Happy Tuesday! Today, I interviewed Gabriela Martins, who recently signed with her agent, Chelsea Eberly of Greenhouse Literary! Congratulate her on Twitter, and read below on her process for finding agents to query and her advice on persevering through the query trenches.
Hi Gabriela! Can you tell me about the book that got you your agent?
GM: From my query:
Natalia is only seventeen, but she has the life of her dreams. She’s the first Brazilian to get nominated for a Fave Celebs Award and everything’s great. Except for when her boyfriend breaks up with her backstage in a worldwide broadcast, and she comes to receive her award in tears.
Her PR team is in a frenzy to find a way to reconstruct her image as a put-together role model for young girls, and as her ex starts going out with models and likes a viral meme of their break-up, she decides it’s time to get on board with their plan: she’s getting herself a fake boyfriend. William isn’t what she expected, though. She was going for fierce and hot. Not… soft and British.
As she fights her way back to the top with a fake boyfriend in her arm, she has to reconsider everything she’s given up so she could become the American sweetheart.
It’s time to confront her self-image: not only her perception of fame, but also of family background and Latinidade.
Can you tell me a bit about your querying journey? For example, was the project that got you your agent the first book you queried?
GM: Ohhh boy, no, it wasn’t. It was my seventh queried book, and my tenth completed.
Was there a time in your querying journey when you felt like giving up?
GM: Honestly, not really. I always knew it was a matter of when and not if, even though I’d been querying for seven years already. I’m a firm believer that if you want something and work hard for it, it eventually will happen.
Do you have any advice for querying authors?
GM: The TOP 3 things I’ve learned over this near decade of querying:
- Give up on that damn book. I know that when we’re attached to a book we may rewrite it a thousand times in hopes this time it’ll be different, but the truth is that there are books that the market just isn’t ready for. And that doesn’t mean you’ll have to shelf that book forever, but when I see querying authors putting all their blood and sweat in one manuscript instead of writing others, I want to tell them to shelf that book already. Unless you’ve had an R&R (and even that isn’t a guarantee), I’d say that if you’re not getting offers with a book, it’s probably best to write the next one.
- A bad agent is worse than no agent. This isn’t my Copyrighted Advice™. So many authors smarter than me have already said this, and yet we keep getting desperate for an agent—any agent—in early stages/sometimes years of querying. When we’ve been around authors for a while and we see our friends getting bad agents, we see just how much worse it is than having no agent at all. Agent/author is a business relationship, and you have to be confident in that person’s ability not only to sell your book, but to move your career forward. If they don’t know at least a thousand times more than you, it’s not worth it. (And I want to point out, this is especially true for marginalized writers.)
- Do not rush any part of the process! I had this wild idea that if an agent liked my pitch enough, they’d sign with me for the potential of my book, even though it still needed work. Weren’t we going to have to edit the book together before going on sub anyway? The truth is that agents don’t have time for manuscripts that are less than shiny. (Again, especially true for marginalized writers.) If you rewrite your story and want to query the same agents again, even if they say they are up for reading your manuscript again, they are already reading towards a no. There’s no deadline to signing with an agent, so do your work with editing and revising until you can’t find anything wrong with your story anymore, and only then query. If you can see the problems, they’ll also see the problems, and remember, you want an agent who can see things you can’t.
What’s something you know now as an agented author that you wish you knew before?
GM: Numbers don’t matter. I used to be upset in pitching events when I had few likes, or think this is it, this is my time when I had hundreds of likes, and these things just didn’t make any difference in the end. The request rate of fulls is important in my opinion, because it assesses how marketable your pitch is, but whether you have one offer of representation or ten doesn’t really make any difference.
What’s your author dream? Fanart? Movie adaptation? Fanfic?
GM: Can I say all of these things? I’m Brazilian, so selling Brazilian rights is very important to me. Having a story adapted into the movie/TV screen would also be a dream come true. But I absolutely value the reader/author connection. As someone who’s written fanfic before, having people care about my characters and stories to any degree would mean the world to me.
You love to learn and teach languages. How have languages and linguistics helped you as a writer or with this story in particular? How have they inspired you?
GM: Actually, I think even though I don’t write about languages/linguistics, it’s a vital part of my storytelling process. I am always discussing the power of words and language subtly. In this story, my protagonist has two personas to deal with: Natalie, her Americanized pop star persona, and Nati, her Brazilian childhood nickname that’s difficult for English-speakers to pronounce. Whoever holds power is who decides how a word is pronounced, and to reclaim that is something powerful, especially when that word is your name—the symbol that’s associated with you from before you were even born.
Why do you like to write YA?
