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Success Story Interview - Celia Winter

An Interview with Celia Winter (celiawrites on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Keir Alekseii of Jennifer Azantian 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?
Celia Winter:
I wrote a contemporary/grounded scifi with horror elements as a way to cope with some trauma at work in the second half of 2022. It was very different from what I usually write (stories that tend more towards fantasy), and it was both very cathartic and exhilarating to write (not to mention healing).
QT: How long have you been writing?
Celia Winter:
I started telling myself unicorn stories when I was six. I recently found some of my old writing notebooks from when I was a kid while cleaning out my childhood bedroom. So the answer "all my life" might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. I have been writing fanfiction since I was in high school and began writing novels in my mid-twenties.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Celia Winter:
I joke that this book sprung fully formed from my head like Athena out of Zeus'. I began working on it vaguely in the spring of 2022, and in earnest in the fall. It was done within four months.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Celia Winter:
Definitely. Not with this book, but with the querying process as a whole. This was not the first book I queried, though it was by far the strongest and I think centering myself in how capricious and arbitrary everything is (and thus it couldn’t possibly be an indication about the quality of my work) helped ground me this time around.
QT: Is this your first book?
Celia Winter:
Nope! It's my third book that I've queried, but I've written more than I've queried.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Celia Winter:
Yes and no. I took some writing courses in college for short fiction, and have taken novel writing coursework through a graduate school (though not a formal graduate program) but I very much consider the main thing that taught me how to write to be the 15 years of FanFiction I have under my belt, in terms of volume of words, types of stories told, and growth and critique.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Celia Winter:
Sometimes too much. I try to write right when I wake up since I tend to wake up alert and fade quickly throughout the day. If I haven't written by 11am, it's not clear that it will happen that day.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Celia Winter:
This one—not very many times. Usually I do about three or more rounds of edits, but this one was two.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Celia Winter:
God yes. Always. I have some folks who have been instrumental over the years for making my books as good as they can possibly be.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Celia Winter:
Half-and-half. I made sure the next arc was outlined and I knew what I needed to do before I started each section, but I didn't outline the whole book (beyond knowing what beats I wanted) in advance.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Celia Winter:
I started querying this one in January 2023; I have been querying books since 2020.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Celia Winter:
About 40.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Celia Winter:
It varied: this book can sprawl interestingly across different categories, so I started with agents who rep adult scifi, but was planning to move onto horror and maybe speculative fiction more broadly.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Celia Winter:
I added about one sentence saying why I thought the story was a good fit for them when applicable; I also picked different comps depending on if I wanted to highlight the horror elements or not; but I didn't tailor the body of the query.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Celia Winter:
This entire process will mess with your head. I joked to myself a few months ago that it's important to have boundaries with your dreams, but it's not really a joke. Your dream should be about YOU, you shouldn't only be about it. Make sure you're balancing yourself out with friends and non-writing related things. Your story is special because you are special and doing things that aren't about your story can help you remember that.

Query Letter:

On her first day at BrainFeed, Avital began wearing one of the biotech company’s Devices to regulate her emotions and treat her mental health. It was just one of the perks of working at BrainFeed, along with housing her and her family and sheltering her from the Christian authoritarianism overrunning a United States whose air is poisoned by climate change. Avital has an amazing job! She is happy—and lucky—to work there! But when Avital’s best friend Casey is laid off and vanishes without a trace, a shadowy stranger approaches Avital with a proposition: help his mysterious employer spy on BrainFeed and he’ll help her find Casey.

But spying on BrainFeed is risky when the company is her only safety net. Not only does she need to rise in the ranks to gain access to data, but she must sabotage the Device she wears to work everyday, which runs the risk of drawing the notice of the eerily sinister and megalomaniacal CEO. But Avital is loyal to those she loves, and if she doesn’t find Casey soon, her best friend might end up in a debtor’s camp or knifed by the cartels who sell blood to addicts for the magical high it provides.

As Avital digs deeper into the company, she finds attempts to cover up trails of blood, a product that is moving from health management into mind control, and the Device readings of teammates who know how it’s made showing terror readings off the charts. There’s a dark, bloody truth at the center of BrainFeed, and once she uncovers it, Avital will need to choose between her family’s safety and the safety of everyone who uses the Device.