Success Story Interview - A.G. Howard

An Interview with A.G. Howard (raven1 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
A.G. Howard:
SPLINTERED is a YA fantasy about Alyssa Gardner, the great-great-great granddaughter of Alice Liddell (real life inspiration for the heroine of the famed Lewis Carroll novel). Following a hunch that there might be some truth to the Alice in Wonderland tale, Alyssa heads for London to research her family history, accompanied by her best friend and secret crush Jebediah Holt. While there, Alyssa and Jeb stumble into the rabbit hole where they meet creepy and violent counterparts of the original fairytale crew. They soon realize this is not the fairyland of Lewis Carroll's vision, and unless Alyssa fixes the things her great-great-great grandmother Alice put wrong, Wonderland will have her head.

What inspired the story? First of all, I'm Alice In Wonderland obsessed! Lewis Carroll was a literary rock star. I love how he wove underlying threads of eeriness into his nonsensical scenes and characters and I always wondered what would've happened had the creepiness evolved from subtle nuances and taken full stage. But the actual idea came to me when I went to see the Tim Burton Alice movie. The cinematography was so vivid and evocative that I didn't want to leave their world when it was over. So I started playing over Wonderland continuations and scenarios in my mind. I wanted to write a book about them, making things a little darker and a little funkier, but I needed something to tie it into today's world, and some way to make it different than it had ever been done. Then I read the book ALICE, I HAVE BEEN and it all clicked into place. I could have my heroine be a descendant of Alice Liddell! Once that fell into my lap, I sat down and wrote it in about six months. It was a blast!
QT: How long have you been writing?
A.G. Howard:
I've dabbled in writing all my life, but started writing seriously about six years ago.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
A.G. Howard:
Started in April, 2010. Finished in October, 2010. So about six months.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
A.G. Howard:
I'm ashamed to say it, but yes. I received four rejections in a row on fulls not too long ago. After leaving my first agent on the grounds I wasn't willing to change the fantasy part of my book, I was at the lowest I'd ever been. One afternoon, I threw my hands up and said, "That's it. I quit. No one's ever going to get me. No one's ever going to love my stuff. It's TOO DIFFERENT." My voice blurs the lines between commercial and literary / urban and epic fantasy. Not an easy thing to ascribe a genre to. Much less find an agent who will GET you. But I didn't quit because my family is super supportive of my writing career, as are my wonderful writing friends (including our awesome support group here on QT). That's what kept me going; that and the fact that I honestly couldn't stop writing if I tried. I have too many stories and characters inside my heart who want to live and breathe.
QT: Is this your first book?
A.G. Howard:
No. I've written seven books. I landed my first agent after book four, but we realized after two years and three more books that I was writing outside of her genre (I was actually getting rejections from my own agent!) and there was no middle ground for us. So then I was out in the cold again, seeking representation.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
A.G. Howard:
Nope. I taught myself the ropes (reading every novel I could get my hands—including a lot of literary and classics; reading books on writing, plotting, characterization, etc…). Later, I took two creative writing classes mainly because I wanted to meet other writers. Then I fell into my crit group who continue to help me hone my skills today.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
A.G. Howard:
This is my first year home writing full time. Before that I worked for seven years at a middle school library. Back then, I would set a word count goal for myself each day (anywhere from 500-1000 words) to aim for after work. That way I didn't feel pressured to write a whole chapter, yet I was locked into getting a little work done each day. I usually ended up getting into a rhythm and would write more, like around 1500 words or so. Now that I'm home full time, I write anywhere from 4-5 hours a day, and then a few hours in the evening. I don't have a schedule really. I just sit down and write any chance I get. And I write on weekends, too.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
A.G. Howard:
About three. My writing process turns out very polished first drafts, because I always go back and edit what I wrote the day before to get back into the head/voice of my MC. But I tend to write very long, so I always have to cut wordage in the second draft. For example, this book originally started as 120K. I cut it down by 12K after getting a couple of rejections on fulls which commented on momentum problems. And now Jenny and I are going through it once more before sending it off—not for word count this time, just for a final polish.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
A.G. Howard:
Absolutely. My four crit partners and three other betas. So seven sets of eyeballs look at every MS before it goes anywhere.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
A.G. Howard:
A little of both. I'm mainly an organic writer. My muse is inspired through visual stimuli—I'll see something intriguing that will spur a story idea. Next, I have to motivate and get to know my main characters. After that, I research, which always births a very sparse skeleton plot. I often end up veering off of my original plot. That's what's nice about having it be vague. You're free to let your characters feel their way through the story.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
A.G. Howard:
I started querying SPLINTERED at the first of December. So about two months. As for other books, it took me querying about three years with three different books before I snagged my first agent.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
A.G. Howard:
I sent out 26 e-queries which resulted in:
7 full requests (4 rejections/3 offers)
5 partial requests (2 rejections / 1 closed no response / 2 bowed out after offers received)
12 rejections on query alone
3 closed/unanswered
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
A.G. Howard:
QueryTracker was my favorite tool! I did a search for all agents who accepted YA, fantasy, and romance. I then studied their client lists and made sure the agency checked out on Preditors and Editors. Next, I read interviews/websites to nail down their interests and submission guidelines. After four full rejections, I changed the criteria of my searches to YA, fantasy, and literary. That's when I scored my three offers. I still had over 30 agents left to query when I received representation. That just goes to show that there are a lot of agents out there so there's bound to be one for each of us. ;-)
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
A.G. Howard:
Yes. I tried to personalize each query according to something specific I read—on their blog, website, or in an interview—which could somehow tie into my book's premise or theme.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
A.G. Howard:
Be persistent and flexible. Make changes if they resonate with you. But never make changes you disagree with. The most important thing you can do is believe in your work and stay true to your voice and vision. The very elements in my story that caused me to part ways with my first agent, and caused the other four agents to turn me down, are the ones that caught the eyes of the three agents who offered representation. I knew all along I didn't want to compromise that part of my book, so I didn't bend on it. Boy, am I glad I listened to my gut, even if it was hard and scary at the time.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
A.G. Howard:

