Thursday, May 26, 2011

Agent-Author Chat: Adriann Ranta and Mindy McGinnis

So excited to launch a new interview series on the blog today! Our first-ever installment of “Agent-Author Chat” features Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary Services and one of her new clients, Mindy McGinnis.

Here’s how it’ll work: Ms. McGinnis will share her query with us, the actual query she sent to Ms. Ranta, and then she’ll chat a bit about how she developed it and what advice she has for fellow writers. Then Ms. Ranta will tell us what she liked about the query--and what she liked about the manuscript itself--and share some query-writing tips with us.

All right, everybody got that? Have I made it sufficiently complicated? :) Ms. McGinnis’s query and answers will appear in orange, and Ms. Ranta’s will appear in blue.

Ms. McGinnis's Query Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond. Seven years later, violence is her native tongue in a time when an ounce of fresh water is worth more than gold and firewood equals life during bitter rural winters. Death wanders the countryside in many forms: thirst, cholera, coyotes, and the guns of strangers.

Mother and Lynn survive in a lawless land, where their once comfortable home serves as stronghold and lookout. Their basement is a lonely fortress; Father disappeared fighting the Canadians for possession of Lake Erie, the last clean body of water in an overpopulated land. The roof offers a sniper's view of their precious water source--the pond. Ever vigilant, they defend against those who stream from the sprawling cities once they can no longer pay the steep prices for water. Mother's strenuous code of self-sufficiency and survival leaves no room for trust or friendships; those wishing for water from the pond are delivered from their thirst not by a drink, but a bullet. Even their closest neighbor is a stranger who Lynn has only seen through her crosshairs.

Smoke rises from the east, where a starving group of city refugees are encamped by the stream. A matching spire of smoke can be seen in the south, where a band of outlaws are building a dam to manipulate what little water is left.

When Mother dies in a horrific accident, Lynn faces a choice--defend her pond alone or band together with her crippled neighbor, a pregnant woman, a filthy orphan, and Finn--the teenage boy who awakens feelings she can't figure out.

NOT A DROP TO DRINK (69,000 words) is dystopian YA. I have been a YA librarian in the public school system for seven years, allowing me to spend forty hours a week with my target audience. I also serve as a moderator for the writing community at bigblackcat97. The first fifty pages are included in this e-mail, per your submission guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration.

KV: Ms. McGinnis, how did you first come up with the idea for NOT A DROP TO DRINK?

MM: The awesome b/f is a documentary watcher, and he introduced me to a film called Blue Gold, which is about the very real possibility of a global fresh water shortage in the near future. I literally dreamt the novel that night. When I woke up I said to him, "I think I wrote a book in my head just now."

There was research involved, past that first flash of inspiration. I read the book WATER: THE EPIC STRUGGLE FOR WEALTH, POWER AND CIVILIZATION by Steven Solomon cover to cover. While I didn't necessarily draw from it when writing DRINK, I felt I needed that kind of background in order to do the story justice.

KV: What was your process for writing the query? Did you work on it here and there as you were writing the manuscript, or before, or after? How many times did you have to revise it?

MM: Again, I was very fortunate with the query. It just kinda happened in my head while I hovered on the verge of sleep. The opening line of DRINK and the hook for the query are the same--I found an awesome sentence and I made it work for me.

I wrote the query after the novel was finished--I'm a very linear person that way. The query saw minimal revisions due to the excellent writing community over at AgentQueryConnect. I've spent so much time honing query skills in the act of critiquing for others that the first draft and final product of my query for DRINK were very similar.

That's one reason why I think a community like AQ is pivotal; you're helping someone else, but your skills are benefiting. I freely admit that the queries for trunked novels prior to joining AQ were at a level of suck heretofore unknown since the invention of papyrus. In any case, I ran the DRINK query past a few AQ vets and they gave me some polishing tips.

KV: What was the hardest thing about writing your query? What was the easiest?

MM: The query for DRINK really wasn't hard at all. That pivotal hook was already there, so the heavy lifting was done. The easiest, again, was the hook. Like I said, it's the first line of the book and it rocks, so I cut and pasted and called it a hook.

KV: Ms. Ranta, when you first read Ms. McGinnis’s query, what caught your attention?

AR: The first line is a fantastic one, and her whole query has a very simple, punchy style that mimics the tone of the novel. It’s original, with no gimmicks.

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about NOT A DROP TO DRINK?

AR: I love that the book takes place in something like a square mile…It’s a very small, simple, limited setting, but the stakes feel impossibly high. The world Mindy has created is so bleak, but she’s avoided overwriting her scenes so the power of the circumstances can stand on their own. It all has a very effortless feel, which can be so difficult to pull off, and allows the reader to be completely immersed.

KV: How quickly did you read Ms. McGinnis’s manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

AR: Once I found DRINK in the morass that is my query inbox, I read it as soon as I could. I think I was finishing off another manuscript at the time, but I still had the first 50 pages of DRINK in the back of my head. Once I got to it, I read it in two days! I try to keep my turnaround time for queries within a month, but as any reader is familiar with, when something piques your interest, there’s no procrastinating.

KV: Ms. McGinnis, what tips do you have for fellow writers as they work on their queries?

