C. L. Polk has accepted an offer of representation from literary agent Caitlin McDonald of Donald Maas Literary Agency.
Universal truth: writers are AWESOME, whether they have agents, book deals, contest wins coming out their ears, or are in the query trenches. Yes, trenches. You know, the period of time when an aspiring writer leaves behind anonymity and braves the rejection-heavy world in their attempt to obtain representation by a literary agency.
It’s a mouthful, ain’t it? Yeah, so is doing it. But when I was querying and entering every contest available, I found myself surrounded by amazing people who were querying right alongside me. Not only did my other “Trenchers” keep me going, but these were also the people who taught me the most about how to do this crazy thing we’re trying to do, and what kind of cheese goes best with red wine. (It’s Tillamook cheese, btw.)
It’s for that reason I reached out to writers who are either actively participating in contests or are querying agents, and I asked them about who they are, what they’ve learned and would like to share, and how we can support them in their journey.
I hope you join me in welcoming
K: Hi, Chelsea! It’s so great to get to talk to you! Just to get us started, what genre and age category do you write?
C: I am torn between writing romance and fantasy. The novel I'm currently querying is an adult fantasy, but my current project is an adult contemporary romance…and the plot bunny who came to distract me at the most difficult part of drafting the romance is an idea for another fantasy novel. I don't know how long I'm going to get away with this back-and-forth, so I'm enjoying it while I can.
K: Wow, that is amazing! I love the idea of exploring so many different styles and genre conventions. It sounds like you’ve written quite a bit—how long have you been writing?
C: I wrote in school for assignments, but I didn't take it seriously until much later. I didn't write anything novel length until 2014, and then I went a little wild – I'm currently in the first draft of my fifth novel. My inspiration was loving novels. I read voraciously and now read avidly, and for years I'd read books I enjoyed and think, "I want to do that too."
K: Five novels in two years? Holy cow, girl, you’re on fire! So I have to ask, with having this much experience, what would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned about writing/querying/contests while in “The Trenches” that you’d like to share with other authors?
C: The biggest, most important thing is having a plan for how you're going to let your manuscript go. I find detaching myself from a story to be very difficult—I've spent months living and breathing the characters and the world, but once I'm querying I have to move on because the waiting and the inevitable rejection will demoralize me. So far the best way to let go of Book A is to fall into an obsession with Book B.
K: I could not agree more—I have that same issue and falling in love with new characters is nearly fail proof when I’m grieving over an MS. Great advice! Do you have any other tips for querying authors?
C: I use QueryTracker as my go-to query recording system. The extra data is worth the 25 dollars a year. I also coughed up 25 dollars for a month's access to Publisher's Weekly. This is a great site for investigating likely agents and agencies, by learning what deals have been made by those agents in the past. I built my initial querying list with these two resources, plus googling "Agent Name Interview," "Agent Name Clients" and "Agent Name Absolute Write."
K: Sounds like you’ve got a really thorough system, which is so important at the querying stage. So it sounds like you’ve had some experience not only with writing multiple novels, but also with the full range of the querying world. This industry can be tough over the long-haul (nothing in publishing moves fast), so how do you stay inspired and keep going in the face of a rejection-heavy industry?
C: It goes back to what I was saying earlier about letting go. I've done everything I can for Book A and in writing it I've learned so much about the craft of writing, storytelling, and my process. The best use of that learning is to apply it to Book B. I'm fortunate to know writers much farther along on the path than I am and they keep telling me the most important thing to do is to write more books. "Write more books" is my answer to everything in publishing. I have to write more books, no matter what happens, so I might as well start now.
K: Write more books! I love it! So where can we read all these books in all these genres that you’ve written?
C: Like many writers today I started writing novel length works as a fanfic author. My fandom is Supernatural, and one of the big events for destiel writers is the annual DeanCas Big Bang. I wrote a Big Bang story for 2015 called Plus One, and if you have time for a 90k contemporary romance where Castiel avoids his family's matchmaking by hiring a professional actor named Dean to be his fake boyfriend for a busy spring wedding season, well, there it is.
K: That fanfic sounds almost too good to be true, I may have to check that out! ;) So with all these stories under your belt, do you have a Critique Partner or Beta Reader that helps you? If so, where did you find them, and do you have any tips for how other authors can find the CP of their dreams if they need one?
C: I stole a CP off an online writing critique workshop. She landed a grueling deadline schedule last year and I still have all the time in the world to write a draft. I also made a friend through Twitter and we're trading WIPs while we push each other to query agents. Seize the people you meet when you see a voice you like or a style you're into. When you encounter someone you connect with, follow through and get a conversation going! You may develop a long-lasting relationship that started with a single tweet.
K: So true—you never know where you’re going to meet the perfect CP, but Twitter is an awesome place to start looking! Now, since you’ve been so sweet to answer all my questions, I’m going to be mean and make the last one really, impossibly tough: What book do you wish you had written because it’s just.that.awesome. ?
C: When it comes to books that blow me away I find it's because they do things that I never even dreamed of doing, but how I wish I'd written Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. I was enchanted in the first minute of reading the prose. It touches every Jane Austen loving bone in my body. It's a fantasy novel, which I love, and it's a regency romance, which I love, and it does both at the same time, and I want to hug this book to pieces and write a response to it. Somehow.
K: Oh man, that does sound like it’s checking every “Yes, please” box on a lot of our lists!
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and insights with us, and I wish you all the best in your journey toward representation and publication.
C.L. Polk was also kind enough to share a sample of her current work:
Tampons occupied the glass surface of Juliet Braithwaite's desk. About two hundred lay in a mound, only a few stragglers scattered from the hill of hygiene products. One stray cylinder lay near Brandon's shoe, and her boss drew his foot away before it could touch him. "I'll call maintenance."
This was her welcome from a staff that hadn't even met her. She spoke through the lump in her throat. "What would you have maintenance do?"
"Throw them out."
Erase it, like it never happened? A better idea sparked. It was mean, petty, even. But so was this. "Two hundred tampons? Are you kidding? I need a pretty container."
She brushed past him and strode through the art department. A few heads popped up like prairie dogs, but they turned back to their twinned and tripled monitors if she made eye contact. Yes, they could have done it. Been in on it. Laughed about it with their work buddies. Or they could be clueless.
She marched through the game room's 8-bit themes of old school arcade machines, the bells and whistles of classic pinball tables. The smell of coffee grounds and overripe bananas assaulted her nose, and Juliet sorted through every cupboard before she found what she wanted—a big glass vase, heavy-bottomed and covered in dust.
She was rinsing soap off the sides when Brandon found her. "You're not—"
"I sure am. How could I not display my first welcome gift?"
(end of sample)
C.L. Polk is in a love triangle with fantasy and romance. After short story sales and contributing to the web serial Shadow Unit, she’s written fantasy and contemporary romance novels. She lives in southern Alberta and spends too much time on twitter.
Follow her on twitter @clpolk
Check out her writing at shadowunit.org and her fanfic Plus One
If you have a friend or acquaintance who is actively seeking representation through the "Query Trenches" and you'd like to see them featured on Writers on the Rise, feel free to nominate them in the comments below, or you can reach out to me on twitter @KatieGolding_TX
Until next time, Happy Reading!