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An Interview with Irene Zabytko upon receiving an offer of representation.

06/13/2022

Irene Zabytko (irenelit on QT) has signed with agent Claire Roberts of Claire Roberts Global Literary Management.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
There are two books that my new agent is going to represent, both are literary fiction works. One is a novel based on the life of Nikolai Gogol, the other is a collection of short stories that take place after the fall of the Soviet Union in Ukraine.
How long have you been writing?
Many years--since I was a kid. Professionally, my first published novel was in 2000 and I've published short stories, book reviews, essays etc. prior to that time.
How long have you been working on this book?
Again many years on and off. The Gogol book was written and nearly completed when I was a Fulbright research scholar in Ukraine during 2016-2017. The collection of short stories took longer to write since it was piece-meal. and was published last year.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Giving up was often a way out, but it always came to the fundamental quesion I asked myself: what else could I do as well, and more importantly--what else would make me happy. I was miserable when I wasn't writing--more so than when the writing wasn't go well.
Is this your first book?
No. My first book was a novel about Chornobyl called THE SKY UNWASHED, published by Algonquin in 2000 (and without an agent!), the second was a collection of short stories based on my Chicago Ukrainian neighborhood, WHEN LUBA LEAVES HOME again published by Algonquin and represented by an agent (a rather bad one). I self-published the collection of short stories I mentioned called THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER but will take it off Amazon so that my new agent (love saying that!) can shop it around with the Gogol novel that has yet to be published.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Yes, an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Vermont College.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Not really. I do set deadlines and try to fit in the writing time to meet that deadline.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I'm still doing it! Even the short stories which will be changed in its theme for better marketability.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
No.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
From the hip and the mind and the gut. I never really what I'm doing until I'm doing it in the writing.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I didn't query agents for the short story collection, but I've wrotten to agents for the Gogol novel since 2017. Quite a long time.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Hard to remember--perhaps 20 or so on and off. Sometimes I would abandon sending quries out and take on other projects then return to the querying after the time periods of waiting (usually two to three months).
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
They have to rep literary fiction writers and preferably ones I have heard of or read. They should also have a global clientele and a track record of sales. I truly did not want to have an agent who was new in the business. It was important for me to find someone who has an appreiciation for literary fiction and is able to go fully global with my books.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Yes, I checked their websites, read up on articles about them especially in Publisher's Weekly and scoured their clients' books to see if we were a good match.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Definitely subscribe to Querytracker and do the things I did in the previous question. Don't give up and expect rejections and escpecially silence. So many agents will never respond back, a rude practice I found endemic in publishing. Then start all over again and if necessary re-read your work and spruce it up to make it more attractive. Very much like dating.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
I wouldn't mind doing that later. As I mentioned I just signed on with an agent and don't feel quite ready to share it right now. But happy to do so in a few months time.