Thursday, March 24, 2011

QueryTrackers Making Tracks, #1

Today, we begin the official first of a series on successful authors. (For the unofficial first, hop over to my LiveJournal blog for an interview with Mindy McGinnis.)

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 our official first QT author interview, I'd like to welcome Brenda St. John Brown, who recently signed with literary agent Marlene Stringer. If you're a fan of dancing Snoopies, and you'd like to read Brenda's representation story, click here.

Let's jump right in:

AGH: What genre(s) do you write?

Brenda: I write YA Contemporary. I've got a women's fiction that's about 50% complete, but I'm not sure I'll ever go back to it, although I still like the story line, so never say never, right?

AGH: What inspired your very first book?

Brenda: My first complete MS is a YA paranormal, inspired by all the paranormal I was reading at the time, no doubt. It's got some good points, the best being what it taught me about writing, characterization, moving the plot along, showing vs. telling...I could go on and on. My betas were incredibly helpful and I learned SO much from them that I then took and applied wholeheartedly to what I've written since. My current MS, SWIMMING TO TOKYO, is definitely better for it!

AGH:  How do you come up with titles?

Brenda: Titles are hard! My current MS is titled SWIMMING TO TOKYO and will likely be changed due to all that's happened recently in Japan.The title fits the book, but it might be inappropriate. So, I'll use my usual totally nonscientific method and scour Amazon to see if what I've thought of has already been taken (98% of the time it has) and then think about what's unique about my character or situation that could make a pithy title. I'm a fan of short titles, so the fewer words the better.

AGH: What scenes do you find most challenging when you write? 

Brenda: I try to visualize the scene as I write it, so emotionally charged scenes are difficult for me. I can "see" it but then choosing the words that match the pictures in my head -- without being too over the top -- can be a challenge.

AGH: Is there a message or theme that seems to be prevalent in your novels?

Brenda: Hmmm...well, there always seems to be a love interest/first love (because it's really fun to relive all of that excitement and angst when it's not actually happening to you). Difficult family situations seem to be prevalent, add to that angst?

AGH: What books / authors have most influenced your own style and concepts?

Brenda: In current YA contemporary, I love Sarah Dessan and Sara Oeckler. I tried writing in first-person present after reading Meg Cabot this summer. And Margaret Atwood is my long-time absolute favorite. I wrote my grad school thesis on "The Robber Bride."

AGH: How did you find QueryTracker, and how did it aid you in your effort to get inside the publishing doors?

Brenda: I found QT via Elana Johnson's blog and have found it invaluable! From researching agents in my genre to helping write the query in the forums, I can't imagine going through the process WITHOUT it. People are so genuinely helpful and there's a great sense of community.

AGH: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your querying process?

Brenda: I'm a VERY cautious querier, so I'd probably send out more queries. I only sent out 13 queries, including the one I sent to Marlene. I've been lucky to land such a great agent so quickly, but I also learned a lot from the rejections I got and had some good feedback on a couple of rejected partials that I'll definitely think about when I'm doing edits.

AGH:  Can you share any current news with us?

Brenda: I just got my agent edits back this week, so am working on those. They're not as extensive as I feared and I'm excited to get those underway.

AGH:  Have you recently learned anything about the business side of publishing that you can share with up and coming writers?

Brenda: I've barely touched this side of things, so no, probably not.  I will say that I'm always surprised when I go over to the QT forums and I see people posting their query letters who say, "I've been getting a lot of rejections on this, so I thought I should ask for some feedback." Get feedback before you send a single query. Other people can almost always see your query more clearly than you can and better to get it ripped apart in the forums or by your betas than pile up the form rejections.

5 For Fun:
AGH: How many hats do you have in your home?

Brenda: There are three of husband, 5-year-old son and me. I swear, we have enough hats for our entire neighborhood.

AGH: Which would you rather do: carry an umbrella or sing in the rain?

Brenda: I never carry an umbrella. A huge mistake in London, can i just say? And my curly/wavy/frizzy hair pays for it dearly.

AGH: What’s your favorite breakfast?

Brenda: Coffee and Doritos.

