Today is the second of a series on successful authors I've met through QueryTracker.
Some of the authors I'll be spotlighting on Fridays have agents, others have found success in less conventional ways. But, one thing they all have in common is their use of the QueryTracker website, whether for information or emotional support. In some way or other, each of my upcoming guest posters have utilized this amazing online tool to help make their tracks in the publishing world.
For today's author interview, I'd like to welcome David Kazzie, who recently signed with Ann Rittenberg of the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency, due in no small part to these two videos:
Now onto the interview:
AGH: David, your road to representation took some interesting and unconventional twists and turns. Could you give us a rundown of how you got your agent?
David: I’ve been writing fiction for about 10 years. In that time, I had completed a couple of manuscripts and after finishing each one, I tried to find an agent. As the years went by, I felt like I was improving with each manuscript – getting more responses from agents, more requests for material, but I never was able to find an agent. It did get discouraging.
But I kept writing, and last summer, I decided to start writing a humor blog while I figured out which way to go with my fiction. I wrote the So You Want to Go to Law School video in October (now with 1.3 million hits), and then I followed that up with So You Want to Write a Novel in November. As you know, the Novel video went viral in the writing/publishing community, which put me in contact with a number of different agents, including Ann. She read my blog and watched my other videos, we talked about what my future writing plans were, and then she offered to take me on as a client.
AGH: Before you signed with your agent, how many books had you tried to query?
David: I'd queried two different books before signing with Ann. I wrote the first one from 2001-2002, queried about 20 agents, and completely struck out. Honestly, It was a truly terrible book. My villain was a corrupt U.S. Senator, which I've since learned is always a bad, bad sign for your book. I gutted that one and rewrote it, including changing the villain to someone who wasn't such a terrible cliche. I got a few more requests the second time out, and I think it had some good parts, but overall, it was still pretty weak.
I took some time off from writing and started a brand-new manuscript in late 2007. Including revisions, I worked on that for about 18 months.
AGH: What were the responses to those queries (stat-wise: fulls, partials, etc.)
David: Manuscript 1 (and its rewrite) -- collectively, probably about 50 queries. A couple requests for the full.
Manuscript 2: 175 queries. About 12 partial requests and 7 more requests for the full.
AGH: What genres do you write?
David: Crime thrillers. It's one of my favorite genres to read, and I've always been fascinated by the dark side of humanity -- crime, violence, greed, and other bad decisions. I'm particularly interested in the humorous side of all this malfeasance.
AGH: What inspired your very first book idea?
David: Honestly, I used to be terrible at coming up with story ideas. For the first one, I had this idea for the main character whose brother goes missing just as the brother is supposed to reveal some family secret. I started writing without really fleshing out much more than that. I'm still amazed I came up with 325 manuscript pages for that.
Now I've figured out that just about anything can make a good story if you execute the concept the right way. I like to play the "what if" game to come up with story ideas.
AGH: What books / authors have most influenced your own style and concepts?
David: Carl Hiaasen has had the biggest impact on me. I discovered his crime novels about 10 years ago, and it really opened my eyes about how to use satire and comedy in writing thrillers. He's just freaking brilliant. My early manuscripts read like standard thrillers, but I worked hard to inject a lot of dark humor into my last book -- i think it paid off, as it was by far my best work to date, and I think that's my natural style of writing,
My three favorite books are The Stand (I love apocalyptic fiction, and the characters from The Stand just make the book so unbelievably good), Mystic River (hands down, the best crime novel I've ever read) and Lonesome Dove (it's just a kick-ass story).
AGH: How did you find QueryTracker, and how did it help you in your effort to get inside the publishing doors?
David: I don't remember exactly how I found QT -- it must have been through a blog. I'd been using another submission tracking site, but then they revamped their site, and I didn't like the change, so I moved everything over to QT.
I found it to be very helpful in keeping things organized, and it had a lot of up-to-date info on agents and people's experiences submitting. Oh, and finally getting to click on the "Offered Representation" field was pretty awesome too.
AGH: Can you share any current news with us?
David: Nothing right now. I'm more just adjusting to the idea of working with an agent and settling back into writing fiction again.
AGH: Have you recently learned anything about the business side of publishing that you can share with up and coming writers?
