Success Story Interview - Serena Thompson

An Interview with Serena Thompson (sik0123 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?
Serena Thompson:
So I've always loved YA, and that's what I primarily read, and 100% what I wanted to write. I think I fell in love with contemporary about halfway through Stephanie Perkin's ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS - I finished it, and just sat there thinking "I could write something like this. I WANT to write something like this."
QT: How long have you been writing?
Serena Thompson:
I wrote some silly things as a child, and went through a pretty serious Pride & Prejudice fanfic stage in high school. All that was tabled through undergrad, and I picked it up again shortly after graduating, and started on this book. Then, I unfortunately stopped again while going through med school, and recommitted to it about two years ago.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Serena Thompson:
Yikes, well honestly about six years. I wrote the first 20% before med school, and didn't touch it again until about two years ago. Then I wrote the other 80% in about 3 months, revised it, entered Author Mentor Match on Twitter and got in! I was paired with an incredible mentor, and we revised AGAIN. And AGAIN. Then I finally started querying in January 2020.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Serena Thompson:
Honestly, it was probably a few months after I finished it. I was so elated when I got to the end, but that first draft was a...mess. I fumbled around trying to figure out how to edit it. I bought books. I paid established authors read and edit my first few pages. I hired an editor to help me understand all the basics of writing I clearly had just bypassed in college (science degrees, y'all). It was pretty discouraging when I saw HOW MUCH work needed to be done, and I had no idea what I was doing.
QT: Is this your first book?
Serena Thompson:
It is!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Serena Thompson:
Not even a little bit! Just an imagination and a lot of enthusiasm.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Serena Thompson:
I'm definitely more structured when drafting. Those three months where I pounded out that first draft were a bit of a blur. I tried to be structured about my revisions, but I feel like I could never decide when it was actually done. I would revise a chapter in the morning, and then go back that evening and completely change it again. I probably drug it out much longer than I needed to.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Serena Thompson:
Lord. Well, I did one revision with an editor I hired, which was a lot of grammar and pacing. Then after I got into Author Mentor Match, I did one complete revision with my mentor (the amazing Sophie Gonzales whose book Only Mostly Devastated comes out March 2020), and that was a pretty big overhaul. Then she read my changes, and we did another pass with some smaller edits. It took me forever to get my finished drafts back to her though, because I changed it over and OVER again.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Serena Thompson:
I actually met a lot of amazing CPs through Author Mentor Match, and a few just randomly on Twitter. We've been sharing manuscripts, and giving each other feedback, and it's been amazing to get a sense of what people respond to most in this book or things that just aren't landing.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Serena Thompson:
I wrote from the hip, which was just bananas, and probably made my revisions way harder than they should have been. My character arcs were super one-dimensional, nothing propelled the story forward, and I had people just bumping around like Sims. It wasn't until I actually mapped out what I wanted to happen, and what I wanted my character to experience, that I made any progress.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Serena Thompson:
This was my actually my first attempt at querying, and I had a really unusual experience. Honestly, it really makes me think that timing it probably everything, and really researching the agents you are querying and making sure they are looking for your type of MS is IMPORTANT. I started querying January 4th, and got a full request on the 6th. I received a few other full requests on the 16th, and then the agent who asked for my first full offered representation on the 17th. I let everyone know, received a few more requests for fulls, and had another offer of rep on the 24th. I ultimately decided, and signed with my current agent on the 31st.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Serena Thompson:
Ummm, I sent out an initial wave of 10 queries, and after I had a really great response and I sent out maybe another 9. Then it all moved so quickly, and I didn't send out anything else.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Serena Thompson:
I really dove deep into their #MSWL's! My MS is about theater kids and Shakespeare, and the agent I ended up going with had mentioned that he was a huge theater geek.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Serena Thompson:
Like I said above, I mentioned that I was also a theater geek, and shared my query which highlighted the dynamics of my awkward, theater kids.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Serena Thompson:
Nobody ever learns anything, or progresses in a vacuum. Get out there. Meet other writers, join writing groups, and apply to incredible programs like Author Mentor Match or PitchWars if you feel like your MS might need something else - but you're not sure what. There are so many resources out there. Most of all, you should just keep writing!

Query Letter:

Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Quinn doesn't text or tweet and thinks the Kardashians are the nice, elderly couple that live up the street. She is awkward, easily confused by social cues, and has always preferred the company of books to people. When homeschooling is no longer an option, she takes a shot and finds herself accepted by the University of Oxford, and on track to study statistical genetics.

Beatrice thought the hardest part would be getting into Oxford, not convincing her parents to let her go. They've put a halt to her plans until she can prove she is able to make friends with people her own age and function in social situations. Their solution: theater camp and a detailed list of teenage milestones to check off. She has six weeks at the Connecticut Shakespearean Summer Academy to show her parents she can pull off the role of "normal" teenager and won't spend the rest of her life hiding in a library.

Beatrice tackles the list with her usual brand of dogged research and sarcasm, and she knows anything less than a perfect score will ruin her shot at Oxford. Unfortunately, hearts and hormones don't follow any rules, and there is no textbook for teenage interactions. When she's adopted by a group of eclectic theater kids and immediately makes an enemy of the gorgeous, popular son of the camp founders, she begins to realize that relationships might be trickier than calculus. As the summer draws to an end, and with Oxford on the a, this girl genius stumbles through illicit parties, double dog dares, and more than your fair share of Shakespeare. Before the final curtain falls, she begins to wonder if Oxford alone will still be enough.

WHEREFORE ART THOU BEATRICE QUINN? is a YA contemporary complete at 80,000 words. It is a standalone with series potential and would appeal to fans of the TV show ATYPICAL meets Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley's ALWAYS NEVER YOURS, with a dash of Sonia Hartl's HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME.

WHEREFORE ART THOU BEATRICE QUINN? was selected for Round Five of Author Mentor Match where I completed extensive revisions under the guidance of a published YA author. I currently work in medicine, but I've never forgotten my theater roots, and would love to share those experiences with others.