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An Interview with JS Dewes upon receiving an offer of representation.

06/01/2018

JS Dewes (jsdama on QT) has signed with agent Margaret Bail of Fuse Literary.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
The Divide is an adult science fiction about a group of court-martialed soldiers stationed at the edge of the universe.

The original inspiration came from a lyric in the song “Highwayman” (written by Jimmy Webb, performed by The Highwaymen) that goes, “I fly a starship across the universe divide.” It got me thinking about what might happen if you could reach the edge of the universe. I drew inspiration from a lot of other sources as well (Battlestar Galactica, Mass Effect) but that was the spark that got me going!

How long have you been writing?
I wrote some short stories when I was really young, then started writing scripts and making films in high school, which was my main focus in storytelling through college and beyond. Then about four years ago (2014) I started writing fan fiction, and fell in love. I decided to try my hand at writing original work about three years ago, and have been writing nonstop since!
How long have you been working on this book?
About a year and a half total. I drafted from August-December 2016, then worked on revisions with critique partners and beta readers until June 2017, then started querying.
Is this your first book?
The Divide is my second book. I needed some distance after writing my first book before tackling major revisions, so I started writing The Divide to “take a break” and clear my head. I’m really glad that first book gave me such grief, or this one may not have happened!
Do you have any formal writing training?
Not in fiction writing, though I did take a couple screenwriting courses as part of my cinematography curriculum in college.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I lucked out tremendously with The Divide, and the first draft came out really clean. I did cut one scene, and I had to rewrite one of the action scenes three times before I finally found the right version. Then after I signed with my agent, I did some heavy prose trimming to cut about 10k words. But structurally, it’s the same book now as it was in the first draft.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I did have quite a few beta readers! I did a beta swap with a few other writers (courtesy of The Novel Exchange group on Scribophile.com) then I was lucky enough to be featured on the BetaBooks.co newsletter, and was connected with a bunch of great beta readers through them.

I can’t stress enough how important readers are to the writing process. Though, it’s also important to be patient and careful with how you execute that feedback. Sometimes your knee-jerk instinct is to jump right into edits and make changes right away, but I’ve found it’s immensely important to gather many varied opinions (both from readers of the genre, and those less familiar), then look at it as a whole before making major revisions.

Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
With The Divide, I wrote 100% from the hip. I had an understanding of the concept, but when I started writing the first chapter, I had no idea where the story was going to lead, I hadn’t even done any preliminary worldbuilding! As I wrote, things began to shape up and I had a general idea in the back of my mind of where things might be headed. But it was really a journey of discovery from chapter to chapter, which made it a ton of fun to write.

However, that approach has not worked quite as well with my next WIP, and I’ve found myself outlining a little bit more in advance. I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of writer that completes a detailed outline before starting to draft, but I may start planning concepts and plot a little more thoroughly for future books. I’m definitely still learning what my ideal writing process is!

How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This is the first and only book I’ve queried. I queried for about seven months, though I took about a two month break during the holidays (November to mid-January) where I didn’t send out any new queries, since that seemed like a busy/non-responsive time for agents. Just from perusing Twitter, I got the impression a lot of agents try and clear their query inboxes before the new year, so it seemed like a great time to start querying again was around the second week of January, when they’re getting back into the swing of things, but their query inboxes are less full than usual.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent out 50 queries total. Of that, I had 9 requests: 2 partials, 5 fulls, and 2 offers of rep.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I definitely did, whenever possible. This was usually in the form of an opening paragraph along the lines of “I saw your #MSWL tweet about looking for stories with bear-sharks, so I thought this might be of interest to you.” Or, “I saw in your interview on Website.com that you love Battlestar Galactica.”

However sometimes, there just wasn’t anything specific to mention beyond “you like science fiction.” In those cases, I just kept it simple, and dove directly into the story.

What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Workshop your query letter with other writers until you can’t stand to look at it another second, then wait a week or two, and do it all again. Waiting is key — you’ll be able to be much more objective after you’ve had some time away from it. And get as many different people to look at it as possible. Critique partners are great, but even better if you can get people who don’t already know the story. The more eyes you can get on it, the better!

Also, participate in Twitter pitch events! Though I didn’t find my agent that way, I got 5 of my 9 partial/full requests from Twitter pitch events. It’s also just a great way to practice pitching your stories, learn how to concisely talk about your ideas, and connect with other authors.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure! I used basically the same query the whole time, though I did change up the word count/comps/genre paragraph a few times. I found I got a better response from agents when I was more specific about genre features and comps.

Dear Margaret Bail,

At the edge of the universe lies the Divide. Veteran war hero Adequin Rake commands a dreadnaught-turned-watchtower stationed along the invisible boundary. Adequin never thought her decorated career would be rewarded with the opportunity to babysit delinquent soldiers billions of lightyears from civilization. But, here she is.

An even more tiresome challenge presents itself in the form of exiled prince Cavalon Mercer. Forced to enlist after a “familial disagreement” (which may have involved explosives), the disowned royal wants nothing more than to lie low and go unnoticed. But relentless snark and a complete lack of self-preservation instincts quickly land him in the crosshairs of anti-royalist soldiers.

Then the universe starts to collapse.

Stranded without access to faster-than-light travel or functioning comms, this motley crew must find a way to escape the Divide as it closes in on them and — if possible — stop it before the universe collapses completely.

No pressure.

THE DIVIDE is a 121,000-word science fiction adventure told in dual-POV, with series potential. It will appeal to fans seeking the high-stakes adventure of space opera, while maintaining a small scope that focuses on characters. It’s Battlestar Galactica meets the Night’s Watch at the edge of the universe, and will attract fans of Ancillary Justice and Leviathan Wakes.

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Film from Columbia College Chicago. I’ve written scripts for award-winning films which have screened at San Diego Comic-Con and dozens of film festivals across the nation.

Please find a short synopsis and the first ten pages pasted below. Thank you very much for your time and consideration!

Best regards,

Jenny Dewes

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