David: I think writers need to remember that it IS a business. Publishers have to make money. Agents have to make a living. Rejection isn't personal -- agents and editors know you've poured your heart and soul into your work, but the nature of the business sometimes demands a quick and impersonal rejection.
And yes, I hate to say it -- sometimes luck is involved. Why one book takes off and another doesn't. Why one person gets an agent after 10 queries and another queries 200 agents and has nothing to show for it (even if the books are of relatively similar quality). Always, always act professional. Never respond angrily to a rejection.
That said, social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and industry blogs lets writers get up close with agents and editors on a daily basis. You probably don't want to add an agent you don't know as a FB friend, but you can certainly follow them on Twitter and interact with them (appropriately) in the Twitterverse. Many agencies also have FB fan pages, where you can also interact with people.
AGH: Considering how your YouTube "writing a novel" video went viral and your law school parody has over a million hits (WOW), you appear to be a master at promoting yourself online. Is there any advice you can give those of us who are already or are about to be on the promotional side of our publishing careers (marketing our book trailers, pushing our titles, etc…)?
David: I think it's important that whatever self-promotion you do needs to reflect your identity as a writer. My videos and my blog (and more recently, my Twitter account) have a lot of dark, satirical humor, and so I'm guessing that people will (rightfully) expect that my fiction will be similar in style. Also, never, ever post anything less than your best work. You never know who's watching.
Also, be polite and friendly. My five-year-old knows this, and yet I still find instances where people don't act friendly. Talk up other people whose work you like. I've made numerous friends and contacts through social media doing that.
As for the videos -- I wish I had a secret formula for making something go viral. With my most successful videos (Law School, Write a Novel, and Facebook), I think I just tapped into what a lot of people were thinking. And the Xtranormal website was the perfect vehicle for my ramblings.
I think there's a lot you can do even without a viral video. Visit other blogs, participate in discussions, play to your strengths. It can be time consuming, but I think it's worthwhile. Plus, you get to meet a lot of cool people.
Five for fun:
AGH: What’s your favorite breakfast?
David: The egg-and-chicken burrito from Chick-Fil-A. With coffee. Or an asiago cheese bagel with honey-walnut cream cheese.
AGH: Are you Team Dog or Team Cat?
David: Dog. We have an 11-year-old Lab mix. Although I respect cats and how they don't give a crap about anyone.
AGH: What video games do you play?
David: I grew up on Super Mario Bros. and Nintendo Ice Hockey. I haven't mastered many things in my life, but I dare you to find someone who could've beaten me in Nintendo Ice Hockey in the late 1980s. No, I didn't date a lot. These days I play Lego Star Wars on the Wii with my son.
AGH: When would you go to if you had a time machine, and why?
David: Oh, a dangerous question indeed. If I changed anything about the past, I might not be where I am today, right? Butterfly effect and all. But if you visit the future, you see where you end up, and then the question becomes whether everything you do from now up until that point is predestined. And if you try to avoid it because you don't like how things end up, maybe it's doing those avoidance things that get you to the place you're not happy with.
But let's say you could go anywhere with no effect on the timeline -- sort of like watching a replay. I think I'd go back to the day I met my wife and see how the day unfolded. Maybe even the whole week before. I think it would be interesting to see all the little things that had to happen to put me at that place at that moment. It turned out to be the most important day of my life -- but I had no idea for a good part of it.
AGH: Drinking tea … pinky up, or heavy on the Long Island?
David: Long island is my preference. Black tea is my reality. Pinky is never, ever up.
Thank you, David, for sharing your insights and for letting us peek into what makes you unique and successful. And I'd like to point out that, judging by that lovely and swoon-worthy answer you gave to the time machine question above, should you one day have a little daughter who wants you to drink tea with her -- pinkies up -- you'll be a proper English gent and wear a smile on your face the whole time. What a nice guy!
Congratulations on catching that elusive agent, and I wish you much luck and happiness on your climb to the shelves! Don't forget to follow David's blog or tweets as his journey unfolds. He also has a success interview posted at QueryTracker.
Now it's your turn. If you have questions for David --or if you'd simply like to congratulate him and show your support --please leave a comment below!