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Success Story Interview - JD Baker

An Interview with JD Baker (jdbaker11058 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Roz Foster of Frances Goldin Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
JD Baker:
HORIZON FALLING is a near-future military sci-fi heist thriller (wow, that's a mouthful) that explores the future of warfare, transnational organized crime, terrorism, and the demons that haunt those who fight our wars. I'm a combat veteran and PTSD survivor, and my own battles greatly influenced my desire to write the book and much of its content.
QT: How long have you been writing?
JD Baker:
I've always been in love with telling stories, but I didn't start writing seriously until 2002-2003, about a year after I got back from a combat tour in Afghanistan. I was really struggling with PTSD at the time, and found that writing stories gave me both time to mentally focus, and an opportunity to explore my feelings and emotions from the safe remove of fiction.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
JD Baker:
I had the initial idea about five years ago, but didn't start writing it all down until about 18 months ago.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
JD Baker:
I wrote the thing to see if I could, and I never considered stopping. Somewhere along the way, it became a situation that the story demanded to be told, and wouldn't leave me be until I got it out. Once it was done, and edited, and edited, and edited again, I decided it was worthwhile to see if the thing was good enough to pursue a traditional publishing track.
QT: Is this your first book?
JD Baker:
It's my first novel. I've written a couple books' worth of short stories mostly for myself and a small group of family, friends, and fellow vets.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
JD Baker:
Not really. I always enjoyed creative writing classes, whether in high school or at community college, but I don't have a degree (in writing or anything else), much less an MFA.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
JD Baker:
I'm a husband and father, and I work full time. That means writing time for me is whenever I can carve out an hour or two, usually before everyone else is awake. Fortunately, I'm a fast writer.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
JD Baker:
The writing is never done, only paused. The book is two primary story arcs, blended together as alternating chapters. I actually wrote and revised the first arc multiple times over about a year, and then wrote and revised the second arc in the following three months, then spent a month weaving the two arcs together. 0/10 WOULD NOT RECOMMEND. I then spent another couple months doing three additional rounds of revisions, major edits, and line edits. After receiving the offer from Roz, I spent another couple weeks doing another round of revisions based on her feedback and a great conversation about it.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
JD Baker:
Yes. I'd call it one primary beta reader and two semi/sorta beta readers.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
JD Baker:
I started from the hip, got halfway through, realized I needed an outline, wrote the outline, then finished the book by following the outline. Again, 0/10 WOULD NOT RECOMMEND. I will probably at least do a general outline from here on out. Writing a novel was a learning process for me.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
JD Baker:
I started querying in late January 2021, and had my first offer (which I subsequently accepted) in early March. The entire process, from first query going out until signed contract, was about 45 days.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
JD Baker:
Gosh, probably too many. 51. I got strangely into it, and found I actually enjoyed the querying process. There is probably something wrong with me.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
JD Baker:
I cast a pretty wide net. Criteria was basically if the agent was open for queries and was looking for something that was represented by my story. But as I said, a wide net. My book is near-future sci-fi with military elements, a 10-chapter vehicle chase/battle, and a heist/con element. So if someone was looking for sci-fi, that's a query. If someone was looking for speculative fiction with thriller elements, that's a query. If someone was looking for adventure fiction with a strong female lead (my primary protag is a strong female lead), that's a query.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
JD Baker:
Because I cast such a wide net, it meant that almost every single one of my query letters was at least somewhat tweaked based on the agent's expressed interests. I reviewed the agent's interests on their agency page, their personal website (if they had one), their twitter feed (#MSWL is your friend), and on the other sites QT lists on the agent profile. Once I had a good sense of what the agent was looking for, I made sure that I put those elements front and center in my query.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
JD Baker:
Your pages better be strong as heck to start with. Write the heck out of your story, then revise and edit the heck out of it. Your mileage may vary, but here's what worked for me. Before querying, do your research. Read success stories and examples of successful query letters. There are a couple of literary agent blogs out there that exhaustively review the dos and don'ts of querying. There are other online resources and communities built around workshopping queries, synopses, etc. Write the best dang query you can, and the best synopsis (both a 1 and 2 page version). Create a folder or shared drive where you keep your latest version of your manuscript, a copy of your query, your synopses, excerpts from your manuscript that are the most common asks in the query process (first 10 pages, first 25, first 50, first chapter, first five chapters, etc) and any other querying materials. Spend time researching each agent before you query. Make sure you understand their querying guidelines and requirements, make sure you use their name (and spell it correctly) and their preferred pronouns (if specified). In other words, be diligent. A HUGE amount of queries are spiked without being read because the directions weren't followed. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed.

Query Letter:


I am reaching out to you because your page on [AGENCY WEBSITE] indicates you'd love to represent more speculative fiction or science fiction, and are looking for a strong, feminist lean. HORIZON FALLING is a grounded science fiction novel (89,000 words) with a strong female protagonist that explores near-future combat, terrorism, crime, and the demons that haunt those who fight our wars.

Alia Sanchez was the best spider-jockey in the Corps—until PTSD and opioids shredded her nerves. Booted from the Marines, she has nothing ahead but a downward spiral to addiction and death. But when a black bag crew snatches her in the middle of the night, she gets a second shot at life. Their leader, a disgraced former general, wants her to strap into the drone driver's rig one last time and fight for the country that turned its back on her. The mission: stop a neo-Nazi militia from hijacking a satellite weapon so dangerous it can destroy entire cities.

If she fails, it's civil war. If she succeeds, it might just be the end of the world.

Bestselling author [NAME] said about this novel: "The pace is relentless, the action is visceral, the writing is crisp and vivid, but it's the confidence of [MY NAME] creation that sets him apart."

I'm the [CURRENT JOB RELEVANT TO NOVEL]. I'm a former [MILITARY JOB RELEVANT TO NOVEL] and combat veteran with deployments to [LOCATIONS], and I served alongside U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. Consequently, I'm also a PTSD survivor. Over the last 20 years, my work in national security has focused on intelligence, counterterrorism, transnational organized crime, and cybersecurity. Events like those depicted in HORIZON FALLING are what keep me up at night.

Per your submission guidelines, I have pasted the first chapter of HORIZON FALLING below. May I send you my finished manuscript?

Thank you for your time and consideration.