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An Interview with Stephanie Feldstein upon receiving an offer of representation.

Stephanie Feldstein (saf822 on QT) has signed with agent Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman 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 the story of a misguided woman and a misunderstood dog who give each other a second chance. I’ve been involved in animal rescue for over a decade and I’ve seen the way animals can change lives. I’ve also seen a lot of misconceptions both from pet owners and the people around them. I originally toyed with the idea of writing a non-fiction book about how to navigate pet ownership, but then I realized it was a lot more personal than a list of Dos and Don’ts. There were characters who had a story to tell.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing my whole life. Short stories when I was a little kid, poetry in college, and in the last few years, novels.
How long have you been working on this book?
I started this book about three and a half years ago. More than half of that time was revising.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I never wanted to give up on my book, but the querying process was probably the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done. There was also nothing in the world I wanted more. I knew I would never see my book in print if I gave up and pulled off the road to publication.
Is this your first book?
Do you have any formal writing training?
My undergraduate degree was in creative writing, but I focused on poetry, not fiction.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Not at all. My life gets too chaotic and I am not functional enough in the morning to simply set the alarm early. I do try to find blocks of time at least once or twice a week when I can really focus and get some solid writing done.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I didn’t keep score very well. I know there were at least two or three major overhauls, but there were also a number of times where I rewrote the beginning or tweaked certain scenes. I’ve had probably half a dozen (or more) characters come and go from my book in the process.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes. I have a fantastic weekly writing group. The regular meetings really helped keep me on track because I knew they would expect a new chapter and if I wasn’t ready, then it would be another whole week before I could get feedback. I also had a number of friends – many who were readers and not writers – that gave me feedback on the complete manuscript for every draft.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I didn’t outline this book at all. Occasionally I’d get an idea for a scene or a series of events that would come up later in the book, but I just jotted down notes and went back to writing from where I had left off. For my second novel, I’ve sketched out a rough outline. Starting off, I knew the story arc better than the characters for my first book, but when I got the idea for the second one, it was the reverse, so I had to think through the plot a bit more before sitting down to write.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This is the first book I queried. I started sending out letters about two and a half years ago. I’d get nibbles from agents, really positive responses, but no commitments. I’d revise a bit, then start the process again. I knew I was close, but it wasn’t until this last overhaul that the book was really ready.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Close to 100. I got positive responses for about 1 in 5, and that was encouraging enough to keep going. I had a number of referrals that helped me get a foot in the door, but the agency I ended up with was not one of them. I was total slush at the Irene Goodman Agency.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
My initial search was based on the genres they represented, but before I actually queried, I always checked out the agency website. Based on their bios and what specific books were on their lists, I decided if it seemed like a good match. The extra research also gave me the information I needed to personalize the query, for instance if they represented a book I liked or if they had a dog (which I wouldn’t recommend for everyone, but it was relevant to mybook).
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Agents are humans. They have busy, stressful jobs, but they really are looking for new books to fall in love with and writers to take on. So follow the rules, but you don’t need to be afraid of them. You also don’t need to place too much weight on any one opinion. I would get one response that didn’t love my main character and another that really connected with her; one praised my writing and the next would make it sound like I was a big disappointment. Or maybe that was just me reading between the lines…which I don’t recommend because you can drive yourself crazy trying to insert meaning that isn’t there. Read the blogs that are out there. Go to conferences, if you can. It all helps to give you perspective on the industry and a better understanding of where your book may or may not fit into it.

But most importantly, don’t compare yourself to other writers. The journey is different for all of us. You’ll hear from some writers who started sending out queries and had multiple offers three weeks later. Others who queried for four or five books over as many years before they found someone. I had several requests for my manuscript before I even started querying and it still took me two and a half years to get an agent. But I have no doubt that she’s the right agent for me, so it was worth the agony of the process. Don’t give up.