Mary Elizabeth and Laura Bradford!!!!
Woot! Woot! Seriously, couldn't be more excited about this! Maybe because they are both fabulous, as was Mary Elizabeth's entry, CATCH MY GRIFT! Go check it out now.
Just as I did with the first connection, I decided to interview them both.
C: First things first, what is your sweet of choice?
M: There's this peanut butter cup that they make at Sweet Life Patisserie in Eugene, OR that is quite simply the best food I have ever put into my mouth. You can only eat one, and the chocolate will get EVERYWHERE, but it is a little cup of heaven-on-earth and worth every calorie.
C: How long have you been writing?
M: I've been dabbling since I could put crayon to paper, but seriously writing toward actually getting published, seven years this November. I'm counting from the first time I successfully finished National Novel Writing Month. That novel has been read by exactly two other people, and it will no doubt stay that way.
C: How long did it take you to write CATCH MY GRIFT?
M: A little less than a year. Toward the end of the story, I wrote like I had a fire lit under me. I actually wrote about a fourth of it on my iPhone while commuting on the train to and from work (a la Lauren Oliver, though I didn't know that at the time). When I typed the last word, I almost hugged the person on the train sitting next to me. Then it took me about two months to edit it.
C: How many did you query with this novel?
M: I queried two other agents in addition to participating in your Surprise Agent Invasion contest, one of whom offered me representation during the flurry of activity that happened after Laura offered me rep. I am still utterly gobsmacked that so many fantastic agents, agents that I've been cyber stalking for years, expressed interest and wrote me such encouraging things about my manuscript, even if they ultimately passed on it.
C: What made you decide to enter the contest?
M: It was a complete impulse entry. I had just been rejected from Brenda Drake's March Madness Pitch contest, though again, she had nothing but encouraging things to say about my pitch, and I saw that you had just tweeted about the Surprise Agent Invasion contest. So, since I already had my pitch materials ready, I decided to enter. Honestly, I had no expectation of even getting into the contest, let alone getting an agent!
C: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
M: Editing. It's the most incredible high when you manage to wrestle a troublesome scene into line. Often it's the most intractable scenes that end up being the most powerful post-edit. Editing challenges me to be better, dig deeper, really learn not just how to write but also what my characters are trying so hard to teach me. Nothing beats that aha! moment when everything just clicks.
C: What is your least favorite part of the writing process?
M: Editing. It is such a pain in the @$$! And it's not like you can do it as quickly and easily as laying down the first draft. There's no word-count goal to pat yourself on the back over. You just have to slog through it. My choir professor called it "woodshedding" a piece--that first brutal chiseling away where you look at everything that's wrong and try to shape it into something respectable.
C: If you could only pick up three things from the grocery store, what would they be?
M: Are you asking in a favorite-foods kind of way, or in a zombie-apocalypse-survival kind of way? If favorite-foods, then Miniwheats, avocados, and cheese. If zombie-apocalypse, then Miniwheats, a knife, and matches.
C: What advice do you have for other writers?
M: Write. But don't write in a vacuum. It took me seven years and four novels to get good enough to find an agent. I think it would have taken far less time if I'd found Twitter sooner. I keep a blog of all the writerly things I've found helpful, including a page of resource links, advice I've received from other writers, and grammar tips I've picked up from my years as a professional proofreader/editor. Feel free to stop by and check it out: http://mesummer.wordpress.com.
C: What did you do to celebrate your offer?
We haven't done it yet, actually. My partner promised me that if I managed to snag an agent that she'd take me to Chicago, which is the setting for CATCH MY GRIFT. We're going to all the places in the story (Meigs Field, the Ballou, St. Ignatius' College Prep which is the school I based St. Agatha's on, the Chicago Club which is the club I based the Strand on, and Hawthorne Racetrack). I can't wait to go and really feel Julep there.
C: Tell us a little about your success story:
M: When I found out I'd made it into the Surprise Agent Invasion contest, I was ridiculously excited. I refreshed the entry you posted for my pitch (#8, baby!) about once every three minutes for the first five days. Then a few requests came rolling in--a couple of partials and several fulls(!), one of them from Laura Bradford, who was one of my top two dream agents. I think I almost passed out. I scrambled to get all my materials together and sent them off, fingers crossed.
A week later, Laura tweeted that she was going to offer an author representation later that day. My heart just about gave out on me, but I told myself it couldn't be me since she'd only had my ms for a week. And then my phone rang.
I won't lie. I shook through the entire phone call, and I'm sure I stuttered like a broken typewriter. We talked for an hour about edits I needed to make and how agenting works and what next steps would be if I accepted her offer of rep. It all sounded fabulous, but other agents still had my ms, so I deferred making a decision for a week to give the others time to finish. After the call, I immediately called my partner and squeed at her for another twenty minutes.
