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Success Story Interview - Maggie Soares-Horne

An Interview with Maggie Soares-Horne (Maggie_Soares on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Claire Friedman of InkWell Management.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
HAZEL HAYES IS GONNA WIN THIS TIME is about 12-year-old Hazel, who only wants one thing: to win her school's annual speech competition and redeem herself after last year's humiliating defeat at the hands of her nemesis, Ella Quinn. But when she finds out that Ella's being sexually harassed online by the most popular boy in school, Hazel has to make a choice between winning and doing what's right.

HAZEL was very much inspired by my own experiences!! When I was in middle school I was always annoyed when I would read middle grade books because they never felt like they actually mirrored my life. It was a lot of whimsical sleuths and rag-tag adventures, which is great, but that's certainly not what my life looked like at 12! I wanted to write a book that kids could relate to without making it too pedagogical or heavy-handed.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
I started writing towards publication when I was in the 10th grade, so about 10 years now!
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
HAZEL is actually the fastest I've ever had a query-ready book! I started drafting in June of 2019, but a bunch of work and personal things meant that I put it on hold for almost a year. I came back to it in May 2020 and had a polished draft by July
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
I'm on my second agent now, so I definitely had a lot of weird feelings about leaving my first! I was worried I wasn't good enough to find an agent that better suited my needs. I didn't think about giving up at that point, but it definitely left me feeling low.

I also think that a lot of marginalized writers struggle with this in ways non-marginalized authors just don't. When all of your rejections start to amount to "I love everything about this... but no" it can be so difficult to want to stay in the game. When I was on submission with my previous agent, we got a lot of rejections that complimented my writing, the plot, the voice... but ultimately the editor "just couldn't connect" with my lesbian MC. Now, writing queer middle grade, I had similar worries that I wouldn't be able to "get away with" certain things in the category. It definitely helped to remember that I, also, was a 12-year-old lesbian at one point, and people connected with me just fine!
QT: Is this your first book?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
No, but it is my first middle grade! I wrote five YA manuscripts before I signed with my first agent on book five in 2017. While I was signed to her I wrote a sixth YA and started a seventh. Hazel is book eight in total!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
I took a creative writing course in high school, and my degree is in Publishing. People sometimes think that came with a lot of writing training, but it was really more about marketing, design, finance, and editing. In my day-job, I actually write textbooks, so I've had a bit of technical writing training as well. Generally, though, I think the best way to learn is through reading widely and putting in the work.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
Definitely not! If I'm actively drafting I like to try and write 1000 words a day, but I give myself a lot of leeway (possibly too much). I tend to set myself deadlines, ignore them, and then reach them at the last minute by pulling 20k weekends. I never said my process was healthy.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
Hazel was only really edited once! That's definitely not the norm for me, but I had a very detailed outline that I stuck to, so drafting was more about filling in the blanks. I promise all my other books have been re-written a billion times!
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
Since I was agented at the time, my plan was to have my previous agent provide feedback. When I ended up leaving and decided to query Hazel, my former Author Mentor Match mentor/current best friend Rebecca Barrow read it for me in a few hours just to make sure it was ready to go.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
I love my outlines! Did you ever spend hours and hours making the perfect house in The Sims, and then by the time it was done you were kind of sick of playing The Sims and you weren't as interested in putting people in the house as you were before? That's what outlining always felt like to me, because I hadn't found a system that worked for me, specifically. BUT the first book I wrote with an outline that did work for me (I do a truncated version of the Snowflake Outline) was the book I signed with my first agent with, and I've written every subsequent book using it as well. I've found it makes the drafting process way easier and the book needs fewer major overhauls.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
From the date of my first query to the date of the email from my now-agent asking for a call, it was 12 days. I ended up with two offers from amazing agents, but went with the one whose editorial vision for Hazel felt the most in-line with my own (and the market).

PLEASE don't think that means I was phoning this in or I expected things to move quickly!! Last time I queried successfully it took about four months after a major re-write and two different R&Rs for the first offer to come through, and before that I'd been querying unsuccessfully for six years.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
This round, I sent 15 queries total and ended up with two offers. Over the course of my whole career, though, I've sent 145 queries!! (Thanks, Query Tracker!)
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
I was definitely more selective this time around! I had very specific career goals and I knew exactly what kind of agent I wanted to have. I had a lot of anxiety about leaving my first agent, but in hindsight one of the best things about querying for a second agent was that I knew exactly what I needed. I looked for agents that rep'd MG through to Adult books, because ultimately I'd like to write in all three categories. Beyond that, I asked around and my friends helped me create a small list. I was planning on going wide if nothing came of that, but I think it's always a good idea to start small!
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
I only tailored queries if the agent and I had a previous connection or if I'd seen that Hazel would fit their MSWL. The last time I queried, my now-agent Claire was an agent's assistant, and had requested the full of that project. While that agent ultimately passed, Claire sent me a note to please re-query with new work if I didn't find an agent, which stuck with me. When I was querying Hazel I realized that Claire was an agent herself now, so I knew I had to put her at the top of my list, and definitely tailored that query to our specific situation.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Maggie Soares-Horne:
Have a place you can go to scream!! I've had every rejection in the book and I don't think I would have kept going if I wasn't able to message my friends and say stuff like "ugh, this guy said to make my MC more LIKEABLE."

Beyond that, I'd say my biggest piece of advice is to never take anyone's advice as gospel! What works for someone won't necessarily work for you, even if they're telling you it's the One True Secret To Success. I think that's especially true now that there are so many authors and aspiring authors putting out content about their processes and successes — their career won't be your career, even if you do everything they say to do!

Query Letter:

Dear agent,

12-year-old Hazel Hayes doesn't have time for friends. No, really. Friends would just get in the way of her plan for the seventh grade: beating her nemesis Ella Quinn at her school's speech competition and putting her failure last year behind her. It's bad enough that Tyler Lewis, the most popular boy in school, is always bugging her about the endless line of girls he has crushes on. Friends would waste too much of her valuable time.

Until she hears Tyler's latest secret – his long-standing crush Ella Quinn likes girls like that. Hazel never thought there'd be another girl like her at their school, but now that she knows, maybe she and Ella don't have to be enemies. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have a friend that really understands her. But when Ella admits that she only said that to get Tyler off her back, Hazel sees what life is like on the other side of Tyler's crushes. No one would believe that a nice boy like Tyler would harass and intimidate a nice girl like Ella, but Hazel knows the truth – and she's the only one who can prove it.

Now she and Ella just need to find someone who'll believe them – which, as it turns out, is much easier said than done. With Tyler's messages getting more abusive by the day, Hazel has to choose between winning and standing up for what's right.

HAZEL HAYES IS GONNA WIN THIS TIME is an #ownvoices contemporary middle grade book complete at roughly 30,000 words. I wrote HAZEL as ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD meets DRUM ROLL, PLEASE. I was previously represented by (Old agent) at (Old agency), but we've recently parted ways. My writing has appeared in Catapult and on Medium's LGBT and Mental Health pages.