An Interview with Dario Ciriello
(A QueryTracker Success Story)
Dario Ciriello recently signed with agent Anne Devlin of The Max Gartenberg Literary Agency. Thank you Dario for agreeing to this interview, and good luck with your book.
QueryTracker: How long have you been writing?
Dario Ciriello: I've dabbled on and off since I was a child, but only started getting serious in 2002.
DC: Ha! I've probably seriously considered giving up about once a year, especially when I was only writing short stories. The income/time investment ratio is beyond ridiculous. Plus the more I write, the more I understand how many REALLY good writers there are out there, even among my pro crit group and friends. Writing a long work -- especially if it's successful -- may change that feeling though. There's a tremendous sense of accomplishment; and when an agent picks it up, that's a huge validation.
DC: Yes. I've had several short stories published, but this is my first long work. Since I'm a science fiction writer, it's amusing that my first long work is a memoir.
DC: About a year. I got the first draft of 120k words down in 4 months; the rest of the time was spent in post-critique rewrite and edits.
DC: I spent 6 weeks at the Clarion West workshop in Seattle in 2002. It's fantastic, and super-intense; they don't call it 'literary boot camp' for nothing. Like Clarion, it's geared to prepping you for a pro science fiction/fantasy career. I'm still integrating a lot of what we were taught during that six weeks.
DC: Yes. I find that I'm really 'on' if I hit the keyboard first thing after making coffee, about 6am. I aim for 1,500 words, and on a good day I can get that down in 2-3 hours, good, clean words. A daily routine makes it a lot easier to stay in the zone.
DC: After my crit group, many of whom are pros, weighed in, I did some light rewriting and added a 20k-word section to the beginning. after that, I did four full edits. One pass to try to cut the wordcount -- I got it from 150k to 140k, which is still a long book for today's market. But I really believe in what Alfred Bester used to say -- the book is the boss. I don't believe in writing to the market.... the story makes its own demands.
After that, I did three more passes to strengthen and hone the prose. Now since this book, AEGEAN DREAM, is a memoir of the year my wife and I lived in Greece, and a bittersweet memoir at that, every edit was painful, as I relived a lot of tough experiences. It was always good to get the end though, where the power of love and friendship carries the day and turns a tragi-comedy into a redemptive story.
DC: Yes. First was my crit group, 'Written in Blood', who are an awesome bunch of writers, as well as my wife, who always gives me terrific, honest input. She actually crossed out one paragraph and scrawled 'Yuck!' in the margin. Cracked me up. After the post-crit rewrite, I circulated the 2nd draft to 6 or 7 trusted readers.
The question I emphasized to every 'civilian' reader was, "What I most need is for you to flag any parts where you get bored or want to put the book down." Amazingly, there weren't. One person read it 24 hours, all 140k words!
DC: Since AEGEAN DREAM is a memoir, I was going mostly on memory. We'd also kept a blog of our year in Greece, which was an invaluable aid.
DC: It was about nine weeks from sending out the first queries to getting an offer.
DC: 55 or so, in three batches. I had four requests for partials and three for fulls. About half the queries are still unanswered, which I think is just inexcusable -- It takes half a minute to paste a form rejection onto an email, or stuff one in an SASE.
That said, I was surprised how many agents take pains to be gentle with their rejections. And a few sent very nice comments on the writing.
DC: The stats and links on Querytracker were incredibly helpful. Most of all, I made sure that the agents I queried handled memoirs, and I took pains to follow their criteria for queries to the letter. I avoided those who wanted a synopsis. LOL. I hate doing synopses. The query was tough enough to write!
I also made a point of choosing to query by snail-mail when the agent offered that option. It's pretty clear that many email queries are either ignored or deleted, and I've read interviews with agents who admit to doing that when they're overloaded. Think about it -- most writers will always choose email, so the rarer snail mail query is far harder to ignore. It also shows you're not lazy.
DC: Not really. But I did research them and -- if they had one -- visited their websites and let them know that on the first line of the query.
DC: Research each agent thoroughly; make sure that you exactly adhere to their requirements; polish your query over and over until it's really, really, good; use snail mail. And don't obsess over getting it on one page (mine was one and a half); if they're interested, they'll keep reading.
DC: Sure. I like to think the dialog excerpt helped!