Success Story Interview - Leah Clifford

An Interview with Leah Clifford (LeahClifford on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio.


QT: How long have you been writing?
Leah Clifford:
I've been writing for publication for around two years now. Reapers is actually my second completed novel (The first is safely trunked.) As far as writing in general? I hate to be cliche but truthfully, pretty much since I learned to read. Reading and writing have always been really important to me. As soon as I made the connection that the stories in the books came from someone, I knew I wanted to be that someone. I wanted that for my job when I grew up. I was extremely lucky in that I had two teachers, one in second grade and one in fourth, who were huge readers and super supportive of little writer me even then. They made all the difference and if I get published, I'll be dedicating the book to them.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Leah Clifford:
Wow, I have a LOT of old email :) So, I went back into the archives and the closest that I can pin down, I started this story around February of 2008. I wrote the first 60k in about a month and a half, which is insanely fast for me. Before that, I struggled to get 500 words a day. But after that first 60k it was very rough for a few months. I couldn't figure out where the idea was going, and knew the book was missing something. Luckily, I had great support from the forum and my beta readers. Eventually, I added a few new characters and everything kind of came into focus plotwise. So, all said, it took me maybe nine months to write, but a large chunk of that was Wordless Angst Time!
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Leah Clifford:
Wow! We just covered this topic on one of our QT blog chains! While I'd love to say no, there was a chunk of years where I barely wrote at all. I think a lot of it had to do with not having encouragement and feedback. When I write, I love to see people's reactions, both what they loved and what they didn't, so that I can make my writing stronger. I'm a huge advocate for critique groups because of this. While I was querying for the first book, I made friends with quite a few people on the Query Tracker Forums who encouraged me to keep going with Reapers. Honestly, there's no doubt in my mind that it wouldn't have been written without their support. If you want to read my whole answer to this question (and others on the Blog Chain) you can at
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Leah Clifford:
Other than a few scattered creative writing courses at a community college, nope!
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Leah Clifford:
I remember reading Stephen King's book, On Writing, where he said he wrote every day and thinking "There is NO WAY. And a thousand words? A DAY?! That's just insane!" Now, of course, I'm totally addicted. It's pretty rare for me to have a day where I don't write or research for a story.

As far as a schedule, I tend to go into a total immersion. Even when I'm not in front of the keyboard, I'm still thinking about plot, scenes, bits of dialogue. I start to dream about the characters, I think about them while I'm at work...I'm known for little notes scribbled on anything available, including myself. Once, while I was working as a pizza delivery girl, I had an epiphany at a red light and wrote it down on my leg, under my jeans in permanent marker. I write best late at night--most of Reapers was written between midnight and 4am. I try to spend at least five hours a day working on the actual act of writing when I'm drafting, some before and some after the day job. So I guess basically my schedule is 'every spare second'?
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Leah Clifford:
I'm one of the "bad" writers. The ones that edit while they're writing. If I get offtrack and get stuck, I have to go all the way back to the beginning and edit through to where I'm stuck. Sometimes it clears the block, and others it just gets me into the character's head better, so I know what they're going to do next. While I was writing the first draft of Reapers, I probably did this at least four or five times at various stages. After it was done, I did a full edit and sent it to beta readers. Once I heard back from most of them and found they were saying the same things I had a better idea of what to strengthen and change. So all told? Maybe six times or so?
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Leah Clifford:
I truly believe everyone should have beta readers. There are things that you, as the author are just unable to see...things you miss because you're too close. A good beta reader, someone who will say point blank "Hey, this works, but this doesn't and here's WHY" is an amazing asset. You have to find people who understand that pointing out your weak parts is going to help you, not hurt your feelings. So your mom might not be the best. That said, my mom is one of my best beta readers. She's brutal. lol. She actually has used the term "sucks" in reference to a scene. And she was right. She rocks like that. :) Not everyone is going to want critiques this harsh though (let alone from your mother), so it's about finding what works for you, what you respond to and what will help you make your writing better. But beta readers? Yes, all the way.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Leah Clifford:
Reapers was written totally from the hip. So far I've been a total seat of the pantser. I have a fear of outlines and knowing what happens too far ahead, because for me a huge plus in being the author is being the first one to find out what happens! :)
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Leah Clifford:
I can actually tell you the first query I sent for this book, down to the second. Also, that query had no query in it. I hadn't written it yet. At EXACTLY (like, finger on the mouse, poised and waiting to click) midnight on December 15th, I sent Reapers as an entry for the Firebrand Query Holiday. I hadn't planned on sending anything out until the first week of January, but who can pass that up? Once I got my query together, I sent most of them out the first week or two in January, received my first offer on February 5th and made my final decision to go with Rosemary Stimola on February 12th.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Leah Clifford:
According to my QT stats, I'd sent 24 queries, gotten 11 rejections on the query, 2 rejections on partials and had five full requests for Reapers when I stopped.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Leah Clifford:
I was very specific on what I wanted in an agent. I knew I wanted someone who had the same views as me on the client/agent relationship...more of a partnership. Someone who would have my back and be my advocate. I read a TON of agent interviews, trying to get a sense of who each agent was and how they did business. I knew communication was important to me too, so that was something I looked for-agents who took the time to respond to queries and occasionally offer feedback knowing how much it meant to us.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Leah Clifford:
It's strange, because while I really thought I didn't, when I checked the queries for the agents that requested I found that for each of them, I did. Sometimes it was as small as saying that I read their blog or saw an interview where they went into detail about what they liked to read and I thought Reapers would be a good match. For me, it wasn't so much about buttering them up as proving that I'd done my homework. That I'd picked them for a reason.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Leah Clifford:
Work your ass off. Write the best story you can, and then write it better. Then do it again. Try harder. Want it more than anything, because there is nothing about any part of this process that's easy. It will be hard, but whatever happens it will be worth it. Learn everything you can. And above all else, never, never give up.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Leah Clifford:
Sure! I'm gonna put in the version I sent to Rosemary...

Query Letter:

Dear Rosemary Stimola,

I'm writing you seeking representation for my young adult urban fantasy, REAPERS, which is complete at 80,000 words. After reading your interview on Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, I feel that we have the same expectations in a writer/agent relationship and would be a good match.

Death isn't what Eden expected. Where the hell is her release? Her quiet ending? Not that Eden remembers the details of her final hours, but one thing is for sure--becoming a reaper, trapped between life and death, was definitely not part of the plan. Now, there's no way of telling what will happen when Eden's fingertips graze human skin. The power that builds inside her, Touch, strips away morals and logic. Some people only feel a high; others are overcome by their darkest thoughts.

But Eden has no time to worry about her effect on mere mortals. She's got her own drama. Somehow, word's gotten around that her Touch can kill her own kind. With desperate reapers already camping out on her doorstep, the last thing Eden needs is the rumor to spread. Especially since it's true.

Eden's gift can be used to save souls – or steal them. Her devil-may-care attitude isn't getting her as far as it used to. Because the devil does care – and The Fallen are closing in. Realizing her potential, their leader, Luke, starts turning on the charm. Luckily, Eden knows the tricks The Fallen can use, and the dangers of giving in to them. Hell, she'd been in love with Az once, and he'd been one of them too. But when Luke starts hinting that Az might have played a part in her death, his "lies" start making an awful lot of sense.

Now Az has returned. Working with the Upstairs, he's determined to beat Luke and win back more than just Eden's loyalty. She may already be dead, but Eden will be damned, literally, before she lets him off the hook that easily.

REAPERS is the first book of a planned trilogy and available at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Leah Clifford