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An Interview with Christopher Buecheler upon receiving an offer of representation.

09/21/2014

Christopher Buecheler (cwbuecheler on QT) has signed with agent Kirsten Carleton of Prospect Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Elixir is a thriller set in the partially-flooded city of Brooklyn, in 2058. Clay Foster was a special operative in the second US civil war and is now a beat cop for the Brooklyn Police Department. He spends most of his time dealing with addicts of Elixir, a designer drug that is tearing its way through the city. When his wife is murdered, his search for revenge enmeshes him in a far-reaching conspiracy and puts him in the sights of a psychopath unlike anyone with whom he's ever dealt before. He ends up working with some unlikely allies and going far beyond what he could do as a police officer in order to try and avenge his wife's death, and finish the work that she'd started.

I don't know if I could point to any specific source of inspiration on this one. I suspect Sin City played a role -- I read the original comic when I was sixteen, and there's a little of that gritty, dark, urban atmosphere going on in Elixir. Mainly I wanted to write a book in which the protagonist was not exactly a nice guy, but in which the audience was still pulling for him. I wanted to see if I could walk that thin line successfully, and I think I managed to pull it off!
How long have you been writing?
I began writing fiction at eight years old and am 37 now. So that's 29 years of short stories, novellas, novels, graphic novels, short comics, non-fiction, and way-too-verbose emails.
How long have you been working on this book?
A little more than a year from word one to "ready to query". See the "how many rewrites" question for more details!
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
God, rewriting one specific chapter for the third time, finishing it, and realizing I still hated it was painful. I don't think I ever really considered giving up, but I certainly started to wonder if I was really any good at this. My wife's encouragement helped me a ton -- she's a master at giving some of the harshest criticism when I need it, and some of the best pep talks when I need those instead. Peter Gelfan and Jane Ryder at The Editorial Department were also very helpful and encouraging. And my trusted readers *really* liked this manuscript, which helped me stay convinced I had something worth finishing.
Is this your first book?
Nope! I have four self-published novels, the first of which debuted in October, 2009. They've been pretty successful as far as indie releases go, though the vampire action books with lots of sex and violence have sold much better than the Young Adult Sci-Fi story (it's OK ... I still love that one!).
Do you have any formal writing training?
I do not. I'm entirely self-taught in all of my professional endeavors, actually. Web development, fiction, and non-fiction.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Yes, for the most part. When I'm actively working on a draft, I set word goals, and I try to write at around the same time every day (though I'll also try to squeeze in some extra time on the weekends). I have a day job as a web developer, so writing time is usually in the evenings. My goal for the first draft is 1,500 words per day. Later drafts are 2,000 words per day. I keep a spreadsheet and everything, and I try not to miss any days, but I also try to get ahead so that in case something comes up, I can take a day off without feeling too guilty. Other than those rare occasions, I write 7 days a week while working on a manuscript.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I started Elixir in May 2013, and wrapped up the first draft in July. I let it sit for a bit, concentrating on self-publishing my YA Sci-Fi novel, The Broken God Machine. Then I re-read it, made a few tweaks, and sent the mansucript off to Peter Gelfan, at The Editorial Department for a content pass. I finished the second draft of Elixir in January 2014, got an annotated read from Peter on that one, and finished the third draft in March, 2014. I then spent quite a while working on the final draft, including creating an entirely new chapter, and re-writing the one that I wasn't happy with four separate times (argh!). Peter consulted on those chapters, too. The fourth and final draft was finished up in July 2014.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Definitely. First and foremost, I trust my wife's feedback more than anyone else's on the planet. After her, I have a whole bunch of beta readers -- both long-time friends and folks who started out as fans of my books, but had interesting stuff to say, so I asked them if they'd want to take early looks at my future work. Not every reader has time for every draft, but they've all given me excellent feedback on one book or another.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
My approach is evolving. I used to just sit down with a beginning, a vague idea for an end, and maybe a few highlights in mind, and start writing. With Elixir, I plotted a lot more out. I still left myself a ton of wiggle room, though, and in a few cases when I found a more interesting path I deviated wildly from the plan, but I think in the end it produced a much tighter, much more coherent first draft. I'm doing the same thing with my new manuscript, Pulse, and I believe I'll continue to work this way in the future.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I did a short round of querying for Elixir in January 2014, but decided I wanted to do another editing pass and redraft it, and stopped querying agents. The second querying session started in late July and went for about a month. I’ve only ever seriously queried for one other book – The Broken God Machine – and I only queried for that manuscript for a few weeks, submitting it to about 30 agents before deciding to self-publish it after the one full request was turned down.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Seventy-three, if you include the ones from January and the ones that I withdrew after being made an offer. I received forty-six rejections, four full requests, and one partial request that became a full request.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I used QueryTracker to search for agents who were interested in thrillers, giving particular favor to ones who were also interested in Sci-Fi. For each agent, I hit their website and other pages (Twitter if they had one, blog, etc), checked out their interests, and tried to find those who seemed like they'd be a good fit with both me and the book. I didn’t worry much about young or old, new or established, male or female, etc ... so long as they seemed to be working for reputable agencies.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Mostly no. I had a query letter that I was pretty happy with -- derived from reading QueryShark [queryshark.blogspot.com/] and just generally having a sense of what I thought made the book sound like something worth reading. If an agent wanted something in particular in the query, I always made sure to include it, and I rewrote the letter at times to be a little longer or shorter if agents were specific about things like "sum up your book in two paragaphs" ... but I'd say about 85% of the agents got a very similar letter.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
First and foremost: have a complete, edited, and polished manuscript. It doesn't matter if your query rocks the house; if your manuscript isn't ready to go, a good agent will know it from the first five pages. Second: follow the submission guidelines. I follow a bunch of agents who talk about their queries on Twitter, and it's amazing how often you see "Didn't follow submission guidelines. Form rejection." Third: this is your one chance to sell yourself, so work on your query letter as hard as you worked on your MS. Draft and redraft it. Have lots of people read it. Above all else, make your book sound fun and exciting! Don't just give a straight description of what happens ... give the text flavor. You have to show these folks you can write.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure. Here's the query. There is one spoiler edited out, but otherwise this is the whole thing:

