Wednesday, 14 September 2016

INTERVIEW 16- KIRTIDA GAUTAM INTERVIEWS SAMIRA AHMED

INTERVIEW 16
KIRTIDA GAUTAM INTERVIEWS 
SAMIRA AHMED

SAMIRA AHMED was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in Batavia, Illinois, in a house that smelled like fried onions, spices, and potpourri. She currently resides in the Chicago area. She’s lived in Vermont, New York City, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango.
A graduate of the University of Chicago, she taught high school English for seven years, worked to create over 70 small high schools in New York City, and fought to secure billions of additional dollars to fairly fund public schools throughout New York State. She’s appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Fox News, NBC, NY1, NPR, and on BBC Radio.  Her creative non-fiction has appeared in Jaggery Lit, The Fem, Entropy, and Claudius Speaks. Swimming Lessons, her debut novel, will be published in Spring 2018 by SoHo Teen (an imprint of SoHo Press). You can follow her on Twitter @sam_aye_ahm

Give the readers some Swimming Lessons :) What inspired you to write your debut novel?
Actual swimming lessons! At least in part. I wrote a piece for a personal essay class I was taking called “Indians Can’t Swim”—a humorous take on my love-hate relationship with the beach, my failed attempts at learning to swim and finally doing so when I was older. It got me thinking about navigating cultures as a teen, challenging yourself to do something that scares you, and defying expectations.  Those ideas gave birth to Maya, my main character, a high school senior who does all three.

Tell us about an unforgettable moment that took place while you were writing Swimming Lessons? Something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Typing the last sentence of the very first draft of my book. Swimming Lessons is the first book I’ve ever written and I began it as a challenge to myself. I was curious if I could take a little seed of an idea and build a world around it. That first draft was very, very rough, but finishing it felt like an important personal accomplishment. I really knew very little about publishing or finding an agent and really wrote the book for myself. I was on vacation, sitting in a sunny back porch in Napa, light streaming in the windows and wondering how to end the story. An image came to me and I grabbed my computer and got it all down as I’d imagined it. Thousands of words from that first draft were altered, edited out, but that last paragraph I wrote is still the last paragraph of the story.

Who is your first reader and critic?
My husband. Even before the story is a story, when it’s just a seed, he knows about it. He’s my sounding board, voice of reason, cheerleader, and light when I need it most.

Tell us about your journey of finding a literary agent.
It was the Tweet heard round the world! (Well, my world at least.)
I entered #PitMatch, the brainchild of Jessica Sinsheimer and Brenda Drake. My literary cupid, Laura Tims, matched me with Eric Smith.
Here’s my Tweet & Eric’s response:
@sam_aye_ahm:  She wants to make films & kiss boys—her Muslim parents forbid both. Will a terrorist & Islamophobia shatter her dreams?
@ericsmithrocks: *breaks mouse clicking like button so hard*
I sent him my query and manuscript. Four days later Eric offered representation and here we are. Social media for the win!

Can you give the aspiring writers any advice of what they should do during the Query Process?
1.Your manuscript should not merely be finished, but revised and polished. Make it the best it can be.
2. Do your research. Query Tracker, MSWL, Query Shark, Writer’s Digest, agent blogs, and literary agency websites. These are some of the websites you should be looking into to research the agents who might be good fits for your book. Learn the querying guidelines for each agent (they vary!). I researched agents obsessively before sending out even a single query.
3. Unless you are entering a Twitter contest (they work, really! See my answer to #4), do not pitch on Twitter. Also, don’t pitch agents on their blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, or by accosting them at events.
4. Follow agency guidelines.
5. Be professional in all your interactions that includes social media. Publishing is a business.
6. Be prepared for rejection. Everyone gets rejected. Rejections hurts, but try not to take it personally. Brush yourself off and query again.
7. Believe in yourself. Believe in your story. And do the work.

Describe a day when you bless your heart for choosing your occupation.
This is virtually every day for me. I still can’t believe that Swimming Lessons will be on the shelves. Any time a story idea comes to me and I jot it down and can let my imagination run with it, when I can give life to a character or a place, I feel incredibly fortunate.

Describe a day when you curse your brain for not stopping you from choosing your occupation.
The day has not yet arrived and I hope it never does. Writing is essentially my third career after teaching and working in non-profit, so even long hours of revision feel like good work. But I will say editing and finding mistakes even after you’ve read a passage for what feels like the thousandth time, can be rather frustrating.

