Friday, August 31, 2012

Agent-Author Chat: Laura Bradford and Melinda Williams

Thrilled to welcome agent Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency and author Melinda Williams to the blog. I’ve been trying to get Ms. Williams to stop by for a while, because she is AWESOME. Honestly, someday, you’re going to come to me and say, “Krista, Melinda is AWESOME,” and I’m going to say, “I already told you that, remember?” :)

As always, Ms. Williams’s query and responses will appear in orange, Ms. Bradford’s in blue. Enjoy!

Ms. Williams’s Query I enjoyed your spotlight on the Literary Rambles blog and absolutely love following you on Twitter. You are always so helpful and kind to answer our questions during the #askagent sessions. You stated you were interested in suspense, so I am thrilled to be querying you and believe you'd enjoy my YA novel, ADRENALINE.

No drinking. No drugs. No hooking up. Clean body. Clear head.

That’s what Ali hears at her first Adrenaline Junkie meeting. On top of that, good grades, too. Say what? Simone and the other recruits don’t think that sounds like much fun.

But they’re wrong. The fun is just beginning.

Adrenaline Junkies, properly named The Liberty Ring, is an elite, secret society that meets in a hidden cavern under the locker rooms, and only the strongest are invited to join during their sophomore year. With Ali’s tendencies to stress over straightened refrigerator magnets and alphabetized bathroom creams, it’s no jaw-drop she barely makes it in after punching head cheerleader, snob extraordinaire, in the nose during their last halftime show. Which she so deserved, btw.

Ali should be looking for the fastest escape, which just happens to be a human-sized drain in the wall leading toward the Columbia River. She definitely shouldn’t be crazy-head enough to wanna stay.

But she does.

There are three sectors, and Ali wants the highest. When the Assessment period begins, she repeatedly puts herself in danger while pushing her strength, survival skills, and determination to their limits. Not to mention, adrenaline is totally addicting. Almost as much as the Lead, Treston. But she’s a fool because Treston is rude, unforgiving, and most likely wishing she’d never been invited to join.

Now Ali's got until Spring Break to release the grips of her social “Placement” and a parasitic jock so she can prove herself worthy, get her rank up, and grow stronger--mind and body. But Adrenaline Junkies is so much bigger than she first realized, and once you’re in, you’re in. She’s got the brand burned under her collarbone to prove it.

Now staying alive? That will be a whole other feat.

ADRENALINE is a YA romantic suspense complete at 95,000 words with series potential. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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

MW: ADRENALINE is basically about a secret society of adrenaline junkie teens (but with a good cause). Almost like a The-Skulls-meets-Fear-Factor sort of deal.

Before I go any further, let me admit that I am not the person you want to take with you on extreme water slides or to amusement parks because I am so NOT an adrenaline junkie. I’m kind of a baby when it comes to being daring. But I enjoyed the UGLIES series, and some of the crazy things the characters did in that series made me wish I was…well, tougher. So the next time I go to that amusement park I MIGHT try the kiddie coasters. Heh. Um, yeah, so total fail, but that sparked the idea that maybe I would never be an adrenaline junkie but that didn’t mean my characters couldn’t be. That began the story of ADRENALINE and the creation of characters that do things I could never do.

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?

MW: I feel a little weird saying this, but I wrote my query in about 15 minutes when I was bored one afternoon. I was almost done with the manuscript at that point. Just so you all know, this was totally not the case with my first manuscript. I wrote and rewrote that query about 17 gazillion times. With this one, I don’t know how it happened, but it all just poured out of me almost faster than I could write. And surprisingly, I liked it! Other than a few tiny changes here and there as I went, it was the query I used until I received my offer, and I had a very high request rate off of it.

But like I said, with my first manuscript I’d written my query over and over and during that process I really targeted what kind of queries I liked and how to make them stand out. So I guess my experience helped me get to that point on this second one.

But I think the biggest tips I can give is to keep the query focused on the very beginning of the book and then give an idea of where the book is going to go without giving all those bogging details of where it does go. I feel that my query hints at what the book is about, but most of it is based on the first 20 pages. Ask yourself, “Who is my character, what happens to him/her, and what must (s)he do about it?” That worked for me, anyway:)

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

MW: Based on ALL of my query writing experience, I’d say the hardest thing is figuring out what you should include and what you shouldn’t. How much detail is too much? How much is too little? What clears things up, and what just makes it more confusing? That part is always rough.

I wouldn’t say any of it is easy. But if I had to choose what is easiest, I guess I’d say describing my character and showing her voice. But like I said, that’s definitely not easy either.

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

LB: This is kind of a hard question to answer because the first time the query came to my attention, it was with a note that Melinda already had an offer of representation. Agents are like sharks and we always swim to where we smell blood. A pending offer of representation = blood in the water and we’ll always swim over to see what the fuss is.

