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Success Story Interview - Jason Neulander

An Interview with Jason Neulander (jneulander on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jacques de Spoelberch of J de S Associates.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Jason Neulander:
THE TRANSGRESSORS is a western inspired by The Iliad and 19th century Texas history. The idea came to me about 14 years ago after reading The Iliad for the first time. I was moved to tears by the scene in which Priam begs Achilles to let him give his son Hector a proper burial. I happened to be reading about the history of Texas at the time and realized how fun it might be to take the Trojan War and filter it through the lens of the western genre.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Jason Neulander:
I've been writing since I was six.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Jason Neulander:
This book actually started as a screenplay that I began in 2009 and periodically went back to all the way until 2020 when, during lockdown, I finally cracked the code on it and finished it. I was working with a couple of producers to get the film made, but we couldn't get the money raised. I was depressed and flummoxed about next steps when in the summer of 2022 I happened to meet a former film publicist at a bar — completely randomly — and he suggested publishing as a route to build value for a project's IP. I had been thinking of The Transgressors as a novel and used that conversation as the spark to actually commit to doing that. I started writing the book version in mid-August 2022 and finished the draft to send with queries in late-January 2023.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Jason Neulander:
I never felt like I should give up on the book because that version happened so quickly, but I have thought about giving up on my career as an artist many, many times. I write and direct plays and films and most of my career has been in live theater. But during the lulls, man, I can go to a pretty dark place. I've learned over the years to just focus on making things because the waiting on other people is too damn stressful.
QT: Is this your first book?
Jason Neulander:
No. I've written one other novel, an adaptation of a narrative fiction podcast I made, but couldn't find representation for the book version of that project. That novel in its current for isn't very good and I've never gone back to it.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Jason Neulander:
I took a couple of playwriting classes in college, but that's it.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Jason Neulander:
While this is my first finished novel, I've written several stage plays and screenplays. When I'm writing a project I commit three to four hours to it five days a week. Sometimes that has meant writing at ridiculous hours, like 11 PM to 2 AM for one project during a time when I had to wake up every day at 6:30 to get my daughter ready for school. For this book, I committed to writing 2000 words a day, Monday through Friday, starting at 9 AM.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Jason Neulander:
Three times. For my very first pass, I decided not to read anything I had written until I was done with the book in its entirety. I was able to do this because I had such a strong outline in the screenplay and doing that forced me to keep moving forward and not to censor myself. The first rewrite was also the first time I read what I had written. I made quite a few changes, particularly to the first 20% of the book when I was figuring out the writing style and specific tone. For the second pass, I read the entire book aloud and edited as I read it. If I found my attention wavering, I knew what I had written was bad, and tried to fix it. Then I handed the book off to a few readers and my final pass was based on their notes.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Jason Neulander:
Yes, four people. My oldest daughter (23), my wife, my mom, and a male friend.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Jason Neulander:
The screenplay served as a very detailed outline. Based on that experience, I'm already in the process of creating a detailed outline for the next one. My first attempt at a novel, which didn't work, was written from the hip and the plot became so convoluted that it was preposterous. I definitely see myself outlining carefully in the future. It also, for me, made the writing of this book a ton of fun.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Jason Neulander:
I queried with my first book for two months. I got some very nice feedback on the manuscript from a couple of agents' assistants, but it didn't get picked up. With this book I queried for two days, sending personal letters to a number of agents. One of those agents emailed back within 30 minutes asking for a two-week exclusive window to look at the manuscript. Ten days later he emailed to say he wanted to set up a call and when we had the call, 15 days after originally emailed him, he had read it twice and had sent it along to the film rights agent he works with as well. I can't believe how quickly it all happened.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Jason Neulander:
26. Because this all happened much more quickly than I expected, as of this interview, I've only heard back from six of them. Three requested the material, but I didn't send to two of them because I had already agreed to a two-week exclusive with the agent who ultimately picked it up.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Jason Neulander:
For a first pass, I searched QueryTracker for agents who represented books in the western genre. From there, I went to each of those agents' websites and eliminated several because my book was clearly not a match for them. For the rest, I carefully vetted their client rosters to see which authors they repped who I had read. I also asked a few writer friends for their recommendations and sent queries to a couple of those agents. Finally, I've met a few agents through the Writers League of Texas, of which I'm a member, and queried them as well.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Jason Neulander:
Yes. The first paragraph of each letter was written specifically to each agent I queried. For the agents whose clientele I was familiar with, I referenced my love for those authors. For the others, I tried to make a connection through what they wrote in their bios on their websites. For the agents I knew I sent a much more casual note, with the synopsis part of the query letter pasted below. One of those agents did ask for the manuscript.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Jason Neulander:
Be as personal as possible in the query (without being weird). My agent's query process starts with a letter only, no writing samples to start with. He requested the manuscript in part because I referenced two books he had repped (and which I loved reading) that had absolutely nothing to do with each other and one of which had nothing to do with my book at all. The agent was so taken aback that I juxtaposed those two titles in my query letter that he decided to take a chance on my writing. He was also intrigued by the concept of the book and thought my bio in my letter was interesting. But he told me specifically that the opening paragraph of the letter was what hooked him.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Jason Neulander:
This is the template that I worked from:

Query Letter:

Dear [agent]:

[Why I'm writing you specifically] So I'm particularly excited to share with you my novel THE TRANSGRESSORS, an upmarket western with the historical grounding of The Son and News of the World.

North Texas, 1875. Retired colonel Augustus Harwick has reinvented himself as a country lawyer, but tragic mistakes he made during the Civil War have never stopped tormenting him. When his oldest friend, a devout preacher, begs him to lead a posse to rescue his daughter from a violent band of Comanches, Harwick grabs at his chance for redemption: a bloodless ransom to reunite the girl with her loving family. But everything the preacher has told him is a lie.

THE TRANSGRESSORS is inspired by the myth of the Trojan War and deep research into Texas history. It is narrated from the various perspectives of the ensemble cast: the posse, the Comanches, and, ultimately, the kidnapped girl herself. This panoply of voices tells a tale of tribalism, misunderstanding, betrayal, and a rescue gone terribly wrong.

This is my first completed novel, but I've been a narrative storyteller my whole life. After graduating from Brown University with a both a BA and MA in theater in 1993, I founded and for 15 years ran a theater company in Austin, Texas, that focused on the development and production of new plays. My show The Intergalactic Nemesis ("Something you must experience if you're a fan of awesome." —, which came out of that company, combines audio drama with comic books in a live format and toured the world from 2010 to 2017, including sold-out runs at the Kennedy Center and at the New Victory Theatre on Broadway. I created graphic novels and a narrative podcast spin-off from the project and helmed an adaptation for TV that was broadcast on PBS. My debut feature film Fugitive Dreams ("Like a Tom Waits song come to life … a striking debut." — Film Threat; "Top 10 Festival Films of 2020" — The Austin Chronicle) is slated for release later this year. My work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CONAN (TBS), All Things Considered (NPR), CNN, PBS, and many other media outlets in the U.S. and around the world.

Thank you for your kind attention. I hope to hear back from you soon.

Very Truly Yours,