Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An Awkward Hug from Andrea Hannah: The World Traveler Who Became a Writer

Hi, sweet readers!

First of all, let's get that awkward hug out of the way. 

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Okay, so now that that's taken care of, let's get to the story of how I went from globe trotter to word monger, shall we?

I won't start off this tale with how I've always wanted to write, or how I used to craft stories from crayons and construction paper. Instead I'll tell you how I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of Michigan. And how I did it. 

Well, at least for a little while. 

I started globe hopping in college, after I got my first taste of a different state. That's right, I said state, not country. Truth is, we didn't have a ton of money for vacations when I was younger, and I'd been to Florida and Ohio... and that's about it. But I went on my first trip to California, and I fell in love with the idea of being anywhere but home.

So after Cali came a dozen other states, and then a summer trip bouncing around Spain, France and Italy. I came home from that trip and spent the next couple of years racking up frequent flyer miles like a boss; every vacation, every long week, I scraped pennies together and went somewhere. Later came Mexico, the Caribbean, and Hawaii. But in between those places came Africa. Twice. 

I lived and taught English in South Africa for a few months, and fell in love so hard that I refused to leave that continent alone. I returned the next year to donate school supplies and travel around Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

Yep, that's me. In Africa. And that kid in the front looks super angry.

What's funny about all this globe trotting is that I never once thought about being a writer. Not once. I thought about starting a nonprofit (and did), teaching in public schools (and did), and selling my art (and did). Never writing. Sure, I kept journals. I wrote snippets of poetry and short stories during my travels. But I never imagined anything would come of that. 

It wasn't until a family emergency forced me to move out of my condo in Savannah, GA and into an apartment five miles from where I grew up in order to take care of my mother that I started seriously thinking about writing. 

Circumstance shoved me back into my hometown, in a dank little apartment, dealing with the my mother's failing health and my teenage brother's grief. I had to hit pause on my life. So I opened up a fresh Word doc and started typing. 

And I fell in love with writing. Slowly, gently. And then all at once

I wrote mostly about my travel experiences at first, and then began to play with stories set in different worlds entirely. Writing became the only escape I had from a life that was somehow mine, even though it felt itchy and uncomfortable, like a sweater that just didn't quite fit. Then I attempted my first novel, at the very end of 2010. Like my fellow Secret Lifer Leah Miller, I also wrote about dreams. And my main character woke up from a dream in the first chapter. Guuuhhh. *Insert shudder here*

But despite all that, I entered that thing in some contests and won third place in the WriteOnCon YA contest. (Keep in mind, this is based on the first 500 words. I've always been good at pretty pose. Plot? Not so much.) 

I got rejected after that. A lot. Obviously. 

A year later, for NaNoWriMo 2011, I wrote my second novel, THE DIARIES OF ELLA GRAHAM. But this time I attempted the task with a boatload of knowledge of both technique and industry. I'd read over a hundred recently released YA books in that year. I'd stalked the crap out of blogs, forums, and Twitter. And then I wrote. And rewrote. And revised. 

I queried in February 2012 and immediately had infinite more success than I'd had the first go around. In the end, I sent out only 14 queries. I had done extensive research on agents before I queried, so I was very specific in who I targeted. If those 14 wouldn't have gone well, I would have sent out a second round, but I didn't have to. Out of those 14 queries, I had 9 requests for fulls/partials. I ended up with 3 offers of representation in the end, but I went with Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. (Fun fact: I gave birth to my son the same day Victoria offered rep. She called me on my hospital phone!) 

So, this is the part where your eyes have begun to glaze over. Which is great, because it's also the part where I give you what you're actually here for: query letter + giveaway. So here it is:

Dear Ms. Marini, 
I read in an interview that you seek edgy stories with an unexpected twist. As such, I thought you might enjoy my 70,000 word magical realism young adult novel, THE DIARIES OF ELLA GRAHAM.  
After her little sister mysteriously vanishes, seventeen-year-old Claire Graham has a choice to make: stay snug in her little corner of Manhattan with her dropout boyfriend, or go back to Ohio to face the hometown tragedy she's been dying to leave behind. 
But the memories of that night still haunt her in the city, and as hard as she tries to forget the wolf's eyes or the blood-speckled snow, Claire knows she has to hold true to the most important promise she's ever made: to keep Ella safe. She must return to her sleepy hometown in order to find Ella and keep the wolves at bay before they strike again. But time is quickly running out, and as Ella's trail grows fainter, the wolves are growing impatient.  
Now Claire must deal with her attraction to Grant, the soft-spoken boy from her past that may hold the secret to solving her sister's disappearance, while following the clues that Ella left for only her to find. Through a series of cryptic diary entries, Claire must unlock the keys to Ella's past—and her own—in order to stop another tragedy in the making, while realizing that not all things that are lost are meant to be found.  
Though the novel has been written with potential for a sequel, it can stand alone. I believe it will appeal to fans of Nova Ren Suma's IMAGINARY GIRLS and Michelle Hodkin's THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER. My previous manuscript was a finalist in The Reading Room/WriteOnCon's 2011 Young Adult Fiction contest. I live in Michigan and am currently working on my next YA novels. 
Thank you for your time, 
Andrea Hannah

