"After The Call": Interview with Author Jay Kristoff

"After the Call" is a new feature on my blog! It chronicles what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc. For previous posts in this series, please see the "After The Call" sidebar to the right.

A few months ago, I bumped into Jay Kristoff on Absolute Write and I've been a big fan of his blog ever since. Here are a few things you should know about Jay:

1.) He lives in Australia. (I desperately want to visit Australia!)
2.) He received four offers of representation a few months ago and he recently sold his Asian steampunk novel to St. Martin's Press AT AUCTION. (So cool!)
2.) And he is effing hilarious! Seriously. If you don't believe me, here is a snippet of his query letter that he posted on his blog:

 My first 50 pages are enclosed. Unfortunately I was unable to include a SASE – I live in Australia and our postal system is run by muppets. I apologize for the inconvenience this will surely cause. Hopefully one day my great sun burnt country will enjoy a postal system not reliant on horse and carriage or koala bears. I hear rumor that we’re getting running water installed next year, which I’m quite looking forward to.


I asked Jay if he would do an interview for my blog about how he chose his agent and he graciously agreed. Yay! So without further adieu, here is my interview with Jay!

1.) First off, MEGA CONGRATS on selling your novel at auction! Holy bejesus! Can you tell us about the book that landed you your agent and editor?

STORMDANCER is a dystopian fantasy novel set in steampunk feudal Japan. It was sold in by my superpowered agent, Matt Bialer at SJGA. It’s being published in Spring 2012 by St Martin’s Press (US) Tor UK (UK) and Pan Macmillan (OZ).

Tremble before my 50-word elevator pitch:

The Shōgunate of Shima is verging on environmental collapse; decimated by clockwork mechanization and toxic pollution. Befriending the last griffin alive on the island, a teenaged girl pits herself against the authorities in the hope of seeing her homeland saved, her family freed and the crippled griffin fly again.

2.) Um, wow, your book sounds amazing! An Asian steampunk novel? I'm totally sold! What was your querying process like for this novel?

The process: Research agent on Agent Query/Query Tracker/Absolute Write. Google-fu for interviews. Stalk agent on Twitter. Avoid going through agent’s garbage/breaking into their apartment. Send out query. Check email every five minutes to see if they responded yet. OMG REPLY! (happyface) OH S#!T, REJECTION. (sadface). *insert alcohol here* Rinse. Repeat.

I started querying in early August 2010. According my Spreadsheet of Doom™, I sent a total of 65 queries over 76 days. Funny thing is, I ended up signing with one of the four agents I queried in my very first batch.

At the time I accepted representation, I had 12 Fulls out by request. I ended up getting four offers of representation, resulting in four different hangovers.

3.) "Spreadsheet of Doom"! Hahaha. See guys? I told you Jay was hilarious! Anyway...what sort of sage advice can you offer us peons about the querying process?

Please, please, please don’t query until you’re ready. Believe me, I know the level of excitement you feel when you finish writing a book – you LOVE IT and just want to get it out there. But don’t do it until your query is worthy of Shakespeare and your MS is so polished you can see your face in it.

I didn’t follow this advice.

My first query letter was average, and at the time I sent it out, my manuscript was only 98% there. 2% may not sound like much, but it’s actually the difference between a lapdance and adultery.

So, I sent out an average query, and my sample chapters that still needed that final bit of polish. The results? Most of my first queries got rejections. I realized something was wrong, went back and fixed it, but by that time, I’d already blown my chance with many of my “top picks”. The only reason I landed the awesome agent that I did? Because my first email got lost in the ether and I re-queried with a better letter and a polished MS two months later.

I actually did a big blog post about this a couple of months back: http://misterkristoff.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/thirteen-steps-to-fun-and-profittm/

4.) So you get your first offer...what was your reaction? Scream in elation? Jump for joy? Faint? :)

Air guitar. *Recheck email to make sure I read it right* More air guitar. *Insert alcohol here*

5.) Air guitar + Alcohol = Awesome way to celebrate! So how did the agents offer rep? Via email? Or a cold call?

All offers came in via email. We spoke on the phone afterwards. This may have something to do with the fact that I live in Australia, and most people think we all live like the folk in Mad Max II: The Road Warrior.

6.) Well, yes, this is true. We Americans tend to think that all Aussies have a pet kangaroo and carry around a Crocodile Dundee knife. Heh. :)

Back to the agents! What sort of questions did you ask the offering agents? Which questions did you find to be the most helpful in making a final decision?

I actually had a Big Sheet of Questions printed out to use during the phonecalls, but honestly just ended up chatting. They didn’t feel like business calls, really. But the important questions you need to ask:

·         What changes are you proposing? aka, “Don’t touch my babeeeeeeee”
·         Where do you plan to try and sell it?
·         Are you an editorial agent, or just a numbers person?
·         Is this a one book fling, or a career relationship?

Honestly, you just want to chat. You need to click with the agent you sign with. There needs to be a “vibe”. You’ll know it when you feel it. Listen to your instincts.

7.) How did you end up choosing only one agent? Sales record? Client referrals? Phone conversation? 

Sales records were all good, and the chats on the phone all went well, so it was very difficult.

Honestly, I think it came down to a conversation I had with Patrick Rothfuss, (NYT bestselling fantasy author, one of Matt’s clients). I’d asked Matt for Patrick’s details because I knew Pat had been under some personal and deadline pressure, and I wanted to hear from someone who had seen Matt working in a situation where things weren’t 100% smooth sailing. We chatted on the phone for about an hour (this was the day before The Wise Man’s Fear was due to his editor btw  - Patrick Rothfuss is a legend) and Pat spoke so highly of Matt that I simply couldn’t ignore it. I also spoke to Diana Rowland, who had a hellish journey along the road to publication, and she sang Matt’s praises too.

8.) Yes, I agree 100%! When I was weighing offers, talking to the agents' clients totally helped me to cement my decision as well. (See? Another reason why Jay is brilliant. He agrees with me!)

Looking back now, what sort of advice do you have for writers who find themselves with multiple offers? What should they do? What shouldn't they do?

You should:
·         Speak to the agent’s clients. Preferably ones who have been through hard times. Bear in mind that nobody is going to actually badmouth their agent to a stranger, but you’ll be able to pick up on a vibe between people who are “super-happy” and “meh”.

·         Get word out to the other agents who have samples by request ASAP. You want to give them as much time as possible to get back to you, but at the same time, you can’t’ keep the agents offering representation waiting. Balancing act here.

·         Listen to your instincts. You will know.

You should not:
·         Rush your decision. Agents will push you for an answer – this is natural. They want to sign you now, before someone else comes along and woos you away from them. But this is a monumental decision you are making. A decision that can define your career. A decision that needs just as much consideration as “Who am I going to marry?” Treat it with the gravitas it deserves.

·         Go with the biggest shop, just because they are the biggest shop. There needs to be something more at play than just numbers.

·         Forget to thank all of the agents who offered you representation, especially the ones you didn’t go with. Publishing is a small industry, word travels fast, and being polite, professional and sincere will go a long way towards softening the blow when you tell them you’re signing with someone else.

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog, Jay! I simply can't wait to read STORMDANCER!