Friday, September 28, 2012

Agent-Author Chat: Beth Miller and Noelle Henry

I’m thrilled to welcome Beth Miller of Writers House and one of her newest clients, Noelle Henry, to the blog. Or perhaps I should say BACK to the blog, in Ms. Henry’s case. If you were around for “The Writer’s Voice” back in May, you’ll probably recognize Ms. Henry’s query, as she and FACE THE MUSIC were on my team.

Ms. Henry didn’t end up signing with any of the agents from “The Writer’s Voice,” but she did end up catching the attention of another agent shortly thereafter. When she e-mailed me to let me know she’d signed with Ms. Miller, I knew I had to interview them both:)

Ms. Henry’s query and responses will appear in orange, Ms. Miller’s in blue. Happy reading!

Ms. Henry’s Query Tate's dad used to say, “When words fail, music speaks.” It's the one language she could always hear. Not with her ears, which haven't worked since birth, but with her heart. To the faculty at Ravenswood Fine Arts Academy, she's a cello prodigy. To her peers...let's just say they don't call her Beethoven because they like her.

Through three years of concerts and solos and duels for chair placements, Tate has always been defined by what she lacks instead of what she has. But this year is different. This year she has Silverton. The prospect of a full ride to the most prestigious music college on the West Coast is enough to make the daily torture known as high school worth it. If she wins that scholarship, she'll finally find the one place where music overrides her disability. All she has to do is practice really hard, be nothing less than perfect and--duet with pianist Jared Lynch?

In a stunning twist, Silverton decides on a theme competition this year, partnering Tate with the one boy who both frustrates and fascinates her. Jared's rich, he's popular, and he's dating the she-devil rival cellist who crowned Tate Grand Marshal of the freak parade. He also has a passion for music that she yearns to understand and secrets as complicated as Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante. But as they clash over their duet--she wants to play it safe; he wants to risk everything--it's clear that he has the power to see through the deafness Tate brandishes like a shield.

FACE THE MUSIC, a 75,000-word contemporary young adult romance, follows Tate Donovan and Jared Lynch as they learn about love, loss, and being true to themselves.

I have studied the violin for thirty years, and have a passion for classical music that shines through in this novel. I am also a former Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist in romantic suspense.

I commented on your fabulous guest post at, and as per your guidelines, have pasted the first five pages below. I would be pleased to send you a partial or the completed manuscript upon request. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

KV: Ms. Henry, how did you first come up with the idea for FACE THE MUSIC?

NH: When I was in high school (a long, long time ago, LOL), there was a blind cellist in our orchestra. I was fascinated by the way she learned music--both by ear and by Braille sheet music. Her disability never kept her from doing the things she loved. She walked the halls between classes like everyone else, she tried out (and performed) in the school musicals, and she even played the piano. So, I’d have to say she was the initial catalyst for the story.

Of course, it wasn’t until many years later that I picked up my love of writing again. I started with contemporary romance and then romantic suspense and then one day, Tate started speaking to me. She said, “Everyone calls me Beethoven.” And I knew I had to find out why, even though I’d never written young adult before and was absolutely sure I didn’t have the chops to do it well. But, honestly, I had nothing to lose by giving it a go. So I did.

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?

NH: I’ve never written a query before I’ve finished a manuscript. I always like to have the complete character arcs in place, because I know that needs to be the focus of my query.

I think I rewrote the query to FACE THE MUSIC three or four times. I wanted to start with Tate because she is the story, and because of that, I ended up writing the query in first person, hoping to really inject her voice into it. And then I entered a little contest called The Writer’s Voice (you may have heard of it!) and was picked for the amazing Team Krista (you may have heard of her too. LOL) and she helped me see that Tate’s voice could still shine through in a third person query. That query was the final version, and the one I used to attract agents.

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

NH: The hardest part was probably the first line. I kept rewriting it and nothing clicked. I wanted a way for the query reader to intuitively know that Tate was deaf without me having to spell it out because I felt that Tate doesn’t really go around thinking, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m deaf.’ She was born deaf. That’s her world-view. And I really wanted that to come through in the query.

The easiest part, I think, was tackling the way Jared forced her to change the way she viewed herself. And I think that’s because it was fresh in my mind at the time.

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

BM: There were several things that caught my attention--the first is that I had just done a guest blog at Waterworld Mermaids, and she referenced that blog in her query. I had invited those who commented on the blog to query me, so that was one thing that had me reading closely.

But more importantly, I just love YA romance, and Noelle’s story touched all the right notes with me. The heroine is a cellist at a performing arts high school, and Noelle also mentioned that she herself is a violinist with a passion for classical music. And she’d included the first few pages, which were well-written and compelling. So all in all, she had a fantastic query!

