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Success Story Interview - Anna Zagar

An Interview with Anna Zagar (purpleprose on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Anna Zagar:
It's a YA Fantasy about mermaids. I wanted to write something that had nothing to do with vampires, angels, or werewolves (no offense to anyone writing these stories, they just aren't my thing and plenty of people already did them better than I ever could). Since the ocean fascinates me so much, I think it was only natural that I went with mermaids.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Anna Zagar:
A year and a half. Up until June of 2009, I'd worked two jobs pretty much since high school. When I couldn't handle the pace anymore, I quit my second job, but THEN I found I didn't feel busy enough, so I began to write a story to keep from going crazy. After my sister-in-law read the first chapter, she said, "OMG you could totally get published!" It's been a tortuous, eye-opening, wonderful journey since then.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Anna Zagar:
I wrote it in about four months, and edited for about two. I still work a full time job and have a family to herd, so no one laugh if that seems like a long time.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Anna Zagar:
I felt like giving up all the time and I'm not afraid to say it. If we never experience self-doubt, then perhaps we are a little too prideful to succeed in this business. Yes, I felt like a complete idiot spending hours on the computer while my family lived their lives. But I wanted it so baaaad. You know how ice cream calls to you from the freezer when you're on a diet? Yeah, this was like ice cream calling to you from the freezer when you haven't eaten in 10 days.
QT: Is this your first book?
Anna Zagar:
This is my second attempt at writing. The first one, an adult romantic suspense, is on hold until Lucy and I figure out the best home for it. Right now, we are focusing on the YA.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Anna Zagar:
Nope. I did write term papers and reports for classmates for prom money once...Don't tell my mom!
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Anna Zagar:
I try really, really hard to get up at 4:30 am and write until it's time to wake up my daughter at 6:30. It has been more difficult lately, because we've had several family emergencies to deal with, but I was pretty faithful for a good solid two months.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Anna Zagar:
I wasn't happy with the first draft, so I gutted the last third of it and began the end again. :) Then I combed through it a final time. For the record, I did have an amazing critique partner who checked it chapter by chapter as I wrote.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Anna Zagar:
I had my critique partner, plus my sister in law, read it. A few others did critique the first few chapters, but we could never match schedules to finish after that.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Anna Zagar:
I did scrawl down a cave-man synopsis for it before I started, to keep me from wandering into what I call a drunken plot. I didn't stray too much from it this time, but this story had been nipping at me so long, I already knew where I wanted to go with it. Otherwise, I hate outlining. It feels inhibiting, like forgetting to take your bra off before you get in the shower. Something just. Doesn't. Feel. Right. You feel inhibited where you would normally be free. Ahem.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Anna Zagar:
I started querying for this project the first of January this year. I queried waaaay too early, before my manuscript was even finished. I wanted to test my query letter first, to see if it would get any bites. You know how they say to query agents on your "B" and "C" list before querying the ones you really really want, to make sure your query doesn't suck worse than a clogged-up Kirby ( as did my query for my first novel, which closed a lot of doors for me). I figured it would be a while before I heard back. The first query I sent out, I received a request for a full within two days! Only, I didn't HAVE a full! As I said on my blog, "Panic" would be a good word to describe this situation. Also, "Idiotic". My first book, I queried for a year, so you can see why I technically felt safe sending out a query for a pre-polished (er, incomplete) project.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Anna Zagar:
Total, I sent 60, but I recently found out not all of them made it to their destination. For some reason, about 8 or so ended up in the agent's spam folder or not arriving at all, and they were surprised to find that the opportunity had already passed for them to review the project. This is why I LOVE when agencies have an auto response so you know your query at least arrived; especially for the agencies whose policy is "no response means no". So, total:

60 queries

11 requests for fulls (3 of which came from partial requests)
3 partials (included in full requests above)
8 who never received the darn thing
33 rejections
8 closed/no response
*Just a small victory point---one of those rejections came the day after Lucy sold my MS in a two book deal to Feiwel and Friends, a children's imprint of Macmillan! I did refrain from shooting back an email teeming with the gist of "BOOO-YA!" . No need to burn bridges...

For a total of four offers of representation (the fourth, though, was kind of unofficial and contingent on major changes, so I don't really count that)
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Anna Zagar:
I only used QT for querying and I researched each agent to see if they did Fantasy. Some agents rep YA, but they prefer contemporary only, so I steered clear of those. No need to irritate people as busy as agents, you know?
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Anna Zagar:
I tried to, by reading interviews and blogs and things. I bought and read books by authors who were repped by my "A" list and tried to work that into the query somehow. But in the end, 3 of the 4 offers of rep came from agents who received my cookie-cutter query.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Anna Zagar:
Besides finishing your manuscript before you query? :) My advice is this: NEVER GIVE UP. NOT EVER. I like to remind writers of the story of Michael Jordan. Not everyone realizes this, but he actually didn't make the high school basketball team. Thing is, he didn't decide to be an architect instead. Nope, he wanted to play basketball. So he practiced, learned the craft, dedicated himself to improving. He confronted his fears of failure, targeted his weaknesses, and NEVER GAVE UP. And his work paid off. Watching him on the court was like magic. Writers are made of the same stuff. Really and truly, you can do it. Make it happen.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Anna Zagar:
Sure, but take it with a grain of salt. I don't know what worked, or why it was successful. I don't pretend to be an expert at query writing. The Query Shark would probably eat me alive. But here goes:

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Agent,

I'm hoping to interest you in my YA Fantasy, Of Poseidon, complete at 82,000 words. A hybrid of mythology, fairytale, and hormones, Of Poseidon could be the modern, twice-removed cousin of The Little Mermaid:

Syrena prince Galen trades his fin for high school, hairy legs, and flip flops in order to help human girl Emma change into the fish he knows she is. Her Gift of Poseidon—the ability to talk to sea life—proves her descent. More importantly, it destines her to mate his older brother, the Triton king, to ensure the survival of the Gift for generations to come.

But Emma's not so sure. She hates seafood. She doesn't have the dark Syrena coloring—she's Canadian-tourist white, for crying out loud. Sure, she can hold her breath for hours. But even if she can sprout a fin, what then? Does he expect her to give up everything she cares about—her mother, college scholarships, strawberry cheesecake—to go live in a sea shell off the Jersey sea shore? Nofreakingway. Especially since he's too chicken-of-the-sea to kiss her…

But the almost-kisses affect Galen too. Not to mention her blushes melt him like a sandcastle in the rain. Still, keeping his loyalty to his kingdom means keeping his heart—and his hands—to himself. It also means keeping Emma's fate a secret from her—for now. When his conscience becomes a whirlpool of affection and guilt, betrayal seems his only lifeline. The question is, who should he betray?

And—what's taking Emma so long to change into Syrena form, anyway?

Ms. Agent, please let me know if I may send you a sample of Of Poseidon. Thanks in advance for your consideration.


Eager Writer