Success Story Interview - Riley Swan

An Interview with Riley Swan (lervoids on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Keir Alekseii of Jennifer Azantian 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?
Riley Swan:
The book that secured me representation is entitled CHARLIE GOES OFF SCRIPT, a YA romance following an autistic girl dating a boy only to realise she’s a lesbian through her involvement in a school production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. My initial inspiration for this manuscript was, funnily enough, a TikTok! It was basically about dating the perfect guy only to realise you’re a lesbian and no guy will ever be perfect for you. This is an experience I shared, and as soon as I saw this TikTok, I knew I had to write about it. Three months later, I had a complete manuscript.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Riley Swan:
I feel like it’s boring to hear by now, but I’ve been writing since I was super young. I wrote short stories, laid out picture books, scripted animated films, and everything in between. I wrote my first full novel in 2020, and wrote another one before completing CHARLIE GOES OFF SCRIPT in late 2021.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Riley Swan:
As mentioned above, I started drafting CHARLIE GOES OFF SCRIPT in November of 2021, and completed the first draft by January of 2022. I submitted to AMM, and though I didn’t get in, I got actional feedback from mentors and some beta readers, and went on to edit for two months before querying! So there was three months of drafting, two months of editing, and six months of querying before I got my agent.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Riley Swan:
God, I felt like giving up all the time. But I have a few strong writer friends who I would go to for reassurance. We read each others books and comforted each other through our imposters syndrome. Having friends in this industry is so integral to surviving the consistent rejection.
QT: Is this your first book?
Riley Swan:
No, it’s my third!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Riley Swan:
I’m currently studying a Bachelor of Creative Industries (Writing & Publishing), so yes!
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Riley Swan:
When I’m in the process of drafting or editing, I like to keep to a routine of doing some writing everyday to ensure I don’t lose my flow, but otherwise, I’m pretty chill!
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Riley Swan:
It never went through a rewrite, but it did go through two rounds of developmental edits and two rounds of line edits before querying.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Riley Swan:
Yes! I had a small few people read it. Some after my first draft, some after my second draft. They were key to helping my book improve.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Riley Swan:
Outline, outline, outline. I can’t write without one — I get too anxious. I like to have everything organised scene by scene to follow, and that definitely still applied to CHARLIE GOES OFF SCRIPT. (Even if I did go off script myself, just a little bit).
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Riley Swan:
Before CHARLIE GOES OFF SCRIPT, I queried my first novel, PERFECTLY ON TIME, on and off for six months. Then I took a year to write another book, which I didn’t query, and then Charlie’s book, which I queried for six months before signing with Keir.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Riley Swan:
Over a hundred. Almost 120, I think.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Riley Swan:
For me, it started as broad as people who take my genre and age group. You never know who’s going to fall in love with your book! But I also liked looking for agents interested in theatre stories, books set in Australia, and then people looking for ownvoices marginalised protagonists!
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Riley Swan:
If I could, yes. Particularly if there was something on the agent’s manuscript wishlist that fit perfectly with my book. But if not, I just left it be.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Riley Swan:
Edit, edit, edit. Never submit a first draft! I made that mistake. I do not recommend it. Also, if you can, get eyes on your writing. I know it can be hard, I struggled to find people at first, but the more you get involved in online writer spaces such as those on Twitter and Discord, you’ll find some lovely friends!
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Riley Swan:
Here’s the query letter I sent Keir, three months before fae offered representation!

Query Letter:

Dear Keir,

CHARLIE GOES OFF SCRIPT is an 80,000-word YA contemporary romance with an autistic lesbian protagonist who shares my own experiences with these identities. It features the complicated yet happy lives of queer teens as seen in Alice Oseman’s HEARTSTOPPER, and the messy high school theatre experience as captured by Ray Stoeve’s BETWEEN PERFECT AND REAL.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie is autistic, has never had a crush, and her sporty BFF Kordell just confessed. She worries she’ll break his heart if feelings aren’t returned, and is temporarily saved by Mars, Kordell’s panicked pansexual sister, who interrupts to complain about the school production of Twelfth Night. Charlie takes on the available lead role in hopes of learning about romance and accepts her BFF’s confession.

Charlie juggles playing Lady Olivia and going on failed dates with her BFF, only to learn nothing—every romantic interaction with Kordell results in shaking, crying, or throwing up. Charlie commits to late-night research of LGBTQ+ identities while rehearsing and practicing with Mars to better understand herself.

As opening night nears, the play brings Charlie and Mars closer together and pulls Charlie and Kordell apart. Then, Charlie realises she’s caused the biggest problem yet: the wrong sibling is sending butterflies flying through her stomach. Now she must confront the truth of who she is and win Mars over without hurting Kordell—or risk losing the two people she cares about most.

My manuscript contains mentions or instances of ableism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, fatphobia, non-explicit sexual content, compulsory heterosexuality, vomiting, depression, anxiety, autistic meltdowns, and alcohol use, all of which are relatively brief and/or condemned by the characters.

Thank you for your time.


Riley Swan (they/them)