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

BM: I just looked back through my e-mails. It looks like it took me about a month to reply to the query, which is about right these days, unfortunately. I asked for the full manuscript, and about two weeks later I touched base to say I was reading, and then a week after that I got in touch again to say I’d loved it. In the interim, I was getting some reads from a few colleagues.

It’s hard to say what my response time is for requested material. It really depends on what’s going on at the office. Unfortunately, submissions are lower priority, coming after managing the current clients. I try to read material I’m excited about quickly, but sometimes it does take a few weeks.

KV: You ended up asking Ms. Henry for a revision before you officially signed her. How do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

BM: With FACE THE MUSIC, I really loved the story and the writing, but there were a few major plot points that needed some attention. I wanted to make sure Noelle was open to doing them, first of all--which she was!--and that she was able to revise well.

KV: Obviously, the revision met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about FACE THE MUSIC?

BM: It exceeded my expectations! Noelle is an author who can take revision suggestions and then put her own spin on them. She didn’t just make the changes I suggested; she also tweaked other things here and there, making an already great story even better. I loved the love story, the music, the heartbreak--and of course, the boy. :) There were moments that made me get teary-eyed. I just loved it.

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

NH: A query is not about plot points. Get to the heart of your story as quickly as you can. That’s what agents want to see. Show why readers should care about your characters: what they want, why they want it and why they can’t have it. Make sure those stakes are high enough! Try to find that unique element that makes your story different from everything else that’s out there and really make that element shine through in your blurb.

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

BM: Do your research and target agents you think will make the best fit--don’t just blast your query out into the world. Be professional and courteous. Proofread your query letter. Remember that the query is the first impression of you that an agent has--if your query is poorly written or unprofessional, they aren’t likely to want to see your work.

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

BM: Write a great story. Keep trying, even if you don’t succeed with your first manuscript, or even your second. Writing is a skill, and like other skills, it can be improved with practice. Read a lot, so you know what else is out there in your genre. And don’t give up!

NH: Well, I’d definitely echo Beth’s statement about not giving up. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like you’re working so hard for nothing, but the one thing I’ve learned is that writers need to write for themselves, first and foremost. Only seeing the end goal can lead to burn out and frustration.

Ask yourself why you’re writing your book. Find a story that you’re passionate to tell. That passion will shine through in your writing, and when you believe so strongly in a book, chances are you’ll eventually find a home for it.

Thanks again, ladies, for sharing your story with us. And may I just say WOOHOO? :) Here’s hoping for a quick sale!


Kristen Wixted said...

I love getting new ideas like "Check out Waterworld Mermaids..." from these interviews.

I remember this query from the Writers Voice--congrats to Noelle, and thanks to Beth Miller for doing the interview.
And thanks to you too, as always, Krista. :)

Myrna Foster said...

I'm happy to see that this one got picked up by an agent. :o)

Thanks for this interview! Today, I will try writing my query in first person (to get inside my character's head). I've never tried that before. Then I can make the switch to third person.

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks - it was really helpful to see this process. Congrats to Noelle!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

What a great interview...always good to get some insider info. :)

Tara Dairman said...

I remember this one from "The Writer's Voice"! Huge congrats, Noelle, on finding representation!

Sounds like a terrific story, and like you and Beth already have a great working relationship. Best of luck on submission. =)

Robin said...

These author agent chats are my favorite posts on your blog. I love getting a better feel for how getting an agent works, and just to know people and their work on a more personal level. Thanks for organizing them Krista.

And congrats Noelle!

Noelle Henry said...

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Krista! And thanks for all the congrats and well-wishes. :) Getting a chance to do revisions for Beth before an offer of representation really allowed me to see how Beth and I would work together. Obviously, everything went really well! ;)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Kristen, I always learn something new from these interviews, too:)

Yeah, Myrna, all we did for Noelle's query was flip the pronouns from "I" to "she" and adjust the verb conjugations. It worked perfectly!

Glad you found the interview helpful, Kristin!

Elizabeth, I love getting a peek behind the scenes, too. In my case, I think it's because I'm naturally nosy:)

I thought the same, Tara. Because they worked on a pre-offer revision, they already had a good feel for how the other worked before they even signed. Revise-and-resubmits don't always work out, but when they do, it's magic:)

Yeah, Robin, I really like getting to know these projects and writers better, too. I have more installments of "Agent-Author Chat" in the pipeline, so stay tuned!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Noelle! You took the words right out of my mouth:)

Noelle Henry said...

LOL! Call it #TeamKrista intuition. ;) Can't wait for further installations of agent-author chat--especially since my intuition is telling me there just may be another Team Krista one in there. :)

Kelly Bryson said...

That sounds like a great story! Thanks for another great interview and peak behind the scenes, Krista!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Sounds like your intuition's spot-on, Noelle;)

Doesn't it, Kelly? I can't wait to read FACE THE MUSIC--I hope Beth can sell it quick!