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An Interview with Katherine Ernst upon receiving an offer of representation.

05/08/2012

Katherine Ernst (whatremains on QT) has signed with agent Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
This book is a Middle Grade Contemporary about twelve-year-old Emily Pincus who's half-Jewish and half-Mennonite, but doesn't feel like she fits in with either side of her family. After her conservative Mennonite cousin says that only good Christians can know true love, she sets out to scientifically prove her cousin wrong by trying to strictly follow all the rules in the Bible for being a loving person. That's easier said than done, however, so high-jinks ensue. I was inspired to write this book because I am, myself, half-Mennonite and half-Jewish and while many of the specific events of the book are fictional, I also never felt entirely like I fit into my family even though I loved them very much.
How long have you been writing?
I've been writing fiction seriously for about two years now. Prior to that I had never written so much as a short story.
How long have you been working on this book?
I actually wrote this book in about 4 months, but it's not the first book I wrote and queried to agents.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Honestly, no. My writing journey started a few years ago when my friend Michelle Bruhn and I decided to co-write a YA Fantasy novel. That experience taught me that I am capable of writing an entire novel. We queried that book and were disappointed that we didn't immediately have a 6-figure multi-book deal. By that time, however, I had been bitten by the writing bug, so I wrote another YA contemporary of my own and sent that out to over 100 agents. I only got a handful of requests, though. I then wrote this MG Contemporary and immediately received interest which ultimately culminated in a few offers. Even though I received a lot of rejection, I never felt like giving up because all the important people in my life (my husband, my mom, my close friends) kept telling me that I have talent and that sooner or later an agent would see it.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I'm actually a lawyer by trade, although I gave up practicing a few years ago. I've never taken a creative writing class in my life, although since I've started writing seriously, I've read dozens of books on writing and I read in my genre every day to see what works and what doesn't.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
When I'm working on a project I try to write for at least two hours a day, or 2000 words.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I'm a very careful outliner. My outlines tend to be about 1/3 the length of the book. Thus, once I start the "first draft" I know exactly what is going to happen and when. After I write that draft, I generally only have polishing to do after that.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
For the novel I co-wrote, we had 8 or 9 beta readers where we received extensive feedback, but by the time I was working on this book, the only beta readers I had were my husband, my mom, and a friend from a writer's group I'm a part of. For the most part, not a lot changed. Honestly, sometimes I question the utility of beta readers. Having one or two good beta readers (good defined as someone who knows your genre, writes well themselves, and "gets" your vision) is helpful. Beyond that, you'll just drive yourself crazy trying to make everyone happy.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I had been querying for this book for about three weeks before I found my agent. Before I had even started querying agents for this book, I won a pitchapalooza event with The Book Doctors. The prize of that event was for them to put me in contact with an appropriate agent, which they did. After winning that, I queried about 10 agents myself. A week later I met an editor from a small publishing house at a writer's conference. He loved my premise and asked for the full. Within two days he had offered me a publishing contract. I then sent nudges to all of the agents with my full (about 8 at this point) letting them know I had an offer from a publisher. Eventually they all passed which made me think that no agent was going to want to represent my book. I was about to sign with the small publisher even though I was nervous about going it alone when one final agent got back to me and said she was interested in reading the full. At that point I thought, you know what, I better send out more queries before I give up on the idea of landing an agent. I sent out about 30 more queries, and I received about fifteen or so requests. From that group I got two offers and three or four others were still seriously considering it when I decided to sign with my now agent, Amy Tipton. It just goes to show that you shouldn't give up. Just because 8 people passed doesn't mean everyone will.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Having queried before, I was generally familiar with the big agencies and who looked appealing. I do believe that researching agents is important, although every agented writer I know will tell you that she queried Agent X thinking she'd be a perfect fit based on her interests, and yet that agent passed. There is only so much you can do to get your manuscript into the right hands, and the rest is luck.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Honestly, for this one I didn't because I had to move so quickly and yet I had an extremely high request rate, including requests from many of the top houses. I did personalize the query for the previous book I wrote, and my request rate was much much lower. Take that for what you will.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Just keep writing. If you can't find someone to represent your first book, write a second book, and if you can't find someone to represent that, write a third.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Twelve-year-old Emily Pincus is half-Jewish, half-Mennonite, and the wrong half for both.

When Emily’s parents divorce, her mother takes her to live with her Mennonite grandparents. (Think coverings and no television, not horse & buggies and no electricity). While her family loves her, Emily feels like an outsider. It’s small consolation to be one of “God’s chosen people” when you don’t even know which Bible verse that comes from.

After Emily’s cousin says that her parents’ marriage was doomed to fail because only Christians can know true love, Emily sets out to scientifically prove her cousin wrong. She might not know Ishmael from Isaac, but she makes it her goal to strictly follow all the rules in the Bible for being a loving person.

Being perfectly loving is easier said than done, however, especially with an annoying little brother, a needy friend at school, and a cousin who seems perpetually irritated with her. No matter how hard it is, though, Emily is determined to prove her cousin wrong because if she’s right, Emily’s prospects for a happy life are in jeopardy.

My Contemporary Middle Grade novel WHAT REMAINS is Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret meets the Pennsylvania Dutch. Complete at 32,000 words, this book is in the format of Emily’s science experiment. The pitch for this novel recently won The Book Doctor’s Pitchapalooza held in New Hope, Pennsylvania. I write for CBS Local’s Arts & Culture beat in Philadelphia, and I blog at www.KatherineErnstWrites.com. Moreover, I am myself half-Mennonite and half-Jewish, making me the perfect person to write this book.