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Success Story Interview - Rory Michaelson

An Interview with Rory Michaelson (RoryMichaelson on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Moe Ferrara of BookEnds, LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Rory Michaelson:
My book is a genre-blending YA dark fantasy with elements of horror, adventure, comedy, and romance. The focus of the story is shattering the trope that sees LGBTQIA+ characters killed off in stories once and for all. As a queer person myself, growing up and either lacking representation or seeing us treated poorly in media made me want to create a story that had characters like me reclaim their narrative and achieve their full potential as heroes.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Rory Michaelson:
About five years in total, but I also briefly dabbled in fanfiction a couple of decades ago.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Rory Michaelson:
Pen to page (or fingers to keyboard) combined with some breaks to let ideas ferment in my brain it was a year or so start to finish. I now have some structural revisions to make after talking things through with my new agent that will take me at least a couple more months before going on sub.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Rory Michaelson:
I'm neurodivergent (AuDHD) and have rejection sensitive dysphoria, so it was important that I came into querying in as good a place emotionally as I could possibly be to take some punishment and be frustrated for a little while. I did have thoughts of giving up, but I instead tried to slow down at those times and maybe take a week or two off working on queries (I think I even took a whole month once). I also was lucky enough to have a couple of mentors as well as an extremely supportive friend who kept me afloat with some reality checks and laughs. I got some of my negative thought outs by writing this (absolutely awful) letter to myself full of all my doubts and criticism of myself and my work and putting it to one side. I wanted to look back at that when I was in a different place and try and eradicate some of that self-doubt for the future by proving myself wrong, and seeing how cruel I was to myself despite my hard work and achievements to encourage me to give myself more grace in the future.
QT: Is this your first book?
Rory Michaelson:
I self-published an adult dark fantasy series before I wrote this. This is my first YA, though.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Rory Michaelson:
I didn't actually finish the British equivalent of high school, so my English lit isn't even technically at that academic certification level. I did watch some Brandon Sanderson lectures on YouTube and listened to some podcast episodes of 'Writing Excuses.' This probably explains why I can barely use full-stops. Writing for me tends to start out more as storytelling and is a pretty emotional and intuitive process that I then reflect on and edit using some of the more practical industry skills I've osmosed over the years as well as work with some critique partners.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Rory Michaelson:
For me, writing a story is a bit of a dopamine chase. If I over-plan it, I sort of lose the excitement that compels me to carry on. Instead, I try to reserve myself quiet whenever I can and allow myself the time, space, and grace to find that creative mentality during those moments.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Rory Michaelson:
My drafts are absolute chaos, to be honest, but I worked with a critique partner and editor to give it some polish to reach its final query form. Maybe four times? It's quite high concept and there are a lot of moving parts which can be difficult to align perfectly and make everything click into place, which is potentially what discouraged some agents from moving forward. People often talk about having a finished and polished manuscript as the main thing for querying, but on the other hand, the likelihood it will be 'perfect' for the market as presented is fairly low, so finding an agent with a strong editorial vision for your work can be super important, too.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Rory Michaelson:
Just a critique partner and an editor who I worked with all my self-pub books on with. I'm a big advocate for alpha and beta readers, as well as sensitivity readers, though. More beta readers than I did is probably a sensible idea.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Rory Michaelson:
My version of outlining is just a few bullet points to glance back at when I start to lose my way. Other than that, it's all vibes. For me, plotting is something I find more useful to retreat to if I'm losing my way or in edits rather than as a prospective tool for first drafts.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Rory Michaelson:
I started querying with a different project which I shelved after about six months when it wasn't getting any nibbles at 51 queries sent, and I started with this one about a month into querying my other when I tested the waters at a pitch event, and it got a fair bit of interest. I queried this one for about ten months, so in total an eleven-month period and then a month from the first offer to my announcement of representation—so a neat year in all.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Rory Michaelson:
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Rory Michaelson:
I went on MSWL and just searched 'queer' and 'LGBT' as my ideal was to work with a queer agent, which I felt that may help them connect with my voice and characters more. Over time, I branched out a bit and instead started checking the QueryTracker newsletter every week and researching every agent listed individually to see if they might be interested in my story and keeping my own excel spreadsheet on the side for additional notes.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Rory Michaelson:
I had a standard query letter designed for optional insertion of brief personalisation at the opening. This usually included a sentence or two mentioning some of the things they said they liked or other things from their MSWL that linked with my story.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Rory Michaelson:
My favourite advice I've seen is to make your query letter read in the same voice as your book. I think this is a great way to introduce prospective agents to your style and adds exponentially to the standard things you're supposed to include and help them better connect to what it is you're putting out there straight off the bat. Other than that, be kind to yourself. Due to all the pressures on agents, authors are often working with limited feedback on how their query package is hitting due to CNR's and form rejections. They call it the query trenches and it definitely feels that way often, but it’s also a great opportunity for connecting and networking with other querying authors, agented authors as potential mentors, and even agents who may not feel you're the right fit for their list but are interested in you and your work and would love to cheer you on from the sidelines as you continue your journey.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Rory Michaelson:
Of course! Here you go:

Query Letter:

Dear Agent,

Brief personalisation: e.g. [I saw that you were seeking spooky YA stories that included diverse characters, found-family, and high stakes, so was excited to query you with this project which is a subversion of the ‘bury your gays’ trope, giving queer characters from classic horror scenarios a second chance.]

UNBURY YOUR GAYS is a 95,000-word YA dark contemporary fantasy which could be described as They Both Die at the End meets “Cabin in the Woods”. UNBURY YOUR GAYS puts a harmful trope to rest with the power of found-family and queer resilience, and includes intersectional queer, non-binary, and neurodivergent (ADHD, autism, and mental health) representation, which are identities I share.

Dylan has only just arrived in the withered woods of the afterlife, but Death has taken a special interest in him. Perhaps the handsome and mercurial young Reaper is smitten, or it could be that he senses something different about him. When he gives Dylan his choice: pass on peacefully or risk his immortal soul for a second chance at life in a game, the answer is predictable. When mortals come here, most of their memories of their life and death are gone, but still, they chase a glimmer of hope over certain demise.

Dylan joins the other queer teens in the cabin in the heart of the haunted forest and learns that strange doors sporadically appear through which their memories return, and they relive their final days. Defeat what killed them, and return to life; fail, they’ll join the lost souls that lurk between the twisted trees. Perils from murderous clowns to deep-sea dinosaurs await, mingled with trauma from abusive parents, oppressive government regimes, and all the growing pains of being seventeen. Fuelled by the group’s belief that he’s the key to them getting out, and the unbreakable bonds they forge, Dylan sets his sights on not only saving them but changing Death’s design. Through his hot and cold relationship with the young Reaper, and a chess like series of dangerous deals, Dylan seeks to topple the odds stacked against them and unbury all the other gays, even if that means staying buried himself.

I’ve previously published an adult fantasy trilogy (more information in my media kit via my bio at, which has sold over ten-thousand copies and been featured on recommendation lists from Lambda Literary and Book Riot. I am an active member of the Horror Writers Association and enjoy engaging with readers and other authors via social media, and currently work full-time in sciences, but am hoping to spend more time writing in the future.

Thank you for your consideration,

Rory Michaelson (they/them)