Hope everyone is enjoying the Kickass Queries Series thus far. Thanks again to all the fabulous authors who've volunteered to share their agent-snagging queries!
Today Andrew Kozma is here to talk about the letter that landed his agent, Lana Popovic of Zachary Schuster Harmsworth.
At the age of six, Maxwell MacLeod was taken from her family and put on the spaceship Santa Maria with twenty-nine other children, never to see her parents again. Instead, she and the other children were raised by the Teachers to be the perfect astronauts, the first true space explorers. Their mission: to explore Persephone, a planet-sized object that recently appeared at the very edge of the solar system.
But by the time she is fifteen, Max has learned that a cloistered world is the perfect breeding ground for deceit. A student has been murdered and, as a result, the Teachers have split into factions, each convinced the other does not want the mission to succeed. Years ago, Maxwell wrecked her one true friendship with a boy named Luke and she has no one she can trust except for her Teacher Ms. Farkas. Now a sinister group called the Shadows – who might be students or teachers or both – has given Max a choice. She must spy on her beloved Teacher’s research or suffer at their hands.
My young adult novel PERSEPHONE is a 67K word work of science-fiction.
I received my Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Houston and my MFA from the University of Florida. I have published a book of poems, City of Regret (Zone 3 Press), as well as stories in magazines such as Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, and Bound Off.
G: How many manuscripts did you query prior to signing with your agent?
A: I queried three manuscripts before signing PROJECT PERSEPHONE with Lana Popovic. The first was a quest-type fantasy a la THE LORD OF THE RINGS while the other two were YA fantasy novels, both contemporary-ish but with Wonderland undertones. I pretty much queried everyone I could with each of them, the querying process roughly being a year per novel. With my second and third novel I received strong responses from agents who encouraged me to keep sending to them—the almost-but-no-cigar that kept me confident in my writing. But my novel was finally picked up by someone who’d had no prior experience with my writing. I think it was a combination of the genre (YA science fiction) and the voice that captured her.
G: How long did it take to write your query, and what things/steps do you think were most important to make it agent-ready?
A: Too long. Really, a week or so of trying to condense the novel myself, plus a week of having my critique partners inform me what it should really sound like. I think having that outside influence is really important, since for me, at least, I’m too close to the story. And it is hard to find the middle ground between the shortest summary (girl on spaceship, trouble brews) and explaining everything at once, all the time.
I think the most important thing to realize is that the query needs to be true to your novel, but it also (and more importantly) needs to convince the agent/editor that they need to read your novel. Once they start the book, it’ll be your words that hook them for good.
G: Tell us about your query style – do you approach your entire list of prospectives at once, or query in small batches and revise in between?
A: I kept a constant number of queries out at once. When a rejection came in, another query went out, which allowed me to combat the dejection that comes with rejection proactively. I revised the query a few times over the course of the process, but because I was always getting some requests I couldn’t say it was the query’s fault and not that of my sample chapters.
G: Now the fun part – what was “the call” like? How did you know your agent/editor was the right person to represent/publish your project?
A: Well, it was an e-mail first. Pro-tip to queriers, include your phone number so that if an agent loves your work, they can call right away and blow your mind.
However, the e-mail did blow my mind. Lana was totally, unreservedly in love with the novel (even though she knew it needed work (strange how those two things can mesh without canceling each other out)) and liked everything that I liked in the novel. It was a letter that knocked me on my butt for days, and I still keep it in my inbox so I can cheer myself up when I’m feeling lower than the totem pole.
As for the call itself that preceded the acceptance of representation, we gelled on the phone, and she convinced me that not only did she like the novel, but that she understood where it needed to go (and where I needed to go) in order to make it the best possible version of itself. Also, of course, she had clear ideas of where to submit the book, which is always nice.
G: If you could give one piece of advice to authors seeking publication, what would it be?
A: Don’t give up.
Really, it’s stupid and simple, but don’t give up, either in your struggle for publication or in believing in your writing. Write what you want to write and do it well. Persistence wins.
*** What Lana had to say about why she offered (per an email to Andrew) ***
"The writing is lyrical without losing the pitch-perfect YA voice; the plot is meticulously constructed and thrilling; Maxwell, Luke, Samantha, and the Teachers are artfully rendered; the emotional landscape is rich and nuanced. The narrative in its entirety is just lovely, and incredibly cinematic. You did a wonderful job setting the scene for the sequel as well, although as you said, the novel certainly stands on its own."
Thanks for your words of wisdom, Andrew! Best of luck with your book!
You can follow Andrew's publishing journey on his blog, http://www.kozma.curragh-labs.org/blog/ and follow him on Twitter at @thedrellum. You can also find CITY OF REGRET, his book of poetry, on Goodreads.