If you said yes, I’m not surprised.
If there’s a cool kids table of up-and-coming YA authors, Leigh Ann Kopans is the social butterfly at the center. A self-proclaimed contest stalker, Leigh Ann currently has 18 (not a typo) critique partners, many of whom are on the road to publication, and this month, she signed with the fabulous Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary!
When I read her story on her blog, I was kind of in one of those moods – the ones that are all-too-common for an author who’s looking to break into publishing, and I was quite taken with Leigh Ann’s energy, belief and perseverance. It’s very easy for this business to take it’s toll on us – whether you’re sending your work out to agents or straight to readers. When dedication pays off, I think it deserves to be showcased, so I pestered Leigh Ann into answering some questions for me.
Hey! Thanks for being willing to be interviewed.
Thanks for having me! I’m delighted to be here.
Okay, I know you’ve got some amazing stats when it comes to your querying stage. Can you walk us through those?
I’m glad to!
I queried in five batches of 20 to 30. (I wrote a post all about how I query here.) After the first batch of queries, I had one request. Conventional wisdom says, if that happens, to revise the query and try again, so that’s what I did. I revised the query (with a lot of help from CPs and trusted writer buds) and tried again FOUR TIMES.
I ended up with a total of eight requests from queries, out of 127. That’s just over a 5% request rate. Again, conventional wisdom says that when this happens to your query/pages, SOMETHING ABOUT THEM SUCKS. (You can understand why I was pretty sure One was going in a drawer.)
I’m also a big believer in the power of contests, which you can read all about here. I entered three contests with ONE: Cupid’s Blind Speed Dating over at Cupid’s Lit Connection, Pitch Madness (I was hosted on Shelley Watters’ blog), and The Writer’s Voice Contest. From those three contests, I had four requests. Now we’re up to twelve requests.
I also had something magical happen to me: Ninjas. Ninja agents are silent, but awesome. They strike when you least expect it. If an agent asks you to send them your query and/or pages unsolicited, whether via Twitter, your blog, or somewhere else, that’s a ninja request. I had two. (One of my ninjas came through Twitter, another through the query and pages I had posted on my blog. So keep up that social media wranglin’!) Now we’re up to fourteen requests. Out of 127.
So! Final stats:
Queries sent: 127
(Form) rejections: 91
No response: 28
Requests from queries: 8
Requests from (three) contests: 4
Informal requests (AKA “ninjas”): 2
Publisher queries: 3
Publisher requests: 2
Offers of representation: 2
Pretty intense stuff! Tell us about ONE, the book has your agent (and all your CPs!) hooked. What’s it about and where’d you come up with the idea?
ONE is about sixteen-year-old Merrin, who’s a One – a kid with only half a superpower. She can float, but she can’t fly. When she meets Elias, another One, and they discover that their powers combine to make them soar over the Nebraska cornfields, she’s pretty happy, not least because Elias is super cute and a damn good kisser. But that doesn’t change the one goal she’s always had – to get an internship at the Biotech Hub and figure out how to fix her freaky half-assed genes. That is, until Merrin discovers that the Hub is conducting scary experiments on Ones.
I’ve been obsessed with superheroes since my dad introduced me to X-men cartoons. I’ll never forget when the first X-men movie came out – my sister and I went to see it twice in one day. Of course I tuned in to the NBC show Heroes when it debuted a few years ago, and I’ll never forget thinking about how each superpower was actually made up of a bunch of secondary ones – in order to catch on fire, you have to be able produce the fire and be invincible to its effects on your skin, for example. What would happen if a person only had one of those components?
Obviously, you believed in ONE from the start. What made it different from anything else you’d written?
I think it was a combination of two things (ha!) First, my critique partners were on board with the concept and the writing from the start. And I have some seriously critical CPs – I call them my BS meters. If something I wrote just didn’t make sense or wasn’t plausible, or if my writing totally sucked, I would trust them to call me on it. Second, I knew that the premise and the story were unlike anything else out there. That’s what all the agents say they want, right? So, with those two things, it was really hard for me to convince myself that the project was fundamentally flawed and I should quit querying it altogether.
Pretty much every writer has – let’s call it “the desk drawer,” wherein lives the stories/WIPs/etc. that either didn’t make the cut or are too embarrassing to ever be shown the light of day. What’s in your desk drawer?
Just one novel – I only started writing a year and a half ago. I went through the query/contest trenches with that one, too, and got a decent amount of requests, but no bites. I’m not too embarrassed of it, to be honest, but I do realize that One is much better written, and probably a much more solid story.
Querying is a rough journey of rejection and waiting. How did you keep your spirits up?
My critique partners. One hundred percent. I don’t know if a day went by that I didn’t doubt myself and my manuscript and email, call, or text one of them. Depending on my gripe, they would brainstorm, strategize, comfort, vent, laugh, shame, or talk some sense into me. I fell down every single day of this querying run, and every single day, one or many of them picked me back up. I literally could not have done any of this without them.
Now that you’ve experienced The Call, what’s the one question you recommend asking an agent before you sign on the dotted line?
Well, I just think it’s important that your wants and needs MATCH. Pretty much any answer is okay if it’s the one you’re looking for!
For me, I have a few current projects I’m loving that are pretty different from ONE. I wanted to know whether that agent would represent other books I wrote, and whether she would offer guidance as to which projects she’d recommend me putting the most energy and heart into, if I asked. I also needed a patient agent, since I’m very new to the publishing world – I wanted to feel okay asking lots of questions and getting explanations when I needed them.
But the very most important thing is that your agent understands your work. To hear Tricia talk about ONE was so surreal – it was like a dream! She understood everything I was trying to communicate with One and more. I consider myself to be very lucky in that regard – I’m still walking around pinching myself!
Any words of advice for other writers out there?
It’s become my standard, but that’s because I believe in it with all my heart: Keep writing, if that’s what makes you happy. Surround yourself with helpful, supportive, and encouraging people. Keep sending your work out, if you believe in it. And remember – you never know what’s around the corner.
Okay, now onto some matters of grave importance…
- DC or Marvel: Oh, I’m SO GLAD you asked. Marvel. No question. It’s even in my Twitter profile! I love complex, emotional plots and morally ambiguous characters, and Marvel is ALL over that. (Also, if you ever get to read ONE, you’ll notice most of my characters bear Marvel surnames – Merrin’s named after my favorite!)
- Star Trek or Star Wars: Star Wars. Just because I grew up with it, and Natalie Portman looks AMAZING in a white jumpsuit. Also: great one-liners.
- Fictional universe (but not one of your own) that you most want to live in: I can’t really think of one, but I will say I’m very sad that I never got my letter from Hogwarts. I’m just hoping for better for my children, and diligently working on their spells and wand motions with them while we wait.
- The superpower you’d choose to have: Telekenesis. I’m lazy. Like, REALLY lazy. Nothing’s worse than having to get off the couch for a remote control, can of pop, or screaming child.
- Three authors – alive or dead – that you’d want to have a drink with: Jane Austen (snarky, smart, and hilarious), J.K. Rowling (so I could weep at her feet) and Elana Johnson (she’s the first pubbed author who ‘talked’ to me and encouraged me, and I want to hug her for her classiness. We can hug them, right?)
Thanks again to Leigh Ann for submitting to my interrogation! Moral of the story, kids: Keep your chins up. Keep plugging away. Believe in your work. And create a support group to get you through the rough times.
And stay tuned for more Up-and-Coming Spotlights! I really enjoyed getting this together and have already coerced my next
victim interviewee. *insert evil laughter here*