Thursday, February 14, 2013

Agent-Author Chat: Hannah Bowman and Shallee McArthur

I’m in the middle of an Internet hiatus at the moment, so thank goodness Blogger lets you schedule posts ahead of time:) I couldn’t be more excited to welcome agent Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates back to the blog, this time with newly signed client Shallee McArthur. I think you’re going to enjoy getting to know Ms. McArthur and her explosive YA sci-fi.

As always, Ms. McArthur’s query and responses will appear in orange, Ms. Bowman’s in blue. Also, you'll notice that Ms. McArthur’s query is a little irregular, but I’ll let you read on to find out why!

Ms. McArthur's Query Thanks for requesting my manuscript! I appreciated the awesome feedback you gave me on my last manuscript, and hope you enjoy this one. I've attached it as requested, and included the query below.

Seventeen-year-old Gena never takes off her Link bracelets. Each one holds her most precious memories--literally. Gena is Mementi, someone who uses the Links to store every moment from her life. Her memories never dim and they’re never forgotten.

But they can be stolen.

A Link thief has already ripped entire lives from six people, including Gena’s best friend. Anyone could be next. Which is why Gena freaks out when a strange boy appears and claims she’s forgotten him. His proof? A recording of his own memory that shows her crashing into him--on the run from the Link thief.

With suspicion tearing her town apart and hints of a dark purpose that could destroy the Mementi altogether, Gena has to find the thief. Again. Before she forgets anything else.

THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE is an 89,000-word young adult science fiction novel that would appeal to fans of Across the Universe by Beth Revis and White Cat by Holly Black.

I have a BA in English and Creative Writing from Brigham Young University and spend my Wednesday nights honing my writing with my critique group.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

KV: Ms. McArthur, how did you first come up with the idea for THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE?

SM: The seeds of a memory story have been germinating inside me since reading The Giver in fourth grade. Then, several years ago, my grandmother developed Alzheimer's and I was thinking a lot about memories she'd lost and how she'd grieve if she knew they were gone. Around this time, my husband and I visited my mom, who's very attached to objects that have personal meaning to her. My husband commented that it would neat if we could store our memories of objects IN those objects. Instantly, it was like everything connected across my mind and the story sort of birthed itself then and there.

KV: Tell us a little bit about your query-writing process. Did you work on it here and there as you were writing the manuscript, or before, or after? How many times did you revise it? And how did you decide what order to put things in?

SM: I wrote the initial query before I started the book, but after I had it generally plotted out. I have at least three completely separate drafts, and lots of little revisions on each one of those with the help of my crit group and people on the WriteOnCon forums.

I have a specific pattern for writing my queries. I start with one sentence that has the "four C's"--Character, Conflict, Choice, and Consequence. Then I add details to flesh it out into a full query pitch. I usually focus on the first act of the book, only revealing information up to the first plot point.

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

SM: Hardest: deciding which details to include. My first queries are always ridiculously long! I want to put all the cool stuff in there. I hate having to cut those things out, but I console myself with the thought that if the querying is tight and compelling, the agent will see those things I love when they actually read the manuscript. :)

Easiest: Um. Well. Um. Is there an easy part to writing a query? I'd say the bio paragraph, but only because I was able to pull it from the query of another manuscript I'd sent out previously.

KV: Ms. Bowman, how did you come to request Ms. McArthur's manuscript, and what about the project caught your attention?

HB: Shallee and I found each other in a slightly unusual way. We had corresponded on Twitter a couple of years ago, before I was an agent, and I had read a previous manuscript of hers. That one wasn't ready for prime-time, but I was already impressed at that point with her writing and especially her plotting skills--it was clear she was going somewhere.

So I had been keeping an eye on her Twitter feed, which I often do for writers I see potential in, when I saw her tweet a pitch about UNHAPPENING. The high-concept pitch--a memory thief stealing memories that people could only store in external jewelry--caught my attention immediately, and I knew I wanted to know more about the story. I DM'ed her right away to request the manuscript--although she didn't send it until a couple of months later when she'd finished revising it.

KV: How quickly did you read THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

HB: I finished THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE the day after she sent it! That's much faster than my usual response time, although once I start a manuscript I usually finish it quickly. (But a longer wait just means I haven't had a chance to start reading yet--I've signed clients when I finally read and loved their manuscripts after a month or more.) After I read it, I waited for a few days, and actually read the manuscript a second time with a more critical and commercial eye, before offering representation.

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE?

HB: Shallee is an incredibly talented plotter. Every twist in the plot was right--there's a point in the book where I almost threw my e-reader across the room. She also has created a fabulous world. She has the rare ability, crucial to writers of science-fiction, to take a new technology and imagine its ramifications in every area of life, to create a future world that looks almost like ours, but different in a few important and incredibly compelling ways.

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

SM: Write at least two completely different versions of it. Like, COMPLETELY different. Different structure, details, order of information, whatever. That helps me a lot to make sure I don't get stuck in a rut with a query that isn't working. Writing a query is a creative endeavor! Let yourself play a little bit. Remember, you just wrote a whole book. You DO have it in you to write a query-- it's a story in miniature!