MM: Join AgentQueryConnect and accept criticism with grace. You don't have to agree with what your critters say - in the end it's your query - but you need to give it weight, especially if you're consistently getting feedback on the same points. Kill your darlings, if you must. Also, develop rhinoceros skin. I queried on and off for ten years before Adriann decided to love me. I was at the point where I dreaded hearing back from agents, I was so convinced every reply would be a rejection.

KV: Same question to you, Ms. Ranta. What query-writing suggestions do you have?

AR: Ditto the above. Once you’ve finished a book, you have to emotionally separate yourself from it so you can recognize things like hooks, genres, comparable published books, flaws, holes, etc. There are countless resources for practical, effective querying (and editing), but in order for it all to be useful, you can’t take it personally.

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

MM: Lots of advice: Don't be afraid to suck. I sucked for a long time before the suckage seepage slowed. I still have days when I look at what I wrote the night before and feel like e-mailing Adriann and asking if she might have been in a particularly forgiving mood when she signed me.

Don't compare yourself to others and don't look to others for validation. If you want to be a better writer, read. And if you're down on yourself--read my blog! Chances are, I'm down on myself too and mocking myself, which is bound to make everyone feel better.

AR: Revise, keep an open mind, be patient, read great books, support authors you love, read blogs, be flexible, know your strengths, know your weaknesses, find a schedule and stick to it, and buy a million copies of DRINK when it publishes. Cheers!

Thank you, Ms. McGinnis, for sharing NOT A DROP TO DRINK with us, and thank you, Ms. Ranta, for giving us your insights. I know I’ll be looking forward to seeing NOT A DROP TO DRINK on bookshelves someday:)

Have a great Thursday, everyone!


Pam Harris said...

Wow, what a great new series! Very informative. :)

Ben Spendlove said...

Yeah, thanks!

Kelly Bryson said...

I love this idea. Mind if I steal it? :)

NADTD sounds really good! Thanks for sharing!

Bethany Crandell said...

Mindy--I had NO idea the friend I made online came up with such an utterly, freakishly COOL creation as this! WOW!! I cannot wait for the movie! (I mean, obviously...will read the book--but this is headed for the big screen, I can see it already).

Adrian sounds like an equally awesome agent--I think you two make a great team!

Congrats to you both!

BBC said...

Thanks everyone for commenting, and yes indeed - what a GREAT idea for an interview series, Krista. (Geez, wish I'd thought of that.) :)

Bethany - I will say the book trailer I have in my head is pretty awesome too, but I need 1) a camera 2) a helicopter before I can make it.

Special thanks to Adriann for agreeing to do the interview with me - she's the perfect fit for me, and also has a soothing speaking voice, which is a great benefit in an agent when you're out on subs! :)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Love this new series, Krista!

Thanks to Mindy and Adriann for their willingness to share this with us. It's great to learn from queries that worked!


Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks, Pam! You know, if you and Sarah would like to participate, shoot me an e-mail... :)

You're welcome, Ben!

Doesn't it, Kelly? Ms. Ranta needs to hurry up and sell that manuscript so we can all read it:)

Bethany, way to support your writing friend! That's one really nice thing about the online writing community.

Thanks for dropping by, Mindy! Now if only we could find you a helicopter... :)

Thanks, Amy! I think this new interview series will be pretty fun. We'll get to meet a bunch of great authors and a bunch of agents. I already have the next installment of "Agent-Author Chat" in the works!

Riley Redgate said...

This is such a great idea for an interview series! Learned some new things about you, BBC =P

Jeesh, I better save up if I'm going to buy 1,000,000 copies of your book...

Liesl Shurtliff said...

Love it. All of it.

Jemi Fraser said...

Yay Mindy!! :)

Great interview ladies - thanks so much to all of you. It's so helpful to get insight into the process :)

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for the interview. This series will be helpful when I start querying.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks, Riley! (And welcome!)

The interview turned out well, didn't it, Liesl? They gave us some great tips and advice.

I agree, Jemi. I like this behind-the-scenes look:)

You're welcome, Myrna. And I hope queriers find it helpful...

Anita Grace Howard said...

Mindy and Adriann, thanks so much for your time and all of this wonderful info! And Krista, WOW, you creative smarty. Great idea for a series. If you need more candidates, I'd love to do one with Jenny! This was so fun just to read, it must've been a blast to get it all organized and posted. :)

BBC said...

Thanks everyone for commenting! I had a good time doing the interview, it's nice to be on the A end of a Q&A for once :)

Unknown said...

Excellent! It's very cool to hear both sides at once.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks, Anita. I can't take all the credit. Sometime last year, I asked everyone for their suggestions on how to make "Interview with an Agent" better, and someone suggested something kind of along these lines. It took me a while to implement it, but here it is. Better late than never, right? :)

I know exactly what you mean, Mindy:) Thanks for having me on your blog a few months back.

Thanks, Nisa! I liked hearing both sides at once, too. And it's got to be pretty cool to hear your agent gush about your work, I'd think:)

Perri said...

Krista, great idea. Your blog is one of the most inspiring out there.

I sent an award your way, come by to pick it up.

Anonymous said...

Love this idea, and love the interview! Also . . . I want to reaaaaad it!!!!!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks for the kind words, Perri, and thanks for the award!

Me, too, greenwoman. Me, too... :)

Carolyn said...


Krista Van Dolzer said...

Ditto, Carolyn. Guess we better check out Mindy's blog. I'm sure she'll let us know when it sells:)