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Success Story Interview - Wayne Santos

An Interview with Wayne Santos (Shoeless on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jennie Goloboy of Donald Maass 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?
Wayne Santos:
My novel takes place in a cyberpunk-style future in the 22nd century. But, in addition the advances in computer and cybernetic technology, magic kicked in several decades before and has been integrated into the fabric of society in the wake of the changes it precipitated. My main character, Cloke, is one of the premier combat mages in the world, running with her own mercenary, combined arms unit that mixes her tactical thaumaturgy with military grade cyborgs, and off-the-grid hackers. I was mostly inspired to write this story because I'd always been interested in seeing how magic would integrate into a future society, but, unlike some table-top role-playing games out there like Shadowrun, I wanted to dial it down, and just focus on the magic, not the Elves, dragons, orcs and other stuff, and see how society reacted to that, especially if it proved profitable.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Wayne Santos:
For quite a few years now. I'm Generation X, which firmly puts me in the Child Of The 80s camp. I grew up remembering disco and the advent of MTV, and I started seriously pursuing writing as a career and as a hobby in the 1990s. Sooo... over 20 years? I've been playing video games longer though, so that's probably the more embarrassing admission.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Wayne Santos:
I guess that depends on the definition of "working" that we're using. I first got the idea in the 90s, and even wrote a short story about it then, but the character at the time was male. Then the idea sat on the back burner for a few years as I got sucked into work, moved to different countries and did some growing up. I started tossing the idea around for this world again in the "zeroes," 2000s, whatever you want to call it, and let more ideas percolate that I filed away for future reference. Then as I was writing and finishing up another novel, I finally got around to tentatively starting on CHIMERA in fits and starts as a palette cleanser from the other novel. That would've been back in 2012.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Wayne Santos:
Frequently. Seriously, I don't think there's any writer that doesn't eventually feel crushed by self-doubt and the nagging suspicion that maybe this was a stupid idea after all. If you're writing purely for pleasure, and you're the only person that ever reads your stories, or maybe just a close circle of friends, that's one thing, and it's easy to keep doing that and feel happy and fulfilled forever. If you're writing with the intention of getting published, with the exception of a few ridiculously talented, and extremely lucky individuals, the rest of us will slog. We'll write stuff, we'll send it out, we'll get rejected and that will keep happening. Sometimes for months, sometimes for years. And yet, at the same time, even if you're writing for publication, you're still writing for pleasure as well, or at least I'd sure hope you are.

The thing that got me through the periods of doubt was sheer, bone-headed stubbornness, combined with a little pragmatic pep talk. Jennie Goloboy is actually not my first agent, I'd had short stories and comics published prior, and I'd even had representation before. So even when rejections came in on a soul crushingly regular basis, I always tried to remind myself that people had thought my work was good enough to publish and even represent in the past. It was just a matter of sticking with it. And at the bottom of it all, I still liked the stories I was telling, and the characters in my head, even if no one else seemed to, and I was always curious about what they'd do next.
QT: Is this your first book?
Wayne Santos:
This is actually my my sixth book, with another book after it already finished, not related to it, and another book after that in progress, also with no relation. I'd been wanting to write this book for quite some time, but was afraid at the start that I might not yet be competent enough at the craft of writing to really tell it at a level I'd be happy with. So I waited a few years, I wrote other books, and then, when I was wondering if this book might not be my last serious attempt at trying to get representation again, I thought, "Well, it's now or never." I've since changed my mind about this novel being my last hurrah before getting back into purely work-related writing, but this book actually did start its life as "my last book, and if this one doesn't work, then I'm calling it quits."
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Wayne Santos:
I did major in English literature in university, with a focus on Creative Writing. After that, I ended up working advertising copywriting in Singapore, and spent many years living and working there, writing for both documentary and dramatic television, and then shifting over to magazine editorial as a staff writer for a video game magazine. Then I moved back to Canada and kept that up, freelancing in game journalism, eventually transitioning over to a job as an editor with a Canadian video game magazine, and then going back to freelancing in other areas, so I could spend more time writing. Writing for video games is great fun, but when you have to review a 60 hour role-playing game, that takes a huge bite out of your available time to do other stuff. And when you're reviewing games that are not good... then it really feels like work.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Wayne Santos:
Nope, none at all. I'm a full-time freelance writer at the moment, so I always have to prioritize my actual work-related writing first. I'll usually just try to squeeze in a bit of writing here and there whenever I'm not feeling burnt out on the work writing. I try to write every day, but that might only be a few sentences, or it might be a few pages. Still, it all adds up, so I try not stress out about word counts for the novel. I normally crank out thousands of words per day, it's just the vast majority of that is for work, and, because it pays, it has to take priority. If I've got some time after hitting client deadlines, I'll squeeze in some of my own writing before succumbing to Dragon Age, or Persona, or whatever game I happen to be obsessing over that month.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Wayne Santos:
This particular book went through about three passes. I wrote the first draft, sat on it, had some people look at it, did a second pass with those changes in mind, then had an editor look at it, make a final pass, in which I also tried to lock down as many typos and other mechanical errors, and then started the querying process.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Wayne Santos:
This one did, and if you can find beta readers, especially if you can actually meet with them regularly, I highly recommend it. I found my beta readers after signing up for a local summer course in writing with an instructor named Brian Henry. Most of the people there were more interested in literary or contemporary fiction, so I stuck out like a sore thumb doing my genre stuff, but there were a few people there also doing genre fiction writing. So, as a matter of survival, we eventually banded together and started meeting up on a regular basis. Once you do that, with a set schedule for meeting, it really puts your feet to the coals and makes you feel more accountable for producing something and having it ready to be looked at.

