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An Interview with Sabrina Lotfi upon receiving an offer of representation.


Sabrina Lotfi (sabrinajasmeen1234 on QT) has signed with agent Uwe Stender of Triada US Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
It's called LUCK OF THE BORGIAS, and it's a modern-day YA retelling about Lucrezia Borgia (Lucky), who was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia (aka Pope Alexander VI from 1492 until 1503, aka one of the baddest popes the Vatican's ever seen), and the rise and fall of the Borgia family. I've always been fascinated by women in history, but Lucrezia has held a special place in my heart since forever. My Borgias are very rich, very powerful, and very deadly. It was crazy fun to write.
How long have you been writing?
I am an infant. Writing a book is something I'd talked about every time I finished reading something spectacular, but one day I was on a post-book high and just did it. Picked up a notebook and started writing. I had no direction and no clue what I was doing, and I was so naïve about how difficult it'd be. I still have that notebook, and my goodness are those first pages horrid. The book was a dystopian and awful in all the best ways. But I worked my ass off making it the best I could at the time. I still love it. I'm still crazy proud of it. That was in November of 2013.
How long have you been working on this book?
I'm slow in general, but Lucky was tricky. The story is fictional, but the characters and events, while modernized, are very real. From conception to signing with my agent man was about a year and a half. The first four months were straight research. The remainder was a mix of drafting, editing, and mental breaks to stay sane. Drafting took the longest.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Yes and no. Don't get me wrong. I have my "what the heck am I even doing with my life" moments more often than I care to admit, but knowing I haven't finished what I started always keeps me going. I need a certain amount of closure with my characters and projects (says the girl whose first mc is rotting away in a prison cell right now, waiting for her second installment…what?). I'm too stubborn to walk away. I've also got an amazing support group of family, friends, and fellow writers (and my agent man now) who never hesitate to remind me of my awesomeness on bad days. They are my favorites. I heart them.
Is this your first book?
It's my second.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Do high school English or reading the Chicago Manual of Style in my free time count? No? Then no. I just knew what I wanted to do so I figured it out. That sounds prettier than the reality. It took time. There was a lot of sweating, bleeding, and tears. I pored through countless craft books and craft blogs. Took classes. Read a billion books in my genre of choice. Listened to my critique partners and readers. Moral of the story: surround yourself with CPs you trust and know that passion and drive can and will overcome a less-than-stellar educational resume. You don't need a college degree or an MFA or even expensive classes to write. You just write. Is it hard? Yes. Will you feel like a failure most of the time? Probably. But with practice, patience, and perseverance, I truly believe we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.

*Random sidebar: I met one of my CPs on QueryTracker! We had fulls out with the same agent back when I was querying book 1. I sent her a message to see if she'd heard anything yet, and the messages never stopped and we basically fell in love. So thank you for that, QT! An amazing CP is worth so much more than a pile of gold.

Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I try to write every day when I'm not between projects. Some days I'll get a lot done. Some days it's a struggle to get a single sentence out. Some days I'm so lazy and uninspired I'll just lay in bed in my pjs with Netflix and a tub of ice cream. Then this nasty little voice in my head will show up and whisper things like, "Hey, Failure. You suck today. You know your book will never get done if you never work on it, right?" that make me feel like shit and push me to get back to it, because we writers are our own worst enemies. It's difficult, but it's healthy to beat that back and allow yourself to be lazy and uninspired sometimes.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I'm old school—pen and paper all the way—and I edit as I go when I type things up, so what I consider a first typed draft most people probably consider round three or four. I'm slow, but I'm a good drafter. When I sent my full to Uwe, I'd guess he read about 95% of the story I initially penned. After my CPs went through it, I cut three or four scenes, added two or three more, combined some, and expanded or minimized a few others. Then I spent a few healthy rounds tweaking: fixing hidden typos, moving things around, word choices, trimming fat, etc.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Heck yes I did! My readers are all precious, and they all deserve so much more than my never-ending love and gratitude. Some work better with the big picture, some are more detail oriented. They are all magic.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Outline for sure! I like to consider myself a pantsing plotter. With Lucky I had a ton of characters to juggle and events to get through, and I don't think I would've been able to handle it without some structure. I got my initial timeline from history and used that to create a (very vague!) bullet pointed timeline for the switch to modern times. From there I made mini timelines to get me from bullet point to bullet point. They kept me focused and moving forward, but they were never so strict that my characters didn't have room to surprise me.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Lucky was weird depending on how you look at it. And I was bad.* I met Uwe in 2015 at a conference pitch session when I was only halfway through my first draft. But I pitched to him anyway because I knew where my story was going and I believed wholeheartedly in my project. And he believed in it too. He told me to take my time completing it (and do it right! He was very serious about it…scary!), and to send him the full when I was done. It took a year to finish, and I sent my first batch of queries out when I sent him the full. He got back to me twelve days later to set up a call, and offered first thing on the phone the next day. So with Uwe, about a year. As far as actual querying went, thirteen days.

My first novel, Sinner, I queried full out in small batches for about six months before I shelved it—and the rejections for that kept trickling in for another six months after!

*Please Note: I'm not suggesting everyone go around pitching unfinished projects. Especially if they ask you not to. It's risky. Definitely feel out the agent you're pitching to first—the last thing you want to do is piss off the person you're trying to get amped up about your book baby. When I met with Uwe, I went in prepared to pitch but not expecting it. When he asked what I was working on, I made sure the first thing I told him was that my novel wasn't complete, and if he hadn't wanted to hear more, I would have happily picked his brain about the industry for the rest of my session.

About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I queried large from the beginning because I felt really good about this one and I'd done extensive agent research. I was nervous but ready to dive in. I sent 20 queries out initially, and every time I heard back from someone I sent a new one out. In all, I queried about 35 agents. 15 of those asked for the full. 2 offered, and after, I have one very amazing, supportive agent—the one who'd been rooting for me all along.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
After I shelved my first novel, I had a much better idea of what I was looking for in an agent. I read interviews, stalked #MSWL, looked at the authors they repped. Some agents I queried with Lucky had requested my first novel. Some hadn't but asked to see future work. It was a gut thing, mostly. Sometimes you just have to go with your instincts.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
If I had something specific to say—we met at a conference, I took one of their classes, etc. Some I just stuck their name at the top and let my query speak for itself.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
  • Never stop dreaming.
  • Always write for you first. There are no guarantees in this industry. Produce something that makes you proud.
  • If you're getting similar feedback from different people, listen. Try it. They see something you can't, and if you hate it, you can always go back to the original.
  • Find a good support system. Friends and family, but other writers too. We are your people. We will get you. We are struggling with you. We will cheer for you. Writer friends are the best.
  • Make kindness a priority. If you get a rejection and want to bitch, bitch about it with your friends. Don't rant on social media. Don't send hate mail back. Treat others the way you wish others would treat the person you care most about.
  • Don't take rejection personally. It's not personal. It's something everyone who writes has to deal with. All it means is that you're putting your work out there. You're trying. That is a good thing, and you are brave.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
My query letter is pretty specific and we're still on sub, so I'd rather not. But I love meeting new writers. If anyone out there is super curious about my query or you have any querying questions, feel free to message me through QT (sabrinajasmeen1234) or hit me up on Twitter @LoftilyLotfi.