Claire Merle has recently signed with agent Jo Williamson of Antony Harwood Limited. Claire, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Congratulations and good luck.
QueryTracker: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found
representation? What inspired you to write it?
Claire Merle: The book is a YA dystopian thriller entitled 'The Glimpse'. It is set in a near future where mental illness has skyrocketed out of control, and society is divided by genetic testing into those who will become ill and those who won't. I had the basic idea for it about 9 years ago after going to a talk on mental health in the US and learning that several million kids, some as young as two-years-old, were being prescribed Ritalin for ADHD—a psychiatric 'disease' whose diagnosis is not based on any scientific test, and whose 'symptoms' constitute behaviour you'd expect to see in a pretty average, energetic child. This really bothered me. I began thinking about what sort of future we have if our children can be forced onto mind-altering drugs before they can even read or write. I began wondering what else people could be convinced of in terms of mental health and mental illness, by those in authority. As the idea seemed pretty ambitious and I hadn't written a book before it was some time before i felt confident enough to put pen to paper.
QT: How long have you been writing?
CM: Feels like forever.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
CM: Around 2 years.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
CM: I went to a Meet and Critique evening with a reputable agent a couple of months before I got my agent. Her response to my first chapter and synopsis was so awful I thought I must be delusional--I thought I was 'getting close' to having a manuscript ready to submit and she didn't 'get it' at all. My love of writing and pep talks from my husband helped me bounce back. A week or so later I took a close look at why the agent had responded so negatively and realized I was starting my story too late. I wrote 2 new chapters and this is what i started sending out.
QT: Is this your first book?
CM: No. I wrote one book before this.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
QT: Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
CM: I write whenever I can. At the moment that works out to be at least 6 mornings a week (3 hours/ morning) When I started writing The Glimpse I had a young baby at home with me, so I would get up really early to write, and write when my youngest son slept.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
CM: At least 3 large revisions and then a few other times through looking at certain aspects -- character emotions and motivation/ description & setting/ dialogue.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
CM: Yes, 2 beta readers and many more who read the first few chapters.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
CM: I wrote a 50 page outline! Actually it was a kind of first rough draft in a way. I wrote my first book 'from the hip' and it was the biggest mess ever. Took me years to straighten it out. I wasn't going to do that again. Actually, I love having a detailed map of where I'm going. Then when I want to stray, (which I do all the time), I can evaluate more easily the impact it's going to have on the whole story.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
CM: My first book I sent around 30 queries out. It was a few years ago and at the time I didn't know much about querying and thought if I'd been rejected by 'so many' something was wrong with the manuscript. After a 'near miss' with an agent I couldn't take any more rejection, so I moved on. For The Glimpse querying was very fast.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
CM: I sent out ten queries. I actually met 2 agents at a conference before I'd started querying. One of them asked me to send her whatever I was working on. So I decided to send both of them my first three chapters. Both agents were very interested and wanted to see the full, (which wasn't ready!) I spent 2 weeks frantically polishing. With one offer in, and the other agent's assistant loving the full and recommending it to her boss, I decided to send out a few more queries to widen my options. I actually received 3 offers from the 10 queries and another 2 wanted to see the M/S but by then I'd signed with my agent.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
CM: 5 of those agents represented the writers for my favourite YA books. (Pretty much the 5 that turned me down.) 3 were agents I researched through their website and thought would make a good fit. The other 2 I met at a conference.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
CM: Yes. As above.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
CM: Take the time to revise your query. Put it aside for a couple of months while you're doing revisions/ polishing your manuscript, then post again on QT and see what people say. If you're getting some good response and you're manuscript is ready, start sending! It's good to listen to what others have to say and learn how to work with feedback, but ultimately you're your own best judge. Someone who read my first five pages told me they didn't work at all: no hook, weak voice etc. For this person it obviously didn't resonate, but for 5 out of 10 agents it did. You can't please everybody.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Dear Ms. Williamson,
Seventeen-year-old Ana Barber's geneticist father faked her DNA tests to get her into The Community—a safe haven from all the crazies in the city. Ana is really a sleeper, which means one day she'll go psycho, or schizo, or probably suicidal like her mum.
When the authorities discover the truth, the only thing standing between her and banishment to the city is her romance with Jasper Taurell. Jasper, a rich boy from an influential Community family, wants to Join with her despite her genetic defects.
When the media elevates the pair to a modern day Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers battling against the rules to let true love run its course, the authorities end up bending to public pressure. Ana is allowed to remain in the Community on one condition: she and Jasper must be Joined before her eighteenth birthday. It's more than she could have hoped for. But four weeks before their big day, Jasper disappears.
The Glimpse, complete at 87,000 words is a YA dystopia set in London, and could be described as Matched meets One Flew over the Cuckoo's nest. I greatly enjoyed My So-called Afterlife, and hoped The Glimpse might also fit your tastes. I have attached a one-page outline for your consideration, and have included the first five pages below.
Thank you for your time and consideration,