails come quickly, and other periods when I haven't had a chance to even glance at my inbox or my reading pile. Still, there is no sweet spot for rejections. Authors are always thrilled when I am interested, whether that email comes after 30 minutes or 30 days. But rejection stings whether it comes now or later. 

Patience is a heroic quality, and one that writers must have as they pursue publication. It's also something we expect of authors, but rarely acknowledge. Please know that, as someone who is probably going to keep you waiting (at least for a little while), I recognize how difficult and painful and nerve-wracking waiting can be. I appreciate your patience. I appreciate the opportunity to consider your work. I appreciate the determination it takes to do what you do. 

And when it's your turn to keep me on the line as you explore all your options? 

Query Stats: March 2017

March was the slowest month for my inbox so far, so caught up quick! I received a total of 330 queries for the month, including those I requested through #PitMad.

Total queries: 330
Number of responses sent so far: 321* I've responded to all regular queries and am calling March closed. I do still have #PitMad requests to respond to, but because I requested 50 pages alongside the query I'm treating these differently. 
Total requests: 7 (2 YA contemporary, 1 YA historical, 2 YA fantasy, 1 MG fantasy 1 MG contemporary)
#PitMad requests: 9
 


Genre Breakdowns so far....

TOTAL YA: 140
1 adventure
21 contemporary
7 dystopian
55 fantasy
7 historical
3 horror
3 magical realism
2 mystery
7 paranormal
4 retelling
2 romance
26 science fiction
2 thriller

TOTAL MG: 53
1 adventure
9 contemporary
23 fantasy
2 historical
3 mystery
4 paranormal
1 picture book
2 retelling
8 science fiction

TOTAL ADULT: 128
2 adventure
1 biography
40 contemporary
1 dystopian
21 fantasy
12 historical
2 magical realism
2 memoir
1 mystery
1 nonfiction
6 paranormal
1 poetry
2 retelling
6 romance
15 science fiction
13 thriller
2 stumpers. I have no idea what this is, and the writer didn't provide a genre, either. 

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRE: 7

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUB GUIDELINES: 9

TOTAL QUERIES WITH INAPPROPRIATE WORD COUNTS FOR THEIR CATEGORY: 6. Including one project with a word count of 999k! Come on, guys. 

TOTAL QUERIES ABOUT NAZIS: 2. I'm going to start keeping track of these in the hopes that one day I never, ever get another one. Please do not send me projects that are sympathetic to Nazis. I have no interest in that take. 

TOTAL REPEAT QUERIES (same writer, same project): 2 :(

TOTAL PERSONAL REJECTIONS SENT: 3. Most of my rejections are form letters, but sometimes I add a personal note in there, when moved to do so. I cannot do this for everyone, so please do not respond to rejections asking for more details. I understand how frustrating it is to not know what to fix or what to improve. I know that silence or generic politenesses aren't something you can work with. Lean on critique partners and beta readers to get the critical feedback you need. And know that if I do send personalized feedback to you on a rejection, that it comes from a genuine place. 

THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY: I lost two projects this month. Oof. The first was a #PitMad request. The author emailed to withdraw her book from consideration after signing with another agent. I wish I'd been given the chance to read the full and put my hat in the ring, but sometimes when authors find the perfect agent, they don't need to explore other options. I was grateful that she wrote to let me know, and sent her my heartfelt congratulations. 

The second project I lost out on still hurts, because I chose to bow out. I got an incredible query mid-month but hadn't had a chance to look at it yet when the author emailed to let me know she had an offer of representation, and she set a week-long deadline to hear back from everyone else. I requested the full manuscript immediately and started reading. It was a gorgeous book. But...I couldn't finish it in time. It was a hectic week for me both personally and professionally and I just could not get the reading done. It wouldn't have been fair to either me or the author to offer representation without having finished the book. So the day before her deadline I sent an email that pained me to write. I told her how much I loved what I'd read so far, but that I wasn't going to be finished by her deadline, and so I was bowing out. It broke my heart to hit send and let go of that project. But the author was gracious and understanding in her response, and I have NO DOUBT that you'll all be hearing about her and this rich, compelling, truly special book in the future. 



TOTAL NEW CLIENTS SIGNED: 1! Technically this came from a February query, but going back and editing old posts to announce good news seems silly, so from now on I'll announce new clients in the month I sign them! Rachael Garza, with her self-described "weird little book about sisters and refugees and magic" is my latest client and I'm so, so excited to be working with her on this beautiful book. You can find Rachael on twitter: @Rachael846


I've now responded to all regular queries sent in March! This does not include requested manuscripts (some dating back to January. Eep) or #PitMad requests. If you sent a regular query in March and haven't heard from me, please resend!