Query Letter:

Dear Uber Agent,

I'm seeking a home for SPLINTERED, my gothed-up YA Alice in Wonderland spin off -- one part adaptation and one part continuation -- with two book series potential. I chose to query you after seeing on your website that you love all things weird, fantastical, morbid, and romantic. I thought we might be a good fit.

Book blurb:

For years, sixteen-year-old Alyssa Gardner has lived with the stigma of being descended from Alice Liddell -- the real life inspiration for Lewis Carroll's famed novel, ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. But lately, things have evolved beyond cruel jokes about dormice and tea parties. Alyssa now hears the whispers of bugs and flowers ... the very quirk that sent her mother to the crazy-house years earlier. Through a series of events -- including a confrontation with her mother over a vase full of chatty carnations, and a seduction by a sensuous faerie who's tied to an unusual moth -- Alyssa realizes that the Alice in Wonderland tale wasn't made up at all. The details, though, were sugarcoated. The darker side of Wonderland 's whimsy has been watching Alyssa, and wants her back to fix the things her great-great-great grandmother Alice put wrong. While researching her family history in London with the help of her best friend and secret crush Jebediah Holt, Alyssa and Jeb are pulled down into Wonderland via the rabbit hole. There they meet faeries both nonsensical and creepy, on a journey which will forever change how they view their world, and how they see themselves.


I have several literary and fantasy shorts published online under the pseudonym of Tina Gray, including four at The Deepening where I acquired status as a top author in their "Authors of Excellence" section. Two of my fantasy MSS have finaled in contests at the Frontiers In Writing Conference. I've worked as a library clerk in a middle school for seven years, keeping me current on teens and their reading interests, their cultural fads, and their voice.

SPLINTERED is complete at 108K words. Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.


Hopeful Writer