Success Story Interview - Steve Cordero

An Interview with Steve Cordero (SCordero on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent John Rudolph 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?
Steve Cordero:
The book is called DRACAURUM, a YA multicultural fantasy set in Medieval Spain. My author friend Cindy Pon inspired me to write the book because of her own novel, the excellent YA multicultural fantasy SILVER PHOENIX, which is set in Ancient China. Being Latino, I wanted to write a YA fantasy dealing with Spanish culture and mythology which, admittedly, I don't see much of. The closest is Guy Gavriel Kay's awesome THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN, but that's adult fantasy. Plus, I'm a big fan of ERAGON, GRACELING, EON, and anything by Tamora Pierce and wanted to write something in that vein.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Steve Cordero:
Forever, LOL. No, I started seriously writing fiction back in 2000, or at least wanted to do so seriously. Although I had been storytelling since childhood I had never put anything to paper (or pixel) besides plot outlines. In order to learn the mechanics I enrolled in Gotham Writers Workshop and did that for about two to three years. Invaluable learning experience.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Steve Cordero:
I first wrote DRACAURUM as part of NaNoWriMo 2010. For those who don't know, that's when writers commit to write 50,000 words in the month of November (30 days) as a personal goal. I was able to write the first draft in 30 days, did a revision, and then sent it to two writing friends to beta, Sue and Gretchen. They told me what sucked about the book, I revised through about 2 more drafts, then sent it off to two more writing friends, Jenn and Tracey to beta. From first round to second round of betaing I ended up adding about 30,000 words and with the "final" draft (they'll be more with agent revision suggestions) I ended up with 80,000 word book finished and ready to query in mid to late May, 2011.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Steve Cordero:
A lot of times, but I guess I'm too stubborn or too stupid to quite. Maybe a little of both. DRACAURUM is the 7th novel I've written and queried over the last 8 years (I queried my first book in 2003). I piled up a ton of rejections (a lot of snail mail Rs back then) and some promising full requests, but nothing panned out until my six book, I, NEMESIS and DRACAURUM (more explanation below). I blogged about my journey in more detail:
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Steve Cordero:
I'm an attorney who practices litigation so advocacy writing is part of my profession and helped me with creative writing because, in essence, I have to sell a story to judge or jury to convince them that my client should win. As I mentioned above, I also took classes with Gotham Writers Workshop.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Steve Cordero:
I usually spend a couple of weeks plotting out a book before I do any writing. For DRACAURUM, I had two weeks because I committed to the book idea in mid October and had NaNoWriMo coming up. I write during lunch at work and in the evenings after my son (who just graduated from kindergarten) goes to bed as well as my wife. My wife is out cold by 10 pm. So I get about 2 to 3 hrs of writing in per weekda and more on the weekend, mainly Sundays.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Steve Cordero:
Seven drafts in total, the first being the NaNoWriMo version and the seventh the one John read.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Steve Cordero:
Yes, I had four, two for the first round and two for the second. Sue, Gretchen, Jenn, and Tracey are awesome and their input was invaluable.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Steve Cordero:
I used to be a big outliner in the past with a multipage outline drafted up, but with DRACAURUM I did a 1 page handwritten one with bullet points. The whole story spans 10 days with 2 parallel story arcs for the hero Alejandro and his older sister Alisa so I needed to have an idea what was happening for both on each given day.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Steve Cordero:
As I mentioned, I've been querying my writing for 8 years on 7 books. I queried DRACAURUM for about a month. But there is a different wrinkle in how I ended up signing with John. Technically, I never formally queried him on the book. Here's the brief story:

I first queried John earlier this year on my 6th book, a YA urban fantasy called I, NEMESIS. He liked it, but said it needed too much work in order for him to offer representation. He suggested a revise & resubmit and also invited me to send him any other manuscript I had. I had DRACAURUM and sent it to him with a copy of the query I had been using. A week later we had THE phone call, he offered rep, I said yes, and the rest is history.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Steve Cordero:
About 60 queries, with a handful of requests, some rejections and a lot of non-responders.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Steve Cordero:
Being so versed in the queryING process, unfortunately (LOL), what I was looking for on DRACAURUM was an agent with experience in selling or pubbing YA (if he/she had been an editor before), and one who is on the editorial side of agenting rather than strictly contractual. In other words, I was looking for an agent who can collaborate with me on the project rather than strictly do contracts and sell the book. I want both, editorial agent and contractual agent. I love working with betas, bouncing ideas off each other and I wanted that with my agent. I've been an attorney for over 10 years so I know contracts and am pretty comfortable about that aspect of the business.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Steve Cordero:
Generally, no besides the name. I did add a detail or two if it was pertinent to the book itself.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Steve Cordero:
To be real. Talent and hard work is not enough in this business because so much of it is out of our hands. Just keep on writing and querying. There's no guarantee success will come about by doing that, but there is an absolute guarantee that it won't if you stop.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Steve Cordero:
Sure, here it is:

Query Letter:

Ten days. That's all the time sixteen-year-old Alejandro has to do the impossible—steal a dragon's fabled treasure of gold, the Dracaurum. It is the only way he can ransom his older sister Alisa from the corrupt Constable of Toledo. Alejandro would rather run his sword through the fiend than thieve the gold for him, but that's not an option, at least not yet.

While Alisa plots her own escape and that of the dozen other girls trapped in the Constable's secret harem, Alejandro battles desert raiders, a bloodthirsty succubus, and a Cyclops as he presses on to the dragon's mountain lair. Yet when he discovers that the Dracaurum is not what everyone believes, his quest may prove futile and the chance to save his sister may be lost forever.

DRACAURUM is a completed 80,000-word multicultural YA fantasy set in Medieval Spain that is told from Alejandro's and Alisa's points of view. It should appeal to fans of such authors as Tamora Pierce, Christopher Paolini, and Kristin Cashore. The manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.