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Success Story Interview - Tracy Bilen

An Interview with Tracy Bilen (bluedog on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary 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?
Tracy Bilen:
In WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, a young adult thriller, Sara’s mom disappears – and her dad is the most likely suspect. WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND sold to Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster and was published in May 2012. I was inspired to write it by an image in my mind: of girl, a suitcase, and a gun.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Tracy Bilen:
I’ve loved writing since I was in elementary school, but I started to write novels soon after graduating from college.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Tracy Bilen:
I spent about a year and a half writing and revising WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Tracy Bilen:
Yes, I tried to “give up” writing several times, but I could never stay away for long. I would get this nagging feeling like there was something I was supposed to be doing!
QT: Is this your first book?
Tracy Bilen:
WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND was the third manuscript that I’d finished.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Tracy Bilen:
I took the Novel and Advanced Novel courses from Writer’s Digest University and I was the winner of the 2009 SCBWI Michigan mentorship competition. My prize was a year-long mentorship with a Michigan author.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Tracy Bilen:
I give myself a daily word count goal and keep track of my progress in a notebook. I usually write late at night, but when I have the opportunity I also enjoy writing in the morning (just not too early!)
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Tracy Bilen:
There were at least seven drafts.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Tracy Bilen:
Yes, I worked chapter by chapter with a fantastic critique group and also swapped complete manuscripts with other author friends.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Tracy Bilen:
I wrote the first draft of this book without an outline and didn’t understand people who could write outlines. But as I move forward to other projects, I’ve actually been able to outline and have to admit that I kind of like it.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Tracy Bilen:
I queried WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND for about eight months. I did query another book briefly before that, but stopped when I realized that WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND was going to be a stronger manuscript.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Tracy Bilen:
Around 50.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Tracy Bilen:
I used query tracker to identify agents that were interested in YA. I also looked on the acknowledgment page of books that I loved for ideas.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Tracy Bilen:
If I had heard the person speak or if I admired an author they represented I mentioned it.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Tracy Bilen:
Once you start querying your book, do your best to start working on another one right away. That’s how I ended up writing WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND! Also, I queried in batches of about 5-10, sending out new queries as I received rejections.

Query Letter:

Thank you for coming to speak at (event name). I enjoyed your talk and am hopeful that we would be a good match.

Sixteen-year-old Sara and her mom are running away from home. But not until tomorrow. Tonight there's one last dinner with Dad, who still asks why her dead brother is late for dinner.

Sara's mom says to meet her at the Dairy Dream. Then she never shows up. And everything in the suitcase Sara had packed has been put away. Neatly. Like her dad would do.

Where is Sara's mom? Will Sara find her before it's too late?

My young adult novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, won the 2009 SCBWI Michigan mentorship award.

I have pasted the first page of this manuscript below. Thank you for your time and consideration.