I love sharing stories where authors have had a writing dream since they were very young. Maybe they started with poetry or a short story. Perhaps they’d written a novel filled with hopes and ideas from their childhood. Whatever the case, as they grew into adults they held onto that dream until it became a reality. Today’s featured author, EM Castellan, is one of these cases. Writing since 13, she recently signed with an agent for her YA Historical Fantasy, LILY IN THE SHADOWS, a dark tale set in London in the late nineteenth century. EM is proof that if you hold tight to your dreams, they CAN come true!
Many thanks to EM for sharing her story…
Amy: When did you complete your first Young Adult manuscript?
EM: In January 2010. I had been writing for many years (since I was 13) and very few people had read my stories. Then one of my friends asked me why I didn’t try to get published and after a few weeks pondering this, I started writing a YA Sci-Fi novel with the intent to get it published one day. A few months later I had a first draft and I began researching how to get this obvious masterpiece published. That’s when I realized things would likely take some more time!
Amy: You live in an English castle (which is beyond cool!) Are any of your experiences from living in the castle worked into your YA Historical Fantasy, LILY IN THE SHADOWS?
EM: No, actually. I have written stories set in a castle similar to the one I live in, but LILY isn’t one them. Instead LILY is set in Victorian London, which is such a wonderful setting! Having my story set in the capital also gave me a good excuse to go there often, “for research” of course.
Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish LILY IN THE SHADOWS? If so, how critical were they to the process of completing the manuscript?
EM: I did! My CPs Jessy Rubinkowski and Allie Schellong helped a great deal, as well as my 7 other beta readers. It took me nearly a year to write LILY, polish it, then rewrite it following several R&Rs. My CPs’ input was crucial during all this time, especially to make sure I kept true to the book I wanted to write.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
EM: My query process wasn’t really frustrating. However, it was LONG. I started querying in late June 2013 and I signed with my agent in January 2014. That’s 6 months. I was querying “successfully” (i.e. getting requests, positive feedback and R&Rs), but the whole process took a long time.
Amy: How many agents did you query for LILY IN THE SHADOWS?
EM: LILY was the second manuscript I queried. As a result, I felt I knew what I was doing this time around, and after doing A LOT of research, I only queried agents who were specifically looking for YA Historical Fantasy. I queried 33 agents, I had 19 requests (including 13 full requests), 4 R&Rs and 2 offers of representation.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
EM: I’ve read MANY posts by writers who signed with their agents only a couple of months after sending out their first query. Here I want to say it’s not necessarily the norm. After a slow start in the summer, I queried 22 agents at the same time in late August. I heard back from the majority of them within a month, which I thought was reasonably fast. What was interesting was that I either received rejections or full requests. I had very few partial requests. I’m mentioning this to show that a good query letter allows you to skip one querying step: agents either know straight away they want to read the whole story or they know it’s not for them. As a result of all those full requests, however, I then had to wait for the agents to read my manuscript. The quickest one took 1 week and the slowest one 4 months. Their average reading time was 10 weeks.
Amy: You entered a few contests with LILY IN THE SHADOWS. What did you learn from those experiences?
EM: I entered two contests in which LILY was a finalist: Christmas In July (organized by Michelle Krys and Ruth Lauren Steven) and Like A Virgin (organized by Kristina Perez and Rhiann Wynn-Nolet). Contests were a great way to polish my query and first page, as well as to “test the waters” with agents. I also took part in two Twitter Pitch Parties during which I got my request from Erin, who would end up offering representation a few months later.
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Erin Niumata? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
EM: Erin emailed to ask if I had time to talk on December 16, but with the holidays we only managed to speak on January 2nd. Which means I had 2 weeks to panic/flail/prepare before the Call actually happened. Erin did most of the talking and answered a lot of my questions before I asked them, which was a good sign. She seemed to have the same vision for my book and career as I had. I also liked the fact that Folio Literary Management has offices in the US and the UK. In short, I had a long list of Things I Expected From My Future Agent and Erin seemed to tick all the boxes.
Amy: What is one piece of writing advice you got early on that you still use today?
EM: I love this quote by Michelle Hodkin (author of the Mara Dyer trilogy): “The only secret to getting published? Keep at it.” I love it because we’re all plagued by self-doubt, but Michelle tells us we can all get traditionally published, as long as WE DON’T GIVE UP on our dream. I like the idea that hard work gets rewarded in the end. So there you have it. Keep at it.
EM Castellan is a writer of YA Fantasy novels. She lives in an English castle, travels extensively, reads voraciously, listens to music from bands few people have heard of and watches too many movies to count. In case you are wondering, she also has a full-time job, so she mostly writes at odd hours and drinks a lot of tea. She is represented by Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management. She is a member of the British Fantasy Society as well as SCBWI British Isles. For more on EM, check out her her blog, Facebook,Twitter,Tumblr or Pinterest.