Success Story Interview - Amity I. Thompson

An Interview with Amity I. Thompson (AmityIrene on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary & Media.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Amity I. Thompson:
My book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, as told by an invisible servant who falls in love with the beast. I came up with the idea while reading the premise section of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (excellent book). I was thinking about fairytales I love, and I thought it'd be so neat to write B&B, but I can't write from a male perspective and Beauty's perspective is sort of a given. Then I thought, what about the servants?
QT: How long have you been writing?
Amity I. Thompson:
Forever and three years. I actually decided to be an author when I was eleven, and I wrote my first book then. I sent a book to Tor when I was seventeen, but they didn't take it. Then I went to college and the writing was put aside for a while. I picked it up again three years ago, when I started staying home and writing full-time.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Amity I. Thompson:
Off-and-on for a year. The rough draft was insanely fast -- only took three weeks -- and I finished it October 2009. I set it aside until late spring 2010, when I did my first revision. I put it through several revisions, and I started submitting in the fall.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Amity I. Thompson:
Felt? Heck yeah. Seriously considered it? Not really. Like I said earlier, I decided when I was eleven that this was what I wanted to do for life. Three years ago, when I started writing full-time, I was actually supposed to go get my PhD but I canceled my enrollment. While giving up per se was never an option, I was often tempted to get a part-time job or get that PhD after all -- I would have eventually gotten to this stage in my writing, but it would have been a lot slower. Fortunately I have a husband who is good at arguing. He kept me home, and I'm glad now.
QT: Is this your first book?
Amity I. Thompson:
Nope. I wrote five or six (awful ones) when I was in my teens. In the past three years I've put 'the end' on three others, and I have several partially-finished manuscripts either trunked or waiting for my skill to develop.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Amity I. Thompson:
As a teen, I took a correspondence writing course, but I don't remember much. I received my bachelors in History. THAT taught me a ton about grammar and clarity and tight writing, though the creative side wasn't addressed. When I'm between books, I tend to read many writing books. My favorites are the ones by Donald Maass, several of the Elements of Fiction Writing books (both the old series and the newer one), and Chapter After Chapter (I read Heather Sellers when I'm feeling down).
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Amity I. Thompson:
During a drafting phase, I try to write 2000 words a day, though the last few days can spike 5-10K. During revisions, I look at what needs to be done and then I give myself deadlines on the calendar. When I'm down to polishing, I try to do a chapter a day. I also try to spend a few hours in the afternoons reading, when I'm not in a drafting phase.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Amity I. Thompson:
Hm...I have five .doc files of it, two of them major revisions with timeline rearranging. I just created version six, thanks to my agent's comments :)
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Amity I. Thompson:
I do. My husband's my alpha reader -- he reads as I write the book. At the end of day, I like hearing him yell "gah! what happens next??! Woman, why do you always leave me in the middle of a scene!!!" Yeah, that's a huge motivation for picking up the book the next day. After I finish the draft, I go through at least one revision myself. When it's as good as I think I can get it, I hand it to my betas. All three catch different things (one is big-picture, one is small-details, and one is a linguist...perfect for dialogue). This book is the first one I handed to a teenager, and her input was valuable as well.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Amity I. Thompson:
I cannot outline to save my life. I do, however, outline the book after I finish it. That way I can make sure my timeline works correctly and my plot points are fine. I also have developed a method of taking notes as I go. For example, every time I create a character, I give them a sheet in a binder. At the end of the day I record any information I created for the character -- backstory, hair color, verbal tics. That way I have a reference as I write so my characters/locations/etc don't change as I go (my very first book was such a mess!).
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Amity I. Thompson:
I've queried one book each fall for the past three years, so this is my third time querying. For this book, I started in August. My first query letter was TERRIBLE. I received no requests (in fact, my agent rejected my book!). I set it aside for a while, took a query writing workshop through Writer's Digest (invaluable), began a new book. Finally I listened to my friends who said it was my query letter that had sucked, not the book, and sent out more queries. The new query letter got me over a 20% request rate, wonderful personal rejections, and led to two offers.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Amity I. Thompson:
Too many.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Amity I. Thompson:
It turns out I am awful at selecting agents. Agents I thought would love the book ended up form-rejecting it. Agents I thought I had no prayer of attracting the attention of requested it. Both agents who offered, I didn't directly query (I queried someone else in the agency, who then passed my query to their colleague). Therefore, I'm not the one to give advice here!
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Amity I. Thompson:
I did until I became discouraged about my dismal agent-picking skills. After that, I just personalized it by "dear agent's name:".
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Amity I. Thompson:
1. WRITE! In fact, I suggest starting your next project and THEN sending out that first query. Querying takes longer than you think, and you need the new love in your life to distract you from the faceless 'not for me's'. Writing keeps your heart alive while you deal with the business side -- and gives you a new book to show your agent!
2. If, when you send that query letter, a little voice inside says "I hope the agent doesn't notice ___" or "I hope my voice is so unbelievable that the agent's willing to take me on and help me with ___" -- you're querying too early. I did that with the first book I queried. It should have stayed at home.
3. If you're getting the same responses with your queries, it's a sign. Interpreting the sign is the hard part. I really believed in this book, yet when I got cricket silence I almost shelved it prematurely. My support group pulled me through--everyone needs honest people who will cheer you on. Honest, so you believe them when they say the query sucks and the book rocks, encouraging because everyone needs kind words.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Amity I. Thompson:
This is the decent version. No one gets to see the bad one.

Query Letter:

Dear Agent Name:

I am seeking representation for my young adult fantasy, UNSEEN BEAUTY.

Claudette's physical invisibility doesn't bother her as much as her social nonexistence. Even before the curse, her lame leg and low-born station limited her to cleaning empty rooms and forgotten furniture. When the housekeeper promotes her to lady-in-waiting, her new status comes with a price: she must perform a series of tasks that are too despicable for even the lower class. Claudette tries to return to her feather dusters, but commands under the curse cannot be disobeyed.

Worst of all, she must make an innocent girl fall in love with Beast before the enchantment destroys the kingdom. In trying to make Beast more lovable, Claudette loses her heart to the man trapped inside the curse. Even if she could overcome the housekeeper's commands, Claudette knows a servant has no business loving a prince. Or does she?

UNSEEN BEAUTY is complete at 76,000 words. I am a member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Amity I. Thompson