Thursday, June 7, 2012

Agent-Author Chat: Victoria Marini and Karen Akins

Well, look what we have here--another fun installment of “Agent-Author Chat”! With so many writers landing agents and signing book deals, I have a lot of fodder for the series:) Today’s interview features Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents, Inc. and one of her newest clients, Karen Akins, whose YA sci-fi LOOP just sold to St. Martin’s!

Since Ms. Akins signed with Ms. Marini through a slightly less-than-normal route, I’m not going to post her query at the top of the interview. However, she did enter a round of “An Agent’s Inbox” last fall, so if you’d like to find out more about her novel, feel free to check out her entry.

As usual, Ms. Akins’s answers will appear in orange and Ms. Marini’s in blue.

KV: Ms. Akins, how did you first come up with the idea for LOOP?

KA: Sigh. It came from a dream. Hubbykins was playing some Death Action Call of War Something video game with all sorts of futuristic weapons and grappling hooks. That night, I had a vivid, action-packed dream with a romantic plot twist. (I actually remember gasping in my dream. lol) I woke up and refused to get out of bed until I'd scribbled a page of notes. The story ended up being nothing like my dream, but the plot twist remains.

This is the blurb from PM:

“Karen Akins's LOOP, in which a time traveler accidentally brings a boy from the past into the 23rd century, only to discover he's already in love with her future self and is keeping his own set of secrets, pitched as HEIST SOCIETY meets BACK TO THE FUTURE, to Terra Layton at St. Martin's, in a two-book deal, by Victoria Marini at Gelfman Schneider (world).”

KV: Tell us a little bit about your querying experience. How many queries did you send? Did you send them in batches or all at once? Did you ever pull back and revise your query and/or your manuscript, and if so, why did you decide to do that?

KA: My experience would fall in the "do as I say, not as I did" category. I queried too soon--all no's--but thankfully, it was a small batch. Victoria was one of those no's, and I still have the e-mail I sent to Hubbykins after I received her rejection, whining that I'd blown it with some great agents. I held off on querying further until after I went to an upcoming workshop where I received some great editorial feedback. After the workshop, I rewrote the story and when I queried at that point, I sent it out to 20 agents (and also had quite a few unsolicited requests from online sources.)

I stuck with querying in small batches. My goal was to have eight to ten active queries at any given point. And, actually, I rewrote my query yet again after the first batch because it still wasn't as clear as it needed to be. So the first ten queries, I didn't get any requests. After I rewrote it (with a lot of help from Elana Johnson's e-book From The Query To The Call), I had a 50% request rate, and those requests resulted in a R&R and two of my agent offers.

KV: How did Ms. Marini come to request your manuscript?

KA: She bid on it in the Baker's Dozen Auction. She didn't win it, but afterwards, she asked for the full.

KV: Ms. Marini, when you saw Ms. Akins's entry in the Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction, what caught your attention?

VM: LOOP quite literally hit the ground running. It got started straight away and introduced just enough questions that I needed to keep reading, but I never felt confused about the world, the action, or the character motivation. It was the perfect balance of intrigue and understanding. Additionally, it struck me as humorous.

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about LOOP?

VM: Definitely the “voice.” I’m sure you’ve heard agents and editors talk about voice, and the impossible-to-pin-down qualities that make a voice successful. LOOP had that je ne sais quoi that struck me as special.  I also loved the irreverence and its sense of humor; a refreshing take on YA sci-fi.

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

VM: I can’t quite recall, but I think it was about three weeks. I read and responded to LOOP faster than I usually do because it had other offers of representation so Karen needed to make a decision by a certain date. It was exciting!

My response times vary depending on general work load, the number of manuscripts, the types of manuscripts, etc. I like to say it takes me about a month or so, but I suspect six weeks is a more accurate average, especially lately.

KV: Ms. Akins, now that you’ve reached the querying finish line, what do you wish you had known when you were back at the start gate?

KA: That the finish line is another start gate. Oh, and I'd go back and slap myself every time I had the thought, "Once I have an agent, I'll never have to write a query letter ever again!" So not true. I'm working on a new story, and while I was on sub, several of the editors wanted to hear more about it. The only difference was I had an afternoon to write and polish what amounted to a query letter rather than weeks. But I actually like this "query" even more than LOOP's.

