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Success Story Interview - Connor Martini

An Interview with Connor Martini (wrathofcon on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jamie Cowen of The Ampersand Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Connor Martini:
The book is my first novel, and it’s a fun adult sci-fi adventure on Mars that explores things like history and memory and guilt, plus a queer romance subplot. I was inspired to write it (forgive me for this, I’m an academic in the daytime) when I read Jaques Derrida’s Archive Fever for a grad school exam, and I got to thinking about how the keeping of history/records is one of the many tools with which the powerful define our very existence. What if that happened on Mars, and the history controlled was that of humanity’s origins on Earth?
QT: How long have you been writing?
Connor Martini:
Fiction, about three years. But I’ve been doing academic/nonfiction writing for ages and ages.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Connor Martini:
Also about three years — this was my first creative project.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Connor Martini:
Oh yeah — mostly the deluge of rejection that comes with querying! I kept going because I believed in my story, even if it took me a long time to figure out how to sell it.
QT: Is this your first book?
Connor Martini:
Yep! But hopefully not my last!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Connor Martini:
No, but when I got stuck last year, I signed up for a great asynchronous writing course/coaching program from The Novelry that I would highly recommend to anyone who is hitting a wall with their project.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Connor Martini:
No, not really. I should, at least for my day-job writing! I would go a few days without writing anything, then write two thousand words one day, or sometimes I would do a stench five hundred word a day clip. It depended on what I was trying to avoid and the severity of it.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Connor Martini:
Gosh, like a million. In reality, probably four full revisions/drafts. I kept a document of all the stuff I cut, and by the end of the editing process I had rewritten at least 50% of the book.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Connor Martini:
Just some friends who were fellow sci-fi fans, and I participated in a few workshops where we traded chapters.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Connor Martini:
Outlined, then hated the outline halfway through, then hip. But I do MUCH better with an outline.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Connor Martini:
Almost exactly a year! I sent out about 100 last spring, got rejected by everyone, took like six months to do a rewrite, and then sent out like 50 queries this winter.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Connor Martini:
About 150, I think.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Connor Martini:
1) They worked on sci-fi, and judging from whatever info I could find online, I could make a case for why they might want to read my book.
2) They seemed cool on their profiles/social media/through word-of-mouth
3) They’ve sold books to presses I would like to be sold to
4) There are no reddit threads about them, bad ones at least.

I had a first offer, actually, that I ended up turning down because the vibes I got were atrocious and I heard nothing but horrible things about them through the grapevine, but I used that offer to get another much better one!
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Connor Martini:
Not for the first round, but for the second. And the first round I didn’t get a single bite, the second round I got like ten full requests, so draw your own conclusions from that!
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Connor Martini:
Go do a workshop where you all read each other’s query materials (I did FutureScapes and I loved it). Don’t pretend your work fits with their list when it doesn’t. If you’re getting rejections, it really does not mean the project is bad, but there is no way you will actually feel like that just because people say so. The most important thing is that you believe in the merits of your project and can speak confidently in your materials. Also, if you’re a first-time writer, don’t pitch a 250,000 word project that is one of seven planned books. Everything is “a standalone with series potential.”

Query Letter:

Dear Jamie,

I am seeking representation for my adult science fiction novel Pale Red Dot, which is complete at 92,000 words. Pale Red Dot would appeal to readers of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, and the Silo series by Hugh Howey. Because of your interest in representing science fiction and LGBTQ authors, and your record of placing works with some of the most distinguished genre presses in the industry, I believe you would be an ideal representative for my work.

The humans of Mars have been taught a false history—that Mars had always been humanity's home, that a virulent pathogen drove them into their shielded habitats, and that there was nothing but dust and debris in the night sky. The memory of Earth has been erased, a policy adopted by the early colonists intended to free humanity from the guilt of having left a world they consumed to die in their absence.

When Lee Weir finds an old book by someone named Carl Sagan in his dead grandmother’s apartment, these fundamental facts of human history are thrown into question, and the future of the true history suddenly rests on his ability to do the one thing he has struggled with his entire life—tell the truth.

Lee and his best friends—explosive and confident Kurza and his long-time love interest Minato—become the targets of a deadly cabal dedicated to keeping Earth in the distant past. The mysterious and murderous Keeper pursues Lee across Mars, intent on eliminating him and his inheritance. Lee must choose between safety in complicity, giving up the book and killing the memory of Earth again, and the risks inherent in disclosure. It will be hard for the humans of Mars to confront their past, but remembering their history might be the key to safeguarding their future.

The novel interrogates the settler colonial mentality which informs many of our real-world responses to climate change, and explores questions related to artificial intelligence and the social construction of history. The novel also features a complicated but ultimately happy queer romance. Pale Red Dot is a standalone novel with series potential.

Pale Red Dot is my first work of fiction, but I have been professionally reading and writing for five years as a PhD candidate in religious studies at Columbia University, where I study the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The manuscript underwent a comprehensive developmental edit with former Solaris and Abaddon Books commissioning editor Jonathan Oliver. I have also been working with bestselling author L.R. Lam and former Titan and Gollanz commissioning editor Craig Leyenaar at The Novelry to produce the best possible draft for your consideration. The manuscript is available at your request.

Connor Martini