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Success Story Interview - Ana Franco

An Interview with Ana Franco (anathebookworm on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Chris Kepner of The Kepner Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Ana Franco:
Of course! My book is a MG about two very different characters that find solace in each other. One of them is a gay boy who's planning to run away from home because he feels his family doesn't accept him, and the other is a girl that spent almost an entire year in a coma but refuses to accept she was actually sleeping/dreaming the whole time.

The inspiration for THE SYMPTOMS OF DYING is a bit of a long story. I have a notebook where I keep story ideas, mostly bits and pieces that don't make a lot of sense. One of these ideas was a story about a girl in a coma, and what could possibly be going through her mind. I drafted a short version of it, and it sounded like YA to me. But after some feedback, I turned the story into a MG and decided to explore what the family of the girl in a coma could be going through. It was easy to decide how Jacob came to life, then. I was searching around Goodreads for LGBT books for children, and couldn't find a lot of them. When I narrowed the search to LGBT books for children including characters of color, I couldn't find anything.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Ana Franco:
A long time. I've been writing since I was a little girl, but writing with the goal of getting published? I think around four years.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Ana Franco:
At least one year. I got the idea for the book sometime in 2017, maybe February or so. I wrote it, my critique partners helped me shape it and then I queried agents. It was a YA book back then, not MG. Sometime in August, I think, I got a R&R to turn the book into MG, and I did it. The R&R agent rejected me in January 2018, and I decided that since I had already revised the manuscript, I might as well query again. Chris Kepner offered to represent me in February, so a month later. It was magical and it sure made me the happiest writer in the world.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Ana Franco:
Oh, totally. When I got that rejection after working on a R&R for months…gosh, I was heartbroken. If it weren't for my writer friends telling me to keep going, I don't know what would have happened. No, I do know. I wouldn't be writing this, because I wouldn't have met my agent. I'm thankful every day that I'm surrounded by supportive people that are so, so awesome.
QT: Is this your first book?
Ana Franco:
No, not at all! Considering I'm Brazilian and have written books in Portuguese before, this could be…I don't know…my 10th book or something. Seriously. Of course, most of them were books that will never see the light of the day—books that helped me learn craft and books that helped me learn how to actually write in English.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Ana Franco:
I have a BA in Literature and Letters, but that's it.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Ana Franco:
Not exactly. I try to write every day, but sometimes I can't. I think it's not healthy to pressure yourself into doing something all the time. There are moments when we just need a break.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Ana Franco:
I don't know? I think I have at least nine drafts of this book. At least. There could be more. But bigger revisions? Only three. The other revisions were mostly to fix smaller issues.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Ana Franco:
Oh, I do! I have an awesome community of writers, and we support each other all the time. They read my books, I read their books. We're each other's cheerleaders.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Ana Franco:
Outline! I can't work without an outline, seriously.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Ana Franco:
I queried it from July, 2017 – February, 2018.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Ana Franco:
A lot. A LOT. I think I sent around 100 queries, but that's because I first queried YA agents and then MG agents. So, perhaps 50 queries each time?
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Ana Franco:
Manuscript Wishlist was a huge thing for me. I also queried agents that my writer friends recommended.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Ana Franco:
Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't. Most of the time I didn't. When I did, it was to say someone else had recommended them or to mention a particular item on their manuscript wishlist.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Ana Franco:
Don't give up. Never ever. Sometimes you'll get rejections that aren't nice, sometimes you won't hear anything. Sometimes you'll believe you aren't enough. But you are. You're amazing and your book is amazing and there's someone out there that needs it. My mom would always say, "No matter what you do, make sure your work touches at least one person. Make sure it helps one person. If you accomplish that, then you've done a great work." So keep writing, and keep querying. Remember that you'll make someone very, very happy one day.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Ana Franco:
Sure thing!

Query Letter:

Twelve-year-old Jacob Allen has a secret: he has a crush on his best friend—a boy. At least, it used to be a secret. Now that his family knows, they've got plenty to say about how a relationship with another boy could never work. As lecture-induced panic attacks begin to steal away the person he thought he was, Jacob starts keeping an even bigger secret: he's going to run away from home. He'll leave any day now. It'll be easy—not a soul knows about his plans.

Except his cousin, Olivia.

Twelve-year-old Olivia Taylor has been in a coma for almost a year, but she doesn't know it. As far as she knows, she has spent the last months with an aunt, living in an empty coffee shop. Then she starts hearing the voice of a mysterious boy who's planning to run away from home—he's just outside the shop door, but it's locked, and she can't find the key. Olivia is desperate to help him. Until the boy tells her terrible things about an accident and a girl stuck in a coma, and then she's no longer certain she wants to find her way out.

Jacob already feels lost to a family that can't accept him, and when Olivia's doctors say that he'll need to let her go if she doesn't improve soon, his anxiety climaxes to a crippling point.

To help Jacob, Olivia must open a door that's been locked for as long as she can remember. She isn't sure she's ready to face the real world, but if she doesn't find the key soon, it'll be too late to save Jacob…and herself.

THE SYMPTOMS OF DYING is a dual POV MG contemporary with hints of magical realism complete at 36,000-words. This story features several POCs (including the main characters) and I am a POC myself.

Unfortunately, there is a gap in queer literature for young people—it's particularly hard to find MG books that include LGBT characters of color. I believe that this book will help to fill this gap as well as help young LGBT POC readers see themselves in books written especially for them.