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An Interview with Shannon Grogan upon receiving an offer of representation.

02/03/2013

Shannon Grogan (Shannywriter on QT) has signed with agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
The story is a YA suspense, and below, in my query, gives you an idea what my story is about. The story idea started for me in the car. After hearing a soup commercial on the radio, I had to pull off the highway and write down a bunch of notes. It led me first to my MC’s mom and her crazy belief that her pea soup will cure everyone. I built the rest of the story from there.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing and drawing, since I was little. But I started taking novel writing seriously in 2008 after I finished all of the Harry Potter books! I always knew I’d write a novel but figured I’d do it when I was older and had a lifetime of experience behind me to draw from. But my son was starting kindergarten and I needed something creative to focus on. I started planning out an MG novel about a mermaid (which then turned into a YA story with an angel) and then put it on the back burner when I went back to teaching kindergarten. A few months later my sister shocked me by telling me she was writing a novel, so she got me back into it!
How long have you been working on this book?
Two years.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Sometimes, mostly during the query process from my last novel (that went nowhere). But having a new project to focus on while you are querying really helps with that, as well as the support of fellow queriers here on QueryTracker and the Verla Kay Blueboards.
Is this your first book?
This is my second novel, and I have a lot of short stories from college. Really bad ones.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I had creative writing classes in college.
Do you follow a writing 'routine' or schedule?
I teach kindergarten part time so I usually try to write in the afternoon between the time I get home from work and my kids get home from school. I also write a night.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I love revising, so a lot. Really, a lot. I’m addicted to revising.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I have an amazing online critique group and they are priceless. I wouldn’t be writing a success story without them!
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
For my first novel, no. But for this one I really needed an outline to keep me on track. Plus when you go to write your synopsis (and then query!) that outline sure helps a lot. I ended up with 3 outlines because the latter ones become checklists. It takes up a lot of time but it worked.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Don’t be mad, but I only queried this book for about a month! With my last book I queried it over a year.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Again, don’t be mad--I only sent out 13 queries, and received 8 requests: 1 partial and 7 fulls. From those 8 requests I ended up with 4 offers of representation. That was unbelievable to me, after sending out over 120 queries on my last story, and only getting 5 requests. I had about 120 rejections with that story.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I spent a good two weeks building up my agent list on QT. I had the list from my last book to transfer to this one which made it easier. Then I went through every single YA agent interview on the website Literary Rambles, and some of the QT interviews, and selected agents for my list. If they were looking for suspense or thrillers, they went on the list. I also sorted them into different folders: Query first, query later, and top choices. I didn’t really stick to my folders very well though.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Yes I did. Luckily I had a couple of agents I’d met or seen at SCBWI conferences so I was able to reference the conferences. When I couldn’t do that I just started the query with my logline. As for the agent I signed with, I’d met her at an SCBWI conference almost two years ago when I had an MS consultation with her. She was excited about my story and asked me to query her when I was finished. And even though I wasn’t ready to query her until almost two years later, it didn’t matter.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Of course, take your time with your story, make sure it gets critiqued and revised, a few times! Then take your time with your query, and have it critiqued too. Write a logline/hook and put it at the top of your query.

Because of prior bad experiences, when I started this story I opened up a file called ‘query’ so I could copy and paste or make notes to put in there as I went along. I also worked on my query for about 3 months, then had it critiqued, and then a little fine-tuning before I sent it out. I also picked a couple of agents that I wouldn’t have been devastated if they rejected me, to send out test queries. Sure enough, I got rejected on those two. I promised myself I wouldn’t query my top choice--who is now my agent--until I had received at least one full request.

So I tweaked the query a little bit. Then--and this is why everyone using QT needs to add in their comments on the agent pages--I was able to see one writer who had a YA thriller and noticed she had gotten many requests and offers. All of the agents she got requests on were on my list, so I was able to target them first, knowing they had just requested her suspense book. I received my first full request after my 5th or 6th query, and then the requests just kept coming. It was so different then the last story I queried.

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

Dear Ms. Davies,

I had the privilege of a manuscript consultation with you at the SCBWI Western Washington Conference (Seattle) in April 2011. You gave me awesome, specific feedback and nominated this story for a Most Promising Work in Progress and asked me to query you when I was finished. Your words stayed with me throughout the story, and finishing took a little longer than I expected but here it is!

Sixteen-year-old Kara McKinley thinks winning a national baking contest will help her escape her life, which includes her Holy Roller mom and the stalker who might have killed her sister.

Kara is alone.

She tries to be a girl who cuts class to smoke weed. But her sister isn’t around anymore to teach her, or to tell her what a cookie-baking loser she is. And even though her sister is dead, Kara can’t escape what she did to her before she died, or the creepy stalker notes she’s now getting at school.

He watches.

He follows Kara, hiding and leaving her love notes. So when a teacher encourages her to enter a national baking contest, Kara sees her escape--the prize, a scholarship to culinary school in California.

Kara works on her plan for winning the contest but there are distractions: like that guy who hangs out in Mom’s café, the unanswered questions about her sister’s death, and her stalker--he’s getting closer, his notes more frequent and disturbing. Kara has no one she trusts enough to tell, and if she doesn’t figure out who he is, she’ll lose everything. Her chance to escape. And her life.

WHERE I WATCH YOU, my upper YA suspense, is complete at 79,000 words. The first 5 pages are below. Thanks so much for your consideration and it was wonderful to meet you!

Shannon