 So, there you have it. It's funny because there are several errors in that query letter, the biggest being genre. THE DIARIES OF ELLA GRAHAM is most definitely not magical realism; it's a psychological thriller. I just wasn't quite sure at the time. BUT, it's totally cool, because if you write a solid query letter, are professional, and create an interesting premise, agents will request regardless of that. So chin up! It doesn't have to be perfection.

AND NOW THE GIVEAWAY. (DUN DUN DUN.)

I'm giving away copies of THE DIARIES OF ELLA GRAHAM's comp titles, plus a query critique/brainstorm session.

SO, if you win this baby you get:
  • IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma
  • THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin
  • Query critique (or if you don't have one yet, a brainstorm session to make the best one ever
Contests ends Friday at 11:59pm EST! 


54 secret replies:

  1. Stellar query. And that is too funny that you got your offer the same day your son was born. Good luck with this, I really want to read it!

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    1. Thanks so much, Lydia! You're a doll. <3

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  2. Wow! Your novel sounds so amazing honestly, I can't wait to read it. That's also a funny aligning of events with your son's birth. It sounds like your life has been full of adventures and I bet that gives a depth to your writing. I can't wait to read your book! :)

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    1. Thanks, Zoe! (Sorry, I have no idea how to make the symbol above the "e" haha.) xo.

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  3. THIS brought tears to my eyes:

    "And I fell in love with writing. Slowly, gently. And then all at once."

    You are SO BEAUTIFUL, and such an inspiration in every way. I'm glad to call you my friend.

    I can't wait to hold a copy of TDoEG in my hands. <3

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  4. I can't wait to read THE DIARIES OF ELLA GRAHAM - sounds super interesting! But so does your life. As a fellow travel lover (who also never left my home state - which I believe is the same as yours- growing up) I love that you wanted to travel and you just made it happen. Very cool. :)

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    1. Hey, Nicole!! Thanks so much for commenting. I kind of think you can make anything happen when you want it to. When there's a will, there's a way :)

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  5. It made me smile to see that you got your offer on the same day your son was born. Funny how life works like that.

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    1. It really was crazy. Definitely one of the best days of my life, that's for certain!

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  6. You're quite the eloquent writer Andrea. Definitely looking forward to The Diaries of Ella Graham.

    Those three boys in the front look like your body guards, like they smashed the camera right after that picture and then beat up the photographer. "Did we say you could take a picture of Miss Hannah?"

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    1. LOL, hilarious. Those kids were so funny. A lot of them didn't even know what to do when someone pointed a camera at them (Hence the pissed-off faces.) xo.

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  7. Such a beautiful story, Andrea!

    I can't wait to read The Diaries of Ella Graham one day -- it sounds wonderful.

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    1. Thanks, lovely. I hope, I hope, I *hope* it gets out there someday. <3

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  8. Love your John Green quote. ;) I'm also very jealous of all your travels.

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    1. OMG. The falling in love one, right? That's where that came from. I typed it out early this morning and was like.... "These words are from somewhere. Where are they from? They are pretty."

      Thanks for commenting! xo.

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  9. Your book sounds so fascinating! I can't wait to read it. ^__^

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    1. Thank you, Alexandra! I hope everyone gets to one day!

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  10. My favorite line: "not all things that are lost are meant to be found."

    Absolutely in LOVE with that bit. Now I don't want the comparables I want The Diaries of Ella Graham.

    Fingers flying on my kindle...The Diaries of El...

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    1. You are so, so sweet, Kim. Thanks for commenting! xo.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your story, and your query. I can't wait to read your book! Sounds amazing! :)

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  12. (Please read to the tune of Miley Cyrus's "Seven Things I Hate About You.")

