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Success Story Interview - Melinda Braun

An Interview with Melinda Braun (MelindaBraun on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Melinda Braun:
My YA sci-fi novel, Polaris, was inspired by everything from growing up in a small mid-western town, to favorite childhood books and movies like A Wrinkle in Time, Star Wars, ET, Back to the Future, as well as more recent things like Lost and X-files.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Melinda Braun:
I always liked writing, but I didn’t get serious about it until 10 years ago. That’s when I started with a conscious effort to get published.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Melinda Braun:
I started this book in the beginning of 2009. Took a few months of a break when I got pregnant and was sicker than a dog. I finished the rough draft on a Friday in November. Sunday morning my daughter was born. Then, of course, I took another break. I started sending out queries the summer of 2010.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Melinda Braun:
Not really. I took breaks. Got my hopes up. Got rejected. I made a lot, A LOT of mistakes. But I knew I could make it better. I’m a fan of the Anne Lamott school of writing, which says it’s fine to write shitty rough drafts. You can fix shit, but you gotta write it down first.
QT: Is this your first book?
Melinda Braun:
No. I wrote a novel 10 years ago, which was pretty terrible but it was good practice and reinforced the idea that I could write a book. In 2007 my first children’s picture book was published by an independent publisher.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Melinda Braun:
Yes. I actually went back to school and completed an English degree with a creative writing emphasis. This improved my writing at an exponential rate, and reinforced my feelings that I was right where I should be.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Melinda Braun:
I should, but no. I go in fits and spurts, whenever I can find time, though I realize that I have to make it a priority or it won’t happen. It’s easy (especially when you have young kids) to procrastinate or think you don’t have time. There’s always going to be laundry to do and dishes to wash and someone who needs your undivided attention. I also believe it’s important to give yourself a little undivided attention to pursue the things that are important to you
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Melinda Braun:
I lost count. I made about two MAJOR revisions, one where I cut off the last third of the book, completely rewriting it and altering the structure of the novel. For the better, I think.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Melinda Braun:
At first, no. Another mistake I made. My family read it. My husband hasn’t yet; I think he was afraid of doing a critique. Some people don’t feel comfortable or have experience giving constructive criticism, which I understand. I think it’s scarier to give feedback than to get it. A lot of helpful comments actually came from agents that saw the book’s potential and gave me some advice.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Melinda Braun:
It was pantsing at first, just getting to know my characters. Then I had to go back and actually figure out a plot. A plot, as it turns out, is important.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Melinda Braun:
I started querying too early – summer 2010. The book wasn’t ready. I queried for over a year, and I know some would think to put the manuscript away and start something else. But I couldn’t. I loved these imaginary people. I couldn’t let them go.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Melinda Braun:
More than 50. Less than 100? I lost count.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Melinda Braun:
I basically checked to see they represented YA. If they also liked science fiction, that was a plus. Query Tracker was incredibly useful in this regard.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Melinda Braun:
Not really. I rewrote the query several times as the book changed. The final query I wrote in about 5 minutes. That was a clue that I was really solid on what the book was about. I think if you are having trouble writing your query or explaining what your book is about, your manuscript might not be ready. I think if you can condense it down into a one sentence pitch, you’re good to go.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Melinda Braun:
Don’t give up. That sounds lame, especially when you’ve been slogging away for years, and then you read someone wrote a novel in a month and had an agent and book deal a few months after that. That sucks, but everyone is really traveling their own path and going at their own pace. Stay tenacious – keep your eyes on the goal, but also keep them open to advice and criticism. You have to keep trying, but you also have to keep improving and practicing. Talent is, unfortunately, not enough. You have to have an almost ridiculous sense of perseverance and doggedness.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Melinda Braun:
Of course.

Query Letter:

Every year, several hundred people claim to have been abducted by aliens.

Some are crazy.

Some are liars looking for attention.

And some are telling the truth.

When seventeen year-old Geneva Reid wakes up floating in the middle of the South Pacific, with no memory of how she got there, she thinks she might be going crazy.

Some at the FBI think she’s a liar.

But at least one person knows she’s telling the truth.

Because not only has she been missing, she’s been gone for ten years.

But she hasn’t aged a day.

This is Polaris - the first YA sci-fi book in a trilogy, and inspired by everything from the X-files, Back to the Future, and Flight of the Navigator, to classics like a Wrinkle in Time and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

With the help of her best friend Will (now an FBI agent with deep insight into her case) and detained in a secret underground facility hidden in the wilds of the Australian outback, Geneva recounts her last week before her disappearance, filling in the missing pieces of the puzzle, not just to discover what happened to her, but why. As Geneva recounts her story she learns she’s not crazy, but she definitely is in danger, and it becomes a race to discover not just why some are hunting for her, but who she really is and what her destiny might be.

The manuscript is approximately 79,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.