Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker.
Learn More...
Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker. Learn More...

Success Story Interview - Tori Kelley

An Interview with Tori Kelley (torikelley on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Tina Schwartz of The Purcell Agency, LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Tori Kelley:
It's about a girl who has con artists for parents but she wants to see if she can make a fresh start. I didn't have a great childhood and believe it was my optimism that got me through in order to create my good life as adult. I wanted to write a hope-inspired story for young adults that I needed to read when I was in the trenches as a kid.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Tori Kelley:
My whole life. I wrote my first play in sixth grade that was performed during a class period for the sixth and seventh graders. I figured if writing was powerful enough to get kids out of class, I might be onto something.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Tori Kelley:
2.5 years
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Tori Kelley:
The crazy thing about me is I never give up. Sometimes, I wallow. But then I get back to work. My mentor, critique group and husband helped me through my wallowing.
QT: Is this your first book?
Tori Kelley:
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Tori Kelley:
Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy. So, just writing for college-level work.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Tori Kelley:
Yes. I write in two separate sessions every day except Saturday, from 11am-2:30pm, and from 9pm-11:30pm (while kids are in school and after the family goes to bed).
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Tori Kelley:
Version 8.0 got the agent.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Tori Kelley:
Yes, several, about 10.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Tori Kelley:
I outline the basic plot and then see what happens and allow for things to change along the way.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Tori Kelley:
Jan 2014 - April 2015, so about a year and a half.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Tori Kelley:
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Tori Kelley:
I researched each one for YA contemporary preferences.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Tori Kelley:
Yes. I Googled each one online to find something to connect me to them. I figured if we had something in common, maybe we'd be a match. Like favorite books, or hobbies.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Tori Kelley:
Never give up, it only takes one yes. Keep writing and keep learning how to become better at your craft. I attended dozens of writing classes/workshops/conferences/boot camps, etc. that helped me grow as a writer. Definitely invest in a writing coach.

Query Letter:

HEADBANGER is about a girl who is sexually assaulted, and can’t get help from the police because her parents are wanted criminals. It's a realistic YA, along the lines of HEIST SOCIETY meets SPEAK, but in the tone of TRUST ME I'M LYING, complete at 86,000 words.

As a survivor myself, I grew up in a military household with a bipolar mom and a disconnected dad, nobody was allowed to get help. Moving around aided us in hiding our secrets. I hope by sharing them in a fictional format, others will be encouraged to get help, rather than suffer alone as I did.

Seventeen-year-old Elton Morelli never thought her first job would be a home invasion. With thieving con artists for parents, Elton’s never been able to settle down long enough to have the things she dreams of like friends and an education. But as her senior year winds down, the chance for a normal life seems even farther away. Not that she really knows anything about normal, with her inconvenient panic attacks and chronic headbanging, Elton is mostly just trying to survive. When her mother pushes her to enter the Miss Palm Tree pageant for the prizes, Elton takes the opportunity to snag a college scholarship, opening the doors of friendship, and a glimpse at love with a nice boy. Things are finally looking up, until she’s sexually assaulted, and can’t call the police. To make matters worse, her parents have decided that the nice boy’s family is their next mark. Elton must decide whether to stay loyal to a family that uses her, or to break free, and build the life she’s never known she deserved.

I earned a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy, and opened Central Florida Mental Health because I, like Elton, needed a more stable life in order to heal from PTSD. I am an active member of SCBWI, attending conferences, the Osceola Writer’s League critique group, a volunteer librarian, and a mentee of award-winning author, Joyce Sweeney. My Dear Abby-style advice column, Talking with Tori, was published in the South Lake Press, every week for five years. My current work-in-progress is THE BIPOLAR EXPRESS about a bad-ass in denial of her illness.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you,