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Success Story Interview - Cade Hagen

An Interview with Cade Hagen (edacah on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Shari Maurer of Stringer Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Cade Hagen:
MERELY PLAYERS is a YA speculative thriller--but I also like to think of it as a bit of a dark comedy. I pitched it as Black Mirror meets The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and it's complete with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and a cheerfully snarky teenage narrator who's in over his head. I'd been marinating a few separate nuggets of ideas for a while, but once I realized how I could weave them together in a single narrative, it sort of snowballed.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Cade Hagen:
I was a theater nerd in middle school and high school, so I've been writing scripts since I was a kid--which I think gave me an ear for dialogue since I had to actually act out everything I wrote. I took my first swing at a novel thirteen years ago (it was a swing and a resounding miss). I've been writing pretty consistently since then.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Cade Hagen:
I generally let my ideas simmer for a few months before I dive in--during which time I keep a meandering Google Doc of notes/ideas/characters/etc. Once I was ready to sit down and work in earnest, this book took about six months.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Cade Hagen:
Quitting sounds like a dream come true, but unfortunately, my dumb brain is convinced that it has something worthwhile to say. I've taken some long breaks, and I've tried to flirt with the idea of quitting, but it's never been a real option. It doesn't help that I have a relentlessly supportive wife.
QT: Is this your first book?
Cade Hagen:
If only. This is my fifth completed book.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Cade Hagen:
I do--I have a BA and MA in English, and I currently teach critical and business writing at the university level. In grad school, my advisors knew that I was also a fiction writer, so they were very flexible with my schedule/requirements. My master's is really half MA/half MFA.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Cade Hagen:
Definitely, but I'm easily bored by repetition, so I have to change things up every few weeks/months. Sometimes I'll write for a minimum amount of time per day; sometimes I'll have a daily minimum word count; sometimes I measure my metrics by the week; sometimes I write first thing in the morning; sometimes I write after everyone's in bed; sometimes I write by hand; sometimes I write with coffee; sometimes I write with other libations; sometimes...well, you get the idea. But whatever I do, I do religiously until I'm ready to do the next thing.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Cade Hagen:
One draft, one major revision, and a series of polishes focusing on different elements. I've never killed darlings the way I did with this book, and that's probably one of the reasons this one made it and the others didn't. First draft was ~110,000 words; final draft was ~74,000 words. It was a bloodbath.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Cade Hagen:
My wife is always my first and best reader, but I also have a handful of writer friends I regularly swap betas with.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Cade Hagen:
I used to be a firm hip-writer, but this book was the first one I ever outlined--I'm talking index cards on a corkboard to a fairly detailed 25-page outline. After this experience, I'm an outliner for life. Creating unity and cohesion is SO MUCH easier with planning. Of course, I don't treat my outline as ironclad, and I allowed plenty of changes throughout.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Cade Hagen:
I started querying this book in September '20 and signed with Shari in March '21.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Cade Hagen:
I'd tell you, but I'd rather not wear down the keys on my number pad. I guess that's more a comment on the queries I've sent over the course of five manuscripts rather than this one alone. Really, though, it's interesting how it goes down--once I got the first offer, more came in. It's almost like, once you've gotten a stamp of verification, folks pay attention. But then, I guess that's what this whole agenting thing is about.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Cade Hagen:
Mostly the basics--do they rep what I write? Also, but to a lesser extent, do they rep the other stuff I WANT to write? And, not for nothing, do they seem like decent humans?
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Cade Hagen:
Not much unless there was something very specific to say (e.g., you rep my favorite author). I've gotten dozens of requests over the years, and being obsessed with data as I am, I've paid attention to what seems to work and what doesn't. I haven't noticed a reliably better response from tailored queries.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Cade Hagen:
We tend to overthink this process. Take the time to learn how to write a query (if you're reading this, then that probably already describes you), get good at it, use the threads you find on QueryTracker for feedback, but DON'T OBSESS OVER IT. I once sent a series of 20 or 30 queries out over a couple of weeks, only to realize I'd misspelled a comp author's name. Being a neurotic writer, I was, well, a neurotic mess as a result. Forget about that kind of stuff. Do your best, but then obsess over the work. Obsess over your next idea. Obsess over the craft itself and learn everything you can from everyone you can. Obsess over how to write your next book so that it makes the one you're currently querying look like an amateur mess--so that you can confidently say to your inbox: "Well, yeah, of course you rejected THAT one. But wait until you see what I'm cooking up now!"

Query Letter:

Dear [Agent],

Teenage hacktivist Arles Lansdale finally got caught in his Robin-Hood digital crimes, and now he's off to prison. That is, unless he takes the unexpected pardon offer from Francis Malone, tech billionaire and Arles's personal hero. In return, Arles must infiltrate the cyberterrorist Sapiens, who have been disrupting Malone's inventions for years. They'll do anything to stop his newest breakthrough—an update to “the Bard,” his AI program that writes stories for his mega-popular VR games.

But when Arles is nearly killed by one of Malone's covert androids, his allegiance wavers. When the Sapiens claim Arles's new perfect girlfriend is actually one of Malone's androids? Yeah, uh...what does allegiance mean again?

Now caught between two groups that happily kill traitors, Arles makes a chilling discovery: the Bard has determined its digital characters aren't high-stakes enough for its stories. Instead, it plans to replace them with humans—and the new update is just the tool it needs to make that a reality.

MERELY PLAYERS, a YA speculative thriller complete at 74,000 words, is Black Mirror meets The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It has strong crossover adult appeal and begins a trilogy, but with some tweaks, it could work as a standalone. I teach writing at UNLV, where I received a BA and an MA in English. I also spent a few years teaching high school English, and one marketing idea I've had is to create a free standards-based curriculum for teachers and parents. As a high school teacher, I would have jumped at the chance to teach this book with an author-created curriculum, and I know many others who would as well.

When I'm not writing or teaching, I enjoy playing guitar, video games, and above all, spending time with my wife and two daughters. My short fiction has appeared online and in print in several journals, including Typishly, BULL, and After the Pause.