Actually, Ms. Bowe's success has little to do with our Secret Agent contests. She's a talented author whose work speaks for itself.
But this is a story too succulent to let lie, too amazing not to display here for all to see. For the pairing of author Steph Bowe and agent Ginger Clark was accomplished here, during our September Secret Agent contest.
Steph's was entry #26. Though Ms. Clark didn't choose Steph as her winner, she did request a partial after Steph responded to Ms. Clark's generous offer to read the query of everyone for whom she'd left an "I would read more" comment. Partial led to full, and the rest is history.
Behind the scenes, published author Sara J. Henry mentored Steph, encouraging her to enter the contest after leading her into a successful query foray. She's as much a part of this story as the other players.
So here it is, in their own words. Enjoy! Celebrate! This is the stuff from which dreams are made.
AUTHORESS: Steph, of course I want to know more about you. When did you start writing seriously, what has helped you mature your craft at such a young age? Did you honestly dream you'd land an agent this year?
STEPH: I think my writing is at the stage it's at right now due to one thing: writing. I write a lot and often. I don't talk about writing or think about writing or read books about writing. I just write. I don't particularly enjoy thinking of myself as a writer, I just love the act of writing. I started writing seriously when I turned fourteen, though I've written my whole life (I wrote a post on my blog called A Complete History of my Writing Failure - that dates back to my novel-writing attempts as a seven-year-old).
I never planned to find an agent. It just happened that way. In the past, I tried submitting directly to Australian publishers. I'm kind of dumbfounded by how lucky I've been in landing an agent. At no point did I expect this to happen (seriously, even when I sent out queries. I was just hoping for a bit of feedback).
AUTHORESS: Can you talk a bit about your relationship with your mentor Sara? How did you connect, and how has she helped you?
STEPH: Sara discovered my blog a few months ago and I recently mentioned that I was looking for beta-readers for my YA novel. She'd been impressed in the past by a couple of posts I did, so she offered to critique my novel for me. She made a number of suggestions and I revised my manuscript, and she liked my novel so much, she also told me of a couple of US agents she knew who she thought I should query. It hadn't occurred to me to try and get an agent in the US before but I thought it wouldn't hurt, so I decided to send out some emails. Then a month later I'm here, which is completely astounding. Sara wrote a guest post on my blog, where she talks a bit about all this .
AUTHORESS: Sara, you've played an instrumental role in mentoring Steph. How did the two of you connect? What was it about Steph's writing that drew you in and made you want to work with her?
SARA: I happened across Steph's blog, and started following it because her writing was bright and funny and well informed. Her “Complete List of Writing Failures” told me a lot about where she was as a writer, and I liked “20 Things to Say” so much I reposted it on my blog.
And her novel grabbed me immediately, in a way few books do. The characters were strong and quirky, with rich histories and a vivid inner awareness. The manuscript wasn’t perfect, but her writing was so strong I had no doubt she could fix the parts that needed work.
When I emailed agent friends to introduce Steph, I said I've stumbled across an exceptionally talented young YA author and have just read her most recent manuscript. It had a few rough spots I suspect she's taken care of by now but was gripping and quirky, heartfelt and funny, with some brilliant writing - and is the best and cleanest manuscript I've seen from a writer.
And I added, If I were an agent, I’d sign her right now.
AUTHORESS: Why did you encourage Steph to enter the Secret Agent contest? What were your expectations?
SARA: I primarily thought More feedback, and that it couldn’t hurt to get another agent’s take – at that point we had just started contacting agents and had no idea they would leap at it as they did. But I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had won.
After the first agent offer, Steph asked if she should drop out of the contest – I told her to wait, adding the wonderfully apocryphal words What if the Secret Agent is someone phenomenal and wants to sign you?
AUTHORESS: Ginger, when you agreed to be a Secret Agent for September's contest, what were your expectations as far as what you might find?
GINGER: My expectations were pretty neutral. I would have been happy to find someone from it, but it wouldn’t have disappointed me if I had not. (This is how I view most writers conferences, too).
AUTHORESS: Steph's submission garnered an "I would keep reading" response, though you didn't choose it for your winner. What was it about Steph's writing that grabbed you?
GINGER: Interestingly, I had written down two entries as potential winners when I went through all the entries: 47 and 26 (I dug out my notebook to verify this). I didn’t want to have multiple winners because I am like that. For me, it’s either you win or you don’t, no co-winners, life is unfair, etc. etc. (I think I got some complaints in the comments on your website about that). Anyway, I think I responded initially to the voice of 47 because it felt lighter, more commercial, and perhaps easier to sell than entry 26. Then, I invited everyone whose work I had indicated I’d keep reading to submit to me. THANK GOD I did that.
AUTHORESS: Steph, I understand that you already had two offers on the table when you entered the Secret Agent contest. Why did you decide to enter the contest at that point? What factors led you to ultimately sign with Ms. Clark?
