Success Story Interview - Mary Victoria Johnson

An Interview with Mary Victoria Johnson (planetofsound on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown 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?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
THE FOREST OF BEATING HEARTS is a middle grade fantasy, full of monstrous things like a sentient city, cut-throat girls, and, of course, actual monsters. Like many others, I had a difficult time during my middle school years. Books were my escape. So I decided I wanted to write a book that captured this in-betweeness and all its impossible struggles, but I wanted to do it in a way that also offered suspension from reality.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
I've been writing novel-length fiction for about ten years now, since I was eleven.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
The idea started forming in 2016 or thereabouts, so I worked on it for roughly three years before signing with Kelly.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
Oh, of course. I started writing this book as YA, and when I got to the 30k point, everything fell apart. The draft was becoming far too complicated. Then I got my hands on a MG fantasy (by MarcyKate Connelly!), and I had a fantastic AHA moment where I realized I was writing to the wrong audience. I dug deep into my MG experiences and after that, everything improved exponentially. I'm not sure if I ever seriously considered giving up forever, but for sure, there were difficult times. Surrounding myself with support networks and other books was key!
QT: Is this your first book?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
It's my seventh complete manuscript. But it's the first book where I properly revised and queried!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
I'm currently completing my undergraduate degree in English and Creative Writing.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
I try to write consistently for a couple of hours in the evenings, but I don't keep a strict schedule. Life and school and whatever else happens!
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
Gosh, I've lost count. Many, many, many partial rewrites when I was drafting, plus one major revision with my mentor, and a smaller edit after that.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
Yes! I was lucky enough to get picked for #AuthorMentorMatch, so the extraordinary Heather Kassner acted as my mentor for the book. Then I had four fellow mentees beta read.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
I'm somewhere in the middle...a plantser! I knew the skeleton of the plot, and what I wanted the character arcs to be, and what the ending would look like, but I didn't in-depth plan more than three or four chapters ahead.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
This was my first time querying, and I queried for six months.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
I sent out 36, which lead to 16 fulls, 6 partials, 9 rejections, 5 CNRs, and 4 offers of rep.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
I wanted to make sure they had decent sales records, or at the very least, good industry connections. I also wanted to make sure they represented and enjoyed the right genre!
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
Yes, I tried to personalise wherever I could. Usually that meant referring to a specific MSWL item, or mentioning client connections.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
Don't rush, don't panic, don't sell yourself short. When deciding who to query, really consider each agent as a potential lifetime business partner! Send out small (5-10), targeted batches, follow instructions, revise based on feedback, and think of your query as a sales pitch! And, of course, stay positive, and keep writing :)
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Mary Victoria Johnson:
Sure! This is the generic query, with personalizations removed.

Query Letter:

Dear [Agent],

Twelve-year-old Nairi has grown up in a forest full of monsters. But when her father disappears while hunting, Nairi is left to fend for herself—and her best friend, Dana. With winter rapidly approaching, her only hope for safety is Iore, a walled city protected from the dangers of the forest.

However, nothing about Iore is ordinary. Streets change position, mysterious children run through statues, and people wind up their hearts with special keys. Worst of all, there's the Clicking Man, who is determined to destroy anyone who dares to cross the wall.

Nairi is willing to do anything to barter her way into the city. Even steal the heart-keys of three hundred citizens. But as she uncovers the secrets of Iore, finding unexpected friends along the way, she begins to wonder if there's more to life than cutthroat survival. Maybe, if she can outwit the Clicking Man—and the city itself—she can finally find a place to belong.

THE FOREST OF BEATING HEARTS is a standalone middle grade fantasy. It is complete at 51,000 words and aimed at readers who enjoyed the adventure and sisterhood of PRISONER OF ICE AND SNOW, and the dark, magical worlds of MONSTROUS and GOLDELINE. I'm a studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Victoria in Canada, and recently, I had the privilege of working on this manuscript with Heather Kassner as part of #AuthorMentorMatch.

Thank you for your time and consideration!