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An Interview with Gina X Grant upon receiving an offer of representation.

06/22/2013

Gina X Grant (stormgrant on QT) has signed with agent Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
You might find, as I did, that it’s a lengthy road from inspiration to representation and eventually, publication. Which means… I’m not quite sure where the original inspiration came from. I do recall driving home from a sci-fi convention telling a pal I had an idea for a book featuring Death as the main character. “Read Mort by Terry Pratchett,” she said, making a sharp left. Since Sir Terry had already written the definitive book(s) about Death, I chose to write about a Reaper instead.
How long have you been writing?
Unlike many people, I didn’t start young. Well, I suppose I did, but then I let twenty-five years lapse between being voted in high school “mostly likely to become an author” and posting my first fanfic story in the late ‘90s.
How long have you been working on this book?
The oldest version I can find on my computer is dated 2008, although I think I actually started in 2007. In 2010, I began shopping it around. I still had the DDJ (Dreaded Day Job) back then.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I could give it all up any time. Honest. Just let me finish this next chapter/project/series. In October 2012, my day-job employer was offering voluntary layoff packages. I leapt up, shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” and for the first time in my life, found myself without a structured day-time pursuit. If I didn’t spend eight hours a day at my computer marketing and writing, what would I do? Besides, all my friends are writers and we’d have nothing to talk about if I wasn’t writing and actively pursuing publication.
Is this your first book?
Nope. I have two other full length novels that I shopped around and eventually published with small presses/epublishers, as well as a whack of shorter stories and--gasp!--fanfiction. (Although thanks to 50 Shades, a writer having begun their career as a fanfictioneer, or even a story having begun life as a fanfic is no longer something to keep hidden.
Do you have any formal writing training?
My degree and background are in marketing, which helps me a great deal after the book is finished. But in terms of storytelling, I am self-taught. I've ploughed through a stack of books on the craft of writing and attended countless lectures over the years. I can't recommend the RWA (Romance Writers of America) highly enough. Even if you don't love romance, there's so much information sharing, pitch and promotion opportunities. Writing is NOT a lonely profession.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Yes, very much so. I wake early, around 6:30, walk the dogs and read my email and blogs. Anything that requires a lengthy time commitment I mark for later. Then I start writing or editing. I set my timer for 90 minutes. When it goes off, I do something physical, such as Tai Chi exercises or housework. There’s nothing like lugging a basket of laundry up two flights to get the old creative juices pumping.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
As many times as it takes. I wrote and re-wrote the Reluctant Reaper book many, many times as I learned more and more about the craft of writing. Then I received a Revised & Resubmit from rockstar agent Rosemary Stimola (of HUNGER GAMES fame). I re-wrote per her suggestions as best I could, and then engaged professional editor Lisa Stone Hardt to help me with the rest.

Of course once Simon & Schuster bought the novel, editor Adam Wilson had a whole whack of new changes for me to make, including splitting the first book into two and rewriting them to stand alone. And adding a third book to wrap up all the plotlines. This was the first time I’d written “to deadline” and I don’t mind telling you it was a scary thing.

Did you have beta readers for your book?
Let’s just say the Acknowledgements page in the book is hefty.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I fall somewhere in the middle of the Plotters-Pantsers continuum, more toward the Plotter end. I used to use GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict) by Debra Dixon and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, but now I tend to rely more on a narrative outline—the story of the story. I feel that plotting is like test-driving a car or trying on a jacket. You want to see if you’re still interested in the story by the time you’ve outlined it. Because if it doesn’t hold your interest, it’s not going to hold anyone else’s.

But no matter what outlining method you use, there’s always lots of room for the story to go in interesting directions. So really, I plot my story, but pants my scenes. I’m often surprised by what ends up on the page. It’s as if my muse takes over my wee typing fingers, bypassing my brain altogether.

How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
It’s not so much a question of time, but rather of the number of rejections. According to my detailed Excel spreadsheets, I’ve had a total of 142 rejections over the course of contracting three full-length novels. I’ve actually sold all three novels, the first one twice!

While I was shopping the Reaper novel around, I wrote a completely different novel, which sits on my hard drive waiting for me to get back to it. Which I will do just as soon as I finished proofing the galleys for Book 1 (THE RELUCTANT REAPER), finishing the line edits for Book 2 (SCYTHE DOES MATTER), and the copy edits for Book 3 (ESPRIT DE CORPSE).

