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An Interview with MK Nissen upon receiving an offer of representation.

08/04/2013

MK Nissen (MaryMary on QT) has signed with agent Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency, LLC.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
It’s an adult historical novel that begins on the eve of the stock market crash of 1929 and follows a young female socialite from a life of wealth and power into one of bankruptcy and ruin. I’ve always loved the 1920s, but I tend to look for little pieces of history that don’t get highlighted very often in literature. That first year following the 1929 crash is one of those time periods. We all know about the glitz and glamour of the 1920s and we all know about the Great Depression, but there is this little space of a year when the U.S. was trying to figure out what went wrong and how they would deal with so many peoples lives being ruined.
How long have you been writing?
Writing seriously since about 2005. But, I’ve been writing off and on since I was about eleven years old. I’ve always had a passion for historical works and fascinating time periods.
How long have you been working on this book?
I’d say about four years. Writing historical fiction requires a lot of research both before and during the writing of a novel, so I always mark down when an idea hits me to when I feel the project is ready to be shopped around.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Um, yeah. I think most writers go through miserable periods when they think nothing is ever going to happen. I’m very determined when I undertake a new event in my life. In graduate school, I had many times when I wondered why I was doing what I was doing then, but I gritted my teeth and said I would finish. And that’s how I approach my writing. Most of the books I’ve written I’ve loved writing them, but there is one that was like pulling teeth just to finish it. But I was determined to get through the rough draft. And I did. For me, it helps to take a step back at times, a break from the querying and writing. When I come back to write, I know I’m in a better place and that I’m ready to continue. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say my faith didn’t help me in many ways. It’s one thing that helps keep me on my path.
Is this your first book?
It’s not the first one I’ve written; it’s actually my second one. But it’s the first to get picked up by an agent. I’ve written two more since I finished this one.
Do you have any formal writing training?
To a certain extent. I have a bachelors and a graduate degree, both in French. Most of what I focused on for years was in the French language – my Master’s Paper was even in French. When I started writing novels, I had to relearn some of the English language rules again because they seemed to get mixed around with the French rules. I think anyone who has been through a four-year degree program has had to learn how to write legible papers to a certain extent because it’s part of just about every core curriculum. But it’s helped!
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I try to write at least two hours a day. When I start a chapter, I don’t leave my computer until that chapter is finished because that interrupts my thought flow. Most times I write anywhere from 2,000-3,000 words a day when I’m in the middle of writing a new novel. Otherwise, I spend my time researching, editing, or revising.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I honestly don’t know at this point. If I remove sections from my novel, I file them away in case I might need them later. I only make two or three copies of an existing novel, and even then they tend to get solidified down to one copy. I don’t really believe in having multiple versions of one book floating around. That can make things too confusing.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes. I have a small critique group of two other women who write similar genres as I do. I also allow outside friends to read my work only if they are writers themselves and take reading my novel seriously. I almost never let family read my books.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I start with a vague outline of how I want the book to flow. It’s like having a map that guides me as I go along. It also allows for me to change the outline if I feel the book is going in a different direction. Depending on the historical events taking place in the book, I do my best to adhere to the facts and make sure the book hits where it needs to during that time period. Writing without an outline tends to lead me on tangents I don’t need to waste my time on.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This book, a year and a half. My first book, maybe about a year total before I shelved it.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
152 according to my QueryTracker account. But, to be fair, I shouldn’t have been querying it right away in the beginning, something I figured out later on down the line. It needed more work than I originally thought.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Two criteria: First, did they represent historical fiction. Secondly, did they represent women’s fiction. The second criteria not as much as the first, because even though my story follows a female protagonist, most women’s fiction is contemporary. Historical can be a little limiting when looking for an agent, plus it ranges over a broad spectrum: all of history. Believe it or not, some agents don’t really care for certain time periods, so that can narrow the scope down even more. That’s why I would throw in women’s fiction from time to time, especially if an agent showed an interest in both genres.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
My query letter went through many different revisions before I seemed to find a formula that worked. Unless there was something listed on an agent’s website pertaining to what they were looking for, then I sent out a similar letter to most agents. I did include the agent’s address at the top (if it was listed) and I did address the query to the specific agent I was writing.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
It takes a lot of patience, a thick skin (which takes a while to form), and persistence. Don’t try to snag your dream agent; try to snag the RIGHT agent (that being the one who out of the blue falls in love with your work). Go until you’ve exhausted every avenue. Although I didn’t have to exhaust every avenue, I was willing to do that for this book. If, in the end, no one wanted it, then I’d shelve it and move onto the next book. Know when to move onto another project when the time is right. And give yourself a break every now and again from the querying madness. Don’t let it consume your life. Also, if you get consistent feedback on changes, then step back, rework your manuscript accordingly, and then get back out there!