Success Story Interview - E.M. Anderson

An Interview with E.M. Anderson (elizmanderson 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?
E.M. Anderson:
This manuscript is an adult contemporary fantasy. An old man cursed with immortality hunts ghosts rather than making mortal friends who will die one day, but when the residents of a small Ohio town threatened by a vengeful ghost adopt him as their own, he must decide: leave to protect his heart, or stay to save their lives?

This story is a love letter to Northwest Ohio, trees, cemeteries, and soft old men.
QT: How long have you been writing?
E.M. Anderson:
I've been writing for about twenty years now.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
E.M. Anderson:
After a false start in May 2020, I worked on this book between December 2020 and May 2022.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
E.M. Anderson:
My first time in the trenches, I gathered so many "not a good fit" and "this isn't marketable" rejections it's like I was trying to start a collection. A call with an agent that was not an offer call had me spiraling, positive my timing would always be off and I'd never get anywhere no matter how good my writing was. I never got quite to a point of giving up, but looking ahead I could see future scenarios where I might. There are no positive guarantees in publishing: only the guarantee that you won't get anywhere if you don't put yourself out there. So that's what kept me going through the existential despair, even though it was a negative guarantee rather than a positive one.

Also spite. Spite kept me going.
QT: Is this your first book?
E.M. Anderson:
Not even a little bit. It is however only the second book that's gotten to the point of being query-ready.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
E.M. Anderson:
I had a couple writing courses scattered through high school and early college and was an Author Mentor Match mentee for AMM Round 9.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
E.M. Anderson:
Between work, other obligations, and ADHD, a writing schedule has never worked for me. The most I can say is that I write after work on week days but cut myself off at 10p.m. and write earlier in the day on weekends, if I don't have too much else to do. I also fit writing in anywhere I can - when I was a student I'd write in the ten minutes between classes, when I worked in grocery I'd write on my break or during dead moments at the register, things like that.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
E.M. Anderson:
Prior to AMM, I did two and a half rounds of major revisions. (The half was me starting a revision, hating the direction it was going, and starting over partway through.) With AMM, I did an additional round of revisions with my mentor. There were also various rounds of line edits.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
E.M. Anderson:
Yes! I had weirdly many beta readers for this book. I put out a call on Twitter for mutuals who'd be interested and got a lot more response than I expected.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
E.M. Anderson:
I took copious notes and did a lot of research in advance of writing this book, which culminated in a vague synopsis I occasionally remembered to refer back to while drafting. I tried outlining my second draft but couldn't figure out how the new structure would work without actually writing it, so I gave up on outlining and dove into rewrites.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
E.M. Anderson:
I queried this book for six months or so. For the previous manuscript (now my debut, with a small press), I was in the trenches for close to two years.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
E.M. Anderson:
I sent 63 query letters for this manuscript.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
E.M. Anderson:
- Do they rep my genre & age group?
- Do they work at a reputable agency?
- Do they and/or their agency have some decent sales?
- Do they treat querying authors with kindness and respect?
- Does anything in their MSWL indicate they might be interested in this manuscript?
- Post November, I also paid attention to which agents signed the open letter in support of HCPU's strike
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
E.M. Anderson:
If anything in their MSWL clearly tied to my manuscript, I personalized my letter with, "Dear [Agent], I am querying you today because of your interest in xyz" and a brief explanation of how my manuscript met those desires. If their MSWL was generic, or if they had no MSWL beyond a list of genres/subgenres, I did not personalize the letter. I used to stress out about that, but my earlier time in the trenches indicated that sometimes interest comes from agents you least expect, while "not a good fit" rejections often come from agents whose MSWL seemed like a perfect match for the manuscript.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
E.M. Anderson:
Take prepandemic querying advice with a grain of salt; much of it doesn't hold true anymore. Yes, do your research, but don't stress out: sometimes the information you've been told you need is hard to find, behind a paywall, or simply not available. Do your best and don't expect more of yourself. Don't self-reject! Sometimes the agent you're convincing yourself not to query because their MSWL doesn't seem like it fits is the agent who will turn out to be most interested.

Most importantly, set guidelines or boundaries to protect your mental health. Maybe you disable push notifications for your querying email. Maybe you only query agents who explicitly list your genre in their MSWL and ignore agents who say "general fiction" or "all fiction genres." Maybe you only send queries or check your inbox on certain days of the week; maybe you don't personalize queries; maybe you mute certain words on social media so you don't see other people's agent announcements while you're slogging through the trenches. Querying sucks. Do what you can to make it suck slightly less for yourself if at all possible.

Query Letter:

Dear [Agent],

THE MANY BURIED THINGS OF PETER SHAUGHNESSY is a 94,500-word adult contemporary fantasy with paranormal elements that will appeal to fans of T.J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door and Matt Cain’s The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle. It features found family, unresolved trauma, and people grappling with loss in different ways. This manuscript was revised with a mentor as part of Author Mentor Match (AMM), Round 9.

Peter Shaughnessy is over two hundred years old and ready to die. But thanks to a youthful encounter with one o’ them folk, he can’t: he’s cursed to wander eternally far from home. Now Peter rids town after town of troublesome ghosts, leaving when the job is done.

When his wandering brings him to Harrington, Ohio, he expects a job no different than usual. Find an angry spirit. Send it on its way before it causes trouble. Leave before anyone so much as learns his name.

Harrington’s residents have other ideas. As he searches for a vengeful spirit, Peter finds himself drawn into the townsfolk’s lives, homes, and troubles. For the first time in over a century, he wants something other than death. But the people of Harrington will die someday. And he won’t.

As Harrington buckles under the weight of the supernatural, the ghost hunt pits Peter’s well-being against that of his new friends. If he stays, he risks heartbreak; if he leaves, he risks their lives.

Trigger warnings for this manuscript are as follows: anxiety; panic attacks; physical violence and bodily injury; dissociation; and flashbacks. Additionally, it includes content warnings for attempted suicide and death of close family members.

I’m a queer, neurodivergent writer with a BA in English and two master’s degrees. I am an AMM R9 mentee, and my work has appeared in Dark Horses: The Magazine of Weird Fiction and SJ Whitby’s Awakenings: A Cute Mutants Anthology. My debut novel, The Remarkable Retirement of Edna Fisher, releases in April 2023 from Hansen House Books.

Thank you for your consideration!

E.M. Anderson