So then I notified the other agents and got two more offers. It was awful! I was a nervous wreck, though all three of them were incredibly gracious and answered all my newbie questions. I decided finally on Laura, because I could tell she was strong in all the places I was weakest in my writing. I felt she had the most to teach me, and I need someone I can grow with. Plus I just adore her with her garden-gnome fetish and use of words like 'wingnut.'
Now my ms is out on submission. And with the punishing summer conference schedule, I don't expect to hear back from potential publishers any time soon. So in the meantime I'm basking in the incredible experience of actually having something I've written so well received by industry professionals. And I'm starting work on my next project...
Squeeee! So excited for you Mary Elizabeth! Good luck and keep us posted!
Now let's hear from Laura! And make sure to check out her Twitter and website if you haven't already. If that's even possible.
C: First things first, what is your sweet of choice?
L: CAKE! MOAR CAKE! I am pretty sure I said that on Twitter just a couple of days ago. And I mean a piece of cake, not a cupcake. Cupcakes never have the right cake-frosting ratio and they pretend to be this awesome portable food but there you are 3 minutes later with a limp paper wrapper in your hand, frosting on your fingers and you can’t find a trash can. Give me a piece of cake, a fork and a plate and I can attempt to be dignified.
C: At what point during a MS can you usually tell you are going to offer?
L: I really try to hold off making a final decision until I have read the entire ms and I have never actually jumped the gun and called to offer rep before I was finished reading a full…but I have thought about it. Sometimes a ms is just so freaking delightful that I start to get kind of panicky about it pretty early off in my read—panicked that some other agent is going to get it before I can. I usually like to get a second read from a colleague and if I start getting that this-could-be-the-one feeling early off, I send it to my colleague to start in on right away in order to save time. That said, I have sent mss off to my assistant to read because I was feeling really excited about the 1st chunk and then emailed her again an hour or two later to say…umm, NEVERMIND! MSS can start off great and then crash hard. It sucks to feel that disappointment, so I try to keep my cool until I hit THE END.
C: How can you tell?
L: It is usually voice and character that win my heart but it is possible to read a story where the characters are great, the voice is original and fresh and…nothing happens in the plot. What do you do with that? I’m not afraid to take on mss that need a bit of work but some things are more easily fixed than others. So sometimes you approach a ms from a position of logic and mechanics and market viability and those are all valid reasons to say yes or no to a ms. But if we are talking MAGIC and a more visceral/gut reaction to a YES ms, this was something tweeted this weekend about manuscript I was reading: I’m all swirly-twirly with butterflies in my belly and hearts in my eyes over the story. That is my favorite reaction. I offered on that ms today.
C: What is the first thing you will do after finishing a MS you are going to offer on?
L: Wish that someone else has read it too so I can talk about it with them. That is usually when I start asking my assistant every 5 minutes ARE YOU DONE YET? I usually read at night and since I am on the west coast, it is pretty much the rule that I finish reading a ms and falling madly in love with it way too late to immediately call the author. Believe me, I have wanted to call authors at 3 am to rhapsodize about their mss MANY times. Somehow I manage to resist. By the time I am able to call the author--either because I waited for a normal human time to call her, or I waited until after I discussed it with a second reader--I am a lot less crazed. If I had a sense that a ms would be a YES, I probably would have started marking sections that need attention as I read it so before calling the author I will put together my thoughts and comments on what was great, what needs work, etc. And it is worth noting that I generally don’t lead off an author call by offering representation, I do that after I have talked with them for a bit. Basically, if the author turns out to be a wingnut™ I won’t make the offer, no matter how much I liked the ms.
C: Do you ever offer on a MS that you had to take time to decide on first? Or is it typically a fast and easy love?
L: Ideally, it is a fast and easy love. Ideally, I don’t feel even a second of hesitation, but it just does not always happen that way because sometimes--actually all the time--a ms will need some work. And it is hard to make that decision about how much work is too much. Frankly it can depend on the day…if I am feeling buried by my list I might hesitate to take something on that needs more editorial. And rightly so because I owe my first loyalty to my current authors and I need to make sure I don’t spread myself too thin. Other days I may be fresh as a daisy and feel ready for any challenge. I will say that the hesitation usually goes the other way, though, where I will find a ms I want to say yes to but I talk myself out of it because of the amount of work it will require, because of the composition of my current list, because of the market. I can like something INTENSELY and still think I’ll never be able sell it. If it is a situation like that I will usually contact the author and convey that to them and leave the door open for something else. If I read a ms and truly feel on the fence about it, it usually turns into a no. In this business we say a maybe is really a no.
