Success Story Interview - Karen Sandler

An Interview with Karen Sandler (kmsandler on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Matthew Bialer of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Karen Sandler:
The book is young adult science fiction. It was actually inspired by a screenplay I wrote back in the mid-eighties, although I diverged greatly from the script's plot.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Karen Sandler:
Since I was nine. Full-time since 1994. First book sold in 1997.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Karen Sandler:
Including re-writes, about a year, although I also wrote 5 proposals for other books during that time.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Karen Sandler:
I've been in this business for quite a while. It requires persistence, even through the moments of discouragement. So, no, I didn't consider giving up.
QT: Is this your first book?
Karen Sandler:
Somewhere in the low 20s if you don't count partials.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Karen Sandler:
Back in the day, I took classes at UCLA Extension (when I lived in Los Angeles). I've also attended various workshops at conferences.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Karen Sandler:
I always try to get a certain number of pages done per day when I'm under deadline. I used to do most of my work in the mornings, but now I'm writing throughout the day to get my page count in.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Karen Sandler:
I rewrite as I write (where I add new ideas or just plain fix bad writing). I also do a read-through after getting to the end and make more changes. After my read-through, I did two other extensive rewrites, once based on my beta reader's suggestions, one based on the agent's suggestions.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Karen Sandler:
I never did with my romances, but for this book, I asked my younger son to read it. He's busy working on a PhD in economics, but was willing to take a look. He gave me a very humbling but excellent critique.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Karen Sandler:
Definitely outline. Not a pantser at all. I create detailed character sketches, have extensive notes, and I write a detailed synopsis before starting Chapter 1. I give myself latitude to diverge from the plot, but I need that structure before I start. I'm a former software engineer and my mind just needs that prior planning.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Karen Sandler:
I sent out my first query for the book in mid-October. I got my two offers of representation in mid-February.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Karen Sandler:
A couple dozen.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Karen Sandler:
First I searched for agents who handled young adult and science fiction. Then I checked out their websites. For the most part, I queried agents whose names I recognized in the industry. I also checked to see who else they represented.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Karen Sandler:
I tailored them somewhat, depending on whether we had a personal connection, for instance (one excellent agent reps a friend of mine who's a big bestselling author). I also sent them out individually rather than in any kind of e-mail blast. That way I could make tweaks as needed.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Karen Sandler:
First, of course, write a kickass book. Second, write a kickass 1-2 paragraph pitch for your book.

Once you've done that, study the databases like QueryTracker. Make sure you focus on agents who represent what you've written. If your book is a genre they say they don't represent, DON'T SUBMIT TO THEM.

Go to the agency website to double check how they want their submissions. Sometimes the databases don't keep up with recent changes (e.g., agencies transitioning from snail mail only to an e-mail option).

Make sure your query is squeaky clean grammar and spelling-wise. If you can't spell or write a coherent sentence in your query, an agent will likely get the impression you can't write a book either.

Only include what's pertinent in a query. If you've written a thriller featuring a retired cop and you are a retired cop, that's pertinent. If it's a mystery centered around Napa Valley's wine country and you're a vinter, that's pertinent. However, if you're a tournament bridge champion but you're writing a fantasy novel featuring elves and dwarves, the bridge expertise is most definitely not pertinent.

Also, don't take the rejections personally. Quite often, despite all your research, your book is just one that the agent doesn't feel they can do a good job representing. You want an agent to take you on because they're crazy-enthusiastic about your work, as opposed to one who feels so-so.