Success Story Interview - Marina Cooper

An Interview with Marina Cooper (cormorant359 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Iwalani Kim 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?
Marina Cooper:
This book started as a one-act play I wrote for a college class during Fall 2020; it grew out of the question of why might a medium hate their clients, and what would it be like to have a guardian angel who does terrible things to protect you. It was also influenced by my growing awareness of Asian American studies and my experience as an Asian American during the rise in anti-Asian hate due to Covid.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Marina Cooper:
I’ve been writing down stories since I learned to read, but tried to write my first novel in fifth grade.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Marina Cooper:
Since Spring 2021.
QT: Is this your first book?
Marina Cooper:
This is the second book I have seriously queried, the fifth complete book I’ve written overall.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Marina Cooper:
I participated in some youth writing workshops, the summer Yale Writers Workshop, and took creative writing courses (fiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting) in college.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Marina Cooper:
Not counting the play it is based on, there was the initial novel draft, a revision before I submitted it to Author Mentor Match (AMM) Round 9, and a revision after that with my mentor. I plan to revise again with my agent's feedback before it goes on submission.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Marina Cooper:
Not officially. I had a lot of input on the play-version of the story from my class (including my professor and classmates), and got a few of my friends to read the first 50 pages and give light feedback before I submitted to AMM. After my AMM mentor read and gave feedback, I’ve had a few other friends read the whole thing but mostly for fun -- we didn't really discuss the book in depth.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Marina Cooper:
I sent the first query for this book in June 2022. Before that, I queried a YA book in 2019 and sent about 30 queries (with 3 partial requests) before shelving that project, since I realized it had some major structural and genre issues to work out.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Marina Cooper:
Approximately 160 (not all got recorded on QT for various reasons).
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Marina Cooper:
I was looking for agents at reputable agencies (skimmed their sales on Publisher’s Marketplace, looked to see if they’d published authors I’ve heard of to publishers I was interested in) who were open to speculative fiction (or fiction with “speculative elements”). This included people who mentioned wanting upmarket, literary, or commercial fiction, and horror, fantasy, and magical realism/fabulism.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Marina Cooper:
I didn’t personalize the majority of my queries; if I saw a line in a MSWL that mentioned, for example, ghosts, I might say “I saw you were looking for an atmospheric book about ghosts and hope [BOOK] will be a good fit!” but otherwise didn’t bother. Depending on what genre I claimed the book to be, I swapped a comp or two (ie, magical realism vs. horror).
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Marina Cooper:
Everyone says it, but having another thing to work on is a great way to feel productive and keep your mind off checking your inbox. Whether it's your next big project or personal writing, I think being in the midst of that process can remind you what it is you like about writing, and that your writerly life is bigger and richer than the fate of the project you're querying.

Personally, I'm not deeply involved in online writing communities aside from a slack group with other AMM mentees, and keeping a healthy distance / limiting how attentively you follow online writing news/discussion can help keep you from getting hung up on comparisons with others or getting sucked into the "discourse of the moment." On the other hand, there are lots of great resources online (including the subreddit R/PubTips) which I found incredibly valuable for advice and to put my querying journey in perspective.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Marina Cooper:
Sure! (There's a version floating on Reddit somewhere under a different title, but this is the most up-to-date one I sent out. The title might get changed again).

Query Letter:

Dear [Agent],

WHIPGRAFT is a 70,000-word speculative literary novel that combines the complex sibling dynamic of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle with the lyricism, darkness, and incisive social commentary of Trang Thanh Tran’s She Is a Haunting and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. Whipgraft has received interest from [NAME], an editor at [BIG 5 IMPRINT], who stated she would love to see Whipgraft once I have an agent.

As a professional medium, 26-year-old Singer Lo can keep herself afloat—even as the very people who pay her make it known she’ll always be an outsider in their eyes. Still, she accepts her narrow existence in town as the price of keeping the ghost of her 12-year-old murdered sister, Angel, in her life. Ghosts are bound to the place they called home, and Singer knows leaving town would mean facing the grief of losing Angel for good. But then a mysterious rot returns, bringing with it a string of unnatural deaths.

Though Singer knows nothing about the problem, her perceived refusal to help the town makes her the target of intensifying fear and suspicion. And then she learns one of her sister’s murderers has died in jail from the rot—leading the families of the others to clamor for their release. With the facts of Angel’s murder being challenged as the town disputes its recent history, Singer must choose between protecting her sister’s legacy and fleeing before the town turns on her.

But Angel, too, refuses to let the town bury its crimes and, like Singer, does not want to be alone. As the deaths pile up, Singer faces the possibility that she and her sister have very different ideas of what “home” means—and of what must be sacrificed to create a space where they can belong.

Like Singer, I am an Asian American woman who was raised in a family that does not share my birth parents’ culture. Unlike her, sadly, I have never spoken to a ghost. I am [CURRENT JOB] and was a mentee in the ninth round of Author Mentor Match under Elizabeth Kilcoyne. As per your submission guidelines, I have [PASTED/ATTACHED XYZ AS DIRECTED].

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Marina Cooper