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Success Story Interview - Beth Revis

An Interview with Beth Revis (bethrevis on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Merrilee Heifetz of Writers House.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Beth Revis:
My book is a YA science fiction, and although it takes place in space, it's not hard SF--it's much more about individual characters in extreme situations. Ironically, I never used to read science fiction, and never thought that I would write a science fiction, but it's the one that landed me an agent. However, there were a series of books that led to my idea evolving. I liked the unreliable narrator in Megan Whalen Turner's THE THIEF, the subtle science in Mary Pearson's THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, and the contained mystery in Jeanne du Prau's THE CITY OF EMBER. When I set out to write my own book with an unreliable narrator, I realized I could do science like Pearson did, and the ultimate contained mystery would be on a space ship. I've got a synopsis of the book online at
QT: How long have you been writing?
Beth Revis:
I've been writing for a little over five years. The first book I wrote that I thought might snag me an agent, a book deal, and the answer to my prayers was in 2004, and although I got very close to achieving my goal with that one, it wasn't until five years and several more practice novels did I finally write something that caught the attention of agents.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Beth Revis:
I got the idea for this book in late 2008, while I was wrapping up another practice novel that I've since retired. I wrote this book starting in January 2009 (while querying for my other title). I finished the first draft just before summer, sent to alpha, beta, and gamma readers over the summer months, rewrote it in September, and started querying late that month.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Beth Revis:
The first time I ever felt like giving up was with this novel. Before, I always had the attitude, "Well, if this doesn't work, I'll write another one." But I knew while writing this novel that it was the best work I'd ever done, and I started to tell myself that if this didn't work, nothing would. Fortunately, this novel really WAS my best manuscript so far, and it worked!
QT: Is this your first book?
Beth Revis:
HA! I'm actually a little embarrassed to tell you how many "practice novels" I've done. Let's just say my attitude has always been write, revise, query, write something new, repeat. I'm a pretty fast writer, and have been trying for about five years, so...let's just say that's a lot of novel writing practice....
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Beth Revis:
I took a class in college on creative writing, which I pretty much hated. The professor would never let us write sci fi or fantasy, and I don't really like writing anything else. It was miserable.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Beth Revis:
I wish I could! I work as an English teacher. During the school year, I have to divide my time between lesson plans, grading essays, advising the student writing club, and writing my own work. My own work often gets put on a side burner while I do this, and I can often only focus on the weekends (it's easy to get burnt out doing so much). But during the summer, I treat writing as my job, 9-5, and work on it nearly every day.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Beth Revis:
One major rewrite that involved some structure issues. Other than that, I'd often rewrite little things as soon as I got feedback. I was tweaking the little details all the way until I signed my contract--and I'm still going to be tweaking until it goes on submission!
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Beth Revis:
I had a SYSTEM. I had an alpha reader for while I was writing, two beta readers once I finished the rough draft for structure issues, and two gamma readers after that to make sure it was 100% the best it could be. Throughout that time, I was also subbing chapters to two critique groups. Even after I was done and had the full out to agents, I roped *another* reader into reading it--so that if the queries resulted in rejections, I'd know how to revise and rewrite and submit again. Fortunately, by that point, the reader had nothing to change about the manuscript, and (even more fortunately) the agents reading the fulls agreed!
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Beth Revis:
Pantser, all the way. I hate outlines. That said, I did have a pretty general idea of the plot mapped out in my head, but I never planned on paper more than a chapter or two in advance.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Beth Revis:
This one, I only queried a little more than two months from first query to first offer. But, I've been writing and querying other works for over five years.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Beth Revis:
*checks QT* I sent 39. I had about a half-good, half-bad response rate.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Beth Revis:
I read all the agent, publishing, and editorial blogs and news and magazines I could get my hands on. I recorded all my notes through the QT site. I read all the comments, studied the reports, and organized everything through QT.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Beth Revis:
If I could, I did. But if I didn't have any really specific information, I didn't bother.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Beth Revis:
Buy more vodka. You'll need it.

I'm not sure if there's any one way to go about it. My way worked for me. When I sent work out and didn't get a positive response, I'd just write something new and send something else out. It ended up in a lot of rejections and a lot of practice novels, but also the one novel that worked for me.

Also: I always included at least the first five pages of my manuscript, unless the agent said specifically not to in his or her guidelines. I worked hard to make sure those five pages had a strong hook and ended on a bit of a cliffhanger.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Beth Revis:
Sure! It's below:

Query Letter:

Seventeen-year-old Amy has no desire to become one of the first colonists on a new planet--but her parents do. So she agrees to be cryogenically frozen for the journey, even if it means giving up the life she loves on Earth.

Much later, Elder--part of the generations of workers born on the ship--begins his training as the future commander. He has no idea of the cargo of cryogenically frozen people hidden beneath his feet.

Then Amy wakes up fifty years early.

Amy must now adjust to life without her still-frozen parents on board a space ship that is vastly different from her home on Earth. Trapped by both the metal walls of the ship and the lies that keep it running, Amy discovers her cryo chamber hadn't malfunctioned--someone had tried to kill her. As more and more helplessly frozen victims are unplugged, Amy combines her knowledge of the past with Elder's knowledge of the ship to find and stop the murderer...before Amy's parents are the next victims.

Complete at 80,000 words, LONG WAY HOME is science fiction for teens who don't like science fiction. The character-driven plot with a focus on mystery, secrets, and an unreliable narrator will appeal to fans of Mary Pearson's THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, and the contained mystery may attract older readers of Jeanne du Prau's CITY OF EMBER.

I am currently a high school world literature teacher and an active member of SCBWI, having been published in and working as the copy editor of the state SCBWI magazine. Additionally, I run a blog on writing for MG and YA audiences ( which has over 300 subscribers and an active community of authors and readers who share in blog tours, book reviews, and author interviews. I can be found online at or [email].

I am prepared to submit the entire manuscript upon your request. Thank you for your time and consideration with this project. Below are the first five pages as a sample of my writing.


Beth Revis