Success Story Interview - Stefanie Gaither

An Interview with Stefanie Gaither (StefanieGaither on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Sara Megibow of KT Literary.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Stefanie Gaither:
I'd love to! FALLS THE SHADOW is a YA sci-fi thriller. It's filled with clones and murder and sketchy scientists. And also kissing. And guns. And cool cars. At it's heart, though, it's a book about family--both the lengths you go to for them, and what you do when you find out they're not everything you thought they were, and then finding a way to pick up the pieces and identify yourself outside of what you've always known. As far as inspiration, I suppose I started with a theme (it's the former English major in me) that I wanted to explore--identity, family--and then a character who was struggling with these things. Then the scene that eventually became chapter one started unfolding in my head while I was listening to "Leave My Body" by Florence + the Machine (my then and current obsession), and I was off.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Stefanie Gaither:
Towards publication? About three years. But as a teen, I dabbled in (painfully bad) poetry--had notebooks full of the stuff, along with the occasional beginning of a novel that never went anywhere.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Stefanie Gaither:
I got the idea in January, and wrote the first three chapters in two crazy productive days. Then I set it aside, out of sight and out of mind, because I was actually getting ready to start querying the last book I wrote. I didn't pick it up again until mid-April; then I wrote non-stop, and finished the book on the first of June. After a round of revisions, I sent out my first queries on June 22nd. So, all in all, about two, two and a half months.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Stefanie Gaither:
Oh goodness yes. I don't think you can write three books and get rejected over and over without wondering, at some point, if you're ever going to make it (and if you can, then I envy you. I also sort of don't believe you). I think what's most important, though, is whether or not you give in to those feelings. It's okay to have a moment of weakness, as long as you pick yourself up and come back for more.
QT: Is this your first book?
Stefanie Gaither:
Nope! This is lucky number four.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Stefanie Gaither:
I have a B.A. in English, and I took every course focused on creative writing that I could.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Stefanie Gaither:
Ha! That would be a no. I'm all over the place. Although I do set word count goals usually, and I tend to write more in the afternoon (if I can get away from home and get to a coffeeshop) or late, late at night, when my husband and dog are snoozing away.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Stefanie Gaither:
This is sort of a tough question, because I'm one of those people that tends to edit as I go along. I'm a perfectionist, and I don't move on until a scene is at least approaching perfect. With this book though, I did go through one sort of major revision after finishing, since I had to rewrite some scenes and move things around for plot related reasons (per my readers' advice). After that it was just quick readthroughs and line-edits.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Stefanie Gaither:
I have one dedicated, amazing CP (hi Leah! *waves*) who helps me with brainstorming, working through problems, etc...and she is awesome and you can't have her. I also have a handful of readers who give me more general feedback as well.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Stefanie Gaither:
In the past, I've never really bother with outlining. With this book though, it sort of outlined itself; when I was brainstorming one day, I just started writing down possible plot points, and eventually the whole plot had just fallen onto the page. It diverged a little bit from that initial writing, but not much.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Stefanie Gaither:
I sent out my first queries on June 22nd, and got my first offer on July 10th. Other books, I've queried an average of 3 or 4 months before moving on.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Stefanie Gaither:
20. I ended up with 13 full requests and 4 offers, and lots of "out-of-office" replies in my inbox (the middle of summer might not be the best time to query for some people!)
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Stefanie Gaither:
A combination of things; reptuable agencies, good sales record, online presence, and--and this is really important to me--personality. I wanted a nice person that I would enjoy working with, because life is too short to not enjoy work or the people you work with, even if publishing is a "business".
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Stefanie Gaither:
I didn't worry about this as much as in the past. I mostly kept it brief, maybe mentioned their blog or something they'd said on twitter. I figured I'd let the query do most of the talking. So most of those agents will never know what a hardcore stalker I am (because, even if I didn't include what I'd read, I DID read every single interview, twitter chat, etc... that I could find, so when I sent each query, I really did believe it was a good fit).
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Stefanie Gaither:
Don't. Give. Up. You hear that over and over in publishing, but persistence is really the key to success. And another thing, one of my favorite quotes that I've recently discovered, remember that "the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes to other people's highlight reels". I just think this quote is BRILLIANT, because it is so easy to feel down on yourself when you see other people racking up full requests and offers--even if you are happy for those people. Just remember that they struggled at some point to, and they eventually made it, so you can too!
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Stefanie Gaither:
Sure! Here goes (minus the personalizations and stuff):

Query Letter:

When Cate Benson was twelve, her sister died. Two hours after the funeral, they picked up Violet’s replacement, and the family made it home in time for dinner and a game of cards. It's the year 2055, and Cate's parents are among the wealthy elite who can afford to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth. So this new Violet has the same smile. The same laugh. That same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all the same memories as the girl she replaced.

She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.

Or at least, that’s what the paparazzi and the crazy anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that, though. She’s used to standing up for her sister too, and she’s determined to do it now—even if proving Violet’s innocence means taking on those protestors and anyone else attacking her family. But when her own life is threatened—not by protestors, but by the very scientists who created her sister’s clone—Cate starts questioning everything she thought she knew about the cloning movement. About herself. About her sister.

And the answers she finds reveal a more sinister purpose for her sister’s copy—and her own replacement—than she ever could have imagined.