All the books I write have series potential, but it’s wise not to write Book 2 until Book 1 sells. (Exception: If you’re writing a romance or other genre “connected” series where the books are not chronological, but each one is a stand-alone story. For example, each person in an apartment complex finds love. Or a body.)

About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Forty-two—the meaning of life, the universe and everything. (If you don’t recognize this from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide, then you really should read those books!)
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I queried only agents who represented or were seeking humorous urban fantasy. I would find a book I liked, then use Amazon’s “People who bought… also bought” feature to find similar books. Then use Query Tracker to find out who represented those books and how to contact them.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Yes. I wrote a “base letter” and then tried to find something unique to say to each agent. It’s with query letters that my marketing background really helps. In the case of Rosemary Stimola, the agent I eventually landed, I had actually met her at a writer’s conference in Mexico. Research has shown that the most powerful words in the English language are 1) You and 2) I, so I began the letter with “You and I met at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference…” I went on to compliment her keynote address and then, I broke a lot of the rules of the query letter by telling her about her business. I felt I’d written a story for the brand new New Adult (aka Post YA) market and was trying to convince her to take me on even though she only represented YA, MG and children’s books. I quoted facts and figures and must have convinced her to at least take a look at the book. Interestingly, in her Revise & Resubmit, she pointed out that I needed to re-tailor the book to the New Adult market. And she was right!
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Take the time. Make sure you follow the formula: the hook, the book, and the cook, but then, add in other stuff. A few years back there was something called The Query Project on the net. One-hundred authors posted the query letters that had landed them agents and you know what? Nearly every one of them contained information outside the basic hook, book, cook.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
I’ll do better than that. I’ll share what I wrote, and I have my agent’s permission to also share the proposal she shopped around.

So here’s my letter. Keep in mind the final book is no longer set in the 80s, but has been re-set now, complete with Hellphones and the UnderWorld Wide Web. (SPOILER ALERT: This query letter gives away the endings of the first two books.)

Query: SCYTHE DOES MATTER, Humorous Urban Fantasy, 95,000 words, sent 4/12/11

Dear Ms. Stimola,

You and I met at the 2010 San Miguel Writer’s Conference. It was a pleasure chatting with you and I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation.

Recently, Kelley Armstrong spoke to my RWA group, and one of the topics covered was the “New Adult” genre. She spoke of it being the brainchild of St. Martin’s Press, and covered the next level of “firsts” in a person’s life following YA. Firsts such as first time away from home, first apartment, first job, first serious relationship, possibly even first marriage. The protagonist would be age 18 to 26.

A recent article quoted St. Martin’s Press VP Matthew Shear as saying of both New Adult readers and protagonists: “[These are] emerging adults who are navigating career, love and family in a 24/7 connected world.”

Due to a pitch opportunity, St. Martin’s Press has a requested full of SCYTHE DOES MATTER. It has not been shopped to other publishers.

This manuscript features a heroine who is 25 years old—forever.

SCYTHE DOES MATTER, complete at 95,000 words, is a darkly funny urban fantasy, and a finalist/winner in three recent RWA contests.

It’s 1988 and 25-year-old Kirsty d’Arc thinks her life is great, until her boss steals her soul and sends it to Hell. Reaped before her time, her body falls into a coma while her spirit is dragged to the underworld.

She files a Wrongful Reapage Appeal with the Court of Death, but the wait time is decades! She tries to flee, but her escape attempts leave her battered, baffled, and bleeding Karmic Kredit with every bizarre adventure.

Desperate to reunite body and soul before her time runs out, she’s so focused on exit strategies that she fails to notice she’s building a new and better life in Hell with friends, family, and Dante Alighieri, the very sexy 13th-century-poet-turned-Reaper next door.

When her Appeal is denied, she enrolls in Reaper Ed., where she finds the calling, the revenge, and the love she craves.

It’s not until she earns her earthly life back as reward for saving both Hell and the Mortal Coil that she finally gets… there’s no place like Hell.

This “Wizard of Oz” meets Dante’s "Inferno" romp through the underworld chronicles Kirsty’s struggle to escape Hell’s clutches and return to her life on earth.

Although SCYTHE DOES MATTER stands alone, it is the foundation of The Reluctant Reaper series.

