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An Interview with Jen Nelson upon receiving an offer of representation.

Jen Nelson (violet1 on QT) has signed with agent Sam Hiyate of The Rights Factory.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
It’s YA urban fantasy and first in a series of three. It’s about wizards, trapped on earth, trying to return to their homeland. Em, an ordinary Midwest girl, will (hopefully!) help them find their way home. The idea popped into my brain when I was at my sister-in-law’s house. Truly, I have no idea where the heck it came from!
How long have you been writing?
Roughly four years, although I started with screenplays. I was an actor but I have a degenerative hearing loss. So auditioning / being on set was becoming increasingly difficult for me. I’d been a movie buff but was having problems hearing, so I naturally turned to books. I’ve always been a reader, but I started devouring books like crazy—because you don’t need to hear to read. I could enjoy and understand every single word. So I think naturally, my artistic side found it’s outlet in writing vs. acting.
How long have you been working on this book?
I wrote it quickly—too quickly. Two months. However, my first ms was similar, and I lifted many of my ideas / themes from that ms. Still, two separate revise / resubmits made my ms what it is today. My first ms took me nearly a year to write—and I think that’s better. You need to dig deep, find layers—and that’s hard to do unless you’re some kind of genius, which I am definitely not.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Are you kidding? Ha! All the time. What helped me the most was believing in my story. QueryTracker (the forum) has also been an amazing support system. And of course, my family and especially my husband—he’s been behind me since day one.
Is this your first book?
No, the second. I do hope someday to tweak my first ms and get it in “working order.”
Do you have any formal writing training?
No, although when I first started writing screenplays, I devoured all kinds of books on writing, character development, story / character arc’s…it was invaluable. And really, in the end, it was all translatable.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Not really. I just sit down and write when I can. I was unemployed when I wrote this ms, which is partly why I was able to write it so quickly. I could work on it 24 / 7 – and I did!
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Too many times to count! I’m a serial editor.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes! Two wonderful teen girls (my target audience) and also DHE and Coldfeet from the forum. I have to give a shout-out to my QT gals, because they’ve been with me since the beginning and have helped me so much. They’ve been truly AMAZING.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
From the hip. The only time I outline is when I have too many events happening to keep track of.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Six months. My first ms I barely queried. My first query was so unbelievably bad... Soon after, I got the idea for this ms and realized the first book needed to be shelved.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Officially, 106. But I’d say it’s closer to 115 or so... I did some "careless" queries that I didn’t bother to record. Mainly because I knew the agents weren’t right, but I felt proactive sending something out.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Mainly those that represented my genre, but certainly not all. Interestingly, many who responded didn’t have my genre listed. Also, I stopped querying men. Not one single male agent ever requested pages. The ms is also a sort of coming-of-age story if you will, and I don’t think men can relate. So after a short time, I chose women only.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Nope. I found that to be a complete waste of time. I did it in the beginning, spent sometimes an hour crafting the query, only to be rejected minutes later. I think it’s helpful if you met that agent at a conference or something similar. But for me I’d just cut and paste, putting the new agent’s name in each time.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
I’d say keep trying of course. But I firmly believe there’s a ton of amazing work out there that will never get noticed for a myriad of reasons. I was an actor for years and it annoyed me to no end when I’d hear actors who had made it say, “Just keep trying, you’ll make it eventually.” Sorry, it’s just not true. Still, I don’t want to be negative! All you can do is move forward. Keep querying until your options run dry.

Also, a famous author gave some advice in one of his books, and I think it bears repeating. (This is not an exact quote, by the way, but it’s close!) “Let other writers critique your work. Put on a thick skin and listen. If something is said once, it can be overlooked. Something said twice or more…they’re right, and you’re wrong. Repeat, they’re right and you’re wrong.” I love this because I think it holds true. I’ll hear writers say, “But my beta loved it…” Betas, if they’re not writers, don‘t know about the first five pages. They may not know about character/ story arcs. So let some writers read your work, listen, and dig in. Your ms will be far better for it.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Wheat fields. Cows. More wheat fields. Yup, for sixteen year-old horror film fanatic Emmeline Victor, this pretty much sums up life in podunk Crystal, Minnesota. But when Chemistry teacher Mr. Castor, a.k.a. the local whack job, hires her as his lab assistant, life goes from the mundane to the extraordinary.

Under his employ, Emmeline discovers freakish things within the Bates Motel, er, his house: A neon green mixture bubbling in the basement, a globe with strange locales dotted across it, and a one hundred year old photograph of Mr. Castor’s royally hot and decidedly not geriatric son, William. The shrieking violins from Psycho resonate in Emmeline’s head. But she discovers the truth is much more bizarre than macabre: Mr. Castor and William are from the land of Anavrin, trapped on Earth, trying to get home.

From the inside of a gnome’s well to the mean streets of New York City, Emmeline is lured into their secret realm of magic. And that’s not the only thing she’s drawn to. As a small town girl, Emmeline is stunned her desire for the gorgeous and worldly William proves to be mutual. But their romance is interrupted when a dangerous game begins. Maleficus, the man responsible for the entrapment, is hunting William for the one thing he needs to conquer Anavrin; something which dangles against William’s perfectly tanned chest. And unbeknownst to Emmeline, she's being used as the bait.