More importantly, however, it's just good to get another set of eyes on your book. You're too close to it. There are things that will be abundantly obvious to another writer that you won't see, because you've been staring at these words and paragraphs so long they've nearly lost all meaning. But the second someone else, who's judgment you trust, says, "I'm not sure the motivation for this character actually works," and then explains why, and then provides some alternatives, you suddenly feel very foolish for not having seen this, and very grateful that someone else did, because making that change will actually make your book better. As long as you've got good beta readers on your side, you've got an ace up your sleeve in terms of just how much your book can improve after that first draft is done.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Wayne Santos:
I'm mostly, from the hip? Kind'a? Sort'a? I don't actually write outlines, or do character biographies or anything like that. Mostly I start from a character and some rough situation, which may be the inciting incident, or may be the larger conflict of the story, but the rest of it just plays out as the characters get into it and stuff happens. Sometimes I'll get flashes or insights about things that might happen later in the story, but I'll just keep them in mind, write a quick note at the end of the manuscript, and then keep writing to see how those incidents line up with the rest of the book. For this novel, I actually had the climax sitting in my head for the longest time, with no clear idea of how Cloke got there, or what she would do to get out of it. But I wanted to keep writing to find out what all those answers were.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Wayne Santos:
I started querying this novel towards the end of August 2016, and started getting a few nibbles here and there around November. But it wasn't until about April and May 2017 that I started getting more requests in larger volume, which hadn't happened with the previous books, so I allowed myself a glimmer of hope that this time might be different.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Wayne Santos:
This is where QueryTracker becomes extremely useful and extremely painful for writers with any kind of ego. This particular novel was queried about 140 times over a period of nearly a year with a few responses here and there. If you include my previous novels, I've been rejected over 430 times over the last several years. So clearly, in my case, this is a matter of just banging your head against the wall, and hoping one day it will break, instead of your will to live. One thing that did surprise me when Jennie finally made her offer was that I was painfully aware she'd rejected me in the past. During the phone call, she told me she actually went through her query slush pile and noticed that she had four previous queries from me over the years, and, after reviewing them again, it looks like one of my trunked novels may yet see the light of day again someday, so nothing's ever really wasted.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Wayne Santos:
Exist. And breathe. Or, more seriously, I just did my due diligence. I compiled my list of possible agents on QueryTracker, then went through the task of hunting down which agents that were listed as representing science fiction and fantasy were representing those genres but in young adult, so I could filter them out. My novel is adult science fiction, so it was important that I made that distinction early, because a science fiction action novel with a protagonist who was over 30 had zero chance of being accepted by an agent only interested in YA genre fiction. QueryTracker is a great place to start building your list, but you've still got track down the individual agents and find out exactly what age range of genre fiction they represent, and even specifically what sub-genres. A cyberpunk query is a wasted query if the agent's preferences are for steam punk, or space opera only. If the agents were interested in diversity, that was also a plus, since my characters were from all over the world.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Wayne Santos:
Only to a minor degree. If I saw an agent wanted to see more diversity, or an agent shared a similar enjoyment of hobbies like video games, I'd tweak the query slightly to reflect that. Otherwise, I didn't go to great lengths to personalize it. I probably should have, since it seems like many others have had significant success in doing that.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Wayne Santos:
I guess the most important piece of advice I would give is, "It's okay to not be the extroverted life of the party. You can still achieve something despite that." I know a lot of writers suffer from insecurities, and there's a constant, bad habit of comparing ourselves to other writers, seeing what they're doing, and feeling like we don't stack up. I'm not most the sociable guy either in real life, or on the Internet. I only created a Twitter account a few days ago at the urging of my agent, and I still don't have a Facebook account, so yeah, I'm THAT anti-social. But I'd read all these articles on getting an agent and getting published, talking about how engaged you had to be in social media, and seeing people liking Tweets, constantly making tweets, and spending lots of time on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram talking about writerly things. I'd get bummed out about how I couldn't be that charming or effervescent, or even enjoy socializing the way they did. Or I'd enter Pitchwars and watch the other writers engage with each other and the mentors on Twitter and see how much they enjoyed the interaction and think there was something genuinely wrong with me. I think maybe you do make things a little harder on yourself if you're a genuine introvert, but you're not shutting down the door to getting an agent or getting published if you are. You're just being quieter about it, and that's okay.

