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Success Story Interview - Emmie Mears

An Interview with Emmie Mears (EmmieMears on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Sara Megibow of KT Literary.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Emmie Mears:
STONEBREAKER is a diverse epic fantasy, and a bit of a behemoth at 140,000 words. I grew up on David Eddings and Robert Jordan and Katherine Kerr, and my early (high school) attempts at writing an epic were all those writers. Early last year, I was reading NAME OF THE WIND, by Pat Rothfuss, and one single passing comment about the length of a week in that world made me start thinking. I ended up delving into how we structure time and what sociological, agricultural, astronomical, and class reasons exist for the length of our weeks. (Nerd alert.) I ended up writing out an entire calendar (that is NOTHING like the way ours functions) in two long ten hour days of work, and it formed the basis for the world of STONEBREAKER.

In the book, the protagonists live in a land of bounty where one day in five is a day of feasting and rest. When they come of age, they journey to find their names...but when they do, they're also initiated into the secret of their home's abundance: they live in wealth because their ancestors cast a spell to magically siphon off the resources of the land to the north, where the people now live in poverty, disease, and near-starvation. They can choose to either stay in their village and become complicit in this, or they can leave, become Nameless, and face exile and death.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Emmie Mears:
I've been writing since I was a kid. I used to steal my mom's day planners and write stories in them. I started my first novel at age nine (an overblown space opera starring all of my friends, ha) and my first epic fantasy at age 17. I finished my first novel at 24 (an urban fantasy) and since then have finished six more, and three novellas. STONEBREAKER is my seventh completed novel. Professionally, I've been writing for about six years. I've worked full time at a day job to pay the bills and full time as a writer in addition to it. I got my very first royalty check on March 3, 2015. It's been a long road.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Emmie Mears:
I started it in I think March of 2014, the worldbuilding and the background stuff. I started seriously drafting in September and finished it in January.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Emmie Mears:
Hooooooo, doggies. This question is a loaded one. I really want to answer it, though, because I want to share. Please forgive the long answer.

So. Three years ago I tried querying my first finished novel. I got no requests and quickly shelved it after some very timely advice from a now-NYT bestseller friend who gently told me it wasn't submission ready. Later that year, I wrote a UF called SHRIKE (later retitled THE MASKED SONGBIRD), which was my third finished book. I queried that starting in September 2012, and I signed with my first agent, Jessica Negron, in late January of 2013. She was the only offer I got, but her passion and ambition made me feel confident, and that is a decision I will never regret. She was my champion. She plucked me out of the slush and helped me make SHRIKE the best book it could be.

We exhausted our submission list pretty quickly. There were a lot of near misses (it got to acquisitions I think three times), and then an editor at Harlequin offered to give it a home in their E imprint. It came out in July 2014 in a box set, then solo in September. Less than a month after the solo release, I got a call from Jes telling me that Harlequin was closing Harlequin E after the acquisition by Harper Collins, and that the book, along with its sequel and a little non-fiction book under contract, were orphaned. I took it pretty well; I'd had a feeling something wasn't quite right. Less than three weeks after that, a deal for my next book (which had been on sub over a year) STORM IN A TEACUP fell through. (October was rough, guys. Really, really rough.)

On December 20, just a few days before Christmas, THE MASKED SONGBIRD was taken off sale. STONEBREAKER was only half finished. I'd already decided to self publish STORM IN A TEACUP. But clicking to my Amazon page for THE MASKED SONGBIRD broke something in me. I can't think of that day without feeling this dangling-over-a-chasm feeling. I worked so long and hard to get to that point, where my art and stories were out in the world. And it was very suddenly gone. Three days before, I'd actually written to a celebrity who I'd met and who had wanted to read the book. I had to write her back that it was gone, and the mortification I felt was almost crippling. People talk about impostor syndrome -- well. In that moment, on December 20, 2014, I felt like I'd been exposed as a fraud and that I'd been pulled away from my longest-held dream by the scruff of the neck and slapped on the wrist.

I knew, intellectually, that what happened wasn't personal and that it was pure business. It was not a value judgement on me. These things happen more often than you might think. But those feelings were raw and painful and that's the day I almost gave up. I wanted to. I was exhausted from years of working 80-100+ hour weeks and barely scraping by. Two weeks later, my agent told me she was leaving the business. And I about broke again. (I never blamed her; she's wonderful and had very, very real reasons for going.)

Then something crazy happened. An agent who heard what was happening reached out to me and preemptively offered rep. STONEBREAKER, as I said, was only half done. The next day, I woke up to an email from a (different) celebrity I'd met at a con, asking for my help with something. I hit the button on the jet pack and finished STONEBREAKER in two weeks (don't ever let me write 70K in a week again, dudes, like for real). And suddenly, I was moving again. I sent 37 queries on February 4, got 20 full requests, and ended up with seven offers of representation. So...if I'd quit December 20 or January 5? Yeah. Would not be here. Also, the book I self-published, STORM IN A TEACUP, sold over 500 copies in its first month.

