Each month, the All The Kissing team features an author in our ATK spotlight to bring you their stories, insight and challenges. We hope that you can learn from your favorite authors, pick up writing tips, and empathize with names you know because they’ve been there. This month, we’re interviewing author Amanda Bouchet.
Introducing Amanda Bouchet
Amanda Bouchet grew up in New England where she spent much of her time tromping around in the woods and making up grand adventures in her head. It was inevitable that one day she would start writing them down. Drawing on her Greek heritage for the setting and on her love of all things daring and romantic for the rest, her debut trilogy, The Kingmaker Chronicles, took form. She writes what she loves to read: epic exploits, steamy romance, and characters that make you laugh and cry.
A French master’s graduate and former English teacher, Amanda lives in Paris, France. She met her husband while studying abroad, and the family now includes two bilingual children who will soon be correcting her French.
Welcome, Amanda! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Heart on Fire, the third installment in The Kingmaker Series, is now out and available for purchase. Where did you get your inspiration for these books?
Thank you! I’m very excited that Heart on Fire is (finally!) out now, and I hope that readers are enjoying it.
The spark for these books came from the heroine herself—Cat. She formed in my head first, but not fully. I had to figure out what made her different, what her goals and motivations were, how she would interact with others, and how she would fit into the greater context, which really took shape around her. Her love interest, Griffin, wasn’t supposed to have such a big role at first, but I’m a romantic at heart, and once they were on the page together, their relationship took on a huge amount of importance in shaping and influencing Cat’s journey toward accomplishing her destiny.
As for the setting, it’s a fantasy world based on Greek mythology. We get those familiar gods and monsters, and I tried to spin things toward the Homeric tradition of grand adventures with epic battles and twists and turns, with the gods dabbling in the affairs of men, and fate rearing its complicated head. My own Greek heritage on my mother’s side and growing up with a certain amount of “Greekness” in my life certainly helped inspire those aspects of the books!
Being able to tap into your own heritage to craft a story sounds amazing! I bet you had a lot of “Greekness” to lean on. What was the hardest part about creating this series?
This was my debut series, and I didn’t quite realize how complicated it would be to create the overarching plot, still have three books that more or less felt like units (i.e., giving a satisfying resolution to each part, despite the books not really standing alone), maintain the tension throughout, and keep the main relationship complex and interesting without ever tearing the lovers apart. That’s for the creative side.
On the publishing side, I found myself having to do edits or promo for the previous book while trying to write the following book. While it’s logical and to be expected in retrospect, when I had to take months off one book to go back to another, with a new deadline still looming … Yeah. Stress.
Writing a series definitely requires a different approach, and I can only imagine the stress! What did you do ahead of time to prepare yourself for the querying trenches? How did you determine who to query?
There are loads of resources online about how to prepare a winning query letter. I looked at examples, got an understanding of terms like “tagline” and “hook,” and read agent blogs on what makes a standout query. For this, I recommend Kristin Nelson’s Pub Rants.
Also, after writing my query letter and polishing it to the very best of my ability, I paid for a query critique from a freelance editor who spent some years filtering queries for a top literary agency. For those interested, the editor was Anita Mumm at Mumm’s the Word Editing and Critique Services. If you can afford a critique like this, I truly believe it’s worth it and could make the difference between endless querying and disappointments and making the whole process much faster and, hopefully, helping it toward a positive outcome.
In my case, I only ended up having to query my shortlist of most preferred agents. From that dozen, I had three requests for the full manuscript, and then an offer of representation out of those requests.
There are so many factors involved, but making sure your query letter stands above the rest (some top agents receive hundreds a day!) is vital.
As for determining who to query, I based it largely on who was representing the authors I enjoy reading. If I read a paranormal romance that I liked, I checked out the author’s agent (you can often find this information in the acknowledgments or else on the author’s website). This can even help with simply discovering what agencies are out there and representing books in your genre, and they often have multiple agents with diverse lists.
From there, you can research the different agents and see what they’re representing in order to query the person most likely to be tempted by your book. Sometimes, agents will pass a query on to a colleague within the agency. That’s what happened for me. My letter was passed around Marsal Lyon Literary Agency until Jill Marsal saw it and, within days, snapped the project up. And I couldn’t have been happier or more grateful!
