New Writing Schedule!

It’s the second week of my sophomore year of college at UW (yay quarter system?), and the start of classes and the attached schoolwork load means it’s time to carve out some set times to write! I aim to write at least an hour and a half each day, so here’s the Schedule™ (posted for the sake of accountability):

Monday: 3 PM – 4:30 PM

Tuesday: 7 PM – 8:30 PM

Wednesday: 3 PM – 4:30 PM

Thursday: 12 PM – 1:30 PM

Friday: 2 PM – 4 PM

Saturday/Sun: Do your homework! (Log at least 2 hours)

Hopefully I’ll be able to stick to the time slots, though truthfully I’ve never had a writing schedule before! Of course, I believe that writing should never be a forced thing, but I figure it’s never a bad idea setting a bar for myself.

Also upcoming this week: I am applying to the creative writing major! I have to put a portfolio together, which includes a handful of poems and a short story — neither of which are particularly my strong suits, but I am polishing my pieces up this week and will be submitting the application on Wednesday. Maybe — depending on the outcome — I’ll post a prose poem or two here. The short story, on the other hand, is a concept I’ve been playing with for a while, something I’d peel apart and expand if I were ever to write contemporary. It’d be the kind of deeply emotional project I know I’m not ready for just yet, but one that keeps me excited for the future.

 

GEARBREAKERS Acquired by Executive Producer Aaron Magnani

I am thrilled to announce that the screen rights for my debut novel, GEARBREAKERS (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan), have been acquired by producer Aaron Magnani! It’s the first small step of a lot of bigger steps, but my heart grows ever so much fuller whenever I meet someone who shows a passion for this project I love so dearly, and I am excited to start this new journey, wherever it may go. Read the full exclusive press release here.

“With a Hunger Games-esque intensity and a Transformers-like sense of spectacle, a film based on this property feels ultimately like a bull’s eye,” Magnani said.

The Query Letter That Got Me My Agent

In any scenario, but perhaps especially in the literary sphere, it is important to be adaptable. By the end of my querying phase, I had gone through two rewrites of my original query letter, three versions total. These rewrites were not necessarily due to a lack of agent responses—even the first version received three partials and one full request—but as a writer, it was hard to ignore the gnawing feeling that the balance between conciseness and engaging elements was lacking in my earlier versions.

Below are my query letters:

Ver. 1 

Dear Agent,

            As a top student of Godolia’s famed Windup Academy, Sona Steelcrest is expected to be grateful for the wires shoved through her veins, the microchips implanted along her brain stem, and the cable sockets puckering the skin of her forearms. These Mods—gifted upon her seventeenth birthday—mark Sona as a full-fledged Pilot, giving her the ability to synch with the Windups: hundred foot tall mechas that hold an arsenal of detrimental skills at their disposal. The all-powerful nation of Godolia utilizes the mercilessness embedded in their treasured Pilots and the invincibility of the Windups in order to ensure that their authority over the world remains unquestioned.

            But Sona’s true loyalties lie far outside of Godolia’s grasp, and, rather than celebrating her forced evolution, she will revel in the Academy’s ignorance: in an attempt to create their protector, they had created nothing short of their downfall.

            Eris “The Frostbringer” Shindanai is a Gearbreaker: a warrior born in the Badlands and raised from birth to detest every branch of Godolia’s oppression. Her mission is simple: infiltrate any Windups that dare to cross her path, and take the atrocities apart from the inside. Takedown after takedown, the Frostbringer becomes synonymous with carnage and chaos, her alias whispered as a horror story throughout the Academy. But Sona sees a future in the Gearbreakers, as well as her dream of Godolia’s future devastation.

            When the feared Frostbringer meets the Academy’s cruelest student, Eris struggles with putting her desire for Godolia’s peril over her distrust of the wires running beneath Sona’s skin. But when Eris finds that Sona’s hatred of the Windups surpasses even her own, her wariness falls away and is replaced with feelings far distant from the revulsion that Pilots have always conjured. And, for the first time, Sona has found someone to fight for.

            Or more likely, after stumbling across a dangerous opportunity to destroy Godolia once and for all, someone to die for.

Ver. 2

Dear Agent,

            In an age of mechanical deities puppeteered by a power-hungry nation, the sole defense against the onslaught of false Gods is a ragtag group of renegades known as the Gearbreakers, and seventeen-year-old Eris Shindanai takes pride in being one of the most infamous of the lot. Her mission is simple: infiltrate any Windups—a charming nickname for these hundred-foot-tall bionic nightmares—that dare to cross her path, and take the atrocities apart from the inside.

            When she meets Sona Steelcrest—a mecha Pilot, the first she’s met with more heart than wires—and learns of a threat that could mean the end of the Gearbreakers, the two girls must put aside their distrust of each other in order to fight to preserve what little humanity is left in the world. But how much of their lives are they willing to sacrifice for their cause, especially when distrust succumbs to friendship and something more?

Ver. 3 (Which landed me an offer of rep!)

Dear Agent,

            In an age of mechanical deities puppeteered by a power-hungry nation, the sole defense against the onslaught of false Gods is a ragtag group of renegades known as the Gearbreakers, and seventeen-year-old Eris “The Frostbringer” Shindanai takes pride in being one of the most infamous of the lot. Her mission is simple: infiltrate any Windups—a charming nickname for these hundred-foot-tall bionic nightmares—that dare to cross her path, and take the atrocities apart from the inside.

