Thursday, November 29, 2018

Agent-Author Chat: Elizabeth Bewley and Michelle Mason

It's been far too long since I've done an interview, and I can think of no better subjects than my longtime writing friend and critique partner Michelle Mason and her new agent, Elizabeth Bewley of Sterling Lord Literistic. Ms. Bewley was an editor, most recently at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, up until she joined Sterling Lord Literistic last year, so when I heard that she was interested in Ms. Mason's most recent manuscript, I was over the moon.

Ms. Mason's query and answers will appear in orange, Ms. Bewley's in blue. Enjoy!

Ms. Mason's Query You read two of my other manuscripts earlier this year, and I hope you’ll be intrigued by my latest project, particularly as a couple of my readers said it reminded them of a John Hughes movie.

LOST meets Robin Palmer’s ONCE UPON A KISS in YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, an 87,000-word young adult time travel novel.

When seventeen-year-old Jenny Waters boards Flight 237 on August 2, 1995, in New York, she has two main goals: convince her parents to let her apply to the journalism program at Columbia University, and woman up and kiss her boyfriend of two months. 

But when Jenny and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, the airport manager informs them their plane disappeared--twenty-five years ago. Like the universe hit pause on their flight while the rest of the world kept moving. In 2020, newspaper reporter isn’t exactly a top career choice, and her boyfriend is old enough to be her dad. 

As if adjusting to a new century isn’t hard enough, a conspiracy group called the Time Protection League sets out to prove Flight 237 is a big hoax. (News flash, crazies: Time would be better served protecting a rain forest.) When Jenny’s not dealing with rumors she’s a clone, she’s fighting her attraction to Dylan, who introduces her to everything that’s headline-worthy about her new present, like Harry Potter and late-night texting.

Too bad Dylan happens to be her former boyfriend’s son. Yeah, that’s not awkward.

A member of SCBWI and a 2017 PitchWars mentee (for a different manuscript), my professional background is in public relations.

Thanks for considering!

KV: Ms. Mason, how did you first come up with the idea for YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED?

MM: I expect people will continue to ask me this question and so I should come up with a more concrete answer, but I honestly don’t remember what sparked it. But generally, my story ideas start with a random “what if” thought. In this case, my thought was: what if a girl got on a plane and it landed decades later, and time had passed for everyone else but not the people on the plane? When I have a thought like this, I type it into the notes app on my phone to save for when I’m ready to start writing something new. I actually jotted down quite a lot for this idea, so when I was ready to start outlining, I had a pretty well formed plot.

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?

MM: I really enjoy queries actually! Which is good because I queried seven manuscripts over seven years. In the past, it took me a while to get the query right, but this one came pretty naturally. Right after I finished my first draft, the query just spilled out of me one evening when I was getting ready for bed, so I wrote it on my phone as well. I sent it to a couple of my CPs for a check, and they said it sounded great. After they actually read the manuscript, they did suggest holding back one piece of information, so I tweaked that before querying. I also ran the query by a Facebook group I’m involved with thanks to being a 2017 PitchWars mentee. As for deciding the order to put things in, this particular query is pretty linear to the story itself. 

KV: How did you first make a connection regarding YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED?

EB: Michelle and I had connected earlier in the year via a query critique contest that she had won; though that particular novel wasn’t right for me, I remember really liking Michelle’s writing and thinking that she seemed like a nice and smart person. So, when she emailed me some months later about YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, I was excited to dive into the manuscript.

MM: Yes! Elizabeth asked me to keep her in mind for future projects, and I’m so glad I did. I think sometimes writers think agents are just being kind when they ask for future projects, but they don’t say that to everyone. 

KV: So. True. Over time, I think we condition ourselves to see the bad in our writing, so when someone sees the good, we tend to downplay their positivity and assume it's a stock response.

Ms. Bewley, when you read Ms. Mason's query, what caught your attention?

EB: Besides recognizing Michelle’s name on the query, I absolutely loved the book’s title! I also thought that Michelle was able to succinctly sum up her premise and plot, which is always a good sign in a query. 

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED?

EB: My imagination was completely captured by the thought of a group of people who were trapped in time while the rest of the world had moved on…and on, by twenty five years! It’s the kind of high concept that I really enjoy. 

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

EB: I had to look back at my emails to figure this out! I read Michelle’s manuscript within a week or two. Unfortunately, I’m not always that fast. It depends on what else is happening during a particular week or even day. 

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

MM: Well, as I mentioned in the earlier question, my starting gate was seven years ago. I have learned so much during those years. I started out writing middle grade and discovered my voice was a better fit for young adult, but I wouldn’t trade those years of trying out MG because it introduced me to the world of MG and even if I’m not writing it, I still love reading it. As far as the querying process, each new manuscript has taught me something. I actually wrote a post on my blog each year about the lessons I learned querying. So, to answer your question, I don’t suppose there’s anything in particular I’d tell baby querier Michelle except to hang in there.

KV: Ms. Mason's "What I've Learned" posts are treasure troves of information and determination for querying writers. If you've never checked them out, you should do so posthaste!

Ms. Bewley, what querying tips do you have, and are you looking for anything specific at the moment?

EB: I’m awed by everyone who writes a novel and takes the brave step to send it out for review. So, first off, bravo to all the writers out there. Secondly, I’d encourage writers to put their best foot forward by sending out short, well-written query letters that tell an agent or editor what your book is about, why it is unique, and how it fits into the current marketplace. I also always like to know a little bit about a writer’s background too. 

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

EB: Keep at it! If you have the passion and the talent, you’ll find receptive readers. 

MM: Persevere! If you truly love writing and stick with it, you will eventually find the right audience for your work, whatever that means to you. Also, writing friends are so important! Build a strong network of critique partners/readers you trust to give you honest feedback and encouragement when you start to doubt yourself. I wouldn’t have survived those years of querying without my support network.

And there you have it! Didn't I say it would be great?!


Rosi said...

Very interesting interview. I especially appreciated seeing the query letter that won the day. Thanks!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You're welcome, Rosi. Thanks for dropping by!