Nelson’s Pub Rants is fantastic (I’m a fan myself). And you were able to stick to your shortlist? Seems like your hard work and research paid off! Was there any particular facet of writing a query letter that you struggled with? How did you overcome it?
Yes—length! Most agree that your query letter should fit onto one page. I had a trilogy with a big story going on in a fantasy world that needed at least some presenting, and doing all that in one paragraph was a challenge. This is where Anita’s critique helped me the most. She helped me trim a couple of sentences to make the letter more succinct and get right to the core of things, when I wanted to give more information.
Crafting a concise, intriguing letter that draws the reader in, presents the main character and their conflict, and gives a tantalizing taste of the story without giving away too much is hard. For me, it took about a bazillion drafts, and I honed it over at least six months as I finished polishing the manuscript.
The hook was also very difficult. This is a sentence or two at the beginning of your letter designed to make the agent (or editor) keep reading. If you don’t hook the agent right away, it’s possible they won’t even read the rest of your letter. This isn’t a summary of the novel, but rather creatively nailing down why there’s even a story to begin with (for those who like technical talk, this would be the plot catalyst). It’s not what happens, but rather what makes the story happen—what sets it all off in the first place. It’s designed to grab the reader’s attention and make them curious to read on. There’s also a tagline, which just means a hook that’s short and pithy and makes someone think, Oh, wow! I want to read that!
Shaping that hook into what I wanted took a lot of thinking, reworking, and trying again. No quick fix—just lots of trying different combinations. And there was no guarantee in the end that what worked for me would work for an agent!
Honestly, this was the hardest and most important letter of my life. Just like with the writing process, though, there’s no single, correct way to write a query letter. If there was, none of them would ever stand out! It’s more about crafting something unique to you and your book. Personally, I looked at dozens (maybe even hundreds) of sample query letters online to get a feel for the approaches I liked best and the direction I would maybe want to take. Some agents will also give examples of what doesn’t work for them, which is also very helpful. And then I wrote—and rewrote—the letter. A lot.
For what it’s worth, here’s my letter from when I queried my debut, A Promise of Fire. This is the “hook” followed by the main paragraph of the query:
Catalia Fisa survived her first twenty-three years thanks to a healthy dose of paranoia and a few fundamental truths: (1) Gods can be trusted—usually; (2) when in doubt, run and hide; and (3) nothing in her world, the Underworld, or on Mount Olympus is more terrifying than her own mother.
The day Cat flees her abusive home, she turns to Poseidon for help and finds herself both gifted with unprecedented magic and slapped with a dire prophecy: her pivotal role in the destruction of the realms. Eight years later, Griffin, an ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, shatters her illusion of safety when he discovers that Cat is the Kingmaker, the woman who divines the truth through lies, and abducts her as a powerful weapon for his newly conquered realm. Cat fights him at every turn, but Griffin’s fairness, loyalty, and smoldering advances make him increasingly hard to resist and leave her wondering if life really does have to be short, and lived alone. When Gods, men, and monsters begin colliding in unexpected ways, Cat fears she may soon come face-to-face with the prophecy haunting her every move. Running isn’t an option this time, and the only appealing direction is also the most dangerous—straight into Griffin’s arms. With ancient magic stalking her and new powers rising to the fore, Cat begins to understand that the past never stays where it should, fate has a pesky way of being inescapable, and love might not always conquer all.
Thank you so much for including that portion of your query letter—I’m sure our readers will appreciate it! What was it like querying A Promise of Fire? Highs and lows?
It was nerve-racking, of course! There were a couple of agents I had been following for a while on social media for querying tips and industry insights, and they had become like rock stars to me, and I was desperate to get a request from my dream agent.
It was terrifying to send off a letter that represented about five years of passion and hard work and then just wait.
My dream agent sent back a form letter rejection, which was awful. I wasn’t truly surprised, though, as I knew she was hardly taking on any new clients at the time. Happily, another of my preferred agents sent a request for the full manuscript soon after. Ironically, I had very quickly given up hope on her because the day after I sent my email, she had tweeted about hating the word “sassy,” which I had used in my personalized-to-her introduction to my query. Totally dejected, I figured that was that. She also passed in the end, but that was after I got an offer from the fabulous Jill Marsal at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. MLLA was at the very top of my list, so I was ecstatic.
