Author & Editor Jess Verdi On Personalizing Queries

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!


Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Jessica Verdi, author of Jessica Verdi author of young adult novels and children’s books about identity, family, acceptance, and love. Jess received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School and is a freelance editor of romance, women’s fiction, chick lit, YA, and kid lit.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A little of both! I start new projects as a pantster, writing down whatever comes to mind, then I pause to try to put those thoughts and ideas into some sort of coherent form or story arc, and then I go back to pantsting (is that even a word? haha) for the actual writing of the scenes. 

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

It really, really varies, depending on the project and my schedule at any given moment, but on average I’d say a year.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

Usually just one at a time. Sometimes I have to multi-task if different projects are in different stages and there are deadlines involved, but I tend to do much better if I can give my full attention to one story at a time.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

Yes, definitely. I had this preconceived notion that the only people who could be authors were the people who had been writing stories since they were two years old, and had a degree in comparative literature or something. I was a singer and actor at the time, and all I wanted was a creative outlet that didn’t require auditioning or getting cast in a show. So even though I had major imposter syndrome, I made myself sit down and figure out how to tell a story on a page. And I fell in love with it!

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

Two complete manuscripts. I guess third time’s a charm!

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

Yes, quite a few times, actually. I usually know it’s time to move on to something new when the current project feels like it’s missing passion. Even though writing is hard, and it can often feel like pulling teeth, I know a project is worth pursuing when I feel that little spark when I think of it being a complete, finished novel.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

My agent is Kate McKean, vice president and agent at the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. I was referred to her by two friends of mine who are also clients of hers.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I queried a completely different project before querying the book that became my first published novel, so the query process lasted a couple years for me, on and off.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

I am also an editor at Crimson Romance, a digital romance imprint at Simon & Schuster, and I read queries all day every day. So, from that perspective, I’d say definitely do your research—don’t just send mass queries to a bunch of agents at once. Address the query with the person’s name, and include a line at the beginning about why you chose to query that agent (you read an interview with them where they said they were looking for projects like yours, or you think your book is a comparable title to another book they represent, etc.). Also make sure your query is succinct, proof-read, and zeroes in on what is unique or different about your book. 

How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

Wonderful! It’s such a special feeling, to know that there’s a piece of art out there in the world that came from your own brain. No one will ever be able to take that away from you!

How much input do you have on cover art?

Almost none, haha. In my experience, the design team does their thing, and only shows the author near-finished concepts. They will change something if the author has a concern about something being misinterpreted or offensive, but otherwise the author doesn’t get much of a say in the overall cover concept.

What’s something you learned from the process that surprised you?

Something that always surprises me is how people who don’t work in publishing often have no idea what the editing process is really like. They often think “editing” means “copy editing” (fixing grammar, punctuation, etc.), and are shocked to learn how many story revisions a book will go through, and how long the process really takes, before the book is ready for publication. 

How much of your own marketing do you do?  

I do as much as I possibly can, as I do think it’s important for an author to help get the word out about their book, but I also don’t have a ton of time and resources to dedicate to marketing, especially when I’m trying to write the next book. I do have a website and social media (@jessverdi on both Twitter and Instagram), and I’ve found school visits are a good way to get the word out about a book too. 

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I think it doesn’t hurt to establish yourself on social media beforehand, so that if an agent looks you up they can see that you’re professional and friendly. But don’t worry about getting thousands of followers or anything!

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I’m honestly not sure. It certainly doesn’t hurt! But I also don’t think most readers rely on Twitter to find new authors or books—some social media is good, but don’t let it distract you from writing your next book! That’s the most important thing.