    The seven things I love about your post!:

    1) Your awkward Voldemort/Draco hug!
    2) The fact that you taught English in South Africa!
    3) Your John Green quote!
    4) The fact that you didn't give up!
    5) Your agent is awesome!
    6) Your query! (Seriously, that story sounds AMAZING.)
    And the seventh thing I love the most that you do...
    7) You give people free stuff.

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    1. Mark, I freaking adore you. (You totally want me to personally send you free stuff, don't you?) xo.

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  13. I LOVED this, Andee!! Chills, all the way down, including through the query for a book I've already gotten to read! I'm so, so glad you discovered your passion and talent for writing, and I can't wait to read some future mss in which you put your awesome travel knowledge to good use!

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    1. Dahl, I can't even think about another manuscript right now. Trying desperately to #DahliaorDie this one, haha.

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  14. I adore your Voldemort hug, it was truly awesome. Also, I really like your query letter--I'm still circling mine right now, so I always like to see ones that got agents. Thanks for posting!

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    1. Haha, I'm a big fan of the Voldemort/Draco hug. I laughed out loud in the theater at that. So glad my query was helpful to you!

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  15. I just started following you on Twitter because you are funny and let's face it; freakin' amazing! But it is thrilling to hear the story of how you became THE Andrea Hannah. Love following your blog, too, by the way!

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    1. Haha, thanks Rachel! I find you equally delightful :) xo

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  16. GREAT post Andee! I also started writing while/after traveling (though I still haven't made it to Africa...I'm truly jealous!). Love that you did too!

    Thanks for posting your query also. It is so helpful to see queries that aren't stock, but actually ones that have taken people places! Thanks again!

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    1. No prob, Nikki! So glad you've gotten to travel too. I think it has definitely deepened my life experiences, and appreciation of things. xoxo

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  17. What a wonderful story. I toyed with teaching abroad, but ended up staying here to work with my special babies. I'm so happy you shared. <3

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  18. Love the awkward hug! I've always wanted to go teach English in Japan, though I've never been out of the country (yet!). Thanks for sharing your story! Its been great to hear other author's journeys to publication.

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    1. Don't worry, if you want it badly enough, you'll get there! I hope you make it to Japan one day, one way or another <3

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  19. Thanks for sharing all your experiences. I'm a fellow globe-trotter, though I was an archaeologist, not a teacher. Your query sounds fantastic - I'd love to read your book when it comes out.

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    1. Thanks, Carla! And wow, archaeologist? That. Sounds. AWESOME.

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  20. I can totally related with your love of travel! I'm trying to sort out where I want to go next so that I can find my next adventure :)

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    1. Yay! Me too. I'm thinking Asia next? But I really want to go to Northern Africa too, so I don't know. There's too many places to choose from :)

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  21. That awkward hug is perfect! I don't do hugs, so I'm something like Draco.
    I'm flying off to Japan for an exchange trip in a couple of months, so the whole travelling idea sounds awesome to me! I'd love to gain that experience and I hope it's really enriched your writing and stuff.
    So yup, cool.

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    1. Freaking amazing! Have an excellent trip and let me know how Japan is. I'd love to make it there one day.

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  22. Excellent query, very cool. Always super helpful to see one that snagged an agent. Thanks for posting!

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  23. Aw, I LOVE this story. <3 I love this blog. So glad you girls decided to start this. :) Thank you for sharing Andrea.

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    1. Aw, thanks so much Kristen <3 Thanks for being an amazing supporter and awesome friend.

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  24. GREAT post! Thanks for sharing! I wanted to be a writer when I was in second grade (first story? Fairies who lived inside a bowling ball. It was amazing, if I do say so myself.) And then I wanted to be a astronaut and didn't think of writing again until high school! But the get-out-of-town part of your story? THAT WAS SO ME! *waves from Berlin* I got as far out of Cornfield, IL as you can get :)

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    1. Um, can the fairies in bowling ball story please get published? Immediately? I need to read this. :) xo

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  25. Ahh, thanks so much for a great giveaway!! eclairre(AT)ymail(DOT)com

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  26. Love the Voldemort/Draco hug, and congrats on being signed the day you gave birth to your son! Can't imagine the experience of motherhood being amplified any more!

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    1. Thanks, Jen! It was sooo crazy. So much awesome in 24 hours :)

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  27. Your story sounds SO GOOD! I can't wait until I can actually read it!!! And I like your writing story (also, the fact that you got your offer of rep on the day you gave birth to your son is pretty epic!).

    Thanks for sharing, and generally being awesome :P

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    1. Thanks, Alex! I hope so badly that it makes its way out into the world. :) xo

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