QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview with Former Contest Winner Cameron Jacobs

Cameron Jacobs writes thrillers and romantic suspense novels. She lives in Maryland with her husband and puppy, where she teaches international war and diplomacy. She's working on her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. You can visit Cameron's website at http://www.cameronjacobs.com/. Her blog, Details that Color My Life, will soon be focusing on conflict in fiction. Cameron invites you to be her friend on FaceBook.

Cameron won the QTblog's One-Line Pitch Contest, judged by Brendan Deneen of FinePrint Literary Management, last May.

Can you tell us a bit about how you started writing?

I’ve always loved writing though my career path has taken me to scholarly writing rather than fiction. But during all that time writing text books and journal articles, I had stories in my head. And they wouldn’t shut up. Finally, I put one down on paper, and I haven’t stopped. The first few years were just for fun. I’d post short stories online and on my blog. Eventually, like most of us, I realized I wanted to be an author, and got down to the serious work of writing a novel.

How did you find the QueryTracker blog?

I had stumbled upon QueryTracker’s site and loved it. I used it to keep track of agents and submissions, and spent quite a bit of time on it. I was on the site one day, scouring for agents, and there was a link to the one-sentence pitch contest. That was the first time I’d found the QT blog and I’ve been following ever since.

How far into the querying process were you when you heard about the one-sentence pitch contest on the QTblog?

I had been querying my first manuscript for a while at that point, and had gotten only rejections. I was slowly racking up little angry red faces besides my list of dream agents on QueryTracker. I was to the point of trying to decide if I should keep querying that project or shove it under the bed.

When you entered, did you have any idea you would win?

No. In fact, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind. I was getting discouraged with all the rejections from my first novel. I’d just started working on my second novel, FALSE MOVE, which seemed to have a much better hook. So I thought I’d give it a try. I started scribbling sentences on a post-it note at work and came up with one I thought made a good hook and submitted it. And then promptly forgot about it. A few days later, I figured you’d announced the winners, so I read through all the winning pitches, and was really impressed. When I got to the final winner, it actually took me a second to recognize it as mine!

You were awarded with a submission of your full manuscript. Were you nervous when you sent it off? How high were your hopes that you would be offered representation?

My hopes were nil. The big problem? FALSE MOVE wasn’t complete. Frankly, it was a terrible idea to enter it into the contest before it was complete. Brendan called it “ballsy”, but I’m pretty sure “idiotic” is a better word. So as excited as I was to be awarded a full submission, I only had 150 pages written. I sent what I had and said I’d be finished by October if he was interested in the rest. He sent a polite response to thank me for sending the partial, and that was that. I sort of figured since I’d sent a partial when he was expecting a completed manuscript, I had ruined my chances with him. I kicked myself for that for several months.

Brendan ended up offering representation. How did that come about?

That was all in May, when the contest happened. In mid-September, I got another email from Brendan out of the blue saying he’d read the partial and liked it, and was I still on track to complete it by October? I’d finished the first draft, and was knee-deep in my first round of revisions, so I said I’d send him the full in two weeks. I was psyched he was interested, and moving faster on revisions.

How long did the whole process take?

Overall, it was a four month process, from the time of the contest until Brendan and I started talking seriously. I’m a professor and teach in the afternoons. I got his email offering me representation during my first class and then had to force myself to lecture on the shifting power dynamics during the war in Kosovo for an hour before I could reply. That was a brutal hour! I probably didn’t make the slightest amount of sense. The second I let the class leave I sent off an email giving him my office phone number. I raced across campus as fast as I could and got back to my office just as he was calling.

What happened next?

Brendan sent me Fine Print’s contract, and I sent it back, along with the full that I had finally completed. And then I waited. I was a nervous wreck waiting for his reaction. I mean, a can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, chain-smoking wreck. I was sure he’d read the end, decide he’d made a terrible decision offering representation, and rescind the offer. And I had already told everyone. I kept thinking about all those people I was going to have to tell if he rescinded. A full week went by while I panicked, and finally he sent an email. “Loved it.” That was it. All that time I panicked and he sent a two word email! So I finally calmed down, realized he wasn’t going to change his mind, and relaxed.

Anything you’d like to say to aspiring authors everywhere?

I wish I had something inspiring to say, but all I can do is repeat the same advice I’ve received, and that is to keep writing. Write what you love, and write because you love it. The querying process is discouraging, there’s no way around that. But starting a new project I was excited about, and frankly, a better project, not only got me through the discouraging months, but also ended up getting me the agent in the end. That first novel went under the bed, and though I loved it at the time, I can now objectively see the problems with it. I also kept honing my craft. I’m currently working on my MFA in genre fiction at Seton Hill University, focusing on thrillers and romantic suspense. For me, it was a great way to keep learning new skills and networking with other authors. For others, it’s contests or conferences or writers groups. Whatever you need to do to keep learning and to stay passionate about writing, do it! And then keep writing.

Just for fun, I'd like to share the one-pitch sentence that caught Brendan's eye:

She spent six years undercover, in the murky world of black market weapons, to find her husband’s killer and avenge his death – only to come face to face with him on the wrong side of an arms deal.

Thank you, Cameron, for sharing your story with us. And congratulations on being in submission! We wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors.

Suzette Saxton writes books for tots, teens, and in-betweens. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary.


Amy Sue Nathan said...

The best part of this - besides the hook - is that Cameron made mistakes and admitted it - that she didn't assume anything. Then, of course, that the agent saw through the foibles.

haleigh said...
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Suzette Saxton said...
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cameron said...

Thanks for arranging this interview Suzette!

Amy - you know, I read all the industry blogs and how-to books, and I thought I was past making newbie mistakes. Turns out I wasn't! I'm so glad Brendan was able to look past that, and it certainly makes me more aware in the future of how careful one has to act when trying to break out in this profession!

Suzette Saxton said...

You are so welcome, Cameron. It was my pleasure!

ChristaCarol said...

Awesome stuff, Cameron, I'm so happy for you!

Bethany Wiggins said...

What an awesome, story, Cameron! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I am excited to see your name in print.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Okay, that was just too funny. I'm just glad it worked out in the end.

cameron said...

Thank you Christa and Bethany!
Stina, it was an awkward trip from point A to point B wasn't it? I'm glad it worked out too!

Angie said...

Great interview! Thanks Cameron and Suzy. It's an inspirational story that makes me want to keep trying!

Jessica said...

Oh my gosh!!! What an exciting story. I'm sorry to hear about the first one since it started off so great, but obviously the second one rocks!!! I LOVE your hook. Great job.
And I didn't know you're a professor! That's so cool.