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An Interview with Jessica Taylor upon receiving an offer of representation.


Jessica Taylor (jdtaylor on QT) has signed with agent Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
BALLAD KEEPER is a YA Urban Fantasy/Mystery about a girl named Lana Kavanaugh, who hops a plane to Ireland to find her missing dad. Once there, she’s swept into the dangerous world of her dad’s Irish folklore research and a sexy romance with a local guitarist—who harbors a mysterious connection to Lana’s father.

I started writing the manuscript during my last year of law school. While circling the school parking lot one day, a familiar song on the radio inspired the opening scene. By the time I got to my class, I couldn’t shake the image of this scene. The desire to write it all down consumed me, and I started writing during my two-hour business associations class. Within a week, I had over 100 pages written and a complete outline. Later, I dropped the class because I had no idea what was going on!

How long have you been writing?
I’ve always loved reading and writing. In 7th grade, I started my first book—an adult romance. Ha. After a few failed attempts as a teen, I decided to let writing be this thing I would do someday—you know, when it was convenient. In May 2010, I decided writing was never going to be convenient and someday couldn’t wait any longer. So I’ve been writing toward finding representation for two years now.
How long have you been working on this book?
That first scene came to me in January 2011. With the obligations of school bearing down on me, I ended up putting those pages away until October 2011, after I’d graduated. After three weeks of writing, my computer crashed, and I lost the entire document. (Stop reading and back up your computer, right now!) By the time I received my computer back from a document recovery service, it was January 2012. Though it took me over a year from first sentence to last sentence, I actually wrote the first draft in five weeks. I edited for a month, sent queries, and realized the book needed a ton of work. (Not a good idea.) I didn’t send more queries for a few months, but much of the editing process happened simultaneously with querying.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Definitely. I felt like giving up when I lost the document. It was expensive to have it recovered, but a friend (who has always read with a critical eye) had fallen in love with the first few chapters and my characters. Her belief in the manuscript kept me writing.
Is this your first book?
This is my third complete manuscript but the first that I’ve “seriously” queried, meaning I self-edited, had critique partners do line edits, and had beta readers read the final product. This was also my first attempt strategically querying and not immediately papering Agentland with my queries.
Do you have any formal writing training?
No, I have nothing formal in terms of writing, not even a creative writing class. But in undergrad, one of my majors was English. Through my major, I took literature and copyediting classes. After law school, I took a job doing some freelance editing of young adult manuscripts.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I wish. I write when the writerly feelings hit me—usually between 1 am and 5 am.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I did 15 rounds of revisions on this manuscript. After the first 8 rounds, I received a revise and resubmit from an agent, which led to me rewriting the entire manuscript in a new voice.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes. I had two critique partners do line edits and three beta readers read for big-picture issues. Most of my betas were friends and acquaintances who weren’t writers but were well-read in young adult literature.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
When I’m researching, I create some of the most elaborate outlines you’ve ever seen—bulletin boards, charts, pages and pages of notes, and character studies—and then I go my own way as soon as I get deep into the story.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried my first manuscript in May 2010 and my second in August 2010. For this third book, I started querying in March 2012. This time, I sent out painfully small batches, hoping for agent feedback. Sarah offered representation on August 20, 2012. At that point, I withdrew queries from all but a handful of agents because I strongly felt Sarah was “the one.”
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent 63 queries and garnered 18 full requests.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Mainly, I looked for agents with similar personalities and interests. I also took into account their clients and track records. You only learn so much about agents through interviews and websites, so following agents' Twitter feeds was an important resource for me in learning more about their tastes. I was also lucky enough to have friends and critique partners who had met or had dealings with many of the agents I queried, including Sarah. Through those positive recommendations, I built my “A” list.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I only tailored queries when I had something genuine to say. For example, with Sarah, I’ve enjoyed reading her blog regularly over the last year, so I mentioned that in my query.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Doling out writing and querying advice makes me feel uneasy because, while writing is a craft, it’s also an art; and very little advice is applicable to everyone. I can say, for myself, the turning point was finding critique partners who shared my sensibilities but also approached my manuscript with their critical machetes. So one piece of advice that I feel holds true universally is finding the right critique partners.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Dear Magnificent Agent,

When seventeen-year-old Lana Kavanaugh’s dad vanishes, he leaves behind only one cryptic clue: the name Blaine O’Sullivan scrawled on a business card for Gallagher’s Pub in Kilkenny, Ireland. Desperate to find her dad, Lana blows off senior year, cashes out her college fund, and hops a plane for the Emerald Isle.

But Blaine, a guitarist with a haunting voice and a dark connection to Irish folklore, isn’t the only Irishman waiting for her at Gallagher’s. Henchmen from two mysterious societies are ready to end Lana's search for her dad—along with her life.

Soon, Lana and Blaine are running around Ireland’s coastline, deciphering anagrams, and navigating an underground world of ancient secrets. Swept into the mythological rivalry between the Tuatha de Danann and the Fomorians, Lana worries the most important clue is the loner tagging along with her—Blaine O’Sullivan.

BALLAD KEEPER, a YA Mystery with a strong fantasy element, combines the international adventure of THE DA VINCI CODE with the seductive allure of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER. The manuscript is fully complete at 89,000 words and has trilogy potential.


Jessica Taylor

If anyone is interested, I have a detailed “agent story” here: