GC: *waves back*
So for all you querying writers out there, I thought it would be awesome to get Ginger’s views on the industry, the role of an agent, and what she, specifically, is looking for these days. Ready? Woo hoo!
First off, Ginger, what are you looking for right now – genres, age ranges, etc.?
GC: I’m looking for any kind of middle grade and young adult fiction. For adult readers, I represent science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance.
And when you get a query in one of these genres, what do you respond to in a query letter?
GC: What I respond to best in a query letter is a one paragraph plot description—nothing much longer than that. I also appreciate it when it’s clear querying authors have done their homework and know which authors and/or books to which they can compare their own work.
I’m so glad I did my homework when querying you, although I’m pretty sure my plot description was more than a paragraph…
GC: You wrote a fantastic, smart query letter for the first book of yours I represented, THE WITCH’S EYE, which was NOT the book we wound up selling. That’s right—POSSESS was the third novel of Gretchen’s that I read, and the first to sell. That’s proof that you are tireless, fearless, and that you would not give up.
True, I didn’t give up. Neither did you. I remember when I hinted around at writing a teen exorcist book. You gave me the shortest, most direct email in the world: “Write it. Now.” And I did.
GC: You did. Tell me again how you came up with the idea for POSSESS?
I wanted to write something scary. Some of my fondest reading experiences from my childhood and teen years involved scary stories. Horror, gothic, ghost stories – anything that would send a chill down my spine, make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and force me to sleep with the light on. I wanted to write that kind of story. And when I thought about what scared me the most, The Exorcist movie was at the top of the list.
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of exorcism and demonic possession, and by the fact that the Catholic Church is the only western religion with a codified exorcism ritual. Pope Benedict the XVI even issued an edict instructing all archdioceses around the world to send one priest to the Vatican for official exorcist training. How freaky is that?
GC: Um, pretty freaky.
I started doing so research, mostly first-hand accounts of exorcism and possession, and was totally hooked. The rest just sort of grew from there!
So because I’m vain and all, tell me what you loved best about POSSESS when you first read it?
GC: Bridget is what I love best. She’s a great heroine—but she’s also angry, quick tempered, and stubborn. I love how she doesn’t know how to deal with the grief from her father’s death, and I also love how she is oblivious to the cute boy who is totally in love with her and has been for a while.
YAY! I love Bridget too!!!! She’s wounded. That’s the first word that comes to mind. At the beginning of the novel she’s questioning everything in her life – who and what she is, who to trust, who to fear. Everything good in her life feels lost and out of reach, and she’s taken to closing herself off from life as a way of protecting herself from the things that might hurt her. Part of her journey is an acceptance of who she is – the good, the bad and the fugly.
Okay, switching gears. I know what I love best about you as an agent – you’re fearless, smarter than hell, ballsy and you always, always, always made me feel like I was important. Now tell me – what do you love best about being an agent?
GC: I love having good news for clients—like we’ve had an offer, the check has arrived, your book’s first printing is higher than we expected, we’ve had an offer from a foreign publisher, etc. etc. I also like watching an author and editor fall in love with each other while working on a book together, and knowing that I was the matchmaker.
You can totally see that. I get the most excited phone calls from you when you have good news. Ha!
Okay, but agenting isn’t all multi-book deals and foreign rights sales. What are some of the challenges in the career?
GC: Some of the challenges are passing along bad news (like rejections, of course) and doing everything right and still having a book not sell well for no reason anyone can figure out. That makes an agent feel powerless.
The yin and the yang. I have to say, as someone who’s first book didn’t sell, you were amazingly supportive. I never felt like I was alone. More like we were a team.
Now, one of the other things I adore about you (is this sounding like a broken record yet?) is that you’re very involved in the “new technologies” of the industry. How do you approach the rapidly changing climate of publishing?
GC: A competent agent has to stay on top of these developments. I think our industry is emerging leaner, stronger, and smarter. The past three years in this business has had more change and uncertainty than any other time most people older than me can recall. We’ve had to adapt to new developments very, very quickly.
As a client, you’re also on top of new developments. You’re one of the most socially networked writers I know.
I am sort of all over the interwebz, aren’t I? I like to be accessible, and I like to share – news, crazy details of my life, book and non-book related stuff. I’d say the two best places to keep up with me are on Twitter and my blog. I also have a Facebook fan page and I vlog with the YARebels.
GC: Sometimes your non-book related stuff is even more fascinating. You’re definitely my only circus performer client…
Heh. Man, I hope so! Um, for those of you who don’t know what we’re talking about, I’m a trained opera singer and I currently sing with a circus troupe in Los Angeles called Cirque Berzerk. I’ve been on stage since I was about five years old, first as a tap dancer, then in musicals, then opera, then the circus.
Believe it or not, performing and writing go hand-in-hand. There’s something to be said for showing a story on the stage and how that translates into showing a story in written form. I have a keen appreciation for character motivations – the “why” of writing – and I think most of my plotting comes from that. Why does Bridget make this choice? How does that choice affect everyone else? I’m constantly answering those questions on stage, and when I write.
So…that’s us. Ginger and Gretchen. Hope you enjoyed the interview!!!
Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer and clown. Her YA horror/paranormal POSSESS debut with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins, August 23, 2011. Her second novel, TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer – is tentatively scheduled for a Fall 2012 release. Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4's Code Monkeys and she currently sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk (http://www.cirqueberzerk.com ). Gretchen is also a founding member of the vlog group YARebels (http://www.youtube.com/yarebels) where she can be seen as "Monday."