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Success Story Interview - Frank Cavallo

An Interview with Frank Cavallo (fjcavallo on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Lynnette Novak of The Seymour Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Frank Cavallo:
This novel is a legal thriller, drawing on my background as a criminal defense attorney in Cleveland.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Frank Cavallo:
I wrote the manuscript over a period of about four months, which is quick for me. Then I put it aside for about a month before I dove back in and did a few rounds of re-writes. All together maybe six months of writing and editing and re-writing, etc. Then I spent five months querying after that.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Frank Cavallo:
Yes, absolutely. Not just once, either. Querying is a brutal endeavor. You work on something for months, maybe years on end, putting everything you have into it, then you work almost as hard to distill it all down into a concise letter that can simultaneously hook an agent's interest, while doing justice to your story. And what do you get after all that effort? Mostly form rejections—if you're lucky. Some places just leave you hanging in perpetuity, figuring you'll eventually give up hope in the face of utter silence.

I thought about throwing in the towel over and over. There were so many times I opened a rejection email and repeated that old Beckett quote. "Fail again. Fail better." So I just kept moving ahead, because if you quit you'll definitely fail. If you keep it up, you still might fail, but at least you have a chance.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Frank Cavallo:
I queried this book for about five months, but it wasn't my first. This is the third time I've slogged through the query trenches. On the first manuscript I sent out about a dozen queries, got discouraged and quit. For the second one I dug in and committed myself to sticking it out. I sent about a hundred queries, and although I got a few requests for partials and two fulls, I still didn't land an agent.

Whenever I was querying though, I was also working on a new project at the same time. So by the time I started to run out of agencies to query on book two, I was ready to start querying book three.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Frank Cavallo:
On this book I sent out 62 queries. Out of those, I got three requests for material. Ironically, most of those queries were sent out after the agent I ultimately signed with had requested the full manuscript. Of course, I didn't know so early on (the second round of queries, if I recall) that it was going to land, so I kept sending out more over the following months.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Frank Cavallo:
I write dark fiction. Some of my stuff falls in the horror realm, while other work is squarely in the thriller zone. I was looking for an agent who handled both.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Frank Cavallo:
I don't really do the conference circuit, so I had no referrals or in-person pitch meetings to draw on. The most tailoring I did with my queries was to tinker with the comps if an agent had posted something on MSWL.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Frank Cavallo:
Use rejection constructively. Learn what works and what doesn't. If you send out 20 queries to agents who should be in your target zone, and you get no hits, take a step back and tweak it. This manuscript was the third one I queried before I landed an agent. Every time I failed to generate any interest, I went back and re-worked the query. Eventually I started to get some requests here and there, then several full requests. Things finally took off from there.

Querying is a horrible process. Don't let it break you. Use it to make your work stronger.