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An Interview with Andrew Forrester upon receiving an offer of representation.

05/24/2017

Andrew Forrester (CicadasAndGulls on QT) has signed with agent Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown, Ltd..

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
The book is a contemporary YA novel about a boy who moves in with his newly remarried (and newly wealthy) dad when his mom moves away. He's dealing with a recently acquired disability, and with the social and relational changes that come with that and with a new home, a new school, new friends, etc.

Some elements are autobiographical: my protagonist and I both, begrudgingly, grew up in Houston, and both changed high schools as juniors (which is like the worst time to do that - so much to play catch-up with). I also wanted to write, for really the first time, in a voice that felt authentically like my own and, after taking a graduate course in Disability Studies, to try to engage with that discourse in a way that was respectful, realistic, and edifying.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing things since I was in the fourth grade, but I’ve only really been treating my writing seriously for the last four years.
How long have you been working on this book?
I think I started writing this book in August of 2016 and had a completed first draft by February 2017. But we’re still working on it now, and I know there’s much more to be done once we find an editor.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I had given up on every book I ever tried to write, until, one summer—and I’m not sure why exactly—I pushed myself to complete my first novel - a speculative fiction thing that I am now mortally ashamed of. It’s about 40K words too long, and the main character is more or less a blank space. But after finishing it, I have the confidence to push through with other projects. I stalled out on this book for about two months in the fall—and then I saw the movie The Edge of Seventeen, which I loved, and which felt so similar to what I’m trying to accomplish in my work. It treats serious subjects alternately with gravity and levity, and just feels very real and honest. After that, I watched and read other things (books, movies, TV shows, some podcasts) that made me laugh and made me think, and then went back to work.
Is this your first book?
I’ve written one other YA book and a MG novel. I queried both, got some traction on the first, more on the second, and the most with this current project, which I think is also the best of the three.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I have a Master’s in British Literature and am working to complete my Ph.D. But that’s a whole different kind of writing - stilted academic stuff. Grammar, punctuation, and those sorts of things have always come naturally to me, so I have been working more to hone my voice and my personal style and to get better at plotting, pacing, and character development.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I wish. For my first book, I was on summer vacation, and I wrote every day, from 9 AM until I had completed at least 1,000 words. Now, with a new baby and a dissertation on my plate, I just write when I can. I do meet with a friend every Thursday morning to write and have coffee and brainstorm, just to make sure that I have one morning a week where I know writing will happen. I also keep a running Note in my phone, for when I think of new things or changes to old things, or just bits of dialogue that seem worth exploring.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I sent this book out to some of my critique partners, and did one fairly minimal edit before querying. My agent (!) and I are now on our second round of edits, which I think will be the last before we send it out. My tendency is to over-write, but with this manuscript, my agent has suggested a few places to bulk up the story, to fill in character backgrounds, and to better explain certain relational dynamics, which has been fun.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Not officially. Just friends and family members.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
This book did not have a comprehensive outline. It follows the track of a normal school year, so some elements (homecoming, Christmas, spring break) just sort of injected themselves into the narrative. Generally, I would write until I didn’t know what should come next, then brainstorm, then create an outline for the next three or so chapters. I found that helpful, as the story’s direction could change depending on how the characters were developing, and I didn’t find myself pigeonholing anyone into specific plot events or even predetermined character arcs.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I have been in a constant state of querying since 2014. I didn’t stop querying those first two books until I completed this manuscript. I sent out the first query for this book exactly a month before getting the first agent offer.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
40.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Querying for this book ended up being really fun, because I had already established (some semblance of) a relationship with many of the agents to whom I reached out. I was able to say, essentially, “Hi there - we talked a little bit about [X book], which you [requested/ultimately passed on/whatever], and I thought you might enjoy this new thing.” I also made sure to query a wide range of agents: new agents building their client lists and elder statesmen, and those working at both boutique and full-service agencies. My hope was to get at least two offers to have some sort of point of comparison across the industry (which worked out!).
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Of course! No agent wants to feel like they’re on the receiving end of a mass email forward. I made sure to explain why I thought they were a good fit for my project (“I noticed you represent [X author]” or “I read on your website that you’re interested in contemporary YA fiction about [X] . . .”). I also did a lot of Twitter-skimming. If I got a sense that one agent preferred their correspondence to be more professional, or more chatty, I would make those sorts of changes. And then, of course, I adhered to any submission guidelines articulated by the agency.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Keep going! And keep writing in the meantime. I made a lot of mistakes with my first round of queries for my first book; I was certain at the time that it was the one. But then nothing happened, so I wrote another thing. And then nothing happened there either, so I wrote another thing, a better thing, and I was able to put both the information I learned and the contacts I made to use in a way that ended up being really fruitful.