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Success Story Interview - Tere Kirkland

An Interview with Tere Kirkland (TereLiz on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Tere Kirkland:
Of course! EVANGELINE is a young adult paranormal romance, with a hint of time travel and a healthy dose of witchcraft. Because I live in New Orleans, I wanted to write a YA novel set here. Since I work at a museum, I wanted to incorporate some of the city's colorful history into the story.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Tere Kirkland:
I started writing as a teen, 14 or 15. I only completed one novel, but I started countless more. I stopped writing when I went to college for art history. I've been writing with the desire to publish since late 2005. Amazing how it took Hurricane Katrina and losing a bunch of stuff in a fire for me to realize that there's no time like the present to make your dreams come true.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Tere Kirkland:
I started Evangeline in November 2008 as a NaNoWriMo project, so I must have had the idea for it in October, and started writing in my notebook. No, I didn't get 50K in 30 days, but I stuck with it.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Tere Kirkland:
After my first round of querying garnered me a number or manuscript requests, but agents were telling me they just didn't connect with my MC, I wanted to trunk the manuscript. Instead, I worked on another manuscript, and this time the MC's voice was so clear to me, I was able to use what I learned writing her story and apply it to Evangeline. This helped me realize I was actually progressing as a writer, and gave me hope that I could make Evangeline much better.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Tere Kirkland:
Goodness, no. Unless you count the training I have writing art-historical dissertations. While I had to totally change my style, my background as a researcher and my interest in history have definitely helped form what I like to write about. I love researching, and get a lot of ideas for my stories from true events.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Tere Kirkland:
I write when I can find the time, and I try to write for at least a few hours straight on Saturdays, since I usually have the house to myself. I try to write every day in my notebook, and I'm ALWAYS thinking about my novels. Especially when I'm supposed to be thinking about something else.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Tere Kirkland:
I revised for Rosemary twice before she offered representation, and before that, I must have done a good half dozen revisions, with different openings and even one third person version. That was a disaster.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Tere Kirkland:
My sister was the first to read it, and though she was surprisingly critical, I didn't get any real feedback until I started soliciting betas from sites like Query Tracker and Absolute Write Water Cooler. I have a small crit group now, and my fellow Word Wrestlers are the awesomesauce.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Tere Kirkland:
I'm a die-hard plotter. I need to write scene synopses in my notebook before I start typing. Writing my current WiP, I let the hero take the plot into his own hands for about 5K words, and now I have no idea what to do next. It was really fresh, amazing writing, though, so I've been trying to convince myself to write a little more spontaneously.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Tere Kirkland:
Started querying in April 2009, waaaaay before I was ready. I queried Rosemary in late April 2010, she requested it like a day later to my surprise. I queried the two previous novels, but only sent a handful of letters for each. That was before I knew how to write a good query and before I'd discovered QT.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Tere Kirkland:
99, with about a 15% request rate. Not too shabby, if I do say so. Half were outright rejections, but I didn't let that get me down. It only takes one.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Tere Kirkland:
Genre, first, and when I first started querying, I chose agents who were renowned to be quick responders. I'm not very patient and that was nearly my downfall. I've learned a lot since then.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Tere Kirkland:
I tailored almost every query, which took a long time. I'd address it to them specifically, of course, and then give a reason I thought they'd be interested in my novel, often citing novels their clients wrote, or something they particularly said they were looking for in a bio or interview. I love reading agent interviews and I'd keep notes on QT about what they preferred to see in a query.

They all seemed to want something different, but I figured a well-crafted query would grab anyone's attention. For a while, I think my query was "better" than my novel, since I'd get requests, but the responses after reading the ms were less than enthused.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Tere Kirkland:
Get a crit group to be sure your work is ready for an agent. Read agent blogs and writer blogs and research what makes a good query. Get feedback on said query. Join a different group like QT to keep track of who you queried when. And be PATIENT. The publishing industry is not only slow, it's a small world. You never know what bridges you might be burning by querying too early. Also, be professional. This is a business, and a query letter is a business letter.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Tere Kirkland:
I'd love to share the first half, since I don't want to give too much of the story away. I did send quite a few agents this version and got a handful of requests, so I'd call it a "successful" query:

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Stimola;

Due to your agency's interest in YA supernatural novels, I'd like to offer EVANGELINE, a paranormal romance for young adults, for your representation.

Evie Cowen is used to being a nobody. Too bad fate has other plans for her.

A week after she moves to her grandmother’s old house in New Orleans, she finds a tarot card that does more than simply tell her future—it makes it. Whisked back in time (not that she’s with it enough to realize that at first), she’s frightened by a strange girl in her home (which has changed drastically), kidnapped, drugged, and almost sacrificed to a demon. As if that isn’t bad enough, she can’t even touch the hand of her gorgeous young rescuer, the demon hunting Jude Dulac, without burning them both.

Which, of course, makes Jude dislike her instantly (at least, that’s what Evie thinks). For some reason, he hides this fact from his family, and the rest of the Cerberus Society, just as Evie hides the fact that she was transported through time. Sure, the society deals with demons, but will they believe a time-traveling tarot card brought her back to 1880? Doubtful. Between her mixed feelings for Jude to figure out, a mysterious coven of underage witches to protect, and her own newly awakened powers to tame, Evie doubts she’ll ever get home. She isn’t even sure she wants to...

I work at [redacted], where I was able to research the historical period. I hope EVANGELINE will appeal to readers who enjoyed Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy, and A.S. King’s “Dust of 100 Dogs”. The first page follows. A partial or the full manuscript, complete at 96,000 words, can be provided at your request.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.