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Success Story Interview - MK England

An Interview with MK England (mkEngland on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman 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?
MK England:
It's a YA sci-fi called THE DISASTERS, out on December 18th, 2018 from HarperTeen! I think it has a little something for everyone, even if you aren't a sci-fi reader or don't like books set in space. Plenty of humor, loveable characters, and plotty mystery elements to please any reader.

It's about a hotshot pilot named Nax who fails out of his dream academy on the first day, only to witness that academy's near destruction right as he and his fellow washouts are about to be shipped home forever. They're the only survivors, and thus the perfect scapegoats, which kicks off a wild adventure with heists, crashing spaceships, arguing, getting shot, family drama, and a desperate attempt to stave off the biggest threat the galaxy's ever faced.

All my books start out as a vague little idea seed that appears out of nowhere and sits around in an Idea Dump google doc for months or years until it meets the right catalyst. In this case, the seed was “a hotshot pilot fails out of a space academy on his first day” and the catalyst was seeing Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater in summer 2014. It wasn't a perfect movie by any means, but it was so much fun, and it solidified for me what I wanted THE DISASTERS to feel like. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo later that year!
QT: How long have you been writing?
MK England:
I didn't really kick myself into gear and take it seriously until early 2014. Before that, I would start a book and quit 5k in. Then I'd start the same book a year later, hit 10k, and quit. February 2014 I finally sat myself down, made myself write every day, and committed to finishing the book by March 1st. I did. I haven't stopped writing and revising since.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
MK England:
I wrote THE DISASTERS for NaNoWriMo in 2014, then revised it through early 2015. I decided to enter Pitch Wars with it, got in, and started querying it immediately after. I got a good amount of interest, and ended up getting a Revise & Resubmit from the fabulous and super intense Barbara Poelle. I adored her after that first phone call and desperately wanted to nail the revision, so I immediately recalled all of the fulls I had out, took all the feedback she and the beta readers she set me up with gave me, and went to town on that manuscript. When I sent out the revised MS in February of 2016, she called a few days later, and we signed! Now, it's finally coming out on December 18, 2018, almost four years to the day since I finished the first draft!
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
MK England:
Yes and no. Every time I'd start to get tired or feel like I wasn't good enough, a little something would come along—a sweet (or tough love) comment from a critique partner, a partial request, something. I think it's really important to congratulate yourself on those moments and take heart that you're always learning, improving, getting closer to the day when it'll happen for you. I can't overemphasize the importance of writer friends! Having people to go through it all with you, who share your experiences and understand your feelings, it's so valuable. Cherish those friendships!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
MK England:
Nope! I've always been an obsessive self-teacher. As a librarian, I know how to research and how to tell good information from internet garbage, and I used those skills to devour writing advice, information about the industry, the querying process, and anything else I could get my hands on. I also love books on the craft of writing and try to read at least a few each year.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
MK England:
Absolutely. No one can be truly objective about their own work, and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. I could never have gotten where I am without my wonderful critique partners, sensitivity editors, and others who have done one-time reads for me.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
MK England:
I'm definitely an outliner. THE DISASTERS was somewhat loosely planned, compared to books I've written since then, but I still had a very specific ending in mind and several signposts along the way. The thought of pantsing a book makes me terribly anxious! These days I write a full synopsis before I start on a new project.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
MK England:
I love statistics, which is part of why I love QueryTracker! Here's mine:

Queries sent before Pitch Wars: 12
Queries sent after Pitch Wars: 28
Total requests (fulls and partials, Pitch Wars & regular queries): 18
Total Rejections: 27
Outstanding Queries: 10
Offers of Representation: 3
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
MK England:
Absolutely. I researched each agent to make sure they were open to my genre and whether they had any interviews or a MSWL (manuscript wishlist) out in the world. Sometimes those interviews would give really helpful info like whether an agent preferred the genre and wordcount section at the top or the bottom or other formatting tips. If my book fit something on their MSWL, that gave me something specific to mention. If you don't have something specific and useful (tip: “omg we both own two dogs!” is not useful), then skip the personalization.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
MK England:
Make sure you have your query critiqued by someone (preferably more than one someone) who hasn't read your book. Our brains are so good at filling in the gaps for us! There are great resources out there, as well as writers giving away query critiques for free. Make use! You got this.

Query Letter:

I'm writing to present my 85,000-word YA space opera, THE DISASTERS, for your consideration. It's a queer take on Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Breakfast Club with a diverse teen cast. I chose to query you because I read in an interview that you liked tight, fast-paced narratives with unlikely heroes. I hope this manuscript will do it for you!

Seventeen-year-old Nax Hall is a screw-up on the verge of finally getting his act together—until he washes out of Ellis Station Academy on his first day like a champ. Time for a nice walk out the nearest airlock, because his life is as good as over.

But it's actually the lives of everyone else on the station that are over. Nax's one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy, and Nax has to act fast to save himself and his fellow Academy failures. They escape—barely—but they're also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.

The five rejects make an unlikely team: Nax the asshole pilot, the ex-footballer med student, the stressed-out navigator, the diplomatic history nerd, and the hijabi hacker they pick up along the way. Together, they devise a plan to pull off a dangerous heist: They'll clear their names, stop the terrorist plot, spread the truth—and show the Academy why they never should have kicked them out.

Their methods may not be the most legal, but hey—whatever gets the job done, right?

I currently work as a YA librarian and am an active member of SCBWI and the ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association. When I'm not writing or librarianing, I'm usually fannishly screaming about something or chasing after my dogs.

Per your guidelines, I've pasted my first ten pages, synopsis, and bio below my signature. I appreciate your time and consideration, and I hope we can work together in the future!