Success Story Interview - Stephanie Thornton

An Interview with Stephanie Thornton (thornton_stephanie on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Marlene Stringer of Stringer 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?
Stephanie Thornton:
The Secret History is about Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire. She got a pretty raw deal from the major historians from her era (all men), so I wanted to give her story a human side. Procopius, the major historian at the time, actually portrays her as a demon. (I have a few choice words for him, but unfortunately, he's been dead for close to 1,500 years).
QT: How long have you been writing?
Stephanie Thornton:
My story journals from 2nd grade probably don't count so I'm going to say 11 years. I've dabbled with writing since around 2001 and started my first novel exactly four years ago this month.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Stephanie Thornton:
I started The Secret History in October 2010 and finished the first draft in May 2011, researching along the way. The final version was finished early December 2011.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Stephanie Thornton:
Compared to my first book, this one was relatively painless. There were still times I wanted to chuck my laptop out the window, but I didn't seriously consider giving up. My first book was a different story. It's amazing I don't live in a rubber room after that one. Running, family, and writer friends helped me stay mostly sane.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Stephanie Thornton:
None at all.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Stephanie Thornton:
I have a five-year-old monkey so I pretty much just write at night after she's in bed for the night. Sometimes I can get a good chunk written on weekend mornings before the little simian wakes up.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Stephanie Thornton:
I write and edit on paper first (weird, I know), so each page has been gone over twice by the time the revisions get in the computer. So I think that brings the grand total to 6 revisions.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Stephanie Thornton:
Of course! I had several writers read the opening chapters and two amazing readers critique the entire story--I owe them big time!
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Stephanie Thornton:
My #1 rule in writing is not to mess up the real history so I outline to keep the facts straight, but always leave room for my characters to surprise me.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Stephanie Thornton:
I queried this book for almost exactly one month before receiving an offer of representation, but I queried my first book for a year. It received an offer, but the agent's philosophy didn't mesh with mine so I put it on the back burner to work on The Secret History.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Stephanie Thornton:
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Stephanie Thornton:
I wanted an editorial agent with a good record of selling historical fiction. Querytracker, Absolute Write, and Publisher's Marketplace told me everything I needed to know to create my list of agents.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Stephanie Thornton:
I didn't tailor each query this time because I'm not convinced it makes a difference unless you have a referral or met the agent at a conference. Page requests really boil down to the writing and whether the agent is hooked by your query.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Stephanie Thornton:
Wait for feedback from agents with pages before sending out the next batch of queries. And never, ever give up! (Just eat lots of chocolate and run it off instead).

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Stringer,

After her father dies, Theodora claws her way past every other theater tart in the city--including her older sister--to become Constantinople's premier actress. She accompanies a wealthy merchant to the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire, chasing his promises of a bronze marriage belt and the red sandals of a patrician, but he abandons her before either realizes she carries his child. Alone with an infant son and no means of survival, Theodora sells her body to make her way back to the capital. There she is introduced to Emperor Justinian.

He wants her.

But Theodora can be mother or Empress, not both.

The Emperor needs a wife who can provide him with an heir, not a woman with a son to tangle the line to the throne. Theodora must decide what's more important: keeping the son the Emperor can never know about or pleasing the powerful man who claims to love her.

THE SECRET HISTORY is historical fiction complete at 100,000 words.

I am a history teacher who has traveled to Istanbul for research and am currently at work on my next novel about XXXX.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Stephanie Thornton