Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker.
Learn More...
Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker. Learn More...

Success Story Interview - Michael Hagan

An Interview with Michael Hagan (Scarlatti14 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Sam Stoloff of Frances Goldin 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?
Michael Hagan:
I wrote an 84,000-word YA novel set in Oakland, California called "Julia Milan and the Chapel of the Chimes," about a 14-year-old girl who helps her dying grandmother uncover the truth about a boy who vanished back in 1936. The story was inspired by a visit to the Chapel of the Chimes Mausoleum in Oakland. Designed by world-famous architect Julia Morgan, it's an ideal setting for a ghost story.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Michael Hagan:
I've been at this a long time. Years and years. I have degrees in English and creative writing and have attended several helpful workshops and writing conferences. I've written the obligatory clunky first novel and a better but flawed second novel, then switched to screenwriting. Several spec scripts later, I returned to my roots and wrote Julia Milan. As I began the novel, one pleasant surprise was that much of my early clunkiness was gone.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Michael Hagan:
This book took about a year to write and another few months to revise. I was fortunate to have an entire year to write fulltime.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Michael Hagan:
I've tried to quite writing and lead a normal life many times, but it never lasts very long. Nowadays, I accept the fact that this non-paying, time-draining, often maddening solitary activity is simply part of who I am. It also helps that I've completed many projects and have a better sense of how stories work. Confidence is a writer's best friend (aside from money).
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Michael Hagan:
When I'm not working to pay the bills and have large chunks of writing time, I can put in a good five-to-six hour day on first drafts and 12-hour days on revisions. I begin my writing day around 7 or 8 a.m. and finish by mid-afternoon. When I'm working fulltime to pay the bills, I find even a few minutes of writing difficult.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Michael Hagan:
Too many to count. I'm always adding, deleting, changing, improving. If writing is rewriting, I'm writing all the time.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Michael Hagan:
Yes, and they gave me terrific feedback and suggestions. I had readers as young as 8 and as old as 70 read my manuscript. I had about 20-30 readers in all.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Michael Hagan:
I used a step outline (a great tool to structure screenplays) and organized the story arch of this novel as though it were a season of television on HBO. 14 chapters, 14 episodes. I need clear boundaries to help contain my stories, and I found this 14-chapter approach helpful. Some of my best ideas, however, came out of nowhere and took me to unexpected territory.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Michael Hagan:
A lot longer than I'd anticipated. 15 months total, about as long as it took to write the book.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Michael Hagan:
195. I sent out 10-20 per month while constantly tweaking my query. Midway through my query process, I downloaded Noah Lukeman's free e-book, "How to Write a Great Query Letter," and that was the best thing I could have done. What a fantastic little book!
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Michael Hagan:
At first I contacted all YA agents who wrote blogs, used Twitter or had interviews online, mainly because it was easy to personalize the introductory paragraph. I only queried through email until just a few months ago when I incorporated snail mail queries into the mix.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Michael Hagan:
Yes, especially during the last few months when I only had 50 or so agents left on my list. If I'd read a book by a writer an agent represented, I always mentioned that.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Michael Hagan:
I was well aware of the difficulties and frustrations throughout this stage of the journey toward publication; however, I still wasn't fully prepared for the wave of rejection and indifference I would encounter. I knew I was submitting a strong manuscript, but it didn't seem to matter. It's hard not to lose confidence after months upon months of negative responses, but it only takes one resounding "YES" to turn the entire ordeal into something worth enduring. In the end, I received 9 full manuscript requests and 15 partial requests for a positive response rate of 12%. Agents who were interested in my manuscript tended to respond quickly, whereas those who took their time either eventually said no thanks or simply never responded. Now that I have Sam as my agent and advocate, I've never been more excited and optimistic about my writing future. If there's any advice I can offer, it's what we've all heard so many times before: don't give up, keep the faith, and don't let the endless rejection derail you from your dreams and goals. If a knucklehead like me can clear this hurdle and find representation, so can you.

Thank you, Patrick for your brilliant, indispensible site!
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Michael Hagan:
Sure...also, I plan to blog about the next stage of my writing journey at, so please stop by and say hi. I'll also continue to offer fellow query comrades encouragement and support, so feel free to send me a message through querytracker if you'd like. Good luck to all!

Query Letter:

Dear Mr. Stoloff:

I learned about you from your agency website and Heather O'Neill's "Lullabies for Little Criminals," which I read last year and is still with me.

I have an 84,000-word YA novel set in Oakland, California called JULIA MILAN AND THE CHAPEL OF THE CHIMES, about an overshadowed 14-year-old named Julia who agrees to help her dying grandmother solve the mystery of young Max Carter – her grandmother's first love – who vanished without a trace 75 years ago. With help from an old diary, a new classmate from Perth, Australia, and an unusual mausoleum designed by the architect of Hearst Castle, Julia digs up a haunting piece of her grandmother's past, exposing a dangerous secret that startles local historians. Finally, Julia feels as special as her precocious younger sister, but when Max's story threatens the safety of Julia's family, Julia wonders if being special is worth all the trouble.

My background is in screenwriting where I wrote an award-winning script that was performed on stage by professional actors through the Alibi Unplugged Screenwriting Competition in Vancouver, B.C. I studied under mentors Terry Davis and Lee K. Abbott and am a member of SCBWI.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.