Success Story Interview - Ellen Meny

An Interview with Ellen Meny (ellenmeny on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Keir Alekseii of Jennifer Azantian 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?
Ellen Meny:
A GORGON’S GUIDE TO GETTING A LIFE, an adult fantasy, is a twist on the myth of Perseus and Medusa.

When teen hero Perseus arrives to behead Medusa so he can save his mother, Medusa instead chooses to help him (head attached) to prove to her condescending sister that she’s not a total wreck. Sure, the journey to Perseus's mother might involve bloodthirsty harpies, murderous (and hot) monster-hunters and — gasp — self-reflection, but Medusa can handle it. Right?

I’ve always loved Greek myths, but this story really stuck when one question popped up in my mind: what if Medusa kept her head? From there, I knew I wanted to write a retelling that was both a powerful story of healing and a genuinely funny, entertaining romp through mythology.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Ellen Meny:
Since I could read. My first major work was an epic 250,000-word Pokémon fan fiction I wrote in middle school. Unfortunately for you, I wiped it from the internet because NO ONE needs to read that.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Ellen Meny:
January 2021 to January 2023.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Ellen Meny:
Querying is generally hellish, so yes. It's like an evil(er) version of gambling. You crank the slot machine over and over again, hoping for big money - an offer - or at the very least sweet little hits of success - fulls, partials. But, at the end of the day, you leave the publishing casino smelling like smoke and desperation.

The biggest thing that kept me going was my belief in A GORGON'S GUIDE. I'm incredibly proud of this book. So while I didn't allow myself much optimism during the querying process, there was that tiny kernel of hope inside of me that kept me going. And being generally neurotic probably helped.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Ellen Meny:
I’d love to say, “Every morning I retreat to my lakeside cottage and sit down at my $1800 Shaker-style desk, putting Montblanc fountain pen to parchment paper as I weave worlds - that is, until Máma calls me back for dinner.”

However, that is not the case. I write when I can, where I can. After work, before work, during my few-and-far-between lunch breaks, at coffee shops on the weekend, etc.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Ellen Meny:
I did about five drafts in total, even though it felt like a billion.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Ellen Meny:
Absolutely! I wouldn’t be here without the incredible help of my Author Mentor Match mentors, Emily and Kat, as well as my writing friends and fearless beta readers, Lou and Carol.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Ellen Meny:
I prefer chaos and uncertainty when I write my books, so for my first draft I used a very vague, very general outline. For my second draft, I wrote a synopsis, which essentially became my outline for the rest of the drafts.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Ellen Meny:
I didn’t have the bandwidth to tailor each query, so it depended on if I saw something in the agent’s MSWL that I could mention, like a shared love for a comp title, or a trope in my manuscript. I did tailor my query for the agent I signed with.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Ellen Meny:
Querying is a medieval torture device that pulls your spirit in four different directions instead of your body. So much of it involves luck, timing, and marketability, which to me was frustrating because my success didn’t necessarily depend on the merit of my writing. I had to, as my Southern college friends say, try to let go and let god - which was challenging for someone with anxiety.

Here are three things I'd recommend to people querying:

Create a separate querying email that doesn’t have push notifications, and check it twice a day, at most. You’ll slip up occasionally, and that’s okay, but establishing a boundary is important.

Find writing friends. Really good writing friends who are, ideally, both merciless editors and kind confidantes. And then be that same writing friend for them.

Work on something else. Another manuscript, a short story, a poem dedicated to the pigeon with one foot that lands on your stoop every morning, whatever. That’s the only thing you can control, really. You can be talented, connected, lucky, sure. But tenacity will get you the farthest.

Query Letter:

Dear [Agent],

A GORGON'S GUIDE TO GETTING A LIFE, complete at 94,000 words, is a queer, adult speculative twist on the myth of Medusa. Perfect for millennials who grew up reading Percy Jackson, it weaves together the classic mythology of Stone Blind with the humor of Fleabag. This is an #OwnVoices work that was selected for and revised through Author Mentor Match. I'm querying you because I think you'll really enjoy my grumpy/sunshine, patriarchy-smashing, enemies-to-friends story that definitely shares some DNA with the game Hades!

When Medusa accidentally angered the gods, she and her two sisters were turned into monsters with deadly powers. Fifteen years later, Medusa and her sisters' relationship has gone from inseparable to impossible. One sister is annoyingly perfect and the other has disappeared after leaving a cryptic note. Guilt-ridden and traumatized by the past, Medusa spends her days hidden in her cave, enduring patronizing visits from her remaining sister and turning wannabe heroes to stone.
But when some kid named Perseus tries to behead her in order to save his mother from a wicked king, Medusa sees an opportunity: take Perseus under her wing (literally), go rescue his mom, and finally prove to her perfect sister that she has her life together. Which she absolutely doesn't, but if it means a chance for Medusa to spite her, it's worth it.

What should be a simple journey across the Aegean Sea turns disastrous. The king's harpies hound their every move, a hot warrior keeps trying to kill her, and worst of all, Medusa's newfound crew force her to face her feelings. But when danger mounts, she has a decision to make: ditch Perseus and go back to her safe, sad life, or finally take on her inner demons—and maybe even repair her relationship with her sisters.

I'm an Emmy-winning writer living in Maryland. I've written for television news, publications like Vox and the Cut, and fiction publications such as Fireside Fiction and the anthology Five Minutes at Hotel Stormcove (Atthis Arts, 2018). In my spare time, I volunteer as a public speaker for mental health non-profits, using my lived experience to combat the stigma of mental illness.

Thank you for your time and consideration!

Ellen Meny