I often ask for a full ms right away when there is a pending rep offer because there isn’t any time to do anything other than that (if we are even a little bit interested). There will usually be a very short period to review the ms because that author will need to make a decision (often within a week or so) and give a response to the original offering agent.

Usually I do get a full week to make my decision about material in these cases though sometimes an author will only give me a couple of days. We kind of have to drop everything we are doing to read material when there is an offer pending because of the timeline and sometimes we can work within the timeline parameters and sometimes we can’t.

I received the material on a Monday and asked if I could have through the weekend to give her my answer and she agreed. Now I don’t always ask for material when I get notified of an offer. Sometimes the material is just not the right fit for me and I can tell in the query so I just congratulate the author and decline to throw my hat in the ring. But ADRENALINE happened to be EXACTLY the kind of ms I would have asked for even without a pending offer of rep. She called it YA romantic suspense and that sounded like a wonderfully NON-SATURATED area of YA. The query mentioned secret societies (cool!) and there were strong indications that the ms would have plenty of romance and adventure. Sold!

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

LB: It was just straight up cool. The ms had gobs of action and adventure and I loved the romance thread. The hero and heroine were totally likeable, the hook was exciting and easy pitch-able and it wasn’t a theme or subgenre that I’d seen 7 billion times already. ADRENALINE was pure fun and the romance was yummy. Romance in a manuscript is often a key element for me and Melinda did a great job with it.

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

LB: The experience I had with reviewing Melinda’s work was totally ATYPICAL because as I said, when I first saw the query, it already had an offer attached to it. I’ll give you the timeline:

1/2/12 Received an e-mail from Melinda notifying us that she had received an offer of representation. We’d only had the query for a short period of time and we’d not reviewed it yet.

1/3/12 I liked the query and asked for a full ms and synopsis. I asked her for a week to give her my answer.

1/3/12 Melinda agreed to give me a week and e-mailed the material.

1/6/12 Melinda followed up with me to make sure I’d received the material. As a side note this week my website host had been hacked and it crashed about 100 websites, mine included. The crash had affected my e-mail and website which were only periodically working until I was able to transfer hosts. It ended up being super time-consuming which is AWESOME when you are trying to read quickly, not work on website and e-mail technical issues, LOL.

1/7/12 I responded to her follow up e-mail and let her know that I had read the material and had sent it to a colleague to read as well. I asked if she had received any additional agent offers in the meantime.

1/7/12 Melinda e-mailed to thank me for the follow up, commiserate that crashed websites suck and said she wondered if the heroine whose name I loathed was hers. That week I had been tweeting about reading a ms I really liked where I thought the heroine’s name was completely wrong. (Yes, it totally WAS her ms I’d been referring to)

1/8/12 My assistant got back to me about ADRENALINE. We discussed the material and any concerns we had about it. I’d loved the material when I read it but there were some noteworthy implausibility concerns that needed to be shored up. I already knew that I wanted to offer rep to Melinda but I wanted to talk to my colleague about the ms’s fixability. We agreed that it was fresh and cool and though it needed some revision, I’d be nuts not to try to snap it up and work on it with Melinda. Provided she passed the not-a-wing-nut test, of course.

1/9/12 I called to talk to Melinda. Good news! She turned out NOT to be a wing-nut, and she was totally amenable to my editorial suggestions so I knew we could work well together. I offered representation.

1/11/12 Melinda signed my agency agreement and we were off and running. Wheeee!

This was a super weird and fast timeline. I’ll note that over the 9 days it took from the day Melinda sent me the ms until she dropped the signed agency agreement in the mail I pitched 5 books which is also completely atypical for me. But this was the first week after the holiday break and all the editors were back, rested and raring to go. Those pitches had been scheduled for weeks and they had to happen despite the fact that I had a website that crashed about 6 times, intermittent e-mail and 2 rep offers to consider (I had gotten word of a pending offer for another ms I was considering as well that week). I remember being harried and frustrated and exhausted that whole week, LOL. Then thrilled when Melinda said yes, of course.

Typically we respond to queries within about 2 weeks and if we request partials/full mss, I usually get back to the author within 4 to 6 weeks. I think it used to state a longer response time on my website--6 to 8 weeks--because things come up (Rep offers! Crashed websites! Emergency edits!). I rarely take 2 months to respond these days, though.

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

MW: Nothing you all probably haven’t read before, but here goes…Read, read, read other examples! Not just the blurbs of other books in your genre, but also other successful queries. Figure out what it is about them that works.

