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An Interview with Merial Wiles upon receiving an offer of representation.

11/12/2021

Merial Wiles (merryL on QT) has signed with agent Jill Marr of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
The book I found representation for is a mashup of a lot of genres - gothic romance, historical, psychological horror - but I queried it as an Upmarket Gothic Women's Fiction, as those felt like the most accurate umbrella terms. It's about a woman in a crumbling relationship who is struggling with her mental health whilst staying with her fiance's family at their mysterious gothic estate. The house sweeps her back in time to the 19th century, where she begins a romance with the estate's owner in that time, her fiance's ancestor. But all is not as it seems in the manor, and her mind is just as dark a place as the estate itself.

I have Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder, which I've never really seen represented in fiction and so I wanted to write a protagonist who had this disorder myself. I also drew a lot of inspiration from Taylor Swift's Evermore album and the feeling of isolation and otherness that I experienced while quarantining. I've also just always loved gothic romances like REBECCA and JANE EYRE and wanted to write a modern take on that genre!
How long have you been writing?
I've always been someone that loved writing and have done it my whole life, though I'm not sure my awful childhood books truly count! But I started to take writing seriously in Autumn 2019, when I carved out time and effort in my life to really commit to writing and finishing a book. So, realistically, I've been writing for just over two years.
How long have you been working on this book?
This book was fast! I came up with the idea in early January 2021, starting writing the first draft in mid-January, and finished it in 21 days. The story came out of me almost faster than I could type, and it really all just fell into place. Revisions took me 10 days and my CPs and beta readers were amazingly quick, so I was querying the book by mid-April 2021.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Absolutely. Constantly. It took me 18 months to draft my first book and I nearly gave up so many times because writing is hard and it's something you only get better at by doing it. Querying is also extremely hard and can be really disheartening. While querying my first book it was still exciting enough that rejections didn't get me down. But by the time I queried WHERE IVY DARES TO GROW, the book that got me my agent, the rejections really took a toll on me. I really, really loved this book and thought it had so much potential, so the rejections stung a bit more. I always knew, deep down, that this was what I wanted to do so I would never quit, but oof, those form rejections on full manuscripts made me contemplate it.
Is this your first book?
This is my second book (of three) written, and the second book I queried. My first book was a YA Fantasy that had lots of issues and didn't do so great while querying, because of said issues. I only queried it for about three months before shelving it, especially as I saw my career more as an Adult author.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I have a Masters of Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. While I think MFA programmes can be extremely helpful by pushing you to get comfortable sharing your work and helping you develop an eye as an editor, I don't think they're at all necessary.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I have to wake up and start writing pretty quickly. I usually do a quick workout before sitting down at my laptop by about 9am then I'll write until lunch, go for a walk in nature for an hour or so, then return to writing. I make myself stop writing around 5 or 6 because I know I tend to linger in that mindset and will keep jotting down ideas and lines in my notes app, so I really have to step away from technology and let myself reset in the evenings. I also try to read every night to refill my creative well.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
This book never went through a major rewrite, even with my agent. I'm generally a clean first drafter and I did one round of revisions on my own, mostly line edits, clarifying some things, and fleshing out a couple chapters. Then it went to CPs and betas and I only had some minor tweaks after that.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Absolutely, I think they're a requirement! I have two CPs and also had three betas for this book, in addition to the six members of my MFA writers workshop. I think betas are great, but I'm always wary of having too many or having betas whose opinions you don't know well or trust.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I always have a very loose outline before drafting, that's really more of a list of important scenes I already have in mind. Then I write about 10k words just to find the character voice, get to know the setting, and find the path the plot will take. Then I make a more detailed chapter by chapter outline for the remainder of the manuscript.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried my first book from late October 2020 to early January 2021, then this book from late April 2021 until early October when I got an offer from my agent from #PitDark.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I think I sent just under 60 queries for this book. Honestly, it was probably too many and only about half of those I would query were I doing it now. But you learn as you go!
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I have a "three location" rule for choosing agents to query, which is to research an agent in at least three different locations before querying. I like to check the agency website of course, their Manuscript Wishlist, their twitter, any podcasts or interviews they've done, and asking other writer friends. I narrowed down a list of agents who represented my genre, narrowed it to those that also represented YA as I write in that as well, then chose ones I felt matched the editorial style and career vision I had in mind. My agent actually DMed me after seeing one of my #PitDark pitches, so she sort of found me, but she was already on my list to query!
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Yes, as much as I was able! Since I researched agents so much I always had a good idea of why I was querying them and why I thought they might be interested in the manuscript. I would include that in the opening paragraph of the queries in a really straightforward way: "I queried you because..." or "As you are seeking..."
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Do your research! I know it seems time consuming and dampens the excitement but you want to be sure that you'd be enthusiastic to sign with any agent who offers. Also, make a reward system for yourself for every rejection you get. It can be anything from a nice cup of tea for each pass or 10 passes = a new pair of shoes. Whatever works for you - just try to spin the passes into something positive!
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Of course! Here's the final version of my (far too long) query letter:

Dear [AGENT],

As you are seeking [MSWL], I think WHERE IVY DARES TO GROW, my 76,000 word Upmarket Gothic Women's Fiction may be a good fit for your list.

The spires of Langdon Hall loom dark before Saoirse Read, as does her shadowed past, but the diamond ring on her fourth finger shines bright. Saoirse is bound to spend the coming months in a crumbling cliffside estate, the beloved relic of her elitist in-laws, whose haughty distaste of Saoirse has bled into the mind of their son. As the foursome reside in the house for what is expected to be her terminally ill mother-in-law's final weeks, Saoirse cannot help but feel the darkened halls and howling wind of the manor are her only companions beyond the dark caverns of her own mind, a place she has fought hard to keep from slipping into.

On a stroll through Langdon's mazed garden Saoirse stumbles across a man with an outdatedly charming air, trapped in an eternal spring. He is no intruder but Theo Page, her fiancé's ancestor and owner of the estate in the 19th century, where Saoirse has been displaced by the manor's seeming wrinkle in time. As the house brings Saoirse from her time to the past at will, she can no longer deny her attraction to Theo. It is only a matter of time until their friendship melts into a steamy sexual relationship and, eventually, into something like love. But as her mother-in-law's health worsens, Saoirse knows her time at Langdon Hall – and her time with Theo – is coming to an end. Through the haze of her worsening mental health, she must decide whether to stay with the man she used to love in the present, or the man she could grow to love, in a century that is not her own. But reality is not always as it appears within Langdon Hall.

WHERE IVY DARES TO GROW incorporates elements of speculative historical fiction, gothic romance, and psychological suspense, merging literary and commercial interests within Women's Fiction. It combines the gothic manor intrigue and cross-cultural domestic suspense of Mexican Gothic with the romantic speculative tension of The Haunting of Bly Manor and Outlander.

I am currently a postgraduate Creative Writing student at the University of Edinburgh and hold a MSc in Romantic and Gothic Literature. I run a writing and book focused TikTok account with over 350k followers who have largely followed the conception of this book. This is an #ownvoices story which explores my experiences living as a neurodivergent person with Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder. Through Twitter Pitch contests editors at a number of major publishing houses have expressed interest in the manuscript post-representation.

All my best,

Merial Wiles