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An Interview with Derek Reiner upon receiving an offer of representation.

08/22/2015

Derek Reiner (DerekReiner on QT) has signed with agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency, LLC.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
My book is an Upper Middle Grade Fantasy. My protagonist is a boy who discovers his mother has been poisoning him. He also has a tiny flying lizard which he can communicate with telepathically. I wrote the book for my 11 year old son. We spent hours talking about the characters, the world, and plot. He is a reluctant reader, and I wanted to write something he would love to read. What is funny though, is my 10 year old daughter has been the one to fall in love with it. She has read it multiple times and given me great feedback on voice and confusing plot points. It has been a joy to work with both of them on this book.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Just small things as the author in me tried to escape. Four years ago I decided to take it seriously when an idea for an epic fantasy grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let go.
How long have you been working on this book?
This book was my 2013 NaNoWriMo project. I wrote 50k words that November, and then over the next few months I added another 42k words. I spent a couple of months getting it ready to query. When I got no interest in the book, I gutted it with a major revision (which I will detail in a question below) and basically started over.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
While I have been trying to write seriously for the past four years, in reality I have probably written for less than two years. This is due to self-doubt, anxiety driven writer’s block, and depression. I did give up many many times. The characters in my head wanted their stories told however, and eventually I had to start again. I have a very successful day job where I suffer none of the self-doubt and depression my writing causes. Maybe that helped me push through and finish the book. In truth, a big motivator for me was the example I was setting for my kids. They were involved in the process with me, invested even, and for me to quit would have been a terrible life lesson to teach them. I guess in the end, my desire to be a good parent was stronger than my fear of failure.
Is this your first book?
This is the first book I typed “The End.” Before this I had been working on my epic fantasy which had stalled at about 120k words.
Do you have any formal writing training?
No. The opposite really. I have BS in Chemistry and a MS in Computers. My job is highly technical and logical. I had one creative writing class in high school and one in college. My grammar is terrible. If I had a super power, it would be putting commas in the wrong place. I have a high school friend that is now an English Professor that straightens all that out during the editing phase. Thank God for her.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I don’t. I have a full time job and three kids. I usually write late at night after I’ve gotten all the homework corrected and the house picked up (who am I kidding, the house is never picked up). I write when I can. I do spend A LOT of time thinking. I take walks every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Walking primes my mind for creativity.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
The first draft of this book was 92k words. After ZERO interest in it, I took a hard look at what worked and didn’t work. I ended up throwing the last 50k words away. I knew I had leveled up as a writer when I was able to do that. When I started writing, I felt like every word was precious and had to be protected. Now I toss anything that doesn’t work. I added a new 20k words to the story to give it a new ending.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I have my daughter, who is in the book’s target age group, as a beta reader. I also have my English Prof friend for grammar and content. I have two other friends that read heavily in the genre that provide more high level and general feedback.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
The book I’m writing now is an experiment in seat-of-the-pants writing, and it is a train wreck. I will never do that again. I am a high level outliner. By that I mean I have a sentence or two describing what each scene needs to accomplish. I then free write the scene based on that description. I use the snowflake method to outline my plot, but leave the characters as a bit of mystery. I write my characters from the hip. This combination of plot markers I need to hit balanced with organic scene and character writing makes both sides of my brain happy.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This is the first book I queried. I started querying in 2014.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
In 2014 I sent out 30+ query letters, varying them as I tried to find something that worked. None did. I didn’t get a single request. Rejections across the board. I stuck my head in the sand for months after that. Eventually, I did the big rewrite (tossed 50k words, added 20k words). In the beginning of 2015 I sent out about 25 queries total, again trying to find a query that would work. Nothing. Crickets. I stopped sending queries and spent half a year depressed and full of doubt. In mid-2015 I reworked the beginning of my story a little bit and spent a lot of energy on my query letter. I sent out an initial batch of 8 letters. This time I got 3 full requests and two offers. After your book, the query letter is the most important thing you will ever write. Give it the time and attention it deserves.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
They all represented UMG Fantasy.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Only the name in the beginning, and their submission guidelines at the end. I didn’t do any other personalization.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Spend a ton of time on your query. Have people look at it on the forums. Take their advice with a grain of salt. Send out small batches of letters (around 6) at a time. If you aren’t getting any partial or full requests change your query letter. Patience. Believe in yourself even though it is hard. Start a new project right away.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Fifteen-year-old Ry discovers his mother is poisoning him when Thelt, a tiny flying lizard telepathically linked to Ry, touches the deadly substance and becomes comatose.

To save Thelt, Ry enlists the help of three others: an expelled Ranger, a stable-girl wearing a curious bracelet, and a princess discarded by her family. Each hides a secret that could get them killed. They discover Ry’s mother is gone, her room in shambles. Before Ry can search for her, he is forced to help the priests of the Black Circle look for a child they believe can open a lockbox none of the priests will look at. The small cube is engraved with a poem Ry’s mother taught him, and Ry suspects the priests have kidnapped her.

Ry wants answers to his mother’s secrets, but rescuing her will put his new friends in danger, and he must decide if the risks are worth the life of a mother who tried to kill him. And when the Black Circle’s lockbox starts to whisper to Ry, he realizes why she wants him dead, and worse, he agrees.

THE GREY WARDEN, an UMG fantasy, is complete at 60,000 words. I’ve included the first ten pages per your submission guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

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