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Success Story Interview - Holly VanDyne

An Interview with Holly VanDyne (hvandyne on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Josh Adams of Adams Literary.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Holly VanDyne:
THE CHAOS SHELTER is a middle grade novel about a 12-year-old boy living in an old basement bomb shelter with his mom and little sister because the city he lives in is too dangerous.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Holly VanDyne:
I've written starts of books since I learned how to write, but started the first book I finished in 2009.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Holly VanDyne:
It took me one year to the day to finish the first draft with many revisions in between and a few after.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Holly VanDyne:
I would love to say 'no', but I did give up for a month. I've read that you almost always get more requests for your 2nd book than for your 1st, but I sent out my first 15 queries and 14 came back with form rejections. I was crushed and didn't send any other queries out for a month. But then the 15th came back as a full request a month later and that gave me hope to keep going. I sent out 30 more queries that weekend.
QT: Is this your first book?
Holly VanDyne:
This is the 2nd book that I've finished.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Holly VanDyne:
I have an MFA in "Fake it until you make it". It was much cheaper than my Computer Science degree.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Holly VanDyne:
When I'm in the mood I write like crazy. But if I'm not in the mood to do it, I don't force myself. All that comes out then is crap that I'll end up deleting later so I don't waste my time. I work part-time mornings as a school librarian so I have the afternoon while my kids are still in school to come home and write in peace for a few hours each day.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Holly VanDyne:
I edit and re-write as I write. If I'm not in the mood to write new stuff, I'll edit or revise what I already have. After I got the first draft finished (which was probably in a weird chopped-up way, my fifth draft) it was already pretty strong. I did one or two more read through's and revised one more time with my agent.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Holly VanDyne:
Absolutely. I have a fellow teacher who goes through a printed copy and slathers it with red pen. We have similar brains so I love when she gets my jokes and writes little hearts next to things. And she's not afraid to call me out when something's stupid or doesn't make sense. I'm also part of a local critique group and have a friend who I met about 10 years ago when neither of us were writing. She gives me fantastic feedback and we meet to write and go to SCBWI conferences together. And my dad and husband will tell me when I'm just plain crazy. They did it with this novel and I'll be eternally grateful. :)
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Holly VanDyne:
From the hip, but that's why it took me a year. If I would've outlined it wouldn't have took me near as long to write. I'm going to try really hard to become an outliner for the next one.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Holly VanDyne:
The first book I sent my first query on January 1st, 2011, sent 100 queries and quit querying in June. For this book I also started January 1st, got my first offer of representation on February 28th and signed with Josh on March 6. But I quit querying from mid January to mid February (It was stupid! Don't do this!).
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Holly VanDyne:
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Holly VanDyne:
I made sure that they represented middle grade, but I also used Query Tracker's AWESOME Data Explorer to make sure that they actually REQUESTED middle grade. You wouldn't believe how many agents say they rep something, but never request it. If they didn't, I didn't waste my time. I also got a subscription to Publishers Marketplace and used their deals search to find agents who had deals involving middle grade books.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Holly VanDyne:
I tried to. If I read and enjoyed their blog, I told them. If I liked books they represented, I would tell them that. Or if I met them at a conference. I tried to put one little personal thing on each query so they would know I wasn't mass producing them.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Holly VanDyne:
Do your homework. Make sure the agents you are querying are REALLY someone you'd want to represent you for the rest of your career (if it comes to that). With my first book, I stopped querying when I'd heard back or closed out as a NR everyone on my top list. I was OK with chalking book 1 up as a learning experience and working to make sure book 2 was so amazing that my top agent picks wouldn't want to pass it up.

Also, don't revise with every rejection you get. I did that with my first book - I got helpful feedback with 10 full rejections and after each one I would revise with their comments. By the end, I didn't feel like it was my book anymore. Don't revise unless you agree with what they said. Writing is so subjective!

Query Letter:

(I put my personal line or about the agent here)

I hope that you will have an interest in THE CHAOS SHELTER, a 49,000-word middle grade adventure with series potential.

“Almost thirteen-year-old” Becker Mullins’ wish list is small – keep his family alive and see the sun again. It doesn't shine in the windowless bomb shelter he hides in with his mom and little sister, or at night when he sneaks out to scour an abandoned and violent Seattle for food to steal.

When Beck finds a key to a hidden storeroom and uses his five-finger discount to get as much food as his starved, skinny body can carry, he runs away with new friends, food, and a healthy dose of Vitamin D straight from the sun. But stealing from the wrong person has a price and soon there’s a reward out for his capture by the city’s crime lord. Beck is now the hunted. Little does he know that his quest to survive will change him – and the chaotic city of Seattle – forever.

THE CHAOS SHELTER is a fast paced, action-packed adventure that will appeal to fans of The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I am a school librarian for students in Kindergarten through 8th grade and an active member of SCBWI. If you would like to read THE CHAOS SHELTER, please let me know and I would be happy to send it. Thank you for your time and consideration.