C: Do YOU like to do anything to celebrate before/after MAKING "The Call"?
L: Nope. Nose back to grindstone. That is a pretty boring answer.
C: Do you have any advice for a writer who just received "The Call"?
L: Ask lots of questions. You should probably have thought about this in advance, what you would most like to know from an agent who offers your representation. I promise this will not jinx everything if you plan ahead. Think positively. And while you are asking questions, TALK to the agent, find out if you enjoy him or her as a person. I have been on calls with authors I was offering rep to where they were very official and asked tons of questions but it felt pretty clinical and it was ultimately hard to get at who they really were and vice versa. I am more than the sum of my interview answers. I leave LOTS of time in my schedule to talk to an author for as long as they like when I call to offer rep. And if one of us runs out of time, I invite them to call again or email if they have more questions and want to talk again before they make their decision. Oh, and feel free to ask an agent for a week to make your decision if your material is out with other agents or you otherwise want to think about it. I think it is expected that authors need to take time to do this. If any agent pressures you to make a decision without taking time to think about it, it would make me really wary about what it would be like to work with that agent.
C: What kind of things can you forgive in a MS when considering offering? What things must already be in good shape?
L: Mechanics are pretty easy to fix. Spelling is easy to fix. Plot twists can be altered. Voice is hard to change. That is something that really has to be there already. Character has to be pretty solid, in my opinion, though certainly a character’s actions can be adjusted some. Unfortunately subgenre/theme is something that is either viable in the current market or it isn’t. If the ms is amazing but it happens to be something that the marketplace is completely saturated on, that can be troublesome and it is hard to change that subgenre/theme if it completely permeates the work.
C: If you could only grab three things from the grocery store, what would they be?
L: I hate the grocery store. I only go there when the situation is dire. I’d buy cheese, crusty French bread and something crunchy/snacky, like salt and vinegar chips. My diet is horrifying.
C: What made you request the full on CATCH MY GRIFT?
L: It is about a con artist. I freaking love con artist/grifter characters in fiction. And this one was a teenage grifter girl. Even better. I may have asked for this just because the hook was a great fit for my tastes but truthfully the voice really had IT. The last line of the sample I read was “The truth is I have a soft spot for harlots” and I remember thinking, ME TOO! Also, where is THIS going to go?
C: What made you offer on CATCH MY GRIFT?
L: There are two answers to that question, the response made by my brain and the response made by my gut. From a logical standpoint it had the right bones, it was a subgenre that the market was hungry for (mystery/thriller), it had the right mix of plot (lots going on but not so much that the story felt busy), romance (yes, please), it had emotional weight without being heavy, nice high stakes, it wasn’t predictable and the voice felt original. On paper that all combines to indicate something that I could sell in the current market. So that is the answer my brain would give. My gut just says WHHHHEEEEEEEEEE! This story was just pure rollicking, adventurous fun. I had fun reading it, I felt invested, I LIKED the characters and the story made me happy.
C: What is the most common reason you will NOT upgrade a partial to a full?
L:The voice doesn’t sing or I don’t like the characters. Sometimes I may still want to know what happens next but without the voice/characters really working it will always be just an exercise of satisfying my idle curiosity instead of expectation that I might make an offer. In that case it is unfair to raise an author’s hopes.
C: What is your best advice for writers seeking agents?
L: Do your research. Target the right agents for you and the type of work you write. Know what you want and pay attention to the rules of the road aka submission guidelines/etiquette.
C: What is your favorite part of being a literary agent?
L: I really love my job and I like LOTS of the parts of being a literary agent. I love telling a debut author they have gotten their first offer. I love sending a ms out in the world I KNOW people are going to love. I love being part of the process and how rewarding it is when you see the finished product on the shelf for the 1st time. When you have built a close relationship with your author, there is nothing as great as getting to celebrate the highs with them because chances are you two have probably slogged through some lows together, too.
C: Anything specific you are seeking right now?
L: More YA…I seem to be especially drawn to YA mystery, thrillers, historical and contemporary right now. I know that doesn’t seem like a very narrow list. I am definitely looking for more in adult romance, too, specifically historical and contemporary.
C: Now please tell us something super weird about yourself. :)
L: I used to live in Antarctica. And I jumped out of an airplane once and I HATED it, not because I was scared but because I got nauseated halfway down and thought I was going to barf. Also, I got pedicure on Saturday and then played with self tanner on Sunday so for the moment I have ELECTRIC BLUE toenails and orange feet. Apparently I suck at applying self tanner.
Wow! Are they both fantastic or what? Thank you ladies for letting me interview you! And congrats to both of you!!!
I hope you all enjoyed the interview! And if you've learned anything, I hope it's that if you want Laura as an agent you better not be a wingnut. :)