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An Interview with Michelle McLean upon receiving an offer of representation.

Michelle McLean (elknutswife on QT) has signed with agent Krista Goering of The Krista Goering Literary Agency LLC.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve written stories and poems my whole life, but didn’t seriously try to do it professionally until a few years ago.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I’ve definitely had my moments where I wondered why I kept going, but I don’t think I’ve ever seriously considering giving up. I love writing too much, and when it came down to it, I decided I would keep writing whether or not I was ever published. My family and the friends I’ve made through QT have always been there to help support me and keep me going.
Is this your first book?
This is my first non-fiction book. I also have two completed novels.
How long have you been working on this book?
Being non-fiction, it isn’t quite complete yet :) but I’ve been working on it for a couple months.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Yes, I have a Masters degree in English and my emphasis was on creative writing, both fiction and non-fiction. To be honest though, my formal education hasn’t helped me nearly as much as the help I get from my writer friends and critique groups
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
For fiction, I set myself a word count goal each day. With the non-fiction, I’ll set a chapter goal. But with two small children at home, any schedule I create generally flies out the window pretty quick.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I am still in the writing process, but the chapters I have completed I edited myself a couple times and they have gone through my beta readers. They are pretty straightforward so there wasn’t too much to go through except for the grammar and technical stuff. My fiction goes through a lot more drafts :)
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Always! I have a few readers that I send everything I write. I couldn’t make it without them!
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
For fiction, I write from the hip, but for this book I had a simple outline. As a How-To book on writing, the chapters are all very similar, just dealing with different types of writing assignments.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This book I only queried for 3 weeks, from sending out the first letter to the day I got my offer. Everything happened incredibly fast. For my first novel though, I think I queried that for about 2 years before I finally shelved it. After that experience, I was very pleasantly shocked that things with this book moved as quickly as they did.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent 15 for this book – I had 3 requests for my proposal and 5 rejections. I still haven’t heard from the other 7 :)
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
My book really falls under education, but no one lists that as a genre they rep. So I looked for agents that repped How-To books in QT (the next closest genre) and used the links for AgentQuery and Publishers Marketplace to double check them. I also checked Publishers Marketplace for the top 10 dealmakers in the How-To and Reference categories, and non-fiction in general, and then I added a few others that I thought would be good, based on their sales records, similar books they’ve repped, and feedback I’d had from QT members who had left comments and other writers I knew who had experience with them. I came up with a list of my top 20 agents and sent queries to my top 10. Then got a little antsy and sent out 5 more :)
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Not really. I did research them quite a bit, and if I was able to find other books they repped that were similar to mine, I mentioned them.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Don’t give up if this is something you truly love and want. Research those agents until you know everything about them so if an offer comes in, you know if you want to accept it or not. Find a support group of other writers that can help you through the rough patches, who will back you up when you need the support and who will help you polish every word you write.

For non-fiction, having a platform that will help you sell your book is huge, so do what you can to build one. But don’t let not having one stop you from writing if you truly believe in your idea. You do have to have authority on the topic, but if your idea is good enough, the book will sell itself. But you’ve got to be willing to do what you can, both before and after you find your agent, to market your own book and help build that platform. This is something I struggled with because my platform isn’t very strong at the moment. I have the degrees but not the professional background that most agents and publishers look for. Being a stay-at-home mom, my professional background isn’t going to get any better in the next few years. But I knew I had a good idea and I do have the educational and personal experience to back up what I write, so I went ahead and queried.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?

According to the United States Census, there are over 71 million grade school and college students in this county. Each one of these students will be required to take several language arts classes over the course of their educational career. During these courses, students are expected to complete various writing assignments, which include essays of all types, research papers, and the writing of poetry. Yet for many, these assignments are overwhelming and confusing. These assignments prove especially challenging for the four to six percent of students who have learning disabilities.

While there are many textbooks and guidebooks designed to help students and other writers with these types of assignments, the books available generally focus on only one type of writing style (either essays, papers, or poetry - not all of the above) or are so in-depth and complex the average student or writer has a hard time understanding exactly what they need to do.

My proposed book, FROM PAPERS TO POETRY: A HANDBOOK FOR WRITING EVERYTHING FROM ANALYTICAL ESSAYS TO THE VILLANELLE, solves this problem by giving students and writers a fun, user-friendly narrative guide that walks the reader through every step of the most common types of essays, papers, and poetic forms. Unlike the other books out there, my book is both easy enough for junior high school students and those with learning disabilities to understand while still being thorough enough to help college students and freelance writers.

In addition to my personal experience of helping acquaintances both with and without learning disabilities through these types of writing assignments, I hold a BS in History and a MA in English. Over the long course of my education, I honed my writing skills, with exceptional results, and obtained my Master’s with a GPA of 3.96. My publications currently include several essays that appear in various Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I also maintain a blog, Michelle McLean’s Writer Ramblings, where I share my knowledge with aspiring writers and students.

I am committed to building my internet presence and educational networking so that I may help market this book to the best of my ability. I have my blog and website in place where I can promote the book, I will continue to submit other material for various publications, and will promote the book in any publications in which I appear.

If you are interested, I would be happy to send you my completed proposal and sample chapters. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Michelle McLean