            As a top student of Godolia’s famed Windup Academy, Sona Steelcrest is expected to be grateful for the wires shoved through her veins, the microchips implanted along her brain stem, and the cable sockets puckering the skin of her forearms. These Mods mark Sona as a full-fledged Pilot, giving her the ability to synch with the Windups and use their arsenal of detrimental skills to ensure that the nation of Godolia remains sealed to its place of power.

            But Sona’s true loyalties lie far outside of Godolia’s grasp, and when she learns of a new model of Windups that could mean the end of the Gearbreakers, she seeks out the Frostbringer’s help. While Eris struggles with putting her desire for Godolia’s peril over her distrust of the wires running beneath Sona’s skin, she finds that Sona’s hatred of the Windups surpasses even her own, and her wariness is soon replaced with feelings far distant from the revulsion that Pilots have always conjured. And, for the first time, Sona has found someone to fight for.

            Or more likely, after stumbling across a dangerous opportunity to destroy Godolia once and for all, someone to die for.

As you can see, Ver. 1 (which I felt was too wordy) and 2 (which I felt was lacking the stakes of the plot) fed into the final Ver. 3. Following the query was my bio, which stayed consistent throughout the rewrites:

    I am seeking representation for Gearbreakers, a YA science fiction novel complete at 120,000 words. Gearbreakers is Pacific Rim meets Cinder meets Mockingjay, written for readers who enjoy robot sword fights and battle-primed female protagonists, as well as those who are seeking LGBTQ main characters in the science fiction genre. I am currently an English student at the University of Washington in Seattle, and have a background in kickboxing, which proved to be extremely helpful in shaping the multitude of fight scenes in Gearbreakers. I have pasted the first ten pages of the manuscript below for your consideration.

            Best Wishes Always,

            Zoe Hana Mikuta

And, of course, I know that my ‘final’ query letter was leaps and bounds from being perfect, but the advice I tend to live by is that ambition used solely in a strive for perfection is heartachingly wasteful. My advice: be open to rewrites, and be open to uncertainty.

(By the way, if Gearbreakers grabs your attention, it’s out spring 2021 with Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan!)

How I Got My Agent ( + My Experience in the Query Trenches )

It’s jarring to me that I get to write one of these posts. When I was querying, I would spend hours upon hours pouring over these stories, and successfully heeded every single piece of their advice—I waited patiently, worried little, with a heart constantly brimming with the hope and knowledge that soon, the little ping of my inbox would signify the beginning of my one true dream: my characters filling up a real, gloriously physical book.

I am joking.

I waited patiently. I would consistently abuse the inbox refresh button.

I worried little. I was a nervous wreck in the query trenches. I legitimately got back into the habit of biting my nails.

A heart constantly brimming with hope? Maybe in the first week? For some reason, as the rejections came rolling in, my insecurities about my writing evolved into something akin to panic—maybe it was because I had no idea what I was going to do with my life if this didn’t pan out! None! Nada!

This was actually my second time querying; the first had been about six months prior with another manuscript I’d written. It got a total of ONE partial request—but I am, honestly and truly, grateful for past Zoe for being brave enough to put her work out there for the first time, because she had zero idea what she was doing at the start, but a fairly good idea by the end. Because of this, when I wrote another novel that I fell in love with (much, much harder than I did the last), I knew what to expect with the query process. This book did a lot better, numbers-wise: 14 partial requests and 7 fulls (over about 6 months).

The funny thing is, I actually missed the notification for one of these full requests via QueryManager. The agent, Weronika Janczuk, was kind enough to email me personally to say she was concerned that I had not seen her request (I hadn’t), and restated that she was, in fact, interested in seeing the full manuscript—keep in mind that not all agents would take the time to resend their request!

And then, THREE DAYS after submitting the full, I got an email back. And because it was only THREE DAYS later, I squinted at the email’s subject (Gearbreakers: Requested Material), and was SO sure that it was another rejection that I left it alone for a bit to make myself a cup of tea.

Then I actually opened it, twenty-five minutes later, and oddly enough, found no rejection. Instead, Weronika wanted to know when I would be free for a call.

When would I be free for a call? When would I be free for a call? She could ring at three in the AM for all I cared!!! I could be getting open heart surgery and still pick up the phone!!! This I did not tell her. I gave her some times to choose from and The Call was scheduled for sometime in the following week.

Of course, I had also read up on ‘The Call,’ enough to know that a call wasn’t always The Call, that sometimes agents will ring for reasons other than offering representation, so I tried my hardest not to get my hopes up. But one minute after picking up the phone, Weronika said that she was, in fact, offering representation, to which all the things I’d planned to say completely slipped from my mind. I have no doubt my voice shook for the rest of our talk.

From this experience, I have become a complete advocate for cold querying (of course, being in the process felt like the whole thing was a sham)—but it really does work. You don’t need literary connections; you need to be passionate about your work, and then you need to need to charge forward. Maybe you don’t even need patience, maybe just a steel stubbornness that keeps you fighting for your characters.

( + I’ll post my query letter soon, as I know I liked looking over these as well! )