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Success Story Interview - Christopher Mannino

An Interview with Christopher Mannino (cmannino on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Stephen Fraser of Jennifer De Chiara 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?
Christopher Mannino:
My Middle Grade novel STARKEEPER is the story of a boy who places the stars in the sky each night. He confronts the Man in the Moon, who is trying to steal the stars for himself. This story was inspired by my love of folklore and by my son. My son's always asking me how things work, while I'm always telling him to reach for the stars.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Christopher Mannino:
I began seriously writing nine years ago.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Christopher Mannino:
About two years, including drafting and querying.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Christopher Mannino:
Oh for sure! My wife is the chief reason I keep going. She's been the strongest driving force keeping my sane in the query trenches.
QT: Is this your first book?
Christopher Mannino:
Nope. I've four books already out and four others fully written that Steve (my new agent) is eagerly reading already.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Christopher Mannino:
About three rounds of edits before betas and one round after, later ended up rewriting the opening after some initial query feedback.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Christopher Mannino:
Absolutely- I highly advise never querying until you've multiple eyes on your project. And for MG, you need kids too. I've got a great team of adult and kid beta readers. The feedback from the kids is often a lot less specific, but it's really helpful to get a sense of what they like and don't.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Christopher Mannino:
I always outline loosely first. For this book I ended up going back and adding a point of view that wasn't in the original version or outline, after the early drafts. That shifted things a bit, but strengthened the novel.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Christopher Mannino:
I've been querying since the dawn of time. First there were dinos, then cavemen, then me querying. Seriously I sent about 100 queries for this book. It received 15 full requests before Steve made the offer.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Christopher Mannino:
Usually a blend of agents who repped my genre, interviews and MSWL posts, and Publishers Marketplace sales.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Christopher Mannino:
I tried to personalize most of my queries with a detail from mswl or an interview. It takes extra time but makes a difference. However, the irony is I'd queried Steve months earlier and never heard back. I'd marked it closed and then queried the head of the agency Jennifer DeChiara herself. Jennifer passed my query to Steve who asked for the full a day later, then he asked about my career a week after that. That led to the offer.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Christopher Mannino:
Do not give up. And focus on other projects. While querying takes a great deal of time, it doesn't really take that much creative energy. Don't get obsessed with one project. I queried one project and didnt get a bite, so went on to another, and so on. Even when I got an offer, I was busy writing something else.

Query Letter:

I hope you are safe and well in these turbulent times. I'm reaching out with a 50,000-word MG Fantasy that blends the lyricism of Barnhill's Girl Who Drank the Moon with imaginative visuals along the lines of a Hayao Miyazaki film or Lin's Starry River of the Sky.

When the Man in the Moon steals every star from the sky, thirteen-year-old Jaq must forge a new set of stars in the center of the Sun.

Jaq despises the family business. Tomorrow he'll become a nightkeeper, joining a group who walk the sky's glassy surface. Nightkeepers fasten stars every evening and collect the bulbs again before dawn. Boring, manual labor. He yearns to become a respected poet instead.

Stars power the world, fueling city generators and even creating emotions. Ukko, the Man in the Moon, wants the stars for himself. Ukko is sick of hosting nightkeeper feasts and envies his sister, the Woman in the Sun, whose glorious rays outshine him. Hoping to brighten the Moon, he steals the stars and the cities below fail.

Jaq travels the world, trying to rescue the stars. After climbing a ladder to the Moon, he opens a hatch through the sky and accidentally releases Envies, green-eyed snakes that swarm the world and destroy the stolen stars. Consumed by the Envies' power, Ukko attacks the world below. Jaq, once deeply jealous of his non-nightkeeper friends, struggles to accept and overcome the emotion. With the Woman in the Sun's help, Jaq must combine nightkeeping and poetry to re-forge the stars, stop Ukko, and save both night and day.

THE STAR-KEEPER AND THE JEALOUS MOON is told through three povs. The main story is through Jaq's perspective. A fussy mooncat named Seren reluctantly agrees to watch over Jaq. Meanwhile, Ukko's mother, a trickster immortal, interferes in Jaq's progress while constantly complaining to her unresponsive broom. The narrative weaves prose and poetry.

I released three YA Fantasy novels through a traditional small press and have one self-published adult novel. I spent over a decade in public education, teaching middle and high school students theatre and English. Member of SCBWI, and the PEN/Faulkner WinS program. I am currently the primary caregiver to two inspiring and adventurous children.