Success Story Interview - TE Carter

An Interview with TE Carter (Writer1111 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City 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?
TE Carter:
The book, currently titled I STOP SOMEWHERE, is a contemporary YA/adult crossover. It's about a girl who goes missing during her sophomore year of high school, but she's the kind of girl nobody noticed when she was around. So finding her is nearly impossible. Add to that the fact that she's living in a town severely damaged by the mortgage crisis, a town full of hundreds of abandoned properties, and it seems like she's destined to be forgotten.

I was inspired by a strange combination of things, but no one thing in particular. I had been spending a lot of time reading books and watching movies dealing with experiences of teen girls in general, especially how easily they are invalidated in our society. The news also contributed with the consistent way we seem to ignore rape, sexual assault, and other victimization of women.
QT: How long have you been writing?
TE Carter:
My whole life really, but I'd say 15 years or so since I really started thinking about next steps.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
TE Carter:
This is a strange one, because sometimes books take me forever and some just happen very fast. This one came to me towards the end of 2015 and in a few months, I'd had it written, revised, and out for querying. I had 10-hour days with this, because I was so desperate to get it out onto the page.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
TE Carter:
Many, many times. In fact, I did give up in a way. This isn't the first book I've written or queried. About a year ago, I told myself to take a break. I stopped writing for a couple months, then started writing again without telling anyone. I wasn't thinking about publishing anymore or thinking about why I was writing. I just needed to sit down and write, because it was my nature. Honestly, I think that's what helped me. It was putting aside everything else and getting back to loving it.
QT: Is this your first book?
TE Carter:
It's not. It's one of many and it's not even the first I've queried. It's the first I've gotten representation for, though (I admit I only worked very hard on querying one other book, but I've done a short query process before moving on in the past).
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
TE Carter:
I have a degree in writing, plus a professional background in literature and writing. I don't work in writing in a way that connects me to publishing or agents, though.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
TE Carter:
I don't. I have days where I don't write, days when I write because I feel like I should but don't spend a lot of time on it, and days where I write from the time I get up to the time I go to bed with barely a break. It really depends where my mind is and I find I produce better writing when I let that happen. Sometimes it's not an option, but I have a pretty flexible life so it works for me.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
TE Carter:
Three or four, I think? It's hard to say, because while writing the first draft, I kept going back and editing. Once that was done, I actually opened a new doc in Word and started writing the book again from the beginning. It's pretty different, but the things that automatically went back in the second writing were the parts I felt worked the best. After I finished that version, I had a few revision runs and then a basic proofread. (Yet I worry there are still typos!)
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
TE Carter:
A little of both. I write from the hip, but I will randomly be walking or doing something and think of something to add to the story. When that happens, I create a list of notes and ideas, so I pull from them later. That's my outline, though. It's just a list of ideas and thoughts.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
TE Carter:
For previous books, I queried three but gave up fairly quickly. One really shouldn't have been queried, but I was young and enthusiastic. One I lost interest in and that didn't bode well for the process. The third I was excited about, but the market wasn't right for it, so I put it aside. And on the fourth, I queried for a while - almost 200 agents - and got nowhere. I moved on eventually.

For this one, it was a whirlwind experience. I sent my first batch of queries on a Sunday night. By the next afternoon, I had a request for a full. Two days later, I had the offer. I then sent out more fulls and received additional offers before accepting and landing an agent. If I had taken the offer right away, it would have been less than four days. Even with giving others a chance to read, the process took less than two weeks.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
TE Carter:
I think it was about 20 in total. A couple were actually sent as part of a feedback service some agents were offering. I sent my first batch of 12 on that Sunday. While it was being read, I had a few rejections and send new ones to replace those. By the time I had the offer, I still had about 14 out, including those feedback queries. I withdrew some once I had another 8 requests for fulls.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
TE Carter:
They represented my genre was obviously first. Some were a better fit based on MSWL and some had favorite books that I connected to with my manuscript. I actually had a very detailed spreadsheet with about 60 names when I sent out the first batch and I wasn't done yet. I built the spreadsheet slowly and when a rejection came in, I looked for a few more to add. I never had a chance to contact those other 40+, never mind the others I didn't get to yet!
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
TE Carter:
When I could, yes. In fact, the best feedback I received from agents was on the ones I did. My offers came from people I'd customized my query for, as did my more personalized rejections. It was very important to me to find someone who would get it and who was looking for something like this, so I tried to give them a reason to want to read it. The agent I signed with actually asked on her MSWL for dark YA contemporary and a few of the others asked for feminist elements. This was the first sentence in my query for these agents.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
TE Carter:
Take time to research. Make a list and make note of why you are querying them. Follow the directions for submission! Finally, some people recommend querying with an almost complete MS or querying backup agents to "test the waters." That seems like a bad idea, in my opinion. I had a request in less than 24 hours, so it's good the book was done! I had an offer in under four days and was thrilled, but if I'd selected an agent I didn't want to sign with, it would have been a mess!

Query Letter:

Based on your interest in dark contemporary YA, I'd love to have you consider my novel, I STOP SOMEWHERE, complete at 64K words. THE LOVELY BONES meets ALL THE RAGE in a town damaged by the mortgage crisis, the story follows a missing girl who knows what kinds of secrets empty, forgotten houses hold.

Ellie Frias was fifteen when she went missing. A quiet girl who never seems to belong anywhere, she worries that looking different from everyone else makes her unlikable. When she transitions from Catholic school to public school as a freshman, she feels lucky to fall in love with Caleb Breward, son of a local real estate developer.

Having access to zombie homes – the abandoned homes left behind during the economic collapse – provides Caleb and his brother a location to carry out their darkest wishes. Ellie wasn’t the first, but now, she watches them do it again and again. She waits for someone to find her. The problem is that her fear of standing out led her to disappear – before she actually did.

In Hollow Oaks, NY, it’s not surprising that a person can be forgotten. The town is a modern ghost town. There are hundreds of places a girl could be, but no sign of what happened to Ellie. She’s a forgotten girl who never found her voice, and now she waits to discover it. She wants to find somebody who can stop the way they hurt the girls of the town and Ellie hopes the town won’t forget girls the way it forgets places.