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 - Mindy McGinnis

An Interview with Mindy McGinnis (bigblackcat97 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Adriann Ranta Zurhellen of Folio Literary Management.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Mindy McGinnis:
The book that landed me representation is a YA dystopian about the lack of fresh water in the future. I adore dystopian fiction, but I'm really tired of post - nuclear, or highly technological worlds. I took a different approach and knocked humankind back about 100 years... eating what you can kill, subsisting on your environment and the work of your own two hands.

My inspiration came from a documentary I watched about the very real pending threat of our fresh water resources, and then I read a book about the history of water (yeah I'm a dork like that).
QT: How long have you been writing?
Mindy McGinnis:
Oh boy. Ten years.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Mindy McGinnis:
This particular book (right now titled NOT A DROP TO DRINK) pretty much fell out of my head this past summer. I coughed it up in about four months, I think.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Mindy McGinnis:
Hmmm.... uh, YEAH. I didn't spend ten years getting rejections and feeling awesome, I can tell you that. Ironically, one thing that helped me stay the course was a rejection. An agent who had my full (a different YA title) rejected me, but sent me the kindest, most complimentary rejection ever. That was around three years ago. I kept the email and revisited it periodically over the years when I needed a boost. I emailed that agent the day after I signed to thank her for taking the time to give that kind of personalization to her rejections. She responded to tell me how happy she was for me - agents are people too!
QT: Is this your first book?
Mindy McGinnis:
Let's ignore the four trunked ones under my bed and say.... Yeah, sure, of course it is!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Mindy McGinnis:
Nope. Nada. I double majored in English Literature and Religion, so I've drawn on both of those to inform my writing, for sure. I personally think the best education a writer can get is to read - good books an bad ones - and see what's working, or not.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Mindy McGinnis:
I write what I can, when I can.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Mindy McGinnis:
Not many, for this one, but that's against my normal grain. I did two 'tough love' line edits on it, though.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Mindy McGinnis:
Yes - I had two excellent betas that I met over on AgentQueryConnect. We swap ms's, and are all at the same level / genre, so it's a wonderfully productive trio.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Mindy McGinnis:
Hip. I'm not a big fan of formality.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Mindy McGinnis:
Well, this book definitely went against the grain (again). I only queried it for a month and a half before landing my (awesome) agent. My other books... yeah, refer back to that ten year drought I mentioned.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Mindy McGinnis:
25 - an incredibly small number.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Mindy McGinnis:
Research - constant and large amounts of it. I used QueryTracker stats (for sure), and visited some excellent blogs that do agent interviews to get a feel for who was looking for, and liked, what. QT user KristaG's awesome blog - Mother. Write. (Repeat) was a huge help to me, as well as Authoress' Miss Snark's First Victim blog. I'm styling my own blog - Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire - in their footsteps. I want to be an inspiration to those on the agent hunt, and help others get their feet in the door. Or their fingers. Or hair. Or teeth. Whatever it takes! The agent database over at was a great tool as well, plus the Agent Updates thread over on AgentQueryConnect.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Mindy McGinnis:
A few I did, not many though. When I did it was using 'foot in the door' techniques from visiting blogs like the ones I mentioned above. 'Dear Agent... I read your interview this morning on (blog name) and saw that you are looking for gritty YA dystopian. I think my title (blah blooh) will fit your tastes!' That kind of thing.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Mindy McGinnis:
Don't give up. Which probably is overdone advice, and Churchill beat me to it, but... my journey took a decade, so I can tell you there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you've got to work for it.

Query Letter:

Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond. Seven years later, violence is her native tongue in a time when an ounce of fresh water is worth more than gold and firewood equals life during bitter rural winters. Death wanders the countryside in many forms: thirst, cholera, coyotes, and the guns of strangers.

Mother and Lynn survive in a lawless land, where their once comfortable home serves as stronghold and lookout. Their basement is a lonely fortress; Father disappeared fighting the Canadians for possession of Lake Erie, the last clean body of water in an overpopulated land. The roof offers a sniper's view of their precious water source – the pond. Ever vigilant, they defend against those who stream from the sprawling cities once they can no longer pay the steep prices for water. Mother's strenuous code of self-sufficiency and survival leaves no room for trust or friendships; those wishing for water from the pond are delivered from their thirst not by a drink, but a bullet. Even their closest neighbor is a stranger who Lynn has only seen through her crosshairs.

Smoke rises from the east, where a starving group of city refugees are encamped by the stream. A matching spire of smoke can be seen in the south, where a band of outlaws are building a dam to manipulate what little water is left.

When Mother dies in a horrific accident, Lynn faces a choice - defend her pond alone or band together with her crippled neighbor, a pregnant woman, a filthy orphan, and Finn - the teenage boy who awakens feelings she can't figure out.