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Success Story Interview - Wendy Sparrow

An Interview with Wendy Sparrow (bugsfly on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Sarah Yake of Frances Collin 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?
Wendy Sparrow:
Secrets of Skin and Stone is a Young Adult paranormal set in a small town in Alabama. One of the main characters has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is a cutter. The other is a gargoyle-like creature. One of them is based on my life experience… I'll let you guess which. I wanted to write an accurate portrayal of growing up as a gargoyle and how hellish your teenage years can be. Wait… scratch that… it's the OCD thing. While I have a sense of humor about it now, it's a darker condition than Hollywood has portrayed it as. I wanted to write about it and discuss it because my child also has OCD and hiding it in the dark corners never helped me.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Wendy Sparrow:
I've been telling stories my whole life. Up until I started writing them down instead of just "telling them" they were more trouble than anything. I wrote in high school and college and then I took a break to parent my two kids who both are on the Autism spectrum. About two and a half years ago, my brother said, "You should write novels… you'd be good at it." The thought niggled deep into my brain and I wrote my first novel… and then my second… and then my third… and I was a writing addict from then on.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Wendy Sparrow:
I've been working on it about a year now. I wrote the first draft in about a month's time, but it's gone through many, many, many revisions.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Wendy Sparrow:
Of course, haven't we all? I'd officially given up on traditional publishing via Twitter and announced my intent to try a different way when I saw the notification in my email folder from Sarah responding back on a revision I'd done for her of another manuscript. If writing doesn't make you want to quit a million times, even while you know you can't, you're not doing it right. Maybe that's just me, though. Writing should rip your guts out and leave you vulnerable… otherwise it's just pretty words. I write because I can't stop. Publishing is a nice dream, but I'd write anyway.
QT: Is this your first book?
Wendy Sparrow:
No… not even close. I have insomnia so I write when I can't sleep. I can't sleep a lot.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Wendy Sparrow:
I was majoring in English in college when I quit to work in the Optical field. I've taken many writing classes, but practice has seemed the more industrious teacher.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Wendy Sparrow:
If I can't sleep, I write. If I can't get an idea out of my head in order to sleep, I write. I write. I write. I write.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Wendy Sparrow:
Maybe eight or nine times. After my first draft, I've always shelved my books for six months before doing a hard edit with fresh eyes. This particular book suffered from a design flaw; in the rough draft form, there were six school days in a week. That was a persnickety problem. Then, I did edits after betas would get back with me. Most importantly, I realized my characters would need southern accents due to their location. I did a read out-loud revision, drawing on my youth in Florida, and added in the accent one 'y'all' at a time. I lost my voice during that revision and it took over a week of hiding in my kids' therapy room and reading for hours out loud.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Wendy Sparrow:
Yes. Betas are indispensable. I can't imagine not having the help of betas. This book was really emotional and made me nervous to send out, so this time my betas had to convince me the book needed to be seen. Two of my betas ganged up on me on Twitter and convinced me to send it to Sarah just when I was chickening out. Each of my books has gone through at least four or five beta reads. I had two male betas on this manuscript which is unusual for me, but one of the point of views is male so it was good to know whether it was accurate or not. I recently read somewhere that if you think you have achieved something without others, you've simply had your eyes closed. I certainly haven't had my eyes closed all these years; I've received a lot of help on all my manuscripts. Betas rock, and I'm grateful for all those who have helped me these last two and a half years.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Wendy Sparrow:
I'm the pantsiest pantser you've ever met. I don't know the end of a book before halfway through… ever. It's always worked for me. It feels like magic, and I sort of like it that way.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Wendy Sparrow:
This is where my agent story gets tricky… and these questions become TOO HARD! Ack! I actually queried Sarah last June on a completely different manuscript. She liked it, but wanted to see revisions done. I did those revisions and sent them back. She requested more revisions in January. I sent her this novel of an email telling her that I was trying to prep this really dark paranormal I had for a contest, and I asked her if it would be okay if I finished this manuscript's revisions before I worked on her revisions. She asked me about the manuscript, and I sent her a quick summary of Secrets of Skin and Stone. Sarah asked to see the full as soon as I was finished. Within a day of sending the full, she got back to me saying she couldn't put it down. She offered representation later that week.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Wendy Sparrow:
Over the year and a half I've been querying, I've queried on four different books (not including Secrets of Skin and Stone which I never queried.) I've sent out 131 queries all together. I had over 20 requests for submissions.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Wendy Sparrow:
I write mostly YA but some adult and in various genres so I wanted an agent who accepted Sci-fi and Urban Fantasy in addition to Paranormal. I also preferred agents who responded. I'm not really a fan of "no response means no." Finally, while Sarah isn't active on Twitter, I used QueryTracker to get to know a lot of agents on Twitter, and I've queried many of them if they accepted my genres. Some of them I never queried but they've helped me through the process. Anyone not following QueryTracker's Twitter links to get to know agents is missing out.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Wendy Sparrow:
Yes. Querying sessions meant migraines because I researched every single agent industriously and tailored each query accordingly. If I knew them from Twitter, I mentioned it. I always had a line down at the bottom that said "per your submission guidelines I've enclosed…." which I adjusted based on their submission guidelines. If I enjoyed reading one of their clients' work, I also mentioned it because even if they tossed my query, I think it's good for them to know people appreciate their work. I'm honest to a fault, though, so I only added what I meant. It wasn't unusual for it to take an hour for every two queries I sent out just to get everything lined up. This was another reason I only queried agents who responded; I put too much effort into my queries just to have them deleted without a response or not read.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Wendy Sparrow:
Be yourself in your query letters and accept that any agent who nixes you based on that wouldn't have been the right agent for you. I'm really happy the way this all turned out even though the rejection process was brutal. Sometimes things happen in the way they were meant to happen. I was rejected over 100 times last year, and I'm glad that I was because Sarah and I mesh really well.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Wendy Sparrow:
It's not a query, but this is how I presented Secrets of Skin and Stone to Sarah in the email I sent:

Query Letter:

As to Secrets of Skin and Stone, I'd just finished it when I first was asked to submit manuscripts to you last year. It's my personal policy to never query on anything until after I've shelved it for around six months and taken a fresh look and put it through a hard revision. That wasn't the only reason I've had it set aside, though. It's much darker than any of my other stories and I think initially I wrote it as a semi-catharsis piece for coming to grips with my own teenage years as a girl with OCD. Throughout the writing process, I sent pieces of it to my critique partners to make sure that it wasn't too disturbing… that's very unusual for me. The MC, Piper, not only has OCD but she does some cutting and, as it's in 1st person, there is a glimpse into her psyche that sometimes bothers me to read it. The other MC is a guy that can turn into a gargoyle-like creature and can kill evil spirits which are bedeviling Piper. There is also a mystery and someone out to kill Piper because she knows too much. I haven't queried on it because I just wasn't sure I wanted to hear what anyone thought about it. So as to why I'm considering it for a contest, your guess is as good as mine. It's pathetic to admit, but I often don't know why my mind latches on to certain things. If you'd like more info on "Secrets of Skin and Stone" or the first few chapters in order to give me an opinion… I can do that. Sometimes I have to laugh that I managed to mix OCD with gargoyles, but it does seem to work on some level.