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An Interview with Summer Spence upon receiving an offer of representation.


Summer Spence (summerspence on QT) has signed with agent Heather Flaherty of The Bent Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
OF NIGHT AND STONE is a YA Fantasy with an historical twist. The idea for the book came when I was working as an actor on the play Richard III — Shakespeare's take on the infamous British monarch who usurped the throne and has historically received the blame for killing his nephews, the princes and heirs now known as the Princes in the Tower. There was never proof that he did it — they just mysteriously disappeared. History never gave a very good answer to what actually happened to the princes, and as I worked on the play, I got a little obsessed over giving them a story. Enter a little magic, an English castle, and a modern-day girl stuck there for the summer…
How long have you been writing?
About 3 years. But man, I've got a whole trove of literary analyses gathering dust in my closet that go way back!
How long have you been working on this book?
I've been working on this book since fall 2012, with a lot of breaks — I had to take some time to learn my craft and then come back for - many - rounds of revisions.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
There were some really tough times — getting this story out the way it lived in my head was much harder than I thought it would be. Sometimes just the sheer gap between what I knew the story could be and what I was capable of at the time was too overwhelming. I spent a lot of good quality time with chocolate and tissues. And I had so many "almost" moments with some wonderful agents, that when it didn't work out, I wanted to pull all the keys off my laptop. But seriously, what turned things around for me was finding the writing community on Twitter. It was a lightbulb moment — I wasn't alone! — and what I was mudding through was actually NORMAL. It was like finding joy in a box. From Twitter, I connected with my invaluable writing group from Pitch Wars 2014, and found some amazing CPs. That has made all the difference. They've been there to tell me I couldn't quit, and to celebrate the little milestones along the way. Writing doesn't have to be solitary. Find your people!
Is this your first book?
Yes! But it's been through so many drafts it's like my 50th! ;)
Do you have any formal writing training?
I have degrees in English and Theatre, which gave me a love of language, and an understanding of storytelling. But I still can't believe in all my time in college I didn't take a creative writing class! Maybe that could have saved me a few drafts!
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
For the first draft of this book, I wrote every day on the train to work. 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back. I swear the movement of the train is what drove my story forward. Now I'm in a different job where I don't have that commute, and I miss it! I work full time and have four kids, so I steal writing time whenever I can. I've had to learn to adapt! Maybe someday I can make writing my full-time job and settle into a nice schedule. How wonderful that would be. :)
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Haa haa see above. But seriously, it's been through three MAJOR rewrites. One for an R&R with an agent, one for Pitch Wars with my wonderful mentor Evelyn Skye, and now with my agent as we prep to go on sub. (Yikes).
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes! Having other eyes on my manuscript was so important — it has so much history crammed in that I really wanted to be sure it was clear… and not boring! :)
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
This book I wrote straight from the hip. Every day on the train I had no idea what would happen. Now I outline for revisions, and have adapted more of a hybrid model for my WIP.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried this book on and off for almost two years! BUT there were HUGE breaks in there where I pulled back and evaluated and revised. I wanted to take my time to do it right. I'm a tiny bit of a perfectionist…
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Oh, boy. My stats are a little crazy. Brace yourself. I sent out 85 cold queries. Of those, I had 14 partial requests and 30 full requests. It was a lot of excitement… but also a whole lot of rejection. This business is SO subjective. Sometimes you just have to keep going until you find someone who your book really clicks with.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I researched A LOT. I stalked the MSWL hashtag on Twitter to find agents who were looking for YA Fantasy, and who also liked historical elements. I read interviews at Literary Rambles and looked at Publisher's Marketplace to see what agents were selling. Another awesome thing was looking at the QueryTracker "Agents With Similar Tastes" report that showed agents who have requested the same projects. I also followed the agents I queried on Twitter to get to know their personality — because meshing with them as a person was a must for me.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I tried to! I Googled the crap out of each agent and read every interview and if there was something that resonated — some common thread we shared, I'd mention it. But don't force it!
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Don't start querying too early! Really let your book sit. Come back to it with fresh eyes. The MOST IMPORTANT THING is honing your craft and getting your writing to the absolute best place it can be. I learned this the hard way. (Like I learn most of my lessons, sadly). But seriously, don't be in a rush. Don't think of it as a competition. Everyone's journey is unique — and you should take the time to enjoy it and learn as much as possible. Most of all, KEEP GOING. You really never know what's around the next bend… or in the next email.