Success Story Interview - Christopher Buecheler

An Interview with Christopher Buecheler (cwbuecheler on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Diana Fox of Fox Literary.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Christopher Buecheler:
Piety the Knife is a dark, epic fantasy with a touch of body horror in the magic system. It's inspired by the Dark Souls series of video games, the Monstress series of graphic novels, and non-Tolkien fantasy worlds in general. There's a very slight hint of Stephen King's Dark Tower series in there as well. I'd been kicking an idea of a dark fantasy around in my head for years, about a boy trained in a monastery to rescue a cursed queen. One morning I scrawled out a bunch of names and disciplines (eg: Piety the Knife, Temperance the Needle, Justice the Hammer) while in the shower -- hooray, AquaNotes! -- and it was like the floodgates suddenly opened. Within weeks, I was writing the first draft.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Christopher Buecheler:
Since childhood. By the time I was eleven years old, I was hoping to someday be a published author. So that'd be thirty-four years and counting. As far as writing things that I thought were actually good enough to put out in front of people? Since 2008. So, pushing fifteen years. As far as trying to get traditionally published, I'd say I started that in 2012 and landed my first literary agent in 2015 (thanks to QueryTracker!). We shopped two books but sold neither, and then she left the business in 2017 and I was back to square one.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Christopher Buecheler:
I began the first draft in August 2020 and finished it in October. After that it went on an extensive feedback journey including two sensitivity reads and developmental edit, plus a whole lot of discussion with my wife, who's my best reader. I started the second draft in September 2021 and that took about a month (my second drafts are usually fast because it's mostly a lot of cutting), then I tweaked it all the way till February 2022 based on reader feedback, and then started querying. The third draft, a "revise and resubmit" request from my eventual agent, Diana Fox, was started in August 2022 and sent in on November 6, 2022.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Christopher Buecheler:
I think the bleakest part for me was a few months after I lost my agent – I thought it would be fairly quick to find another, feeling like I'd already cleared the hurdle and would have me an advantage with future queries. Nope. So, after querying with what was then my latest book, which my former agent had really liked and thought was nearly ready to go to publishers, and then getting no offers, and knowing the only thing I could do was write something else and try again … that was tough. The querying process is just so brutal, and I've had to go through it many times. I rely on encouragement and support from the people close to me, my wife especially. Knowing there are people out there who I trust, who want to read my work, is extremely motivating.
QT: Is this your first book?
Christopher Buecheler:
Piety the Knife is my tenth book, if you don't count one I wrote in middle school (which I don't). I self-published the first three, queried for the fourth but found no rep and eventually self-published it, landed an agent with the fifth, shopped that and the sixth to publishers (lots of positive feedback but no sales) and eventually self-published the fifth, wrote a seventh that will likely never leave the trunk, then queried the eighth, ninth, and tenth. I've since written the eleventh, the first draft of a sequel to Piety.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Christopher Buecheler:
I took a semester-long course at Syracuse University when I was in 8th grade. It was taught by famed children's author Bruce Coville, who I can confirm is a very nice and encouraging person. That's about it.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Christopher Buecheler:
When I'm on a new draft, I pick a date to start, and then I write every day, seven days a week, until I'm finished. I have a goal word count of 1,500/day, though the truth is I try to keep my average about 2,000. I write in the evenings and on weekends, and sometimes on lunch breaks if I'm really feeling the story. A typical first draft usually takes me between 45 and 60 days, depending on the length of the book. When I'm not actively drafting, I don't have a routine – I just spend a lot of time mulling ideas either for changes to an existing draft, or for some new story, until something really solidifies.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Christopher Buecheler:
My process usually looks like this: first draft, collect my wife's feedback and spend some time thinking, tweaks to first draft, send out to trusted readers and agent (if I have one), collect feedback, second draft, send to everyone, collect more feedback, edits and cleanup of second draft, then a third draft if needed (typically if it's needed, it's a few sections that need significant cleanup and everything else is just tweaks).
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Christopher Buecheler:
Yep. I maintain a stable of interested readers who try to provide more feedback than just "I liked it," though I'm currently trying to expand out to working with more people who are also writers (particularly serious ones with an agent or trying to get one). Most of my readers don't write.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Christopher Buecheler:
These days I tend to start from a general document that outlines the beats I'm trying to hit, but I'm not afraid to stray significantly from that outline if the story pulls me in a certain direction. My outlines also leave a lot of room for creativity in the moment. I might have a beat in my outline that says "They travel north to a new city," and that might actually mean two full chapters of stuff happening that I just make up as I'm writing the first draft. Also sometimes characters show up that I didn't plan for, and they can really take things in unexpected directions.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Christopher Buecheler:
It took me almost exactly a year to go from initial query to landing an agent for this book. Before Piety, I'd been querying a space opera and a contemporary fantasy in the vein of Christopher Moore. Both got some interest but ultimately no offers of rep. I never really stopped querying between losing my agent in 2017 and now, but after an initial big burst of queries on each book, I had long periods where I was only occasionally sending out a query if, for example, I got a like from an agent on DVPIT or SFFPIT.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Christopher Buecheler:
Sixty-nine queries. Of those, I received six full requests, one partial, fourty-four rejections on query, and eighteen "closed - no response." One of those six full requests led to an R&R, which led to the offer.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Christopher Buecheler:
First and foremost, I went with agents who seemed like they enjoyed reading and representing books in this genre. From there, I started querying agents who'd requested work of mine previously, then began to cast a wider net. I typically went with agents with relatively fast response times, who were not super junior, and I mostly constrained myself to US-based agents on this one. I preferred those on the east coast (like me), though I did query some in other time zones. With agencies that allowed submissions to more than one agent, I picked the one I felt was the best match first, then tried others if that agent passed.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Christopher Buecheler:
For the most part, no. The query that went out was largely the same for every agent, although since more and more of them are using Query Manager, many have different sections or questions (eg: "did you have a mood board?" or "who are your favorite authors?"), all of which I answered. In any case where agents were very specific about how a query letter should be formatted, such as requiring it to be no more than three paragraphs, I did edit to ensure I met the guidelines. And, of course, I sent sample pages as requested – mostly first-five but sometimes first-ten or even first-three-chapters depending on the agent.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Christopher Buecheler:
Remind yourself, constantly, that this is a total crapshoot. You are not wrong that your work is better than books that are on the shelf right now … but merit is in a lot of ways the least important aspect. You need to have the right ms, for the right agent, at the right time for both the agent and the market. Your book might be a spectacular match for an agent who's been closed to queries for over a year. You might query an agent who loves your sample pages but just signed someone in your genre and can't really take on new work. Savor the personalized rejections, but don't feel bad about the form letters. In either case, the rejections DO NOT mean you wrote a bad book. They mean it's not the right match. Keep hustling.

