Success Story Interview - Don Zolidis

An Interview with Don Zolidis (donzolidis on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Brenda Bowen of The Book Group.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Don Zolidis:
SUPERGEEK is a 67,000 word upper-MG novel about a nerd who gets moderate super-powers and tries to use them to become cool. (and mostly fails) This is largely a wish-fulfillment book for me – I imagined what it might be like to have a tiny amount of super-powers and what I would actually do with them in the real world.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Don Zolidis:
I've been writing since high school. For the vast majority of that time, I've been a playwright and a screenwriter. (I still am, I'm just branching out.)
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Don Zolidis:
I started writing it in September 2010. I finished the first draft of the book in about two and a half months, and spent another month editing.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Don Zolidis:
No. I've had a lot of success as a playwright, so I had a lot of confidence that I could do this as well. And in my career I've met with lots of rejection before that success, but I've never felt like giving up.
QT: Is this your first book?
Don Zolidis:
This is my first novel, yes.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Don Zolidis:
I have a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. in playwriting. I'm also a professor of creative writing.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Don Zolidis:
Not really. I tried to write every spare minute during the day that I could. I used to write late at night, but as I've gotten older I've gotten less and less productive after 10:00 p.m. or so. Now I try to write in the morning, and I'd try to have a page goal for each week. I set myself a goal of 25 pages per week, and I hit that on most weeks.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Don Zolidis:
Honestly? Maybe two. I know that's kind of weak, but I revise as I go, so it wasn't like I just whipped off a third draft and sent it to an agent.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Don Zolidis:
No. I felt pretty good about the book while I was writing it. Brenda (my agent) was actually the first person to read the entire novel all the way through. I'd given a five-page sample to a friend to look over, but that was it. I guess I'm a little secretive of my writing while I'm working on it.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Don Zolidis:
Oh yes. Outline. Outline. Outline. As I was writing, I would change the outline to reflect what I was doing, but I had a very concrete plan. As this was my first novel, I felt that I would get lost halfway through if I didn't have a solid framework.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Don Zolidis:
I sent the first query to Brenda in January, which was the first time I'd ever contacted an agent. After two months, and two nudges, I hadn't heard anything, so then I jumped deeply into the querying pool.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Don Zolidis:
65 in the course of about two weeks. I got really obsessive about it. I'd check my email every five minutes until 10 p.m. By the time Brenda offered, I'd had 10 requests for fulls, and 2 for partials, and about 25 rejections. The others were either no-responses or hadn't gotten to it yet. I called off the search after she offered.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Don Zolidis:
They had to represent both Middle Grade and Young Adult, since my book is close to being between the two worlds. I also looked at their response times – after a bit I stopped querying agents that were the "no response means no" kind because it was driving me insane.

I selected Brenda because she was recommended by a friend of mine, who happens to be a best-selling author. I valued my friend's opinion very highly, so when Brenda called and said she loved the book and we seemed to click, I called off the search. It was kind of cool writing a letter to the agents saying that I wasn't taking any more offers. I tried to be very, very nice about it.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Don Zolidis:
A little bit, but not much. I looked on their websites and maybe glanced a few blogs, and if there was some kind of connection, I'd mention it.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Don Zolidis:
I don't know that I have a lot of great advice. I guess it's just keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. I've had 41 plays published, so I already felt "established" by the time I started looking for a literary agent. It's nice to have some credentials out there that are going to get an agent's attention.

Query Letter:

Dear wonderful agent:

I am writing to you to consider representing me as a literary agent. I have recently completed a 70,000 word middle grade novel, SUPERGEEK, a comic thriller that marries Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Spiderman.

SUPERGEEK is the story of Austin Horatio Minor, a typically geeky high school freshman who is transformed into a junior varsity level superhero after a freak encounter with a mysterious janitor. Still, the ability to fly at six miles per hour, lift half of a mini-van, and levitate darts doesn't automatically make you popular, and Austin's hometown of Pocowok, Wisconsin doesn't seem to be crying out for a superhero. But appearances can be deceiving, and in order to become cool (and get a girl to like him), he just might have to save the world.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Don Zolidis