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An Interview with Christopher X Ryan upon receiving an offer of representation.

04/18/2017

Christopher X Ryan (christopherx on QT) has signed with agent Emma Hamilton of Kneerim & Williams.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Increasingly angered and frustrated with the direction the world is heading, I decided to explore my own paranoia and rage with a work of literary fiction infused with strong elements of mystery and crime. It was a departure for me, as this work relies heavily on plot, whereas in the past I’d focused mainly on language, setting and unconventional structure.
How long have you been writing?
I had my first poem published at age 8, and at age 12 when a teacher from another class asked me to read a story — even though I’d been assigned to remedial English — I knew I’d found my calling. I’ve been writing, getting published, and getting rejected ever since.
How long have you been working on this book?
Six months.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
No, because I’m a stubborn and relentless individual, but I felt like the agent game was working against me. Agents are overburdened and don’t always have time to be polite or thoughtful, and it was really wearing me down. Some of the responses I got were ridiculous. Some berated me for having a messy query letter while chiding me with terribly written and ungrammatical English. (And Query Tracker informed me that most of these agents are not listed on the site, as they do not qualify.)

I relied on a couple of friends to provide encouragement, but otherwise what fueled me then, as it does now, is simply the constant urge to put pen to paper and to let the writing be a conduit for the rage.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I have a master’s in writing and poetics and I’m a ghostwriter by trade, but it took me a long time to understand the rhythms and needs of a novel. I now wish I had spent my education focused on fiction instead.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I wrote the first draft nearly straight through, working on it every day for 5-6 weeks, sometimes 8-10 hours per day. I work from home as an editor and ghostwriter, and whenever I wasn’t busy with something else I was writing, making notes, thinking about the characters, reading about successful novels, and so forth. I had it all mapped out in my mind, so it was just a matter of typing as fast as I could visualize.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I revised it twice before submitting to agents, and then as feedback came in along with rejections or maybes, I revised accordingly. A couple mentioned plot complications, and the agent I signed with provided some key insight about language that needed refining. Revision during the agenting process is tricky, but you can sometimes get very helpful feedback. As such, I made large changes to the novel based on reactions that came out of the process. I encourage you to revise based on agent feedback, but that means only sending out a few queries at a time so that you’re not getting requests for manuscripts while rewriting.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Only one, but I was working so fast that they couldn’t get back to me in time, so I just kept moving forward.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Once I’d written myself into a solid plot, I then started outlining backwards from the end in order to answer all the questions — or at least the ones I wanted to have answered — that arose from the mystery/crime element. I had a lot of it worked out in my head though, and I knew how it’d all come together.
How long have you been querying for this book?
Three months.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
80-ish.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I did massive amounts of research and maintained an active file with information about clients that seemed like a good match or to whom I had a connection of some sort, even if it was tenuous.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Only if I had something worthwhile to say to them about a connection, be it another client, a mutual friend, a book, or something notable. Otherwise I just kept it to the point. The latter seemed most effective.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Follow the tried and true rules that agents need and want in order to do their jobs effectively: research them and their tastes, scan your work for errors, address the query to the right person, follow all submission rules (I avoided any that required a synopsis).

Start with low-priority agents and query no more than a few every week or two so that you can gauge your progress.

Rejection sucks. Let it crush you for a short while, get mad, then get back to work.

Beyond that, the most important thing you can do is have a killer opening chapter and the absolute best query letter you can muster. If you’re struggling to capture the essence of your novel in your query, there is likely something amiss with your novel. If you cannot sum up the plot or capture characters, the plot is probably too vague or complicated, and the characters are probably too weak or passive.

If your query is not captivating, meaning it does not have a hook or a few compelling lines that will surely snag the attention of a few agents, then you need to reassess your strategy. Are you holding back? Are you telling too much? Are you focused on details and failing to instead give a broader sense of your talent and the nature of your book?

If your query is strong, however, and your manuscript is getting rejected, put the query aside and think about what might be turning off the readers (agents). Agents obviously have keen insight into what works and doesn’t work, so when they sense something is off (even if they can’t put their finger on it or don’t have the time to tell you exactly what’s wrong), they simply pass. The good ones will request a revision and see you through the process, but they don’t have time to respond to more than one or two emails.

Don’t bother with paying someone to write or edit a query letter for you. Some of the worst advice I ever got was from so-called experts, all of which I disregarded. Writers really should be the best marketers of their own work, so it’s essential that you learn this craft. If you have beta readers, use them to assess your query. Send it to your mother. Send it to a business-type colleague. Ask if it would inspire them to read the book or if they’d keep browsing. Beyond that, writers really need to be able to do this properly in order to see their book through the entire process.

Finally, use QueryTracker religiously. Other than Evernote for keeping track of agents, QT was the only tool I used. No Twitter, no gimmicks, no forums. I just followed the standard process and was as patient as possible while also being relentless and hopeful.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Days after his home country of America elects a fascist demagogue to its highest office, disgraced art restorer Frank Schugazi arrives on the shores of the far-north Finnish island of Hella, where he plans to recuperate and spend time with his oldest friend, Kari. But when Frank (“Shoegazer” to his friends) finally rings the bell in the lobby of the hotel they plan to renovate, Kari isn’t there. Worse, part of the building has recently been set on fire and a group of neo-Nazi youths is reportedly stalking the coastline.

The search for Kari, whose real name is Kareem and whose dark skin makes him an easy target in largely homogenous Finland, takes Frank from the Bothnian Bay to the great northern territory of Lapland. There, with the help of an alluring but volatile crimson-haired Finn named Loviisa, Frank probes the shadowy recesses of a land that sometimes sees mere minutes of sunlight. He soon finds himself face to face with a mysterious group called the Council, who reveal to him the heart of the nation—literally, in a velvet-lined box—and present him with an ultimatum as bleak as the weather. Kari, they claim, has been radicalized, and only with their help will his life be spared.

As the ice and snow settle in, Frank must stop staring at his feet and decide how far he’ll go to protect himself, Loviisa, and his oldest friend—even if that friend no longer resembles the person he once was.

Timely and atmospheric, THE SHOEGAZER could be considered an amalgam of Per Petterson’s “Out Stealing Horses” and the crime fiction of Elizabeth Hand. The full manuscript is available upon request.