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Success Story Interview - David Kazzie

An Interview with David Kazzie (RBSHoo on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Ann Rittenberg of Ann Rittenberg 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?
David Kazzie:
I was a big QT user for my last manuscript, but I signed with my agent in a really unusual way. Last summer, I started writing a humor blog, and along the way, I wrote a couple of animated videos that went viral, including So You Want to Write a Novel and So You Want to Go to Law School.

The Novel video got me some agent interest, and in particular, I started a dialogue with Ann Rittenberg. She began reading the blog and watching my other videos. Plus, we just really hit it off, and she had some great ideas about where my career could go. At the end of January, she offered to represent me and my career going forward. Ann is a lovely and very funny person, she believes in me as a writer, and she's such a well-respected agent -- I'm still stunned that this happened and couldn't be happier.
QT: How long have you been writing?
David Kazzie:
I wrote quite a bit when I was a kid, and I wrote for my high school and college newspaper along the way. I really got serious about writing fiction in 2001, when I started my first novel. It was your average man-on-the-run suspense novel (although it was above-average in its crappiness). It took me a long time to find and trust my voice, especially my comic voice. Some might say I'm still looking for my comic voice.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
David Kazzie:
Yes, absolutely. In fact, about 5 years ago, I gave up writing for about a year. I thought I was free. No more rejection, no more frantically jotting down doomed story ideas, no more struggling with character names that sound fake -- I could just sit back and live like a normal person. It didn't work, and I went crawling back to the keyboard, begging for its forgiveness. I really think that's the true mark of a writer -- that you cannot escape the pull of writing, no matter what happens, no matter how dark the outlook is.
QT: Is this your first book?
David Kazzie:
I've actually written three novels, which we shall call "My Education." I was very happy with my most recent one, and I thought it would find an agent, so I was very disappointed when I didn't -- in fact, I was so bummed, I started writing the humor blog to give myself a break from the heartache of writing fiction.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
David Kazzie:
No. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't even take any English classes when I was in college, other than the required composition class (which, as it turned out, was taught by a grad student named Rob Sheffield, who went on to become a very well-known music writer). My training has come via reading and writing a lot.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
David Kazzie:
Lately, I've found myself starting at 9:30 or 10 in the evenings, and working until I can't stay awake. I've also discovered the brilliance of the Freedom program for the Mac, which lets you deactivate the Internet for a set period of time. Yes, I need an Internet babysitter.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
David Kazzie:
My last manuscript went through six revisions. It took me years to understand the importance of brutal self-editing. Back in 2002, I started querying my first manuscript about ten minutes after finished the first draft -- my own animated clueless bear moment. The last time out, I set the book aside for a few weeks and then spent a few months revising it to within an inch of its life.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
David Kazzie:
I have one close friend who reads along the way, and then a handful who read my work after it's completed.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
David Kazzie:
While writing my last manuscript, I used the techniques in a screenwriting book I'd read called Screenplay (by Syd Field), which teaches you to create a blueprint for your story. I'm not a screenwriter, but I found the tools really applicable to fiction. I didn't have to have a detailed outline, which gives me flexibility in the storyline, but the book taught me the benefit of mapping out the book's major turning points. Knowing that there were designated points I was headed for gave me a lot of confidence to finish.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
David Kazzie:
For my recently-deceased manuscript, I sent out about 175 queries (and tracked them using QT). It got seven requests for the full, another dozen for the partial. I even got a phone call from an agent. But that turned out to be a friendly call, and not The Call. As for my earlier work, I queried before e-mail submissions were standard, so I sent out a much smaller number (and I quickly realized those books had no chance).
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
David Kazzie:
I believe in the query-widely theory - if the agent represented my genre, that was usually enough to convince me. I also researched each one here and out on the web to see if I could learn anything unique about them.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
David Kazzie:
Occasionally, I would tailor it if I had a really good way of doing so (I'd met the agent at a conference, or I'd read a good interview with the agent). For the most part, no (although I always made sure to include a proper business salutation: Dear Ms. X:)
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
David Kazzie:
First, you have to study the industry and learn about how the business works. There's no excuse for not knowing the rules of the game. I've had a number of agents, editors and writers tell me how often they've encountered the delusional bear in the video, which amazed me -- I intended that character to be a caricature, a collection of all the horror stories I've heard about rolled into one awesomely clueless character.

Second, I think my path to representation demonstrates the power of social media these days. Ten years ago -- maybe even 5 years ago -- this couldn't have happened. Word-of-mouth and technology are a strong combination. People are always looking for good content, wherever it is, and that means agents and editors are on the lookout for the creators of good content. Look at Justin Halpern and Shit My Dad Says. I read an interview Halpern gave -- his agent actually made first contact through Twitter, and now he's on the NY Times bestseller list (and deservedly so -- that book is hilarious). You just never know what might grab someone's attention (for the right or wrong reasons), so it's more important than ever to not only get stuff out there, but to make sure that it's your very best work.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I also would like to say that I'm very grateful to each and every person who watched and shared my video. One day last December, someone out there shared the video with Ann, and it ended up changing the course of my career.