Thursday, September 10, 2009

Author Interview: Elana Johnson, author of FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL

Elana's book (which I reviewed yesterday) was so inspiring that I couldn't help but call email her up and bug her with some more questions!

What inspired you to write FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL?

When I started writing for the QueryTracker blog, I realized there was an audience hungry for knowledge about literary agents, and more specifically, for information about the querying process. I’d had some experience. I liked writing query letters (it’s true; don’t throw Coke cans!). I’d had success with my query letters. The thought lingered in the back of mind, dormant.

Then I was asked to speak at a local conference—way next year—about writing a query letter and querying the national market. So it sort of snowballed from there. I wanted to produce something beneficial for the conference attendees, all of whom would be authors. That evolved into desiring to produce something that I wished had been available when I started the querying process for the first time. Something with the answers to every question an aspiring author has—and is afraid to ask. So I went for it, and here I am!

What makes you qualified to write this sort of book?
I feel like I’m qualified because of my experience. My query letter receives a 35% request rate (sometimes it’s a bit higher, sometimes a tad lower, depending on how fast the responses come). So out of every three queries I send, I get one request. That’s pretty high. So I feel confident in my query letter writing abilities.

On top of that, I’ve sent out submissions. I know how to correspond with agents (through my submissions and through my work on the blog). I work in the professional world, and I know how important it is to be professional when working in a business relationship—which publishing is.

And finally, I wanted to write a book for authors, written by an author. Someone just like them. Someone who feels their joy over a request. Feels the sting (okay, knife-in-the-heart) from a rejection. Someone who gets them, because they’ve been there. Believe me, I’ve been there.

What do you hope readers take away from reading this book?
I want readers to realize that they are capable of writing a killer query letter. I’ve been on writer’s forum for a couple of years now, and there’s so much negativity about the query letter. I’d like to see some of that turn around. I’d like readers to realize that this publishing thing isn’t unattainable. That it just requires patience and hard work—and research. Oh, and professionalism. I think all of that is covered in From the Query to the Call.

Who is your target audience?
The target audience is anyone who’s written a book, short story, article, etc. and wants to submit it for publication. That’s a huge step—admitting you want your work to be published and then going for it—and I figured there should be a guide for how to do it. That’s what From the Query to the Call is.

Do you have any other nonfiction plans in your future?
I’m not sure. I definitely loved writing the ebook. Using color was fun—and totally different from writing in black and white. So anything is possible.

Describe your reasoning when laying out the book—how did you decide to organize it, and why did you do it that way?
When I started, I knew I wanted to have three basic parts. 1. How to write a query, 2. A section about agents, and 3. Samples

So I started with what an agent would see—the query letter. That seemed like an obvious place to begin. Then I thought of the next steps in my own query process. I remember thinking, “I’ve got my query. Uh…now what?” And so the ebook progresses from there. Researching. Sending queries. Then requests. Corresponding with agents. Revising for them or according to their suggestions. And finally, getting the call.

I used samples throughout the section on writing a query letter, and then included an entire query samples section in the back of the book. And it was done!

Why did you go the e-book route, instead of seeking other publishing methods?
I actually prepared a non-fiction proposal for From the Query to the Call. (Hey! That could be my next ebook—Writing a non-fiction proposal. Hmm…) I researched agents who represented “How To” non-fiction. But even as I was doing it, it felt false. Because so much of the ebook is based on it’s interactivity. The clickable links that take you to the section you want. The links to blogs and webpages. These are things I felt absolutely could not be cut from the book. Without them, the book isn’t what I envisioned.

So I saved the proposal and shelved my agent research. I went forward with the ebook plans, confident that it was the right format for this type of how-to book.

What are some of your favorite features of the book? Why?
  • Clickable links: From the Query to the Call has websites, blog posts, etc. that are the absolute best source of information—information I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t find. I’ve spent hours finding the info I needed along my publishing journey. Now all of that is compiled into one neat package, and the reader can click on a few links and have everything it took me months to learn.
  • Query samples: I was hungry to see queries that worked. Ravenous. I think most aspiring authors are. From the Query to the Call provides several samples of successful queries, query letters broken down into pieces so the reader can see how to construct theirs from the bottom up. I think that’s awesome. I would’ve loved something like this when I was “building” my query.

You included several different samples of queries in your book--why did you decide to include some from published or agented authors, and some from authors not yet agented or published?
I wanted to show MY process—and I used the queries from published and agented authors as well as non-published and unagented authors. I think it’s important to note that just because someone isn’t agented or published doesn’t mean the problem is their query letter (many times it is, but sometimes it’s not). So I included samples from people who haven’t quite made it yet—but who totally will. I think, for me, it infused an element of hope into the book.

Any chances you'll be writing one on how to write a synopsis? *waggles eyebrows hopefully in your direction*
Oh man. I might need an advanced degree for that!
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