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An Interview with Richard Pearson upon receiving an offer of representation.

04/14/2013

Richard Pearson (TheRole on QT) has signed with agent Eric Ruben of The Ruben Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Sure. My novel is about an actor who finally lands a role that will let him fulfill his dream about becoming the next big Broadway star. Throughout the rehearsal his co-star and director ask him to make several compromises that make him question how much of himself he is willing to give up, in order to realize his dream. The title is currently “The Role” but I know that is subject to change.

I was inspired to write the novel because in addition to be an author and attorney, I am also an actor. I kept thinking one day the book I had in my head would be on the shelves, and I’d read it, and love it, but as time went on, it started to look like no one was going to write it. So I decided that, if no one else was going to do it, then it was up to me.

How long have you been writing?
Well, I’ve written off and on since I was a kid, but I wouldn’t consider anything I wrote before college as anything serious. I used to write a lot more before I met my husband, but he makes me so blissfully happy on a daily basis, that I have to work a lot harder to imagine conflict for my characters. It’s a problem I don’t mind having, but it’s definitely a struggle.
How long have you been working on this book?
A little over two years total.

The first draft, the bones of the story, took a year (but there were several breaks during that year). Then I revised/rewrote a lot of it over four months. Then I did my first round of queries. My beginning wasn’t really very good, so after a bit of feedback I rewrote it, revised some more, and about a year after I finished my original draft it was in good enough shape to get interest from agents.

Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Definitely. I had a bad habit of writing the first third of a novel and quitting when it got hard. This one was different for a few reasons. First and foremost I was unemployed, and job hunting was pretty rough, so I used writing to keep me going. I’d say the biggest thing that kept me going, besides the support of my husband, were my betas and the fellow authors I met on Query Tracker and Agent Query Connect.
Is this your first book?
It’s the first one that I finished.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I took creative writing courses in college, and I’m an attorney, which requires a very different kind of writing. However, in law school, there is a big focus on cause and effect, and what I learned about that definitely strengthened my writing.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I try to. When I was unemployed I would wake-up, eat breakfast, and then from 9:00-10:00 a.m. I’d read something, preferably in first person present tense (since that is how my novel is written). At 10:00 a.m. I would start typing. My goal was 1,500 words a day. I could stop after 1,250 if it was just not happening, but I had to at least do that. I usually made it around 1,500. I did that 5 times a week when unemployed. Now that I work, I tend to write for thirty minutes on lunch. I’m still figuring out what my new routine will be.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
It feels like a hundred, but I’d say I did about 12 honest editing passes. I rewrote my first chapter probably 4 times. The most recent one was the most drastic. I basically looked at the major plot point in the opening chapter, kept that in my head, and started from scratch. It was really hard, since I could almost quote my old first chapter verbatim. It was worth it though. The second I had the new beginning, my manuscript started getting interest from agents and publishers.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I did. In fact, I had two sets of them. One set of betas would read 3 chapters at a time, and provide detailed feedback. The other set were given a time frame (usually a month). Most people finished early, but for the few that didn’t I asked them where in the novel they made it. I wanted to see If there was a lull in the novel, something readers felt they had to grind through. Most readers who didn’t finish just got busy, but I did make sure to review the area they stopped at for further revisions.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I usually write from the hip. I decided that might be why I never finished anything, so I wrote an outline for my novel. I would say only 10% of what was planned actually made it into the novel. I tend to let my characters take me where they want to go. They led me through a journey far better than I had planned.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried over a year, but really it was two big rounds. I queried about 12 agents up front. I got nothing, and was about to query more people when I won a contest to have one of those 12 agents give me feedback on my first 5 pages. She showed me that my beginning just wasn’t working. I knew it didn’t feel like the rest of the novel, but I didn’t know what to do. It was then I learned that revision can’t always fix things. Rewriting is essential in many cases.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent around 30.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I researched each agent pretty heavily, as most agents don’t advertise that they are interest in LGBT Fiction. If an agent did, he\she was put on the short list. I didn’t submit to agents who didn’t accept e-mail submissions, but planned to submit to a few paper-only ones eventually. Agents who used twitter were my favorites, and I usually got a better response (including an offer) from agents who did.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Definitely. I did a lot of research on each agent. Most agents received some specific information upfront that told them why I thought my novel would be perfect for them. Some seemed like a good fit, but didn’t have a lot of information out there. If that was the case, I usually referenced an author they represented, which drew me to them. A few agents received a more general letter, but most of them were tailored.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
I’m a huge advocate of using social media. Most of my requests came from people I had interacted with on twitter. That said, make sure you are being smart about it. Don’t just twitter blast your dream agent with messages about your novel. Get to know them. I had my phone set up to notify me of tweets of specific agents, and I tried to respond (not to every tweet) when I thought I had something to contribute. I rarely mentioned I was considering querying them, until shortly before I did.

Other than that, I’d say authors need to be very open to feedback. I personally encouraged people to be as harsh as possible with me. I loved getting a heavily marked up chapter back from a reader.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure, here it is:

Dear Mr. Ruben,

Due to your express interest in quality LGBT fiction, I think my novel THE ROLE would be perfect for you. There are few novels written about what it is like to rehearse for a Broadway play, and fewer still that focus on the gay men who dominate the industry. My novel offers readers a backstage pass, revealing that sometimes the greatest story on a Broadway stage happens behind the curtain.  

Mason Burroughs always wanted to be on Broadway, but after years of trying, he is on the verge of giving up. However, everything changes when he runs into his old acting school crush, Kevin Connors. Kevin is the lead in a hotly anticipated new play, but the show cannot start until the director finds an actor with the right chemistry to play Kevin’s gay lover. Convinced that their reunion is a sign from the theatre gods, Kevin gets Mason an audition. Mason taps into his old feelings for Kevin, and lands the role that could finally make his Broadway fantasy come true.

Unfortunately, getting cast turns out to be the easy part. Mason is constantly pushed to the brink of collapse by his personal trainer, stripped naked – emotionally and literally – by the megalomaniacal director, and forced to surrender his identity to bring life to his character. Thankfully he has Eric, his boyfriend of many years, whose loving support grounds him in moments of weakness. But as Kevin and Mason perfect their onstage romance, the lines between life and illusion begin to blur, presenting Mason with the ultimate question. Will he succumb to his desire for Kevin in order to show the world the epitome of passion on stage, or will he stay faithful to his true love Eric, and risk letting his life-long dream slip through his fingers?

I practice law across the Hudson in Hoboken, and spend my spare moments writing and acting. I wrote this novel to escape the sterile language of the law, and to tell a story I longed to read as a gay man who grew up in the Arkansas theatre community.

THE ROLE is complete at 90,000 words. Per your guidelines, I have included a synopsis (I have a more detailed one available) & my first chapter. I am happy to forward any materials (including the full manuscript) upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Respectfully,

Richard Pearson, Esq.