The other piece of advice I'd give is about dealing with negativity. It's going to happen to you at some point, especially if you don't see positive results quickly. I have to admit, seeing Pete McLean's rapid acceptance and publication deal with Jennie Goloboy was actually a source of major demoralization for me when he posted his stats and I saw how quickly he'd advanced, while I was querying. Now, ironically, he's an "agent sibling," and he gave me great advice about Jennie and Red Sofa literary. But it all boils down to this; you're going to get rejections. You may even get a lot of them. The book that you're shopping around now may not be the one that gets you an agent, and that could be for any number of reasons. Maybe the market is over saturated with what you wrote, or maybe it's a little too unique for the market right now, or maybe you still need to improve as a writer and you still need to get a few more books out of your system before you hit that level. There could be any number of reasons, but there will be a lot of "nos" and a lot hopes that will get dashed against the rocks, and this is something that may keep happening to you again and again. How you deal with it, and where your limit of tolerance for it is is very important. Some people are going to nope out in rage or despair after a dozen rejections. Others are going to take longer, but, as the months and years roll by, seriously question their life choices and let it get to them. Others are going to feel sad, let themselves feel sad, do what it takes to look after themselves, then roll up their sleeves and keep writing. Nobody wants to be a failed writer, but the one way to guarantee that that's exactly what you are is if you decide to quit.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Wayne Santos:
Sure, here it is, though I've edited it a bit for spoilers.

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Goloboy,

I’m seeking representation for CHIMERA, a completed 114,000-word science fiction novel with series potential. I have had short fiction published in On Spec, and the comic book anthologies Liquid City Volume 1 and Volume 2 (Image Comics). I was previously represented by Jack Byrne of the Sternig & Byrne Literary Agency though we parted under amicable terms.

Cloke is a top combat mage of the 22nd century, rising from a life of gangbanging in urban warzones to one of the most notorious mercenary units in the world. She leads a combined arms unit that fights with hackers, cyborgs and magic, and she just got her weirdest job: A dead mage wants to die again, and he needs Cloke to pull the trigger.

On the other side of the world is Zee, with no past, and, if things keep going this badly, no future either. Zee is a hacker without history, or gender—a manufactured science project now on the run. The escape has resulted in an underground, fugitive life seemingly destined for low level, black market hacks. Then Cloke arrives, in need of a new console jockey for a job no one sane would accept.

CHIMERA is what happens when Neuromancer adds magic missiles and William Gibson’s post-modern vision gets a dose of anime-inspired mayhem.

My past experience in professional writing includes ad copywriting, editorial for magazines and script writing for both documentary and dramatic television in Southeast Asia. I have contributed to video game related websites such as IGN and the Games & Hobbies section of the Examiner as the Canadian National Video Games Examiner as well as acted as Senior Content Editor at CG Magazine, Canada’s first video game publication.

Full manuscript available on request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

--Wayne Santos