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

HB: A query letter is a story. What you're actually trying to convince me is that you're a great storyteller, whether you have 200 words or 200 pages. That means all the elements of good storytelling--compelling voice, interesting details that hint at the setting, an exciting plot, beautiful prose--should be present, in miniature, in your query letter.

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

HB: Keep writing! The best thing to do, if your project is getting rejected, is to write a new and better book. Everything you write teaches you more about telling great stories, so no work is wasted.

I also encourage every writer to be on Twitter. The professional networking is incredibly useful. It's a great way to learn more about the industry. And--not to make you paranoid--you never know when you're going to make a connection, whether with another writer or a publishing professional, which will turn into something more.

SM: Be confident! I know it's in the nature of an artist to have constant I'm brilliant/I'm-a-hack mood swings, but develop a trust in yourself and your abilities. Believe in your ability to work hard. Believe your hard work will pay off--and that it is paying off with every word you write. Believe in your ability to always improve. Believe that even when you're making mistakes, writing anything at all is a triumph. Believe in the validations of your work, as well as the criticism. Be confident in your ability to do something amazing!

But keep a level head as you do so. :)

Thanks again, ladies, for taking the time to answer my questions! THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE sounds like just the kind of thing I'd like to read.

Have a great weekend!


Rosalyn said...

What a great interview. I love Shallee's tip about the 4 Cs in a query--I'll have to borrow it. I can't wait to read her book when (not if!) it comes out.

Anonymous said...

Great interview, ladies. I love Shallee's positive attitude. And her story sounds incredible. :)

Shallee said...

Thanks, Rosalyn. I adapted the 4 C's from QueryShark (which is AWESOME). Borrow away!

Linda, thank you! I'm pretty fond of the story myself. ;)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Wow, first of all, this book sounds amazing! Second of all, great information about querying and requested material. Thanks for the helpful, fun interview!

Princess Sara said...

I was just thinking about this manuscript the other day! It was a WriteOnCon standout for me, and I wondered if someone had snapped it up yet. I guess this answers my question. :) I can't wait to read this...

Michelle Merrill said...

Great interview! I'm excited for this book to come out :)

Shallee said...

Katrina-- Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the interview.

Sara-- Wow, I'm flattered! I hope you get to read it soon. :)

Michelle-- Thanks so much! ;)

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Fascinating and inspiring interview. I met Shallee at a writer's conference a few years ago and she's a delight - so thrilled by this next stage of her journey.

Angela Cothran said...

Awesome advice and what a fun unusual way to be discovered :) Love Shallee!

Shallee said...

Kim, you're the sweetest EVER. I hope we get the chance to meet again!

Angela, love you right back!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks Shallee for the 4C tips on writing a great query. Really thrilled for you.

Lydia Kang said...

This is such a great series, and the book sounds terrific!

Shallee said...

Rachna-- Thanks! Glad the query tips are helpful.

Lydia-- Thank you! I love Krista's agent interview series' too.

Leigh Covington said...

WOW! This is so cool how you two came together, and I also love how you came up with the idea for your book Shallee. I love reading your blog cause you definitely know your stuff! Can't wait to hold your book in my hands. It sounds amazing!

Leslie S. Rose said...

Great post. It's a mini seminar. Thanks so much for the great info-bits.

Crystal Collier said...

What a unique concept! I'm looking forward to this book in print, or, uh, e-print. =)

Unknown said...

Awesome story!! & love that the request started via Twitter! So fun!
The premise sounds awesome too! Good luck! :)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

I'm glad you guys found the post helpful! (And thanks for stopping by, Shallee!)

Shallee said...

Leigh- Thanks so much! I'm glad you find my blog helpful.

Leslie- Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

Crystal- I'm looking forward to that too!

Monica- Yeah, I'm a big fan of Twitter, especially now. :)

Krista- Thank YOU for hosting!

Amber Hooper said...

Love this post! So helpful to aspiring writers! Plus, I love reading about success stories- they keep me inspired.

This story sounds particularly interesting, too. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for all the advice!


Jessica Ruud said...

What a fantastic interview. Really helps aspiring writers on the journey.

Thank you for the interview! Great blog.

Shallee said...

Amber-- I love reading people's success stories too!

Jessica- Glad you found it helpful. Good luck with your writing!

Nicole M. White said...

Thanks for this post. I'm prepping for a pitch session with Ms. Bowman in May. It will be my first ever pitch session. Your interview really helped.

Shallee said...

Nicole, is that at Storymakers? I'll be there too! Look forward to meeting you. Good luck with the pitch session-- Hannah's super nice. :)

Jessie Humphries said...

Such an awesome interview! This kind of author/agent dynamic is just so fascinating to me. And I count myself as lucky to have read your awesome book once upon a time!

Shallee said...

Thanks, Jessie! I'm looking forward to reading your book in book-form sooner rather than later. :)