After The Call: Interview with YA Writer Katy Upperman

"After the Call" is a  regular 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.

Today, I'm very excited to interview Katy Upperman for my "After The Call" series! I met Katy on Twitter a few months ago and I can't say enough good things about her: she's super friendly, she runs a great blog, and she's such a talented writer to boot. (I've lurked on a few contests where she posted the opening of her book and I love her voice!) Recently, Katy received multiple offers of representation for her YA novel and she was kind enough to answer a few questions about her decision process.

1. Welcome to my blog, Katy, and congratulations on signing with your agent Vickie Motter! Can you tell us a little about the book that landed you with Vickie? 

First, thanks so much for having me, Caroline! I’ve been reading your After the Call series since it began and I’ve found it so helpful and enlightening. The book that landed me my agent, Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management, is called Where Poppies Bloom. 

It’s a young adult ghost story about a seventeen-year-old girl named Callie, who’s drowning in guilt stemming from her sister’s death. She travels to the Oregon coast to spend the summer with her aunt and meets cheerful Tucker, who she’s immediately drawn to. But she also finds unlikely companionship in Nathan, the ghost mysteriously bound to her aunt’s Victorian house. When Callie discovers a chilling, decades-old connection between Tucker and Nathan, she’s forced to choose between life with the boy who dulls her pain, and eternal escape with the ghost who’s not exactly selfless.

2. Oh, such a cool love triangle! Can I read this book now, please? Please?! So what was your querying process like for this novel? For instance, how many queries did you send out in total? How did you choose the agents? 

Where Poppies Bloom is the third novel I’ve queried, so I was pretty familiar with the process. Over the last year, I compiled a list of agents I was interested in working with. I found them through agent-focused blogs (Literary Rambles is my favorite), Twitter, acknowledgement pages in novels I’ve enjoyed, and already-agented writer friends. 

With Poppies, I sent out a few batches of queries and received several full requests. None of them panned out, but many of the agents offered great notes (my characters needed flaws, the manuscript needed more tension, etc…) so I paused my querying to revise according to their feedback. Once I’d revised, I sent out a few more batches of queries, got a few more requests, and eventually two offers of representation. 

Overall, I sent out around 50 queries (many more than I sent while querying the first two manuscripts I wrote). My first queries went out on January 3rd, my first offer of representation came on April 29th, and I signed a contract with Andrea Hurst Literary Management on May 10th, so the whole process took just over four months. 

3. Now that you've signed with Vickie, do you have any advice about the whole querying process?

Oh, I’ve been around the block with querying, so I have all kinds of advice… I got into the habit of writing a query letter before I started writing the manuscript itself. Then, as I drafted and revised, I could tweak the query until it was exactly what I wanted. I also got lots of feedback on my query letter before I ever sent it to an agent. I turned to my critique partners (who are awesome!) and to query-focused blogfests for unbiased criticism, then edited as I saw fit. 

I also think it’s extremely important to follow guidelines and to personalize query letters. Let the agent know you’re querying her for a reason. Mention something specific you liked on her blog or a relative tidbit from her Twitter feed. Also, stay organized. Know who you’ve queried and when, and when you receive a rejection, balance it out by sending out a new query. Finally, pay attention to responses. Don’t hesitate to modify your query letter if you’re seeing tons of form rejections, and consider revising your manuscript if agents are routinely passing on your partial/full. 

4. Such awesome advice! I love the idea of writing a query before you even start the manuscript---it sounds like a great way to frame a novel. What did you do first when you got your offer of representation? Scream in elation? Jump for joy? Faint?

Um, I was in a public library when I got my first offer of representation, so I had to tone down my excitement just a bit. :) I was actually on vacation with my husband, daughter, and in-laws, so the first thing I did was tell all of them, then I called my parents to share the news with them. Later, we went out to a celebratory dinner that included beer and lots of pie. That night I emailed the agents who were reading either partials or fulls of Poppies, plus a few agents who I’d recently queried to let them know about my offer. I gave them a total of nine days (two full weekends) to read, and asked them to get back to me before that deadline. Then I had to wait, and it was torture!

5. Holy cow, I can't believe you received your first offer in a library! It would have been hilarious if you jumped up and down and the librarians had to escort you out! So how did the agents offer rep? Via email? Or a cold call?

The first agent emailed me to schedule a call. She was pretty vague in the email, so I tried hard not to get my hopes up about speaking to her. We had a great chat, she had some fantastic ideas for my manuscript, and it was a pleasant surprise when she offered. Vickie emailed me the day before my nine day deadline (on Mother’s Day!) to tell me she wanted to offer representation. We spoke on the phone the following morning, and she was incredibly enthusiastic. She was really easy to talk to, and she also had some awesome revisions ideas for my story.

6. What sort of questions did you ask during the phone calls? Did you find any to be particularly helpful?

I had a list of about 25 questions all set to ask, but when it came down to the actual calls, I only asked a few of them. Most helpful for me in making my decision were: How close is my manuscript to “ready” and what are your revision ideas for it? What are your submission plans for my manuscript as far as editors/houses, comp titles, timelines, and communicating feedback? How long have you been an agent and do you see yourself agenting into the foreseeable future? How many clients do you have now and what sales have you made for them?

7. When everything was said and done, what made you choose Vickie? 

I chose to work with Vickie based on our phone conversation, her enthusiasm for my project, and her revision thoughts, which turned out to be ideas that made me consistently ask Why didn’t I think of that?! Though the other agent who offered was lovely and we got along great, I could picture myself second-guessing my decision to work with her. That wasn’t the case with Vickie. It’s hard to explain, but I just had a gut feeling that she was the right agent for me.

8. Looking back now, what sort of advice do you have for writers who find themselves with an offer representation? What should they do? What shouldn't they do? 

Definitely take your time; do not rush into a decision. Contact anyone reading your work, consider all the angles, and talk to people in the know. I was lucky enough to be able to turn to my already-agented critique partners and writing friends who gave me advice that turned out to be invaluable. I also discussed pros and cons with my husband, who has an excellent business sense and was able to offer lots of non-emotional guidance. In the end though, I went on instinct and haven’t looked back. :)

Thanks so much for doing this interview, Katy! I'll keep my fingers crossed for a quick sale!