Now how do you do this? Well, some agents post queries they’ve liked on their blogs, and you can also stalk different contests (like the awesome “An Agent’s Inbox” here on Krista’s blog) and see which queries are working and which ones aren’t. Check out the queries agents are flocking to and requesting from, and try to figure out why. I feel like doing this really helped me to figure out SO MUCH. Like how to intertwine my character’s voice, and how to keep the query with an interesting/intense tone rather than boring detail after boring detail.

Also, get critique from LOTS of other people, but don’t take EVERYTHING they say so seriously. I feel like I did this a lot with my first manuscript’s query. Every time someone said something, I felt like I had to make a change. It quickly got to the point where I didn’t know what was up and what was down anymore. Everyone will have different ideas. Just try to focus on problem areas. Meaning take the advice that resonates with you or resonates with several others, too. Not just one person. Don’t please everyone! It’s impossible and will only hold you back.

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

LB: Just be professional and do your research when querying. Know what the agents you are querying represent. Know the standard parameters for the genre you write i.e. don’t send a query for a 300k word middle grade ms or a 42k word single title historical romance ms.

DO mention genre, DO mention word count, DO mention if it is a stand alone or planned as a series. DO query one ms at a time. DO follow posted submission guidelines for each agent. If you are allowed to send sample pages in your query according to the posted guidelines, DO take advantage of that.

Make sure you actually talk about the material in your query. You’d be surprised how many people take up all of the real estate in their queries talking about how they have wanted to be a writer since they were 5 years old and talking about their husbands, hometowns, kids, day jobs and only mention the material as a virtual afterthought.

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

MW: Hmmm…I guess just to keep your head and spirits up and be prepared for anything. Work really hard but also try to enjoy the whole process. You never know what can happen and when. It can actually be quite fun and thrilling!

When I started sending queries over the 3-day New Year’s weekend I had no idea how quickly things could happen! I had an offer before most agents were even back to work yet! You just never know what is ahead for you. And every step has stress and doubt, so learn how to handle it and have fun at the same time! And remember, NEVER GIVE UP!

Also, get to know the agents the best you can. Obviously, you can’t become their BFF or anything, but follow them on twitter, read their blogs/websites, and participate in #askagent sessions. It’s amazing how much you can learn about them and everything else at the same time! And it helps you to have a reason why you’re querying THAT specific agent, like they always say you should. I queried Laura right after she’d mentioned she was interested in suspense. And I already knew she loves the romance part of it, so I really thought my manuscript might be a good fit for her.

LB: Do what you can to educate yourself about the publishing business…there is a wealth of knowledge out there to be found. Many agents and editors blog and tweet and the information they share can be quite insightful.

There are lots of writing communities that do very good work educating their members about the rules of the road.

Find a good critique partner or beta reader or both. This is a MUST. You absolutely must have someone other than yourself read your material before you send it out on submission.

Know going into it that this is a tough, sometimes soul-sucking business full of endless WAITING and decide to have fun anyway. Good luck!

And there you have it, the most informative, jam-packed installment of “Agent-Author Chat” ever! Have a great Labor Day weekend!


Myrna Foster said...

This really was a wonderful, informative interview! Thanks to all of you! ADRENALINE sounds intriguing. I'll have to watch for it.

Carla Luna Cullen said...

Excellent post! Very thorough and helpful. ADRENALINE sounds like a great book - the kind both my son and daughter would like.

Shiela Calderón Blankemeier said...

Stellar interview! I learned so much. Thank you to everyone involved, especially Krista for your usual awesomeness :)

Jemi Fraser said...

What an awesome story!! :)

I love the sound of the book - exciting romance - right up my alley!

I'm dying to know if the main character's name changed!!

Kimberly said...

This sounds so awesome. I cannot wait to read the book!

Really great interview and I love how Melinda's and Laura's story fell into place. :)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Myrna, ADRENALINE does sound cool, doesn't it? Fingers crossed for a quick sale!

Glad you found it helpful, Carla! Laura and Melinda definitely went above and beyond the call of duty in answering these questions.

You're welcome, Shiela!

Ooh, Jemi, great question! I should ask Melinda... :)

Yes, things came together perfectly, Kimberly. ADRENALINE really does sound like the sort of book Laura would enjoy. I'm not at all surprised she offered.

Cassie Mae said...

ah, Krista, you have the best questions for these! Laura and Melinda are a great match!

I totally concur with the cp and beta readers for your work! I know I wouldn't have my agent if it weren't for the billions of notes, emails, and support from my writer partners!

Melinda Williams said...

Thanks for the interview Krista! It was really fun answering the questions and reading Laura's responses!

Krista is the best!!!

Oh, and I did end up changing the name of the main character for those who were wondering. :)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks, Cassie Mae! And I totally agree with you--CPs are one-hundred-percent indispensable, and not just when it comes to feedback.

Thank YOU, Melinda. And tell that agent of yours thanks as well. You two really did go above and beyond the call of duty.