If you have to make a movie of your life, what would it look like?
Lots of coffee and little sleep. Running around with my family, laughing. Random errands. An inordinate amount of pastries and fried food.
Me, staring out the window, scribbling ideas in a notebook with a Hi-Tec-C Pen, researching topics that might seem shady without any context. Re-reading passages from favorite short stories, poems, and novels.
Clearly, Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac, and Ryan Gosling will fight over the role of my love interest. Good luck, gentlemen.



Kirtida Gautam is a clinical psychologist and an author. 
Follow her on Twitter @KirtidaGautam 

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

ONE ON ONE WITH LITERARY AGENTS: LAUREN SPIELLER


ONE ON ONE WITH LITERARY AGENTS
LAUREN SPIELLER

Lauren Spieller is an author and an assistant literary agent living in Brooklyn. Before joining Triada US, she worked in literary scouting, and as an editorial consultant. She is the author of The Wanderings of Dessa Rose
First an author, then an editor, and now a literary agent. You juggle many hats! Which role do you love the most and why?
This may sound like lip service, but I truly love them all equally. I’ve always seen these roles as complimentary, almost like two (or three?) sides of the same coin. I’m particularly excited to be representing clients of my own, as my favorite part of working in publishing has always been helping authors shape their stories. I took great pleasure in doing so as an editorial consultant, and I continue to love it as an agent and a critique partner!
“Without courage our fidelity becomes conformism,” says Rollo May. As a literary agent who seeks diverse voices, what is your take? Which rules of fidelity will you let your authors break?
This is such an interesting question. I’d like to first provide the original quote for readers, which is a bit longer, and provides some context: “Courage is not a virtue of value among other personal values like love or fidelity. It is the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values. Without courage our love pales into mere dependency. Without courage our fidelity becomes conformism.”
As far as I understand it, Rollo May was talking about the role courage plays in the development of one’s character. It’s the piece that elevates our virtues, that makes them not only possible, but meaningful. So when he says “without courage our fidelity becomes conformism,” he’s suggesting that courage is the ingredient that makes us faithful and true to an idea because we believe in faithfulness, not just because faithfulness is what is expected of us. This idea, applied to the role of diversity in literature, suggests that there are two approaches to including diverse voices: one of conformism, in which we feel it is important to include diverse voices because everyone else is doing it, and one of courage and fidelity, which suggests that we believe it is truly important to represent diverse voices and experiences because they have intrinsic value, and it is the right thing to do.
I like to think that I am a part of this second camp. Then again, I would hope that all agents and editors fall into this camp when they say they welcome diverse voices, or #ownvoices. That might be na├»ve, but at the end of the day, I think what really matters is that we are giving diverse writers—be they people of color, LGBTQ, neurodiverse, or some other type of “minority”--the opportunity to share their stories, and their voices, with the world, regardless of why we’re doing it.
As for which “rules” I’m willing to let an author break, that’s a harder question. I am particularly invested in finding #ownvoices writers, which is to say, writers who have lived the experiences they are writing about. But I also understand that research is a wonderful tool, and done right, can produce a story full of excellent representation. Even then, however, I am a big believer in sensitivity reads and ongoing research, and it’s important for writers to recognize that their work will—and should—be critiqued and discussed, even after it is published. That’s how we all learn and grow.

If you could go back in time and say something to your 10-years younger self, what would the message be?
I’d tell her to skip the LSAT classes, because she doesn’t actually want to go to law school. Those classes were expensive!

If you could give one piece of advice to writers, what would it be?
I’d tell them to read read read, especially books in their genre/age category that have been published in the last five years. Books are the best writing class there out there, and the best way to learn to write something for a specific audience is to read something for that audience.

Describe a day when you curse your brain for not stopping you from choosing your occupation.
There are days when my reading is pilling up, and all I want to do is watch a Netflix marathon of Law & Order SVU. But I’ve learned to get my reading done, and then set aside a few hours each night, or a full day if I can manage it, for binge TV watching/time with friends/etc. It’s important to refill the well of creativity and energy once in a while!

Describe a day when you bless your heart for choosing your occupation. 
Today was a day like that! This morning I spent a few hours editing Mary Widdick’s amazing Psychological Thriller, which is a pure pleasure. I also had coffee with a friend in the industry, and then read a few chapters of a manuscript I’m considering for representation. This evening I’m having a drink with a fellow agent, and then I’ll dive back into Mary’s novel. Not a bad day. Not bad at all.

