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Success Story Interview - Caroline Tung Richmond

An Interview with Caroline Tung Richmond (Neptune on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jim McCarthy of Dystel Goderich & Bourret LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
THE COSMIC CHRONICLES OF DANNY J. SINGER is a MG science fiction novel that's a little bit Ender's Game and a little bit "Star Trek." It's about a twelve-year-old boy who must save the Earth from a swarm of gigantic space bugs. Basically, it has a lot of aliens, spaceships, and intergalactic sword fights. My love of astronomy and science fiction inspired me to write this book. When I was a kid, I used to devour stuff like My Teacher is an Alien, The Martian Chronicles, and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." (Yep, I was a nerd!) I wrote this novel for my fourth-grade self—and for space geeks everywhere.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
I know it sounds like a cliche, but I've been writing since I was in elementary school. I wrote my first story in the second grade—it was about a mysterious van parked outside of a girl's house. (Yeah, I wasn't too creative back then!) I dabbled in writing throughout high school and college, but I didn't take it seriously until 2007.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
About two years. I wrote a few chapters in college, but I didn't start hammering it out until 2008. I finished the manuscript in March 2009 and I've been revising it ever since.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
Definitely, just ask my husband! Each time I received a rejection letter, I would cry a fountain of tears onto his shoulder. I wanted to give up so many times, but I knew in my heart that I wanted this more than anything.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
Nope, only a few creative writing courses in college.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
Oh man, I edited this book to a bloody pulp! Since this was my first novel, I made so many beginner's mistakes—which led to countless revisions. I re-wrote the entire beginning last summer, and I've revised the whole thing about twelve times.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
My husband is my first beta reader and he always offers fantastic advice (he really helped to whip my dialogue into shape). About a year and a half ago, I also joined an online critique group that has been instrumental in making my book stronger.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
I've always been a write-from-the-hip kind of girl, but I'm trying to outline a few of my WIPs.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
I've been querying this book off-and-on for about a year. I sent out my first batch of queries in May 2009, but I received nothing but rejections. In July 2009, I attended the Highlights Conference in Chautauqua and I received a great critique from an editor there. (She recommended that I scrap the entire beginning. Ouch! But very helpful.) After I re-hauled the novel, I started querying again in November 2009.

If anyone is interested, I wrote about my lengthy querying process on my blog:
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
Let's see...I queried about 60 agents for this novel. In my first batch of 20 queries, I received only one full request. In my second batch, I received 3 requests but they were all rejected. In my third and final batch, I received 9 requests out of 21 queries. In between each batch of queries, I re-wrote my query letter and revised my novel a couple times.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
I selected agents based on two factors: 1.) they had to represent middle grade fiction, and 2.) they had to receive positive comments on, the Blueboards, or Absolute Write.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
I probably personalized about 50% of my queries. If I read an agent's blog, then I would mention a particular post that I really liked. If I read an interview with an agent, then I would mention something in the interview that related to my book.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
1. Resist the urge to query until your manuscript and query letter are sparkly and shiny. Join a critique group. Find a couple beta readers. Post your query on a writer's forum. Don't make the same mistake I did by querying too early!
2. Research agents like crazy. After all, this is your career and you want an agent who you feel totally confident with. Read an agent's blog and interviews. Look up his sales on Publisher's Marketplace. Visit writer's forums, like QueryTracker, to see what other people are saying. Ask yourself, "If this agent offered to represent me tomorrow, can I accept the offer with no hesitation?"
3. DO NOT GIVE UP! Don't get discouraged if your query gets rejected—re-write it and send it back out there. And don't get discouraged if your partial or full gets rejected—tweak your manuscript and send out more queries. Just keep trying and keep your chin up!
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Caroline Tung Richmond:
Of course! I wrote seven versions of my query letter until I found one that received a decent request rate. Here's the one I sent to my agent:

Query Letter:

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

Since you represent one of my favorite YA authors, Carrie Ryan, I hope you will consider my manuscript for your list. THE COSMIC CHRONICLES OF DANNY J. SINGER is a MG science fiction novel, complete at 61,000-words. An excerpt of this book received the grand prize in the Maryland Writers' Association's 2009 Novel Contest.

Twelve-year-old Danny Singer doesn't think aliens are real—until he finds one knocking on his front door.

Obviously, Danny freaks out about this intergalactic visit. After all, he’s about to get abducted, right? But weirdly enough, the alien isn’t interested in abductions or the typical take-me-to-your-leader stuff. Instead, it insists on delivering an urgent message...

In a matter of weeks, a swarm of gigantic space bugs—the Locusts—will devour the Earth as their next meal. And even worse? The Locust King, Abaddon, is coming straight for Danny and his mom.

Yeah, Danny starts freaking out again, but he has to pull himself together. To protect his sick mother, he agrees to join the Titanian Knighthood, a society of alien warriors who defend the solar system. His training starts immediately and Danny soon discovers why he's on the Locusts' most-wanted list. Turns out, Danny's dead father was once a Knight himself—in fact, he was the one who stopped Abaddon from conquering the galaxy fifteen years ago. Now, Abaddon is back for revenge and he has a few bones to pick with Danny's family.

Armed with a mystical sword, Danny must defeat the Locusts before Abaddon catches up with him. Failure isn’t an option: the future of the Earth—and his mom—are on the line.

I am a freelance writer with publications in Highlights and Boys’ Life. I am also a member of SCBWI. Upon request, I'd be pleased to send you a full manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.


Caroline Tung Richmond