AGH:  Are you Team Dog or Team Cat?

Brenda: Definitely Team Dog. We have a yellow lab named Lucy.

AGH:  What video games do you play?

Brenda: I'm really bad at video games, but occasionally I play on the Wii with my son. I really like the boxing game and I do far better at Wii bowling that I ever do in real life.

Thank you, Brenda, for sharing your insights and for letting us peek into what makes you unique and successful. Two things I love: 1) that you don't carry an umbrella, and 2) that you live in London. It's all so romantic, somehow.  :-) Congratulations on catching that elusive agent, and I wish you much luck and happiness on your climb to the shelves!

Now it's your turn ... anyone who has questions for Brenda about her journey, her agent, or her book--or if you'd simply like to congratulate her--please leave a comment! And don't forget to follow her blog as her dream to be published unfolds.


  1. Great interview! I love seeing our fellow QT'ers succeed! We've got a great online writing community, for sure.

  2. I agree with Mindy- great job on the interview, Anita. And congratulations and good luck to you, Brenda!!

    -Angela (aka write2live)

  3. Thanks Mindy and Angela! Brenda did a great job. :-)

  4. Anita -- Thanks again for the invite. It was a lot of fun and I look forward to reading upcoming success stories!

  5. Great interview, Anita.

    We've been having a lot of rain in San Diego this year, so two weeks ago I went to Target (the happiest place on earth) and bought my first umbrella. Well, it's raining again today and guess where my umbrella is?! HA!!

  6. Very cool interview - and I think like most suthors there are plenty of good things to be said about querytracker.

    Just curious about how many queries Brenda sent out, and the general agent feedback from her book?

  7. Hi Anita and Brenda! Great interview...and great advice Brenda about getting feedback on your query. It's just so important to do so before you send it out! You only get one chance. Congrats on your representation and good luck with your revisions!!

  8. Bethany, you crack me up! I guess you'll be singing in the rain today, then, huh? Know any good aquatic operas?

    Hey there DU! I'd like to know that, too. I'll bet Barbara will stop by in a bit and enlighten us. I might have to add those questions to my interview line up for the upcoming guests!

    Hi Stephanie! Yep, those queries are slippery little things. They're excited and want to slink out into the agent's inboxes often before they're ready to go. Always a good idea to get a second or third pair of eyes on them. Crit partners are good for that, too!

  9. Congratulations to Brenda! And good luck as you continue your journey to publication!

  10. Thanks for stopping in, Kris! Looking forward to watching your career flourish, too. :-)

  11. Thanks again. As for how above question regarding # of queries and agent feedback...I only sent out 13 queries and my feedback was pretty good. I got 2 partial request, 1 full, 7 form rejects and 3 no response. Two of my non responses were from the only 2 UK agents I queried, which makes me think I did something terribly wrong. The process for querying is quite different over here and, even though I live here, I still felt much more comfortable querying in the US. I also know "where to do my homework" regarding US agents (QT, blogs, etc.). There are UK agents listed on QT, but they're not as active in terms of comments and those comments definitely help!

  12. Fan tas tic Interview! Not just informative but humorous as well.

    I highly recommend QT also. Great tools to organize my queries and (occasionally)

  13. Great interview Anita! I have a feeling this is going to be a very fun and informative series! Look at you, you networking pro!

    I go away for two days and I come back and you're interviewing all over the place! Caught your guest spot at BBC's blog, and found your thoughts on making the hard choices to be very spot on. Brava, madame, brava!

  14. Wow, Brenda! Those are great stats! Thanks for sharing them. :-)

    Thanks, Huntress! And welcome. So you're one of those stealthy QTers, huh? Flying under the radar. ;-) I'll bet we've played in some of the same comment threads and didn't even know it!

    Haahaa, Kalen! I've been wondering where you were! Glad you're back. And thanks so much for the kudos, my friend. :-)

  15. Great interview, Anita, and CONGRATULATIONS to Brenda! This was a great read, and I can't wait for more!! :)

  16. Hey Lisa! Thank you so much! And looking forward to doing more. You'll be on here one of these days. :-)