Success Story Interview - Kate Pawson Studer

An Interview with Kate Pawson Studer (katpaws on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Marlene Stringer of Stringer 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?
Kate Pawson Studer:
Sure! Unnatural Disaster is a young adult dystopian fantasy about a girl who can't do magic, living in a world where almost everyone else can. After failing her final year of finishing school, she's forced to participate in the post-academic culling, a grueling test of wilderness survival where she must summon her latent magical abilities--or die trying. And of course there's plenty on romance on the side ;)

I first came up with the idea when I thinking about all the young adult novels with protagonists who think they're human but then discover they're something else. I really wanted to turn that concept on its head and explore a character who was raised knowing that she's a sorcerer, but for some reason, is unable to do any magic.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Kate Pawson Studer:
Forever. I took writing classes in high school, then university. I started writing with the aim of being published in 2008.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Kate Pawson Studer:
A lot longer than was strictly necessary but I actually work in publishing (as an Editorial Assistant) for my day job, which requires a lot of reading, so it was hard to find time to write. I started writing it in mid-2010 and managed well enough, but then I had a baby in 2011. I was about 90% finished the first draft when she was born. It took a good six months before she was napping well enough for me to complete it, revise it, etc. Once I had a chance to finish it, I tore through it.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Kate Pawson Studer:
Definitely. I think all serious writers go through that. When you care this much about something, you're bound to react emotionally to it. The highs are really high, but the lows can be crushing. All it takes is one day when several rejections pop up in a row and it's easy to begin to doubt yourself and your abilities. I started to feel very discouraged when a few agents who'd made requests on my previous book sent form rejections on this one. That really strung. Anytime I've started to feel like it's never going to happen, I take a look at my ideas folder and remind myself that I have a lot of stories I want to tell. Honestly, I couldn't stop writing if I tried. In the end, I don't write because I want to be published, I write because I love it. I absolutely need to write. Getting excited about your next project is a great way to get yourself through the query process. Rather than just sit there biting your nails while you stare at your inbox, start working on your next novel. It doesn't mean the one you're querying won't go anywhere, but it's a great distraction and hopefully a jump start on another book you can show your agent when you eventually succeed.
QT: Is this your first book?
Kate Pawson Studer:
No. It's my second complete novel and then I have a few more in various stages. The first one I queried garnered quite a few requests and a lot of "I really like this, but it's just not quite right for my list right now"s. I felt very disappointed in myself the day I decided to stop querying that one, but I quickly got excited about my next novel, which turned out to be the one that landed me an agent.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Kate Pawson Studer:
I have an honors bachelor degree in rhetoric and professional writing. I've also taken a few publishing courses through my day job.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Kate Pawson Studer:
Not really. I write when I have time and energy to write. I finished Unnatural Disaster by writing in bursts whenever my daughter was napping. Before I went on maternity leave, I would often write during my lunch break or while commuting.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Kate Pawson Studer:
I'm definitely an edit-as-I-go kind of writer so my first draft is usually pretty clean. I do two more passes after finishing the first draft--one for story/continuity and one for grammar/spelling/typos.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Kate Pawson Studer:
Sort of. I don't have crit partners nor am I part of a crit group, but my two sisters are both English majors (my older sister teaches high school English and my younger sister has taken writing/editing courses) and they send me notes. I know they say you shouldn't use your family as beta readers, but I know my sisters are intelligent and the feedback they give me is always honest and helpful.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Kate Pawson Studer:
I absolutely must outline. In fact, the very first thing I write when I'm mapping out a new book is the query blurb/back cover copy. I think of an idea and then I think of what the blurb would say and then I write it. From there, I break the main points of action down into chapters. I usually keep a running file of chapters and all the major beats that will happen within each chapter. Its fairly fluid, but it gives me something to focus on when I get writer's block. I like to know where I'm headed. I also keep a file of dialogue snippets because I'll often start thinking about how certain scenes will play out before I actually start writing them.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Kate Pawson Studer:
I queried my first book for close to a year (mid-2009 to mid-2010). For this one, I sent out my first query on June 25th and I landed my agent on August 8th. So about a month and a half.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Kate Pawson Studer:
I sent my query letters out in waves, starting with the agents who had made requests on my previous book. I got a few requests after my first round so I knew my query was working. I increased the number with each subsequent wave I'd send out. In total, I sent out 76 queries. I received 10 requests for the full manuscript and 32 rejections, leaving 34 agents who either sent along their congratulations or didn't respond at all.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Kate Pawson Studer:
All of the agents I queried represent young adult fiction (I aimed for ones who rep paranormal/fantasy, though that's not always clear) and have a record of actual sales OR are connected to a reputable agency with a record of actual sales. Other qualities I look for in an agent is somebody with a strong web presence. I think that's so important these days and it helps you to get to know their likes/dislikes a little better.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Kate Pawson Studer:
Not really. If they'd requested my previous book, I'd mention that. Otherwise, I kept my query fairly to the point.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Kate Pawson Studer:
1. If you're getting requests, you're doing something right. It may not be this book or the next, or even the next, but if you really want this, keep writing.

2. Publishing is a business. Never forget that. It's not personal. Query letters are business letters. Your query is your first impression so make it count.

3. Find a way to develop a thick skin. Criticism and rejection are part of the process and they don't ever go away. If it's not agents, it's publishers, then readers and reviewers. Somebody is always going to not like what you've written. Take every bit of criticism that comes your way and use it to make your writing stronger.

4. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Resentment really is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. There will be people who land an agent right away on their first try and there will be people who write seven or eight books before they make it. For every ounce of skill, you also need luck and timing on your side. Those aren't things you can control so don't beat yourself up about it.

5. Avoid querying in the summer if you can. It really is the worst time of year to query.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Kate Pawson Studer:
Gladly! Here's what I'd send out if they were a query-only agent and then I'd add a bit about including pages if they were a sample kind of agent:

Query Letter:

Dear Super Awesome Agent,

November "Ember" Edwards is not a witch. She can't successfully perform a single spell, which would be a total non-issue except that everybody else can. Ember is what The Ravendale Finishing School for Young Sorcerers labels a "dud", a weak link in the gene pool, and it's sink or swim when she and a group of fellow non-graduating students are led into the woods for the post-academic culling, an annual event that pits the duds against a series of so-called natural disasters, forcing them to either summon their latent magical abilities or die trying.

Thankfully, Ember is not alone. Her boyfriend Ren Hargrove is also a dud, and Ember thinks they have a good shot at surviving if they stick together. But first, she'll have to find a way to get Caden Rowley, the mysterious stranger who turns up in the woods, out of her mind, a task that's much easier said than done when he causes her to feel the first sparks of magic she's ever known—something she's learning she can't live without.

I’m seeking representation for my dystopian young adult novel, Unnatural Disaster, which is complete at 63,300 words. I graduated with an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and Professional Writing from the University of [redacted]. I'm currently on maternity leave from my position as an editorial assistant for [redacted].

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Warm regards,

Kate Pawson Studer