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Success Story Interview - Jay Coles

An Interview with Jay Coles (jaycoleswritesbooks on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Lauren Abramo of Dystel Goderich & Bourret LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Jay Coles:
Sure. It’s a young adult contemporary novel about three geeks that live in poverty, first kisses, 90s rap music, Oreos, violence, and The Big Bang Theory! One day, my main character’s twin brother goes missing. It turns out that his twin may actually be part of a horrible crime that may have been committed by a gang, or the police themselves.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Jay Coles:
Whoa. I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. But, like seriously writing, I would say since I was in the seventh grade—I wrote some incredibly absurd stories back then, but they’ve helped me get better.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Jay Coles:
This is kind of hard to answer. The book is based off of a poem I wrote for my high school creative writing teacher. So, technically I’ve been writing it since then, but not really. But, seriously writing it, it has been about four months.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Jay Coles:
Yes, so many times I felt like giving up. Mainly because of the rejections that rolled in. They were so discouraging at times. I would play 90s rap music, like my main character does. And when the rejections came and I felt like I wouldn’t get anywhere, I started my next book.
QT: Is this your first book?
Jay Coles:
No. It’s not. It’s my ninth book. It’s true what they say, you know, that it’s highly unlikely to get an agent on your first, second, third book. Also, I must say that this was the third book that my agent saw of mine.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Jay Coles:
Yes! I have a degree in English and writing, I teach writing, and I am always going to writing conferences. In fact, I’ll be going to one here soon.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Jay Coles:
Not really a routine. I write at random times in the day, mostly after 2 a.m., but I make it a priority to write a bit every day. I guess that’s routine.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Jay Coles:
I did 1 major re-write of an end scene. But, I edited the book like ten times. Even, while I queried and agents had my pages (partials and/or fulls), I still did some editing.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Jay Coles:
No. But this is like a fear thing. I get really nervous about other eyes on my manuscript. For previous manuscripts, I did. For this particular one, I did not.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Jay Coles:
Both. I outline the major scenes as a strategy for pacing. But all the events and one-liners that come in between major scenes are completely my characters, as I write those from the hip.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Jay Coles:
This query process was a rather fast one. I started querying this particular book in June of 2016. Received my first offers of rep at the end of July. But out of all the books I’ve queried, my journey started in 2013. Whew!
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Jay Coles:
I only tracked the ones that I felt had significant potential on query tracker. But, total I sent out about 50 queries. I got 3 partial requests. 15 full requests. 15 rejections. The others did not respond.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Jay Coles:
They had to be editorial, which was huge for me. Lauren totally is. They had to have a small list, had to be big on communication, honest and trustworthy, and passionate about my stuff. When, I spoke to Lauren for the first time, she was so passionate and we clicked instantly. I was so happy, and still am, because she’s such a big name in the industry.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Jay Coles:
I did. I used manuscript wishlist (the hashtag and the website) to see if there was something I could use to personalize. I also started out with a simple greeting to express my interest in working with the specific agent and the reasons why. For Lauren, it was because I knew some of her clients and she expressed a desire to represent marginalized voices.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Jay Coles:
Never, ever give up. At times, you might feel beat. At times, you might feel like you are not good enough. You are! Totally. Just keep going at it, getting better and improving your craft, and agents will also take note of your growth. I sent a total of about 300 queries from 2013 to no—nine manuscripts.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Jay Coles:
Sure, here you are:

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Abramo,

I am sending you this query for my young adult novel THE HEART OF OUR DARKNESS because I’ve recently run across your manuscript wishlist, and I think you’ll find interest in my book. This book means everything to me, as it is #ownvoices. Below, I have attached my query.

The hit 2015 movie DOPE meets S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS meets SUPERBAD.

High school senior and potential candidate for Harvard, Marvin Johnson, is a geek and so are his two best friends—Ivy and G-mo. Together, the three of them bond over 90s hip-hop and rap culture, their academics, and dreams of escaping the harsh poverty-stricken reality in which they were born into.

Their world gets a little mixed up, when they are invited to a drug dealer’s party and the scene turns violent. Following an epic gang battle and a police raid, Marvin’s twin brother, Tyler, who also attended the party turns up missing.

And no one knows where he is. Or maybe someone does.

Determined to find his brother with the help of his best friends, things take yet another turn, when Marvin risks everything and teams up with more drug dealers in hopes of finding his brother.

As it turns out, Marvin’s missing twin, Tyler, just may be the victim of a crime that may have been committed by a rival gang or the police themselves. The answer sends Marvin pursuing justice, which in turn finally allows him the means to break free.

Written at about 85,000 words, THE HEART OF OUR DARKNESS, purposefully abbreviated as THE H.O.O.D. is a Young Adult contemporary story about what it means to be black in America, about high school experiences that mean life or death, about love and loss, and most importantly about self-discovery and triumphing through tragedy.

I have written quite a number of books, but this particular YA novel is the book of my heart. THE HEART OF OUR DARKNESS (THE H.O.O.D.) was inspired by my own childhood upbringing and the Black Lives Matter movement. So, writing this book, I felt a pool of emotions—most of them still very raw.

Again, and as always, Ms. Abramo, I am happy to provide you with more of this project, if you find THE H.O.O.D to be a good fit for you. I am also willing to make any changes as you see fit, and continue making this a better book under your guidance, as I am already working on my next project as well. Thank you for your time and attention to this query. It means the world anyway.


Jay Coles