TriadaUS Assistant Literary Agent Lauren Spieller has a background in literary scouting and editorial consulting. She has a sharp editorial eye, and is passionate about author advocacy. Lauren is seeking Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, as well as commercial Adult fiction and non-fiction. Whatever the age category or genre, Lauren is passionate about finding diverse voices. Visit www.triadaus.com for her full wishlist, and follow her on Twitter @laurenspieller.

Friday, 26 August 2016

ONE ON ONE WITH LITERARY AGENTS: SARA MEGIBOW

ONE ON ONE WITH LITERARY AGENTS
SARA MEGIBOW


To have Sara Megibow here for this interview is a joy I can't describe in words. Sara is one of the most special people in my cyber life. Back in January 2016, when I started Query Process, she was the first literary agent I started to follow on social media. She was the first literary agent who replied to my Direct Message on Twitter. And I was like, OMG, literary agents actually reply to messages! She was the first literary agent who very promptly, within 3 days, replied to my query letter for my second book of Yin Yang Series. And requested me for the partial manuscript. She rejected the manuscript, and now I clearly understand why. But the feeling it generated in me was unforgettable. I danced on Something Big song of Shawn Mendes. It's like a Yogi is trying to find the God and sees the first glimpse of Him. It might take Yogi years to reach his goal, but now he knows, it's TRUTH. It was that kind of feeling. The process works! And therefore, I am so happy that she is the first literary agent I am interviewing for my One on One With Literary Agents interview section on Bestseller Story blog. 

Kirtida: Hi Sara, first thanks so much for taking out time for this interview. I am an author from India. Back home, we hardly hear about literary agent’s role in publishing a book. There are few agents, but as most of the publishing houses, including Big 5 of India accept unsolicited manuscripts, authors approach the publishing houses directly.
Only after I moved to USA, I realized the extremely important role literary agents play in publishing industry. And to be honest, now I understand why there is a much better quality control of books in USA. The literary agents with their razor sharp eyes and knack for picking books that have a Unique Selling Point do bring a lot on the table.
Tell the readers what is the best way to approach literary agents? Is querying the only way? And what is the best way to approach Query process?
Sara: Thanks Kirtida! Yes, the process of querying a literary agent can be overwhelming and opaque – I’ve worked in publishing for over 10 years and queries are still one of those things about which I get the most questions from writers.
One important thing to remember is that my week is broken down like this: 95% of my time is spent on my current clients – shopping their books, negotiating contracts, selling subsidiary rights, etc. Only 5% of each week is spent reading queries and/or sample pages. My mom still thinks I sit around with a mug of coffee and read books all day while nothing could be further from the truth!
Another important thing to remember is that my query slush pile is not filled with junk. The queries I see are very good. Publishing is incredibly competitive, though, so I’m looking for queries that represent something truly exceptional – a book that demonstrates superior craft and a story that I fall head-over-heels in love with. Queries that get a “no thank you” are still good and the writer should feel proud of themselves for their hard work.
Here’s my process: I receive roughly 25,000 queries per year. If the query demonstrates superior writing and a unique pitch then I ask to read the first 50 pages of the manuscript. From 25,000 queries I ask for 800-900 of these sample pages. If the sample pages are amazing to the point that I Just Can’t Stop Reading, I ask to read the full manuscript. Last year I read 63 full manuscripts and I’m on track to read about 45 this year. After reading the full manuscript I either pass or offer representation and I only offer representation if I absolutely love a book AND have a strong strategy for making money for the author on that book. I’ve passed on books that I know will make money but that I just don’t love and conversely I’ve passed on books that I love but I don’t know how to make money on them. In 2015 I signed 4 new clients and in 2016 I’ve (so far) signed 7 new clients. Yes, the odds are staggering but in 10+ years in publishing I still find the query process to be the most effective in terms of finding new clients. The vast majority of my clients came from the query slush pile.
Some of my most recent clients include:
Margaret Rogerson, author of THE GREEN WELL – a young adult fantasy that sold to Simon & Schuster this past June.

Frederick Turner, author of APOCALYPSE – an epic science fiction poem that sold to Baen Books over the summer.
Spencer Ellsworth, author of A RED PEACE – the first in a science fiction space opera trilogy that sold to TOR just last week.

Kirtida: Tell us something behind the scenes about being a literary agent and your relationship to books. 
Sara: I’ve always been a reader and lover of bookstores and libraries. Curled up on the couch with a good book is my happy place. 
Something behind-the-scenes. Hmm. My husband is a musician so I try to be the kind of agent I’d want his band to have. I communicate with my clients frequently and celebrate every success with them. Publishing is a hard business – just like music is a hard business – so I want to be the kind of agent that helps my clients feel supported and happy.

