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Success Story Interview - Robin Reed

An Interview with Robin Reed (robinr on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jim McCarthy of Dystel Goderich & Bourret LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Robin Reed:
Sure! GOODBYE DRAGONFLY is a contemporary YA about a transgender Harvard freshman with a girlfriend at NYU, and their determination to defy the cliches about long-distance high school relationships never surviving freshman year.

The book started out as a companion story to my first manuscript, which didn't wind up securing representation, so fortunately DRAGONFLY stands alone as well. But that first book inspired me to write this one. The two protagonists of DRAGONFLY started out as secondary characters in the original novel, and I wanted to tell their story.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Robin Reed:
I started trying to write my first original novel in the summer of 2005, so I've been writing seriously for five years now. But like most of us here, I've been writing all my life in one form or another.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Robin Reed:
I was outlining it while I wrote the first book, so it's hard to really say. I spent just under five months working exclusively on DRAGONFLY.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Robin Reed:
There have been many, many times. Twice I was kickstarted by, of all things, contest wins. I would enter my WIP in an RWA chapter contest, then later grow to despair that I would never finish the book, it would never be any good, etc. Then I would get a call or an email informing me that I'd placed first in the YA category and the editor/agent judge had requested my full manuscript. Suddenly, I was back in the game full-force, rushing to polish the manuscript and send it to the requesting judge. Notably, those requests never amounted to anything in and of themselves, and as far as I know, they had nothing to do with the response I later got when I queried the manuscript (although I did mention the wins in the queries). But the wins gave me the confidence boost I needed to keep going, because hey, someone thought my writing was OK.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Robin Reed:
I am very much an outliner. Plot points changed while I was writing, so I was constantly revising my outline as I went, but the basic shape of the book was clear when I first sat down to start it, and that didn't change.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Robin Reed:
I queried my first book from December 2009 to March 2010. I started querying this book in July 2010 and had an offer three weeks later.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Robin Reed:
Fourteen, before I stopped querying because I'd gotten an offer from one of my first-choice agents. But I had previously sent out more than 70 queries for my first manuscript.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Robin Reed:
Sort of. With this book I was mainly querying agents who had read and commented on the full of my previous manuscript, so I'd open each query with something like "Thank you for reading the full manuscript of [title]. You mentioned that you enjoyed the novel's voice and would be open to seeing future work from me, so I hoped you'd consider..." etc. With my first round of queries, I always personalized the opening if I could find some reference that worked -- "You mentioned in a recent interview that you were interested in reading diverse points of view"; "I know you represent [author], and since I also write [subgenre] I hoped you'd be interested..." etc. I do think it was worth the effort to personalize the letters, because if you're going to have a business relationship with someone it's good to start that out on the best foot possible, but I don't know that it really made a difference in terms of the responses I got. I got plenty of form rejections from agents for whom I'd added lots of personalization to the queries; I got several requests from agents for whom I didn't include any personalization at all. I really think all most agents care about is the story. Personalization is nice, everyone likes personalization, but it's not going to get you an agent if they don't think the book sounds right for them.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Robin Reed:
You should definitely invest time in perfecting your query. But if you aren't getting good responses from agents it doesn't automatically mean your query is the problem. Agents aren't representing query writers, they're representing novelists, and they care first and foremost about your book -- whether the story and the writing are marketable. So don't obsess over your query and making sure you follow all the "query rules" at the expense of obsessing over your story. The latter is much more worthy of your obsession! :)