Success Story Interview - Dylan Finlayson

An Interview with Dylan Finlayson (djfinlayson on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Marianne Merola of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc..


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Dylan Finlayson:
I See Dragons is a spooky MG fantasy about a boy who can see emotions manifested as different types of dragons. I got the idea for it in the middle of a mental health episode, in which I felt completely numb and detached. I received some truly devastating news and felt terribly sad, but realized that feeling sad was better than how I had been feeling. So I wrote a book about a boy who could see an evil dragon stealing his friends' and loved ones' ability to feel.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Dylan Finlayson:
I've been writing off and on my whole life, but it has only been the last five years that I have really taken it seriously.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Dylan Finlayson:
It has been about 2 years. I wrote it relatively quickly (for a guy with a full-time job) in about 7 months. Then another year and a half of rewrites, edits, beta reads, more rewrites, and querying.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Dylan Finlayson:
On this book? Yes. In fact, I had reached the point where I decided that I wasn't going to send out any more queries, and I See Dragons simply wasn't the book that was going to break me in. However, I wasn't giving up on writing. I went in with eyes open and knew writing is a difficult game. But the only way to win is to keep playing. So I was working on a different book. If that didn't sell, then I would start another one. Worst-case scenario, I still got to write.
QT: Is this your first book?
Dylan Finlayson:
It is the first that I queried. I have written two others that hopefully will never see the light of day. But writing bad things is the path to writing good things.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Dylan Finlayson:
Nope. Attended some conferences, listened to some podcasts, and worked with some critique partners.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Dylan Finlayson:
I like to, but my wife and I had a baby which threw a wrench into all our works. Hopefully, things will settle back into a routine over time.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Dylan Finlayson:
My manuscript says "version 7". When you add up my own edits and every time I went through beta readers' notes, it's probably about right.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Dylan Finlayson:
I did. I'm active with a few critique partners, and I paid for a beta reader on fiverr.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Dylan Finlayson:
I had two outlines. A high level one, that showed the whole story, then an in-depth one that went chapter by chapter. I made the in-depth one as I went, and it was kind of my "to-do" list for that chapter. Made it a lot easier to get back into the drafting when I already knew what marks I had to hit that day.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Dylan Finlayson:
This is the only book I've queried, and it took about a year.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Dylan Finlayson:
Over 100.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Dylan Finlayson:
Did they represent my genre. Did their wish list align with my book. Though I went with my gut in a couple cases, and it did pay off with some full requests.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Dylan Finlayson:
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I didn't notice any particular effect for better or worse.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Dylan Finlayson:
Take your time. Be methodical. Polish your query letter before you send it, and polish your manuscript even more. Ask for help from people who know how to write query letters. Thoughtfully consider whatever feedback you get from agents you query.

Query Letter:

Dear [AGENT],

I SEE DRAGONS is a spooky middle grade contemporary fantasy, complete at 42,500 words. It has the whimsy of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, the emotional conflict of When You Trap a Tiger, and the horror of City of Ghosts and The Jumbies. [With your interest in———, this will be a great fit.]

After the death of his mother, 12-year-old Mikey gained the ability to see people’s emotions manifested as dragons. Or he went insane. Either way, it’s tough.

The more he learns about the dragons, however, the more he understands the people in his life. He knows his father is depressed from the long, blue, snake-like dragon he lugs around, while for his best friend with ADHD, green, lizard-like thought-dragons fight for space on his head. Mikey can even communicate with his autistic and nonverbal neighbor by reading her emotions. He’s long since learned not to talk to anyone else about the dragons, but can almost see his ability as a blessing more than a curse.

Until a new, dark dragon appears at the same time Mikey’s friends’ and neighbors’ dragons begin to disappear, leaving them apathetic, uncaring, and shells of their former selves. Evil is stirring, and if Mikey cannot find out what’s happening, he is in danger of losing everything and everyone he cares about. He’s the only one who can help, but Mikey has his own dragons to conquer.

I live near Salt Lake City, Utah with my wife, two sons, and daughter. I wrote this book as a way to process the strong emotions associated with my ADHD diagnosis last year, as well as the struggles leading up to it. I hope my readers will be able to understand their emotions in a deeper way and learn, as Mikey does, that we are only truly defeated if we give up.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Dylan Finlayson
123 Fake Street
Heartland, USA