STEPH: I thought, well, it couldn't hurt (and Sara encouraged me to enter, too). Once the winner was announced, I felt relieved, since I didn't have a third agent to have to think about. But then Ginger Clark requested my partial, then the full and then she offered representation. And I died, several times over. I remain convinced that I unknowingly have some kind of long-distance hypnotism capabilities.
I spoke to Ginger on the phone, and I think what ultimately made me decide to sign with her was a combination of a few things - she seemed to really understand the novel, didn't want to pressure me into having to make writing my career right now (because I'm 15. I have boys to crush on and gossiping to do), and she was really nice, but also sounded like an excellent businesswoman.
AUTHORESS: Ginger, Steph's young age naturally is of interest to, erm, "older" aspiring authors. At what point of the submission process did you become aware of her age? How does agenting a minor affect the publication process (e.g. contracts, etc.)?
GINGER: I knew before I even started reading the book that she was 15, because when she sent me the first fifty pages she told me she had offers already from two agents. I clicked on the link at the bottom of her email to her website and discovered her age. It doesn’t really change the process, except that Steph cannot sign contracts until she’s 18. I would say that her being Australian changes the process more than her age. I’m going to send the book out in both the US and Australia to editors, when it’s ready. That’s a first for me, double submission here and “Down Under,” as they say.
AUTHORESS: It's important for agent and author to "click." Can you talk about the "click" you've experienced with Steph? Do you think this particular client relationship will move you into more of a mentoring role?
GINGER: It’s hard to click over international phone calls (what is it about the weirdness on them in terms of not being able to talk over one another? Oy), but I do think we clicked. I was pretty focused on making sure she knew my qualifications, and that I loved her book, and that I wanted her to still be able to be, primarily, a kid, even though we were both about to embark on an “adult” journey together. I don’t know if she was nervous—I was! I had to make a good impression.
I think Steph is going to have plenty of writer mentors, and I believe my main job is what I do for all my clients—find them the right editors, and get them fair deals, and sell their rights as much and as many places as I can. I’m her advocate, and my job is to make sure she is treated well. I have given her some edits on the book, but the actual editorially mentoring will come from her editor, and any other writers she works with.
AUTHORESS: Sara, Steph is clearly gifted beyond her years. For many (older) aspiring authors, reading the success story of a 15-year-old can be a bit...difficult. Is this something from which you've needed to shield Steph, or has it been less of a problem than anticipated?
SARA: Like a long-distance nagging extra parent, I email Steph probably completely unnecessary cautions and advice, including being wary of those suddenly buddying up to her. And she’s well aware some people will resent a 15-year-old being signed.
But Steph got signed because she wrote a wonderful novel. She built an engaging blog, worked hard on her manuscript (she said I think if I edit it again I’ll suffer a brain aneurysm), solicited beta readers, revised again, wrote a strong query letter, and jumped at the suggestion to contact agents. With or without my minor push, Steph would have been signed. She’s just that good - you can’t read her blog without seeing that.
Regardless of age, there’s always someone who will resent you for getting an agent or book deal. I wouldn’t have suggested approaching agents had I not thought Steph emotionally ready to handle this, and I think Ginger the perfect agent to shepherd her through it.
A few years back a friend’s son had a novel published and at his celebratory party another writer sidled up to me and said Don’t you hate him? But I didn’t. I was chagrined he had a novel out and I didn’t, but it was a turning point for me, one that inspired me to buckle down and do the work I needed to do.
I see writers as a big amorphous community: one person’s success doesn’t detract from another’s potential, but the support we give one another can make all the difference.
AUTHORESS: Ginger, Steph is embarking on a long and promising career. As her agent, what are your goals and dreams for her? What do you find most satisfying about having found her?
GINGER: I’d like to find her an editor who will treat her well, and help her hone her already deeply impressive skills. I have lots of dreams as to where we’d sell the book, and all those accompanying things, but I am superstitious and dare not commit them to print!
AUTHORESS: Okay, Steph--tell us about your book!
STEPH: It's a story about first love. There are garden gnomes and child prodigies. It's a funny sort of sad-happy. I'm being very cagey and secretive about it - I love having something to be secretive about! It's glorious - but I will be revealing more on my blog, Hey! Teenager of the Year (http://heyteenager.blogspot.com) in due time.
AUTHORESS: You have a long, promising future ahead of you. What do you see when you look ahead? What are your ultimate goals and dreams as a published author?
STEPH: All I'm hoping is that I can continue to write, and hopefully publish, well into the future. I want to write books that make teenagers feel like they're not as alone as they think. I'd like to affect people, even if it's in a teeny-tiny way. I am hopeful, but I don't want to jinx myself.
Warm thanks to the three of you for telling the story from your viewpoint. And to Steph: Best wishes for a long and successful writing career!
Do I hear some huzzahs?