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An Interview with Peter Clenott upon receiving an offer of representation.

Peter Clenott (pclenott on QT) has signed with agent Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins & Associates, Inc..

How long have you been writing?
I began writing after I took my last college exam. That was in May 1973. That means a hell of a lot of rejection slips piled up before I had my first book published in April 2008.
Was there a time when you felt like giving up, and what helped you stay the course?
I certainly felt depressed and angry at times, but I never considered giving up. I enjoyed the process, believed in my talent, and felt I just needed to find the right agent to see what I saw in my writing. I was able to find agents during that time period. None of them worked out, but the fact that I was able to generate some interest kept my hopes up.
Is this your first book?
As you can imagine, I have written many books in 34 years. My first published book, HUNTING THE KING, came out in April. It was published by a new independent publisher from Canada called Kunati Books. I did not have an agent for that contact, but I used the fact that I was now a published author in my queries to agents when looking for representation for ALBERTVILLE. I still got and am still getting rejections even though I have now secured an agent for ALBERTVILLE.
How long have you been working on this book?
The novel was actually a screenplay that I wrote sometime in the 1990s. The novel took about two months to write, using the screenplay as a skeleton outline and adding more plot and character.
Do you have any formal writing training?
None. I have learned by reading other writer's work and by getting feedback. Writers should never be wary of seeking a critical review of their work. Even if it might cost some money, so long as the criticism is delivered by an experienced professional.
Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
When I didn't have children, I would try to write ten pages a day. A 400 page novel gets written in 40 days that way. ALBERTVILLE was written during lunch breaks and during my second overnight weekend job. I always begin the writing session rereading what I wrote yesterday. This way I am editing with a clear mind and building up momentum into writing the new material.
How many times did you rewrite/edit your book?
The editing process is ongoing. I am always reviewing my work. As above, I begin the day rereading what I wrote yesterday. At the end of the day, I do the same, rereading what I just wrote. Because I am interested in the way a story flows from paragraph to paragraph and sentence to sentence, I am also rereading and editing as I go to make sure sentences flow in just the right way. Ultimately, when I am done I hope to have a pretty finished product. I will do one reread at that point to look for discrepancies and such. When I had money, I worked with a former editor who charged me a reasonable fee to proof the manuscript. I would be guaranteed at that point to have a marketable manuscript. Since I couldn't afford to do that this time, I took what I learned from working with her and marketed ALBERTVILLE after my final edit. My new agent had a few discrepancies that she caught that I missed. Otherwise, she thought the manuscript was in pretty good shape.
Did you write from an outline or do you write from the hip.
In the case of ALBERTVILLE, I was following an historic event, so dates and events were set. I used the screenplay as a skeleton outline and added new material to fill out the novel. I always have an outline to work off. Probably not as thorough as some writers. I do like to have some built in flexibility to go off in a direction I hadn't necessarily planned. The flow of the writing will sometimes lead you in unexpected directions, but I think you have to have some idea where you're ending and how you're going to get there. Doing a lot of preparation, research and character biographies before you begin helps to fill out the novel and may give you more plot lines.
How long have you been querying this book? Other books?
I began marketing ALBERTVILLE to agents when I was done with the final draft. I probably was querying for a month or two before I started getting positive responses. I got several besides the agent who ultimately signed on. I don't know if the fact that I had a book out already helped or not. I am still getting rejection letters, so the fact that I am now semi-established as a published author didn't seem to help a lot. I couldn't tell them I had a best seller.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Let's face it, you get so frustrated after a while that you end up querying everyone. Those who say they are looking for your type of book often send rejections saying they're not interested in that type of book. Mostly they just say they get too many queries. I would start with book type, for ex. Agents who like mysteries. Also, if you wrote a mystery, look at the clients they represent. I still say it's who you know, who you slept with, who you went to school with.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent?
I mentioned first and foremost that I had a published novel and that it had received fine reviews. If an agent said something specific about what they were interested in, I might focus on that. If you've written a mystery and you are a crime reporter or a police officer, you mention what you do for a living. The agents want to see that you have some valid expertise, is my guess. If you've been a reporter for ten years, for example, the agent knows at the very least that you've got a long record of writing. I felt I never had anything specific to say about myself, no exciting job, no published material, no awards, to be able to brag about. You have to try to figure out, how is your query going to set you and your novel apart from the crowd. I believe, from the conversations I have had with my agent, that she really liked the concept of the novel. She was of an age when she remembered the events as a child. It struck a chord with her. At least, she read the query. That was clear. I'm not sure if all the agencies do even that. If so, the concept of ALBERTVILLE obviously didn't strike a chord with them. Because the novel takes place in Africa and the main character is a young African American woman, I did try to pitch it to agencies that I got from an African-American literary list. Surprisingly, that wasn't overly effective. I also try to contact agents who say they are interested in strong female characters, historical or political novels. But given the number of rejections I have received, I keep second guessing myself and end up not sure exactly why one agent is excited and many others couldn't care less.
What advice would you give other authors seeking agents?
My track record with agents doesn't inspire confidence. Make sure your novel is truly ready to go. Give it the best synopsis you can. If there is anything you can say about yourself that will help to sell the novel, include that information. Have your pitch down and focus it to the agents who seem most likely to have an interest in your specific issues. Don't oversell. But try to capture their interest in the first sentence.