A Conversation with Kendare Blake & Mindy McGinnis

Today I've got something a bit different for you.  An agency mate of mine, Kendare Blake, author of ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, offered to do an SAT (Successful Author Talk) for me.  Once we'd exchanged a few emails we realized that we were interviewing each other, and decided to do a little freestylin'.  So you get a little back and forth here today, Q&A with both Kendare and I sharing our experiences of writing, queries, agent hunting and publishing.


How long have you been writing? And why this genre?

I wrote my first novel-length work of fiction in the 7th grade. It was about a boy and his horse, sort of a My Friend Flicka rip-off. I called it Master of the Mustangs. Of course the other kids at school called it, Masturbator of the Mustangs, so the title was obviously a problem. As far as genre goes, I try not to genre-lize. After ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, I might be called a "horror writer" and that's okay. There are worse things to be called. But I write the genre that wants to be written.

What about you? Did you consciously choose YA? And when was that moment when you decided, well, this is it, I'm going to try to get published?

I've been writing for about ten years, and no I started out writing adult fiction. Serendipity landed me a job as a YA librarian in a high school and I thought - well, I'm immersed in the market and spending 40 a week with the target audience... guess I'll try YA! Publication was always the goal, from the beginning. I've never said I just write for myself - I wanted that validation of being published. So yeah, I've been sending out queries for ten years.

How long have you been agent hunting? At any point where you like, "Yeah apparently I suck and should give up and die?"

I almost can't remember. Sure, there's a spreadsheet documenting part of the sub process, but I know there was more. But it fades. I definitely remember that it sucked at times. Oh, it sucks. Being on sub for anything sucks. I used to give myself ultimatums, and then welch on them. I think looking back that submitting to literary magazines was more soul-crushing than looking for an agent. There were so many times when I thought, well shit, I'm never going to get this just right. I'll never have the right project, at the right time, for the right person. And then, after messing up and commiting the typical flubs of subbing too soon, addressing a sub to the wrong Sara, etc., I all of a sudden did have the right project. This whole thing is 70% blood, sweat and talent, 30% out of your control. Those percentages might be off, but you get the drift.

After finding the spreadsheet, I can tell you that actual sub numbers for ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD were low. Six sent. Three rejections outright. Three fulls. Two offers.

So Mindy, speaking of flubs, any you'd care to share? Ever hit that send button and then scream, "Balls!" when you realized you sent it to the wrong place/wrong attachment, etc? And how did you go about compiling your sub list? Everyone has different preferences, but what about an agent really caught your eye?

Ha, yeah. I had a request for the full and attached the wrong manuscript one time. I didn't even know it until I went back to my "Sent" folder to move it into my "God I Hope this Works Out For Me Someday" folder and I just went, "Really? Really, Mindy - you did that?! DUMBASS!" Luckily, agents are people too, so I just sent a following email saying, "Uh, sorry. Don't read that one. It sucks." Or something along those lines. I also didn't realize that once you get the "Your Message Has Been Sent" screen, if you hit refresh (which I was doing for some reason) it sends your email AGAIN. So whoops. Sorry to those twenty or so agents that I bombarded with double queries. I emailed them again and told them to feel free to reject me twice. They all settled for once, though.

For my query list I used sites like QueryTracker, AgentQuery and also two great blogs that do agent interviews and contests - Mother. Write. (Repeat) and Miss Snark's First Victim. Unlike you (jealous, jealous, can you smell us?) I sent out a crap ton of queries before finding my agent. I definitely look for an interest in both humor and grit - which is a hard mix. The ms I snagged my agent with is very dark and bleak, but I've got one loaded with snark up my sleeve too, so I had to be sure to find someone who was going to fit me for the duration, not just the project at hand.

So, Kendare, you submitted to lit magazines at one point your career? Did you get any takers? Do you think that was an important part of your journey as a writer and did it seem to carry weight in your query letters to agents?

First of all, thanks for the heads up about the resending if you hit refresh. I did not know that. I wonder if I ever did it by accident. Anyway, I don't know if the magazine credits carried weight with agents. I know that it generally does if you write literary. And lots of writers have entire careers of short stories. I have a special fondness for those writers and it sort of bugs me when people rag on them to write novels, as if what they're doing isn't awesome enough. But I digress. I placed second in one literary competition. But I had better luck with dark fantasy and horror. I do think it was important. I know I enjoyed it, and I hope to get back to some short fiction soon. But it's absolutely not necessary! If all your tales turn out to be novels, more power to you!

You said you've got another manuscript up your sleeve already. Is this one you had previously written, or is it new? I know everyone has different pacing and process, but can you describe yours? How fast or slow do you like to go?

I do have another ms up my sleeve, or rather, hiding in my closet. It's a previously written YA, that took a few beatings from betas and was knocked unconscious once or twice during the querying process. It's a child of my heart, and I'm in love with it, so hopefully I can breathe new life into it now that I don't feel the crush of the agent hunt and can focus more.

Pacing and process? I've done a "word vomit" and coughed up a novel in as short as three months, but others, like the ms that landed my agent, was more of a nine month regurgitation period. My process varies according to what the project is telling me to do - some novels I've got all planned out in my head (although I never have a physical outline), and others I've honestly sat down at the laptop and said, "Ok book, what happens now?" I've also had characters do or say things I wasn't planning on. A supporting character the ms I'm revising for Adriann right now did something shocking at a pivotal moment - and I was like, "Awesome move, lady!! I did not see that coming but you totally just created the perfect motivation for my other characters...." So, there are times when I feel like I'm not necessary - I'm just channeling my character's stories.

What's you, Kendare? What’s your process? And do you feel an affinity for certain projects that differs from the next? My first YA is my baby, the ms I'm revising is my red headed stepchild.

Like you, I've been known to word vomit. I think my record is a novel in 17 days, but it was stilted and crappy. But I think that was less about the time it took than just having the wrong story. Six months later I found the right way to tell it and now it's the lead-in to the series I want to write after ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and the sequel.  Lately though, books have taken me about four to five months to write. I don't plot, so I can never be sure. When I started writing Anna's sequel, it was mid-October and I gave myself a deadline for sometime in February. As I started, I wasn't sure where it was going; I was definitely glad I hadn't signed on for a trilogy. But by the end, I wanted to write a third.

I've heard there are people who can write a book in days and come out with publishable material. I know there are people out there who consistently write for years. And some differ from book to book. The important thing for every writer to remember is to be true to their own process. It's hard to hear about fast, successful writers and not think, "Oh shit! They're going to put out ten books a year and I'm only going to do one every three! They'll take all the publishing spots and leave none for me!" But don't think that. They won't.
As far as affinity for certain projects? Now that my time with Cas is over, I miss him. I think all writers get that. But we are human after all, and there's always another shiny ball to chase. I guess I remember them all with equal fondness, but the real writing drive is reserved for the project of the moment, which is, I suppose, the best place for it.