Above all, KEEP WRITING. Getting attached to one book and trying to hammer it into the industry is a terrible approach. Write something else. It's a good skill to develop anyway; too many authors who get their very first book picked up and published end up really struggling with the second one, which usually has to be written on a much shorter timeline and doesn't always have years and years of thought behind it the way the first often does. So ... write it now. And then write a third one. And a fourth. The more books you have out there, the more likely it is one will match with the right agent at the right time.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Christopher Buecheler:
Sure thing. Here it is:

Query Letter:

Dear Mr/Ms/Mx [Agent],

Piety the Knife is one of the Seven Servants of the Ageless Queen, a group brutally winnowed from their peers and trained for a singular purpose: to return the Queen to her throne.

Piety dreams of impossible freedom. The Queen's lands are cursed and inescapable, lurching through time and distance in strange fits and starts. Rumor speaks of a man who drove a sword through the Queen's throat and now enjoys endless life by the grace of her golden tears. To rescue her, Piety and his companions must fight past this Lord Dràsus and the forces he commands.

But Piety has no interest in serving a Queen he's never met. He plans to turn from his mission and abandon the others, whom he's always held at arm's length, to do as they wish. Why, then, when he finds himself at last freed from his training and set upon the quest, can he not bring himself to leave them? Is it possible he's begun to care?

As Piety comes to value his friends, both those who've fallen and those who remain, he'll fight along with them against Dràsus's soldiers, a pair of twin witches, giant monsters, terrible deathless warriors, and many other dangers. They'll pass through frozen plains and dilapidated villages, endless swamps that once devoured a thriving kingdom overnight, hidden underpasses, and at last into the Queen's city. It's there that he'll face Dràsus himself and learn terrible secrets about both the Queen and the curse. At last, Piety will have his chance to walk away, only to find that the freedom he's always craved requires a sacrifice that may prove too great to make.

PIETY THE KNIFE (96,185 words) is a dark fantasy novel with a macabre magic system infused with body horror. It features a cast both racially and sexually diverse, including an asexual protagonist. It takes inspiration from the celebrated Dark Souls video games and the award-winning Monstress series of graphic novels. Comp titles include Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire novels and Alexis Henderson's Bethel series. It is intended as the first in a trilogy but can also act as a standalone novel. My previous self-published novels can be found at my Amazon author page. I've also had short fiction published in Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine and Aurora Wolf Magazine.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Christopher Buecheler