To quote my favorite fish...Just. Keep. Swimming.
QT: Is this your first book?
Emmie Mears:
Nope. Seventh.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Emmie Mears:
Not really, no. Though the best training I think I've gotten has been sharing my work with betas and first, a lovely group of crazy genre writers in Nashville. Stories are conversations, and seeing what people say back is really valuable to forming your voice, your craft, and your ability to tell them with clarity.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Emmie Mears:
I work 9-5 these days, so I usually get up at 5:30-6 AM, am at work around 8, get home around 7:30, write for 2 hours or so, and pass out. I write on the metro many days, too, since my commute is over an hour. I also tend to work 8-12 hours or so a day on weekends, though not all of that is fiction writing. I'm always working in some capacity.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Emmie Mears:
Don't hate me, please. No rewrites. Just some tweak-like edits according to beta feedback. I write clean first drafts and outline like crazy, and I've had enough books go through insanely long periods of revisions that I've learned to nix a lot of those old problems from the start. I'm sure if it sells an editor will have things to say, so karma will be back to bite me in the bum, don't you worry.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Emmie Mears:
Two. I used to have a lot more, but the more books I've written, the more I've found that a couple of the betas I have work really well with me. My best friend, Kristin McFarland, is an amazing author and she is also sort of my ideal reader. She doesn't pull punches, and I know when she praises me that I've really nailed something.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Emmie Mears:
I outline a LOT. I used to be a die hard pantser, but my books ended up as structure-less messes with plots dangling out all over the place. These days I outline, and it has served me very, very well. It also keeps me from going all The Shining on people during rereads/revisions. (*whispers RED-RUM*)
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Emmie Mears:
The first time out, I queried for two months and quit after I only got rejections. The second time, I queried for about six months and signed with my first agent. This time, I queried for less than a month. The 28 rejections I got this time around (even with seven offers, I got a heap of rejections) pushed me over the 200 rejection mark. *throws confetti*
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Emmie Mears:
I sent exactly 37.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Emmie Mears:
I was very, very deliberate this time around. Having already had an agent and gone through the submission process with editors twice, I knew what I was looking for. I needed someone who was established (had a record of sales), who was extremely knowledgeable about the SFF world, who was passionate about the expanding diversity of publishing as a whole and SFF specifically, and who was head over heels for the book. It was a tall order, and I honestly did NOT expect the response I got. I ended up with seven offers from seriously amazing agents, and I could have been happy with any of them. When I spoke to Sara, she just GOT the book on a level I had only dreamed someone would. She fit every one of the things I was looking for and then some. I couldn't be happier to work with her.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Emmie Mears:
I did. I had a number of referrals (my former agent truly went above and beyond connecting us with people interested in hearing from us), and also because I frequent conventions and conferences, I was querying some people I had met or interacted with in some capacity. Some people were even friends. By the way -- only two of my friend agents offered (those who didn't love the book enough to rep it said so with kindness) and only two of the offers I got out of seven were referrals. The other five were ALL slush. Slush works.

If I'd met them, I said so and when. If I'd followed them on Twitter, I said so. If I was familiar with client work, I said that too. If I had nothing at all to say other than the genre of my book matched what they repped though? I left it alone and got straight to the book.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Emmie Mears:
I'm about to start an entire blog/vlog series on this, and I have a lot to say, but since I've already blabbed on far too long, I'll pare it down to this: write a fantastic book, be professional, and follow directions. If you do those three things, you'll almost certainly find success. It might not be immediate (it seldom is), but you'll get there.

The other advice is this: always, always, always be writing something new. Not only will it improve your craft, but it's a good distraction. One thing that's hard to swallow but is very much part of this business is that you have to be able to put things aside sometimes. That doesn't mean they're bad, but sometimes you have to set them aside and come back to them later. Always be writing new things.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Emmie Mears:
Sure! (The version I sent included my former agent's name and contact info, and the aforementioned personalizations, but this is the basic template.)

Query Letter:

Dear AgentFace,

I am seeking new representation because my former agent has left the business. STONEBREAKER is a multi-POV adult epic fantasy complete at 140,000 words, the first in a planned five book series.

I currently have a preemptive offer from an agent, who encouraged me to query widely to ensure I find the best fit before making a final decision. She would like a final answer by February 28.

STONEBREAKER is a diverse story (in terms of gender, sexuality, and race) set in a non-Western, proto-agrarian culture...with giant sentient camouflage-able bats as a bonus.

Carin has never known hunger. Born in the Hearthland village of Haveranth, a lush land of fertile fields and abundant resources, her biggest worry is whether or not she and her three friends will find their true names on their Journeying. But when one of them is murdered on the morning of their departure, they are forced to leave without answers, grief-stricken and afraid.

As they travel north, names and mourning are not all they find waiting for them. Carin and her two remaining friends discover the rotting truth of Haveranth and the Hearthland that surrounds it: their ancestors cast a spell to steal the very life force of the vast lands and tribes beyond the mountains and direct it to the Hearthland. While Hearthlanders live a life of plenty, their northern neighbors face scarcity, disease, and starvation -- and every grown adult in Carin's homeland is complicit.

When Carin and her friends return to Haveranth, newly named, they must take their places in the community – and the lie that binds them – or be cast out. With her knowledge of the suffering her people have caused, Carin forsakes her new name and chooses exile, but discovers that there is no fleeing -- Haveranth wants her dead. Carin and her friend Ryd journey north through the mountains to break the spell and restore balance to their world by breaking the stones that forged it -- though doing so may doom the entire world to chaos.

I sold my debut THE MASKED SONGBIRD (formerly SHRIKE), along with its sequel and a non-fiction book, THE GEEK GIRL'S GUIDE TO FANDOM to Harlequin in 2014, but unfortunately with the acquisition of Harlequin by Harper Collins, they opted to close my imprint a few months after my debut's release. My rights have reverted for all three books, therefore GEEK GIRL'S GUIDE as well as subsidiary rights for the novels could be exploited.

I am happy to provide the full manuscript of STONEBREAKER upon request. Additionally, I encourage you to contact my former agent if you have any questions about the nature of our parting.