KV: Ms. Marini, what querying tips do you have?

VM: The same tips I think any agent has: do your research. Don’t query a book that isn’t ready. Don’t spend your query telling me about the market, yourself, etc… Just tell me about your book.

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

VM: Make an effort to stay positive, truly! Rejection is a part of this business (it’s most of this business for an aspiring author). You may see other people succeed where you believe you have failed; you may wonder whether you’re good enough. You’ll become discouraged. Practice resilience, patience, and generosity of spirit. Practice being happy for others. Keep going. And going.

KA: (Do you see why I love my agent?)

Okay, words of advice: Acquire critique partners whose feedback you have to take a deep, strengthening breath before reading. It's great to have some cheer-readers who love, love, love all your characters and draw kissy hearts all over your manuscript because, yes, they're encouraging. And the stuff they pick out that needs improvement probably *really* needs improvement. But they won't get you an agent.

And words of encouragement: Celebrate every victory along the way. Preferably with chocolate.

Thanks, Ms. Akins and Ms. Marini, for answering my questions. (I, too, loved Ms. Marini's advice, especially the part about practicing being happy for others. You'd be surprised how far a little of that practice will go...) And congratulations on the sale! Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of LOOP!


Michael G-G said...

What a team! I also can't wait to get my mitts on LOOP.

And I'm going to tattoo Victoria's final words on my forehead: "Practice resilience, patience, and generosity of spirit. Practice being happy for others. Keep going. And going."

Thanks, Krista!

Mandy said...

Wohoooo!!! Awesome tips, great interview!! Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Loop!

Mara Rae said...

Great interview! Congrats to Karen and Victoria :)

Susan said...

Congrats on the book deal. Thanks for sharing the story!

Elizabeth Briggs said...

Great interview! Karen and her book are both awesome.

JeffO said...

Very nice interview. Thanks!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Great interview! And a huge, big YES YES YES on the staying positive! I would also add, try to stay away from people who are negative all the time, so they don't bring you down.

Can't wait to read Loop!

Rachel said...

LOOP sounds awesome! Thanks for this interview, Krista.

erica m. chapman said...

LOVE this!! LOVE Karen and Victoria ;o) Excellent interview!

CAN'T wait to read LOOP, been drooling over it since the Baker's Dozen! Nice job all around.

Karen Akins said...

Thanks, y'all!

Kristin said...

Great interview, you guys!

Morgan said...

Soooooo excited to read LOOP. It sounds beyond fantastic :D

And what a duo. I'm excited to see what other fabulous works come in the future :D

Lisa Amowitz said...

Congrats, congrats, congrats! And really do live by those words--be happy for others and keep going. It will pay off--and I know this for a fact!

Escape Artist said...

I remember this entry! Well done and congratulations!

Karen Akins said...

Thanks for all the sweet comments! And thank you again, Krista, for inviting us!!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

I fell behind with responses today, so I'll just say thanks for your comments and your enthusiasm for LOOP!

And Karen, it was my pleasure:)

Tara Dairman said...

Yay, Karen! Yay, LOOP! I also remember how much that humorous voice stood out in the Baker's Dozen. So glad that your revisions brought you to where you needed to be for this project, and that we'll all get to see LOOP in print!

Tara Dairman said...

Yay, Karen! Yay, LOOP! I also remember how much that humorous voice stood out in the Baker's Dozen. So glad that your revisions brought you to where you needed to be for this project, and that we'll all get to see LOOP in print!

Kristen Wixted said...

I love the title. Great interview, and congratulations to Karen!

Petrea Burchard said...

I really enjoyed this interview. Thanks to all three of you.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Tara, it's funny how some entries stand out in contests. I remember this one both from the Baker's Dozen Agent Auction and the October round of "An Agent's Inbox."

Kristen, I'm normally not a fan of one-word YA titles, but this one is different and really seems to fit the manuscript. Thanks for stopping by!

You're welcome, Petrea! Thanks for reading!

Julie DeGuia said...

This is such a neat way to do an interview - hearing both sides of the story. And I just love reading success stories anyway and this is a fun one!

Congrats to you Karen!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Julie, I love hearing what agents love about their clients' work, so if anything, the interviews in this "Agent-Author Chat" series are self-indulgent:)