Thursday, February 27, 2014

Agent-Author Chat: Laura Zats and Erin McGhee Petti

So happy to welcome Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary to the blog along with one of her newest clients, Erin McGhee Petti! It's worth noting that Ms. Petti is actually RETURNING to the blog, as she was one of the original members of Team Krista back in 2012, and I'm thrilled to announce that she found representation for THELMA BEE, the very manuscript that was part of that inaugural round of "The Writer's Voice."

Ms. Petti took a break from querying after she had her first baby, because as every new mom can attest, it's tough to find the time to buy toilet paper, let alone query a manuscript. Then two of Ms. Zats's #MSWL tweets caught Ms. Petti's eye:

And the rest, as they say, is history:)

As always, Ms. Petti's query and responses will appear in orange, Ms. Zats's in blue. Enjoy!

Ms. Petti's Query Thanks so much for participating in #MSWL! After reading through your feed, I think you might enjoy reading THELMA BEE. It's got a non-treasure hunting quest through a swamp! Thelma's adventure has a little bit of creepy, a lot of fun, and an MC who is part Dana Scully...but turns out to be a little bit Buffy as well.

Eleven-year-old Thelma Bee might turn red as cherries when she’s embarrassed, but she’s no wallflower. Thelma has adventure in her blood. There’s not a whole lot of opportunity for exploration in her hometown of Riverfish, Massachusetts, though, so she and her best friend Alexander Oldtree are often left to their own devices--with mixed results. The full-scale Viking Longship, for example, was a magnificent flop. 

But one October night, Thelma’s sixth-grade year takes a turn for the peculiar. A ghostly visitor kidnaps her father, leaving her alone and scared to death. Her only clue is a centuries-old jewelry box and one cryptic word the ghost whispered into her ear: “Return.”

That one word draws this adventurer-in-training into a world where her family tree unfolds a mystery that’s more extraordinary than anything her imagination could concoct. With her team of amateur ghost hunters, Thelma delves deep into the New England woods, where the lines between folklore and reality become dangerously blurry. It’s there, where the creaking trees have long memories, that she comes face to face with the devious Mr. Understone, who has been stalking her bloodline for centuries. Thelma has something he wants, and he’ll keep her dad until he gets it. 

To save her father, she must find the bravery to overcome a dark magic…and discover just what she’s made of. 

Please get in touch any time if you need additional information, and thank you for your time!

KV: Ms. Petti, how did you first come up with the idea for THELMA BEE?

EMP: Honestly the very first thing that inspired Thelma Bee was a weird looking rock formation in the river in my backyard. I thought, "Oh man, that looks like the back of a sleeping river monster. THAT'S COOL." I'd just moved out of the city and the change of pace really opened up my imagination. Now, Thelma and her crew are so dear to my heart that I kind of feel like I've been living with them forever. 

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?

EMP: I had no idea what a query was while I was writing the book, and was embarrassingly clueless at first. I'd read a blog entry that said a query should read like the blurb on a book jacket--so that's what I did for the first round. Not quite the level of compelling detail that agents are looking for, it turns out. It took me a while to plug into the right blogs, Twitter feeds, etc, to put me on the right track.

I revised the query eleventy billion times.

Luckily, I was chosen for your team in The Writer's Voice! Your critique of my query was an incredibly important step to getting it where it needed to be. 

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

EMP: Cutting the fat and streamlining the ideas were my biggest challenges once I got going. The easiest part was probably the voice, weirdly, because when I start writing about Thelma, she just peeks through. No matter how ill-shaped the query was at any point in time, I always felt that her personality was there.

KV: Ms. Zats, when you first read Ms. Petti’s query, what caught your attention?
LZ: I loved the mention of the Viking longship. Clearly, this story had a smart protagonist, and had just the amount of odd and whimsy that I obsess over.​
KV: I have to add that the Viking longship stuck out to me, too:) Such a great detail! Okay, back to the interview…

Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about THELMA BEE?
LZ: Thelma is such a cool kid. She is a nerd, but she's scientific, which I don't think you see a lot. Her life is full of adventure, so she takes every setback in stride and with a good humor that makes me want to be her best friend. I also loved that who you originally expect to be the villain in this story is just the opposite, which opens the door to a lot of surprises.

KV: How quickly did you read Ms. Petti's manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?
LZ: It took me about a week to request a partial, and then two weeks after that, I requested the full. After that, I had it a month before the Call. That response time is pretty typical, but a bit on the faster side of things.​

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

EMP: For beginners who are just figuring this out, read blogs like these. Find authors you love on Twitter and follow who they follow. Query Shark is terrifying but useful. Your best friend will love your query no matter what, and she's fabulous, but hand it to someone who has been in the trenches for a while for an objective opinion.

For those who have been querying for a long time, stay open to new ideas and track your progress. Talk to folks who are going through the same things as you for support. Publishing is weird and twisty and one email can change everything--have faith! 

KV: Same question to you, Ms. Zats. What query-writing suggestions do you have?
LZ: Rule number one: be nice. Do research and query the agents you actually believe would be a good fit for you. Follow the basic query structure. Instead of being innovative and attention-grabbing, just frame your book in the best and most exciting way possible while retaining you book's essence. Let your book speak for itself. And if you're not sure your query is the clearest, give it to someone who doesn't know anything about your book. Let them read it, and then ask them what the book is about. If they don't give you the answer you'd like, rework it. ​

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

EMP: If you're writing, you're doing something truly awesome. Enjoy the freedom of creativity and try not to get too bogged down with the rest of it. As long as you're creating and finding joy, you're winning. 

LZ: ​It's better to have no agent than an unenthusiastic one. Make sure you're writing the book you want to write, and stick with it. The right agent is out there, but it might just not be the right time for you yet. And for those of you waiting to hear back: agents take way longer with books they like than with books they don't!

I couldn't agree more:) Thanks again, ladies, for taking the time to answer my questions. Fingers crossed for THELMA BEE! 


Heather said...

THELMA BEE sounds like such a fun story and I love this interview and hearing about how the author found her agent. Thanks for sharing!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Doesn't it, Heather? I've loved THELMA BEE for a long time. Here's hoping for a quick sale!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post/interview! There were a couple of really helpful tips in there that I hadn't thought about!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Glad you found it useful, fortheloveofyaf!