My writing experience includes commercial copywriting, as well as fiction. I have a degree and extensive background in marketing and administration. My writing credits under the pseudonym “Storm Grant” (www.stormgrant.com) include two full-length novels: contemporary romance, GYM DANDY (MLR Press, 2009), and urban fantasy, SHIFT HAPPENS (Amber Quill Press, December 2010), as well as shorter works published with small print and electronic presses. I am a Board member of the RWA’s Toronto chapter and a member of the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter, as well.

Thank you for your time and interest.

~ Gina

Based on this query, I received a request for a full, and subsequently, a revise and resubmit suggesting a contemporary and a tighter timeline. I made the changes and signed with Rosemary in September of 2011.

Rosemary began shopping my book around right away. She sent her proposal to the large traditional publishers only. We received rejections from all of them and I turned back to my new work-in-progress.

Then, unexpectedly, we received an offer from Simon & Schuster. The editor contacted Rosemary, leaving the chain of emails back to her original proposal, intact.

Interestingly, the first editor at S&S who saw it and rejected it, still liked it enough to fire it over to a second editor. She also liked it but felt it wrong for her line and sent it to Adam Wilson who not only liked it, but had the right imprint to market a wacky novel from an untried author. Awesome!

Here’s the proposal Rosemary sent. It riffs off my original query letter, but she isn’t afraid to use superlatives that I, polite little Canadian that I am, would have felt immodest. (Spoiler alert: Contains spoilers for the series.)

To Simon & Schuster (Note: Rosemary is not fond of caps.)

we have not yet had the pleasure, but i was discussing the project at hand with agent colleague, kristin nelson, and she suggested it might very well be of interest to you and suited to your list at Gallery. as such, my assistant, allison remcheck and I are pleased to share with you today, the shockingly original with just the right touch of smart, snark and tongue-in-cheek, SCYTHE DOES MATTER, a stand alone novel with strong series potential and great commercial appeal by Gina X. Grant, certain to strike a chord with a large audience.

Pitch is below, and a proposed series overview along with synopsis and the completed manuscript are attached.

We appreciate the look and look forward to your thoughts,

Subject: Fresh hell... 

Life for Kirsty D’Arc might not be perfect in many ways, but it does have its good points. She doesn’t have many friends or an active social life, but she likes her job, likes her boss, and has been steadily moving up the Public Relations career ladder. How could she have ever foreseen that, on her twenty-fifth birthday, she would step in front of a Reaper’s scythe to save her boss’s life, leaving her body in a coma and sending her soul to hell, unaware that he has made a Deal with the Devil in exchange for her soul? Kirsty must now find a way to reunite body and soul, assure that her boss does not decide to bargain for the soul of the aunt who raised her-- the only family she has--and see to it that he has hell to pay! 

Hell is not quite the fire and brimstone realm Kirsty might have expected—it’s quirky, strange, and yet, not without its charms. With more room in her social calendar, she finally finds herself open to having more friends, falling in love with the very reaper who scythed her soul, Dante (yes, that Dante), and sets about to becoming a Reaper in her own right. She is no longer quietly floating by--with a Karmic Points system, she is making up for all she didn’t do on earth. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In SCYTHE DOES MATTER, Gina X. Grant introduces a fantasy heroine for today, perfect for fans of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse and Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next; and yet, reminiscent of the classic figures of Dorothy or Alice, naïve and unused to her new world, but powerful in ways she hasn't yet discovered. What makes Kirsty a stand out--apart from her style and personality--is rather than staying a visitor, she makes a new world for herself and proves that for her at least, there is no place like hell. 

GINA X. GRANT decided to write her first novel when she was looking for reading material, and decided she would write what she wanted to read. Luckily, despite her business degree, she retained the quirky sense of humor so much a signature force in her book. From Toronto, Canada, Grant sits on the board of the Toronto chapter of the Romance Writers of America. She lives with her husband and their miscellany of rescued pets all named for famous jazz musicians. Gina hates jazz, but enjoys baroque, and has been known to declare, “If it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it!” 

My undying thanks to Rosemary, Allison and Adam for taking a risk on my “shockingly original” series.

Available wherever eBooks are sold. 

Book 1. THE RELUCTANT REAPER

Death is what happens while you’re making other plans.

June 17, 2013

Book 2. SCYTHE DOES MATTER

Be careful what you wish for, it just might get you!

July 15, 2013

Book 3. ESPRIT DE CORPSE

Hell is where the heart is.

August 19, 2013