Dear [Mr. or Ms. Agent's Last Name],

His country is shattered. His city is dying. Clay Foster, one of Brooklyn’s Finest, is fighting a losing battle against the dark tide that threatens to engulf his home. Science stopped the rising of the ocean waters at seven meters, but it has found no answer for Elixir. The drug has infiltrated every stratum of society.

Clay’s wife is dead. They told him it was an accident, and at first he believed them, but a single hair in the bedroom changed his mind. The hair, the photo, the rearranged office ... someone searched his home and hurled his wife from the balcony. What were they looking for? Why did Terry die, and what happened to her SynchDrive full of data?

To gain answers, he’ll visit the lawless shanty-town built above the flooded remains of Red Hook, the dangerous ganglands of Crown Heights, the abandoned hellscape of Union City, and the walled fortress of Manhattan, its glittering towers rising high above its waterlogged neighbors. In the process, he’ll stumble into a conspiracy that stretches far beyond the murder of one woman to touch countless millions in New York and beyond.

He’ll discover what Terry died fighting to accomplish and who ordered her death. He’ll come face to face with the person who carried out the hit, and in so doing encounter the greatest enemy he has ever known. He will learn the truth about Elixir. In the end, he’ll sacrifice all that he has to save his city and gain revenge.

ELIXIR, my fifth book, is a near-future thriller (104,200 words). It is a standalone novel with room for sequels. It has not been published or self-published previously and is a simultaneous submission to multiple agents. My previous works include the II AM Trilogy (iiamtrilogy.com), an urban fantasy series, and The Broken God Machine (brokengodmachine.com), a young adult science-fiction novel. I have also had short fiction published in Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine and Aurora Wolf Magazine.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

-Christopher Buecheler