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.