GM: I’ve been a high school teacher for almost a decade. I love teenagers.
My teenage years were also the most depressive and difficult of my life. I hated being a teenager.
Working with teenagers, for me, was a process of self-healing and understanding who I was and everything that had happened to me back then. Through my love for them (and if you’ve ever been in a classroom with me, you know I am adamant about showing love) I hope to make amends with my teenage self. Every time I hug my students, it’s like I’m hugging a teenage Gabhi. Every time I give them advice, it’s like I’m talking to myself.
I guess that’s just a long way of saying that I write YA because I wish I’d had those stories growing up. I think it might have made my life a lot easier.
You are currently based in Brazil — do you have any advice or encouragement for international authors, in light of publishing being very US-centric?
GM: My friends, chances are, the dollar conversion is favorable to you! That means even if you end up with a so-called modest deal, you’ll probably be just fine. Also, everyone talks about how dangerous it is to be a writer full time, but you know your finances best than everyone. The truth is that living in the US is very expensive, and they have to pay for that in dollars. If your $ converts nicely and it’s not as expensive living in your area, you can absolutely make a comfortable living off writing.
The second you find an agent, also find a local accountant to handle your money. You do not want to deal with taxes by yourself, and it’s different for every country, so there’s no way to give universal feedback on that.
Persist. I know it may seem like nobody cares about you abroad, but there are people like you in every corner of the world. Keep writing. Keep querying. Your people will find you.
Your protagonist is a pop star — what kind of music did you listen to while you wrote her story?
GM: I had Taylor Swift’s Lover album on repeat writing this book. Especially London Boy, because my love interest is British. I didn’t really base Nati on Taylor or any other pop star, as there isn’t really any Brazilian pop stars making it big outside of Brazil, and her Latinidade is very important to her. But it was important for me to mirror the misogyny many female artists go through in the industry, and unfortunately I wasn’t short of examples from which to draw those parallels to.
What would be some comp titles for YOU CAN CALL ME NATI? Books, movies, anything!!
GM: On #DVPit, one of my comp “titles” was the music video Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus. I stand by that. On a more serious note, though, I’d say it’s a mash-up of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI (Sandhya Menon), SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW (Maurene Goo), and DON’T DATE ROSA SANTOS (Nina Moreno), with a side of 10 Things I Hate About You.
What does your writing process look like from start to finish?
GM: Get an idea, try to convince myself I probably don’t have time to write it/should probably focus on another idea, fail to talk myself out of it, spend a day making a rough outline, start drafting obsessively until around 30k, when I am sure everything is terrible and I should delete the draft, then sometime after (anywhere from a few days to a month), go back to it, power through the doubts, and then I have a draft. I draft very fast, anywhere from 20 to 60 days, but revision really depends on the state of the book, and what my CPs think.
On your vlog about how you got your agent, you talked about how you were very specific in who you sent queries out to. Can you talk a little bit about how you picked who to query and why?
GM: Here’s more or less how my process goes:
- Go on Publishers Marketplace and copy their ~50 best-selling agents into a spreadsheet.
- Research each of them and delete the ones that don’t rep my current genre or genres I want to write in the future, or whose agency seems a little shady/generally inappropriate for what I want in my career.
- Make a list of books they have represented*, and see if there’s any problematic/racist/homophobic/ableist content there. If they rep something I find harmful, I delete them from my list.
- End up with a list of 20-30 agents.
- Send that list to friends and acquaintances to see if whisper network has anything tangible to say against them, from harassment allegations to abusive behavior in general.
- End up with around 20 agents and query them.
- If the agent is new, that’s not necessarily a turn-off. It can be great to partner with new agents, but in that case, I’d research the agency and possible mentors all the more.
Then you’ll have a list of agents who are possibly good for you, but you still won’t know if they’re a good fit until you’re on the phone with them. When they pass and say they’re not the best fit, trust them. There are many agents out there, but there aren’t that many good agents. If they all pass, write another story, and keep going. Your agent will be your partner for hopefully all your career. Be picky about who you want to represent you.
Gabhi, thank you so much for your time and your thoughts! I cannot wait to see what the future holds for you and your career!
About Gabriela Martins:
Bio: Gabriela Martins is a Brazilian author of light fantasy and contemporary. Still a teacher at heart, she writes stories featuring characters who look like you. She’s a proud cat-mom of two, and has survived both a survival in the jungle course and Brazil in the summer. Repeatedly. She believes in spreading knowledge through kindness and positivity. In her free time, she likes to get emotional about superheroes, ‘00s music, and food. You can find out more about her work and webinars for writers at GabrielaWrites.com.