Success Story Interview - Merriam Saunders

An Interview with Merriam Saunders (Merriam on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Caryn Wiseman 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?
Merriam Saunders:
The book for which I am represented is a middle grade about a boy with ADHD who finds a magic bag that can conjure his thoughts. A magic bag is not an ideal find for a boy with impulsivity issues, and so he accidentally winds up with a mini-T-Rex, a zombie plastic army and a tiny Thor at war in his bedroom. He has to realize and access his hidden strength to control the magic and make the creatures go away.

I was inspired to write this because I am a psychotherapist specializing in ADHD (and have two kids with it). I wanted to write a book from the POV of an ADHD kid to help other kids with it realize they aren't alone, and to allow others to understand it better. I also wanted to show that we all have hidden strengths we can access to cope with our problems. Plus it turns out writing middle grade from the POV of a 12 year old boy is wicked fun.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Merriam Saunders:
In one form or another since I was a kid. But not seriously until a couple of years ago when I wrote a different book that was my "training wheels" for this one.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Merriam Saunders:
Not long. Once I had the idea, it sort of erupted from my fingers and onto the computer screen.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Merriam Saunders:
Sure, I guess we all have those days. I gave myself a finite amount of time to explore this avenue before going back to my "day job". My critique partner (who got agented the same week as me!) probably was the single greatest factor to staying on course. And the online support of terrific communities like this one. It's so great to post work and get instant and helpful feedback, especially the kind that allows you to think, "okay, maybe I don't completely suck".
QT: Is this your first book?
Merriam Saunders:
No. I wrote a really awful thriller in my twenties that makes me cringe when I look at it. Then (20 years later...) wrote a YA that I am still revising and hope to one day publish. So this is my third.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Merriam Saunders:
Nope. Just Mr. Schauble's sixth grade English class. He really rocked it.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Merriam Saunders:
Not really. I write before my kids get up, while they are in school and after they go to bed. And in any other nooks and crannies I can find.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Merriam Saunders:
I hired an editor to run through it for grammar & spelling etc, but I didn't revise at all until Caryn sent me some ideas to play with. She was really
cool about letting me decide the direction, but had some great suggestions for changing the bad guy which resonated with me.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Merriam Saunders:
Yes. My critique partner, my mother and best friend (who don't really count because they think everything I write is amazing even when it isn't) and a
great bunch of 8-12 year old boys who gave me terrific feedback. And wonderful people on querytracker who read the first chapter.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Merriam Saunders:
I so envy the hip-writers, but I am way too controlling to attempt that. I outline and don't write a word until I have at least a vague notion of how it ends.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Merriam Saunders:
I am not the typical story because I sent out five queries the same week I was offered representation. But she didn't come from a query letter. We met at a conference. It was very satisfying to let the queried agents know not to bother reading! They were all super kind and sent a quick note of congrats back.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Merriam Saunders:
Only five. And before that, I'd sent out only ten for my YA. I got a bite for a full on the YA, but then a pass. The rest were rejections. I didn't send out more because I had met a bunch of agents at conferences who all requested fulls and partials of the YA, so I was planning to start with them when I got diverted by this middle grade itching to get out of me. I had assembled a great, long list of agents on querytracker for both books and was about to launch my assault when Caryn called.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Merriam Saunders:
I looked for agents who seemed to represent what I like to write - YA and MG with a tinge of magic or paranormal. I also checked Publisher's Marketplace to see how they were doing , whether they were new or had been around for a while and what kind of comments people left in querytracker. I read everything I could get my hands on about them from the internet (Literary Rambles=excellent). I used querytracker to rank my agent list. If they were new or hadn't sold much, they went to the bottom of my list. Then I sent five queries to agents ranked 2. Not my dream agents, but someone I'd say yes to if they offered, just to see what would happen. I was saving the dream agents (of which Caryn was actually my number 1!) for after I'd built some confidence around my query.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Merriam Saunders:
Yes. I would either take info from recent sales in Publisher's Marketplace or from the list of books they represent on their website and, if I hadn't read the book, I would look at the first pages on (and often wound up buying the book!). If it seemed at all similar to my book, I wrote something like "I am querying you because you represent xyz". But if I couldn't find a good comp, I wrote "I am querying you because I like your
presence on Twitter or the workshop you offered or what you said in such and such an interview resonated with me". But I only wrote those things if they were true for me.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Merriam Saunders:
Don't query until you believe your MS is really cooked, and not just those opening pages. My agent (ooh, I gotta say I really love saying those words...) told me that so many times she requests fulls because she is excited about the opening pages and then the MS falls apart on her and she's so disappointed.

Use querytracker to polish that query. Such great, great advice and feedback on this site. Make sure the agent you are querying represents what you write.

If you can, go to conferences. Agents seem very open to asking for partials & fulls from face-to-face pitches.

Join a critique group--absolutely without question--of people that write in your genre or at least in your category. If one of you gets agented, there's a foot in the door right there.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Merriam Saunders:
I hesitate to include my query because it never came into play in landing this agent, since we met at the Big Sur Writer's Conference. I'd hate to give anyone the impression this was an example of a query that worked. But if you're super curious, you can hunt it down since I posted it on this site.