All in all, my process was quick and not too emotionally painful, but I think that’s because I spent a lot of time preparing for it—both in order to make my query letter my best work possible and also to be fully prepared for rejection (even well-prepared, though, it still hurts). From the day I sent out my first query to the day I had an offer from one of my top agencies, only one month had gone by. That was such a relief, because I’d been mentally preparing myself for months and months of querying and rejections. I feel very lucky that I didn’t have to go through that.
It’s rare to hear about a journey as quick as yours! But it sounds like your preparation played a key part in your success (hint, hint, readers!). What was it like getting “the call”?
I got an email from Jill, and it was amazing! I started shaking, and there were definitely some happy/emotional/overwhelmed tears. She was so enthusiastic about the book and my writing and offered representation right there in her email. It was doubly special, because getting her offer fell at a time when my whole family was together on vacation, so I got to share the excitement not only with my husband and children, but with my parents and my sister and her family as well.
Eeek! Nothing is better than that moment. And to be able to share it with your entire family? What a dream. Any specific advice for those querying in the romance genre?
It seems logical, but to be sure you’re not wasting yours or someone else’s time, just make certain the agent you’re querying 1) represents romance, and 2) represents romance novels that you enjoy and would like to be associated with through the agency. The same goes for an editor and publishing house if you’re submitting directly.
How did your writing journey begin?
Honestly, it began when I finally couldn’t take my office job anymore. I wasn’t comfortable in the office environment, and I wasn’t interested in the work I was doing. All of that combined to make me need a creative outlet and a career plan where I didn’t dread getting up every day to do something I didn’t like. I’d always loved making up romantic adventures in my head and reading, especially romance.
Writing with the goal of publication in mind seemed like the next logical step, a challenge, and a path I could be enthusiastic about.
It took a while to figure out what I was doing and hit on the right story, but I definitely knew it when I finally did. I have a few manuscripts in the drawer, but A Promise of Fire was the first one I fully polished and then presented to agents. I’m so glad I did!
I think most of us can relate to wanting to create worlds beyond our own (I know I certainly can). What advice would you give to the budding romance writer about writing and/or the industry?
I’ve heard industry professionals requesting “more of the same, but different.” That’s a difficult line to straddle (and rather confusing directions, to be honest). They want what has proven to work already, but they also want it to stand out and be unique. How can you make what you’re writing appeal to readers who are used to certain things, but then also give it that extra spark?
Personally, I broke a few rules, and that made my books hard to position on the market and a little dicey to sell. My agent and I got rejections from fantasy imprints because there was too much romance, and rejections from romance imprints because there was too much fantasy. (It’s really a 50/50 mix.)
I also wrote in the first person present tense, although that wasn’t unheard of anymore thanks to the surge in New Adult romance. It still raised a few eyebrows. And I set this up as a trilogy with the same main couple throughout. It wasn’t episodic with a light romance on the side, like often in Urban Fantasy, and it wasn’t a series in the same town/setting/family but with new main characters for each installment, as is most typical in Romance. It was sort of a new beast, and in the end, there was only one publisher, Sourcebooks, that was willing to take a chance on figuring out what to do with it.
All this to say, write what your heart tells you to write. But it’s never a bad thing to keep in mind how your book can be positioned on the market, because that’s what an agent and editor are going to be thinking about.
As a fellow fantasy romance writer, I’m dealing with that exact fear—pitching to imprints that want fantasy vs. romance and vice versa. It’s inspiring to see that writing what you love still worked for you! Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?
I just completed the first book in my new Nightchaser series. It’s a futuristic romance that I like to describe as Robin Hood meets Star Wars. That pretty much sums up what you can expect: adventure, romance, swashbuckling underdogs coming to the aid of those in need, an oppressive regime that needs taking down, and lots of danger, hard choices, and emotion.
I also plan on going back to the Kingmaker world as soon as I can. There are some important secondary characters whose happily ever after is still waiting for them, and I have no intention of leaving them in the lurch!
Wow, that sounds incredible! I can’t wait to see what else you create (or for more installments of the Kingmaker world). Thank you so much for talking with us, and we wish you the best in your writing endeavors.
Thank you so much for welcoming me today, and good luck to all those who are preparing to query or who are currently in the process!