Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to
What a perfect opportunity to use the bar pitch I came up with at one of those “How to Land an Agent!”
writers' conference sessions. Okay here it is: It's about a sixteen year-old girl exploring her
family's gothic English manor. She's looking for clues to her mother's disappearance and
trying to elude the man she thinks is responsible—her mother's childhood love.
As a side note—I have never actually used this sentence for anything (other than this interview, of
How long have you been writing?
My first story was of the oral tradition when I was 3. It was about a princess who, “just had too many
shoes and just didn't know what to do!” My mother published it for me on our eight-track recorder.
She still has it in the garage—somewhere. But writing for publication? I started my first novel (fiction
aimed at the adult market) in 2002 when I was pregnant with my daughter. I queried over seventy agents with
various responses but never THE ONE response I needed. I ended up self-publishing that book, A Better Life,
under my maiden name, Rebecca Burgess, in 2008.
How long have you been working on this book?
Since December of 2009
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I have “given up” many, many times. I eventually get over feeling sorry for myself and go sit back
down in front of my computer.
Is this your first book?
No (see above.)
Do you have any formal writing training?
No. I have read many, many books, blogs and websites about writing. Any “training” I've had
would predominately come from being a lifelong book reader. I got hooked on books in second grade and I haven't
been able to stop. I guess some of the writing stuff just sank in.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
When I'm on a roll, I get up around four and write until my kids wake up or until it's time for me
to go wake them up to get them ready for school and me ready for work. Word count can vary but when I'm
working on the first draft I shoot for at least one thousand words per days. I will write on my lunch break and
after the kids go to bed—so sometimes the writing is broken up throughout the day. With my schedule, I don't
have the luxury of waiting for “The moment” to strike. I write when I can as often as I can but
never when it means sacrificing the order of my priorities—kids first.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
That's hard to say. A lot of the re-writes happened while I was actually writing. Oh, and with this book I had
started out with about fifty pages that I wasn't crazy about. I ended up scrapping those and starting over. I'm
actually still editing and revising now—with Emma's help.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes, my mom and my husband were the two people who read the whole thing before I started querying agents. I also
belong to a writers group and we (sometimes) meet every two weeks. The thing about a writer's group is that it
can be a slow process, especially if you write faster than the group meets. So they had gotten through about
sixty pages of it before Emma offered representation. It's helpful if you have a few “friends” who
are willing to read it start to finish.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I do both. The feeling around for the characters tends to be more from the hip. But once I start to get where we
are heading, I plan out chapters, story arc and conflicts. Characters will take on lives of their own, but
certain things must also happen. I have this posted on my monitor “Keep Moving Forward!” So either
the story or the characters must be developing at all times. No random sidetracks. Oh, I also like “Just
keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swi…” I steal a lot of motivational blurbs from Disney
movies. Very positive folks they have working there.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I started querying in October for this book, Emma Patterson with Wendy Weil offered in November. With my first
book I sent out queries for over a year before deciding to self-publish.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent out 21 queries.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I queried agencies and agents who had represented books I liked along with agents who stated they were actively
looking to build their YA list.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Not unless I had read something they had represented and/or met the agent before. Aside from that, I sent the
same query to every agent.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Keep trying. Educate yourself as much as possible by reading industry books, blogs and websites. Be honest with
yourself about the quality of your current work. Do you enjoy reading your own book? Are there parts you skip
over because the writing is boring? Are there things happening in your book that just don't make any sense? If
you don't like reading it, no one else will either. You can't just send it out hoping someone (i.e., an agent)
will help you fix all this. Yes, it does need to be near perfect before you start sending it out, there are just
too many of us out there competing for space.