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An Interview with Michael Goins upon receiving an offer of representation.

05/04/2013

Michael Goins (professor on QT) has signed with agent Claire Gerus of Claire Gerus 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 BLUE PAINT ROAD is the first in a trilogy about several families – Black and White – in Texas. The idea for this book came from filler in a local newspaper about the discovery of a Civil War soldier’s skeleton somewhere in Georgia. That led to 1200 pages, and then the breakdown into three stand-alone books.
How long have you been writing?
Most of my life. Poetry as an undergrad, flash fiction, short stories, and then longer fiction later.
How long have you been working on this book?
This book is more than five years of work including the research and a lot of rewriting, although that includes the work done on book two and book three. I wasn’t sure originally where I wanted to go, so initially the manuscript was basically character driven - a pretty slow way to write.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Not with the writing, but I did begin to doubt the whole agenting process with the number of agents who wrote wonderful things about my writing and the story and then said, “but I don’t have the type of contacts needed for this type of book.” That included the VP of a major agency, an agent who was super hot last, and a principal in a big agency, etc., including others that are top tier. It was very, very frustrating to hear over and over that someone “loves” the manuscript/story/concept/whatever but didn’t have the right editor/publisher contacts for this type of book.
Is this your first book?
No. I have the usual first book in a desk drawer and I wrote a YA novel as a part of my masters program. A bound copy of it is in the archives of a university.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I have a MA in creative writing and something like a million butt-in-chair hours of writing practice. I also occasionally teach creative writing at the university level and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing writers.
Do you follow writing "routine" or schedule?
Not really. Because I teach fulltime, I tend to write sporadically, depending upon what is needed at the moment, where I am in any given semester, and what I’m teaching as most of my classes are very grading intensive. I do get a tad obsessed when rewriting or working on a deadline and I tend to have 3-5 projects going at the same time, so there is always something to write on at any given opportunity. Many nights I’m writing until midnight or so.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Many, many times. There is no excuse for not rewriting as needed and all of THE BLUE PAINT ROAD has been through a lot of versions.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I did originally, but the last dozen versions have had only my wife as my sounding board.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
THE BLUE PAINT ROAD is almost totally from the hip as I had a premise and some great characters but I wasn’t sure where I was going with them. It was originally a single, too-long book that I decided to break into three parts, so I had to do a fair amount of rewriting to make all three stand-alone. Books two and three are outlined, though I find myself wandering back and forth across it sometimes.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
My agent search this time around is a little different. I had an agent I found on QT that just didn’t work out for a number of reasons and the biggest problem there was that it cost me a year and a half or so. After we parted, I worked on some other projects while rethinking my needs. I got serious about querying THE BLUE PAINT ROAD in January, so about four months.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
More than 400, but I had more-or-less continuous requests for fulls of about 10% or so. The problem most of the time was either a lack of any response or a request for a full followed later by the “I love it, blah, blah, blah, but…”
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Professionalism level, experience, and sales posted to Publisher’s Marketplace. I turned down several agent offers before signing with Claire Gerus.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Almost never. I tried to write an effective query and targeted those who claimed to represent what I write. Unfortunately, too many really don’t. Only when I had a dozen or more fulls out most of the time and about she same partials out did I really try to target any agent, and that was usually based on earlier email conversations we’d had.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
To never give up and to understand that finding the right agent is every bit as important as writing a good book. An agent is not the answer – the right agent is the answer, so look smart, do the research, and then make the hard decision.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure. My approach was maybe a little different as I always sent the query, a short bio, and the first three chapters unless the agent specifically said otherwise. I feel this gave them an opportunity to see how I write and enough information about me to know whether or not to follow up. Most were by email. A few were snail mail queries.

Dear Ms. Agent Name:

THE BLUE PAINT ROAD, the first in a trilogy of inter-related stand-alone novels, is an involved, multi-layered journey through several generations of families – black and white, with the story woven through the three books from the start of the Civil War to present time.

Less than an hour after she was born, Rain was traded to her grandmother for a worthless old dog. So when the old woman who raised her, the only family she has ever known, dies in her arms, Rain is surprised by the secret she has kept for nearly thirteen years – her father is alive and living up river.

On her journey, she discovers that being free can be more dangerous than being a slave, that real friends come in all forms, and that life has a way of coming full circle. As she searches for the man she never knew, she finds an aunt that will come to replace her mother, danger she didn’t expect, and a way to help the local folk doctor, Gullah Jack, find his own path home. Only then does she recover the part of her that was always missing.

Complete at 95,000 words, THE BLUE PAINT ROAD is a look at slavery and specifically the people it affected from their side of the color line, from their daily lives to the struggles and the many relationships that made life itself possible and, at times, nearly impossible. It is about friendship, the value of freedom, family, love, and above all, the human capacity for hope.

Written to stand alone, it is the first in a trilogy that examines people, their decisions, relationships, and the long and short shadows we all cast with our lives.

I have a master’s degree in creative writing, an addictive interest in behind-the-scenes examination of American history and a fascination with people and what motivates them.

Please let me know if I might send you a copy of THE BLUE PAINT ROAD.

Sincerely,

William Michael Goins