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An Interview with Emily France upon receiving an offer of representation.


Emily France (hummingbird1 on QT) has signed with agent Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
SIGNS OF YOU is a YA mystery about a 16-year-old girl who spots her mom. . . two years after her mother’s death. She races to catch up with her, but her mother is gone. Riley sets out to discover the truth and uncovers the secrets those around her are keeping.

Before I was inspired to write SIGNS OF YOU, I had given up on writing. I’d written since I was child and was disheartened by rejections. Well into my writing strike, I woke in the middle of the night, covered with sweat. I had a vision of a girl who sees her mother in a store two years after she’s been mourned and buried. I had no idea who the girl was or why she was seeing her mother, but the story gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. It became my singular obsession for the next seven years.
How long have you been writing?
I announced at age 5 that I would be a writer. Of course, I also announced that unicorns were real. But I like to think that I knew. My first story was published and read on the radio in my hometown when I was in the fifth grade. It was a mystery!
How long have you been working on this book?
From inspiration to book deal: seven years. Although it was a long and arduous journey, this story has been my constant companion and finishing it was bittersweet. No matter where I’ve gone or what changes have happened in my life over the past seven years, this story has been by my side. It has entertained me, challenged me. I have not been lonely or bored one single day since it came into my life. Finally letting it go to the publisher was like saying goodbye.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Yes, but with this story, something very odd happened when I tried to quit: I couldn’t. I shoved my notes deep in the back of closets. I vowed to delete the computer files. I took a job as an attorney at a large Chicago law firm which demanded at least ten to twelve hours a day of my time. And yet, I couldn’t stop writing. Lines of dialogue would race through my mind. Scenes would haunt my dreams. Quitting wasn’t an option. I’m aware it may sound a little strange, but I believe this to my core: this story chose me.

I also believe that acceptance played a role. I had to accept that I am a writer, that this “affliction” of jotting down dialogue and scenes and ideas isn’t ever going away. Once I accepted that, I decided I didn’t want to be that person who says, “I wish I’d finished that book…” If I am a writer, I want to be an effective one.
Is this your first book?
This is my debut published novel. I’ve written two other novels that shall remained locked in drawers!
Do you have any formal writing training?
Yes. I graduated from Brown University and took writing courses there, both as a high school student and then later as an undergraduate. I also received my MFA in creative writing. I don’t believe that you need an MFA to be a successful writer, but I do believe that it shortened the process for me. It helped me understand things like plot, character, and tension that may have taken me another decade to work out on my own.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Yes. When I was in the depths of drafting SIGNS OF YOU, I would go to the public library at 9 a.m. and write there until 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
This book went through three major rewrites. I never tired of it. Not once. I could rewrite and edit this book for the rest of my life.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes! I think beta readers are as important as the pen I use to write. I wouldn’t dare send a piece of writing to my agent or to my publisher without having at least two other sets of eyes on it. There are things I simply cannot see on my own. I’m too close to the work.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I make an outline and then my characters trash it. They take the story where it needs to go, and it’s my job to follow their lead. I believe the subconscious is in full control of storytelling. My plans for the story never work.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
At first, I queried this book for about six months. I was getting similar feedback that something was wrong with the middle of the story. So I took a break from querying, rewrote the entire novel for another six months, and then landed representation. My query path was altered, however, by the fact that I entered my story in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold competition and won first place. I ended up signing with the literary agent who was the judge of that competition. I still had to rewrite it before she signed me (because something was wrong with the middle). But she knew my work from that contest, so I highly recommend entering contests with agent judges.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I queried thirteen agents and received manuscript requests from about half of them. I tracked my progress on Querytracker. It kept me motivated and organized.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I was extremely thorough when it came to querying agents. I read their websites. I followed them on Twitter. I read books they represented. I followed comments on Querytracker to see what type of feedback other writers were getting. I tried to get a real sense for their literary tastes, pet peeves, and slush-pile nightmares.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I spent months on my query letters. I bought a book about how to write query letters (2012 GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS by Chuck Sambuchino) and studied it like I was going to take a final exam on the topic. I began each query with something particular to that agent—an article I’d read about them, a blog post they ’d written, a book they represented. I wanted to let them know that I was NOT mass mailing agents. I had really done my homework and been thoughtful about this. It’s a pretty large imposition to ask total strangers to spend their precious time reading my creative writing. I owe it to them to be thoughtful about my request.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
First, don’t give up!

Second, enter writing competitions that are judged by literary agents. It’s a wonderful way to get exposure for your work.

Third, be kind and be professional. In my experience, agents are reasonable and professional. Just like any other business, they respond to people who submit polished work in a professional manner. Write the greatest query letter and novel you possibly can. That’s the most important thing!
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
I would love to, but I can’t because it has spoilers in it! I don’t want to ruin the story in case any of you would like to read it. SIGNS OF YOU doesn’t release until July 19, 2016, but it is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

P.S. I’ll always be grateful to Querytracker. Logging on each day, tracking my progress, and being a part of a community of writers who were brave and effective enough to be submitting—it was a gift. Thank you.