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Success Story Interview - Marc J Gregson

An Interview with Marc J Gregson (Zeldaman on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Heather Cashman of Storm 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?
Marc J Gregson:
DOWNFALL: AMONG SERPENTS is like extreme whaling but in the sky with sky serpents and skyships, and one tough cuss of a main character in Conrad. It has a touch of revenge similar to that seen in Count of Monte Cristo and a bit of the treasonous crew from Treasure Island, too.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Marc J Gregson:
I've been writing since high school, but I really started taking things seriously about ten years ago.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Marc J Gregson:
I started work on DOWNFALL in 2016 and queried it on and off for a few years. I reworked the opening pages more times than I can count.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Marc J Gregson:
I've never felt like giving up on writing, no, but there were times I considered shelving DOWNFALL. I loved the book too much, though, and based on responses I was getting, I felt confident it would land me an agent.
QT: Is this your first book?
Marc J Gregson:
DOWNFALL is my fifth completed manuscript and my first YA project.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Marc J Gregson:
Nope. I just wrote a lot, and read a lot. I studied the books I enjoyed, too. I also took editorial advice I received from agents and applied that to my writing.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Marc J Gregson:
When I'm drafting, I consistently write 2000-3000 words a day. But I don't have a schedule or a routine. I just write when I have time.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Marc J Gregson:
DOWNFALL went through at least 10 drafts, and I did an R&R for the last quarter of the book for another agent, too. That was an extensive revision, but I agreed with her comments.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Marc J Gregson:
Absolutely. I have multiple beta readers from varied backgrounds. They're essential for feedback and they help me with my blind spots. They're the best!
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Marc J Gregson:
I know the goalposts of my plot, but I write from the hip. I tried writing from an outline once and it made my plot robotic and very predictable. I'm a lousy outliner.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Marc J Gregson:
I have been querying my books for nine years.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Marc J Gregson:
For all six of the books I've queried, I sent out around 500. Looking back, it seems like a ton, but there was a lot of silence during those nine years of querying!
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Marc J Gregson:
I made sure they represented the genre and age category, first. After that, I tried reading interviews to get a sense of who they were. I also prioritized agents who were known to reply, since no-response rejections drove me crazy. I also looked on Publisher's Marketplace to see sales.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Marc J Gregson:
Through all my years of querying, I noticed very little difference in responses from agents whether I personalized my queries or not. The exception to this was querying agents who were narrow misses on prior projects. But, if you don't have a history with them, I think most agents are more interested in hearing about your story!
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Marc J Gregson:
Don't compare your journey with others. You are on your own path. Some writers get lucky and land an agent within a couple years—or even on their first book! You can't control what happens to others, all you can control is the project you are working on. Make it the best you can, write from your heart, and eventually, your day will come, too!
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Marc J Gregson:
This is the query I used for DOWNFALL:

Query Letter:

Conrad is a feral, bootless sixteen-year-old with just nine toes. Only his mother loves him. But when she starts coughing up black tar, he must find a way to afford her medication or she won't survive winter's chill. The rich tight-asses of his island, with their pristine dueling canes and sleek hovering carriages, would rather kiss a pig than toss him a coin. They're all cusses.

It's up to Conrad to save Mother. So, he enters the Gauntlet—a bloodbath competition where one in five are either burned to the bone in the poison clouds or eaten by flying monstrosities. He and a skyship full of backstabbing teenagers must contend for the seat of Captain, and hunt as many sky serpents as they can find. The precious gas sacs inside these creatures is the secret to flight and so valuable that the sky islands risk everything, even their bright youngsters, for its extraction.

Victory would grant Conrad money not seen in years. But it won't be easy. First, he'll have to win by convincing a pack of traitors to elect him as their Captain, and then start racking up the kills. If he can't, not only will he be lucky to survive, there is no way Mother will.