Sara: Tell us something behind the scenes about being a writer looking for a literary agent.
Kirtida: This is the first time I am answering a question on this blog. Feels different :) 
I am less than a year old in publishing industry, learning the rules of the game. In the USA industry operates differently and much more effectively. I spend most of my non-writing time studying the industry. And so far, it has been great learning. There are days when I feel despondent and then my husband cuss his Maker why he came home for dinner. But most of the days, query process is fun. Part of the game. 
I meet a lot of writers, who are extremely helpful. I meet literary agents online, finding out how book business works. I attend writer’s conference, another thing I never saw in India. 
What I learnt early, thanks to Carly Watters’s book  Getting Published in the 21st Century: Advice from a Literary Agent is that literary agents are real people who are as passionate about books as authors, if not more. And then I met some wonderful people, like you, on Twitter, who validated my belief that agents are vivid readers and die-hard book lovers. 

Kirtida: Tell us about your most recent success story.
Sara: To me, every book is a success story. My authors work so hard – putting blood, sweat and tears into each and every one of their books. From the moment they press “send” it’s our job to get those books into readers hands. The day I walk into a bookstore to buy a client’s book – that’s my favorite day.
Still as you asked for a success story so here’s one for you… 
Karen Fortunati came to me via the query slush pile in early 2015 with The Weight of Zero – a contemporary young adult novel with an intense and hopeful look at mental health issues. I asked to read the full manuscript right away, offered representation shortly thereafter and submitted it to the editor at Delacorte/ Penguin Random House on an exclusive that same week. Two weeks later we had an offer for publication and the book debuts in hard cover this fall – October 11, 2016.
This book has been a whirlwind! Karen is amazingly talented, hard working and brilliant – she’s a joy to represent and I can’t wait to get her book in readers’ hands. The Weight of Zero was featured in Seventeen Magazineand Kirkus reviewed it saying, “An honest, informative, and ultimatelyoptimistic novel about living with mental illness.
The Weight of Zero and Karen’s debut as an author is a success story I’m proud to share. Follow her journey on her website:
(Kirtida: I have read the Advance Review Copy of The Weight of Zero and as a Clinical Psychologist, I have made it an agenda to recommend the novel to as many readers as I can reach. This book is THAT good. Entertaining, informative, emotional-- all at the same time.) 

Sara: Can you share a success story from your writing career so far?
Writing my debut novel #iAm16iCan has been the most exhilarating experience of my writing life. My father Parukant Desai is a poet, professor of Hindi literature, and a literary critic with several awards and accolades, so literature was the dinning table discussion at our home. My poems were published in newspaper when I was 11 years old.
Later I went on to study Clinical Psychology and Dramatics. And followed it with a Diploma in Screenplay Writing from the most prestigious film school of India FTII, Pune.
I was working for Indian Television channel ZEE TV writing popular TV show for a major production house when the idea of writing my novel #iAm16iCan POSSESSED me. It was inspired by a brutal gang rape that took place in Delhi in December 2012. I use the word possessed because the people around me can vouch that I was ghostly. The library of my house looked weird to my friends with so many books on rape.
In retrospect, I laugh at many of those things, but while I was writing the book, it was like I would sit in a restaurant with friends with a voice recorder. They are talking amongst themselves. I am talking to my characters.
But I have never experienced something so extraordinary in my writing life before this book. And the best part, I wrote the novel thinking it’s a stand-alone. But there was one scene in the last chapter of the book that my most trusted Beta readers objected to. They said, the scene is good, but not part of the book. One of them suggested, I should write another book with that scene as the first scene. And that gave me my second novel.
When I send the book out to journalist, fellow authors, and media people back in India, I received overwhelming response. Some major film personalities like Anjum Rajabali, a screenplay writer of blockbuster socio-political thriller movies, supported the book, and stood behind the cause.
Generally a novelist makes a novel, in my case, my novel made me a novelist.
I quitted my job, moved to USA with my husband, and plan to pursue my dream of getting published. So far, so good.

Sara Megibow is a literary agent at kt literary, llc
She represents authors who write middle grade, young adult, romance, science fiction and fantasy and will answer professional questions as time allows on twitter @SaraMegibow
Sales and clients are listed here:

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Kirtida Gautam is a clinical psychologist and an author. 
Follow her on Twitter @KirtidaGautam