Congratulations to John Klekamp, who signed with agent Sera Rivers of Speilburg Literary! I first met John when I did an edit for his YA time travel novel, This Time Around. I have a soft spot for working on queer romances, and I remember having a good feeling he might get signed with this one, because the writing was strong and the hook was fantastic.
But this success story is extra fun, because the agent who snatched John up was also a client of mine, and she got her own agent this year after our edit together!!! You can read all about Sera's success story and her tips for querying writers here.
1. Can you tell us a little about the book you were offered rep for?
It's called This Time Around, and it grew out of a prompt at a writers' conference. The instructor gave us all of fifteen minutes to write the opening paragraph of a novel encompassing three things that we like to read. For me, it was queer romance, time travel, and humor. So This Time Around is a mash-up of Back to the Future (one of my all-time favorite movies) and Freaky Friday (another favorite). But gay. My protagonists are two very different teens. Evan is an out-and-proud influencer in present-day NYC. And Adam is a closeted honor roll student in 1959, rural Texas. They magically swap lives, times, and bodies. Confusion and hilarity ensue as the guys learn to navigate each other's world while figuring out how to un-swap. So yeah, the idea struck under tremendous deadline pressure. And the opening paragraph made it all the way into the finished draft, pretty much unchanged from that day in class.
2. I'd love to hear more about your journey to sign with an agent. Have you written and/or queried books before the one you signed with your agent?
In 2014/2015, I was still working full-time as a reporter while working on my first novel. It's a teen-girl-meets-bad-boy-ghost story called Dead Enough. I'd do my last live shot and get home at eleven or twelve at night, then write until two or three in the morning. I worked on it for years, joining SCBWI and critique groups to hone my craft and get feedback. When I thought the manuscript was finally ready, I queried about sixty agents. I got a few full requests but no offers. That was definitely discouraging. When I go back and read that manuscript today, I see the problems with it. But I didn't give up. I kept writing and going to conferences, trying to get better. Plus, I have a wonderful group of writer friends who encouraged me to keep at it. So, it took me ten years to reach this point, and I still have much to learn. As for Dead Enough, I haven't given up.
3. Was there anything you’d point to as a turning point or turning points where you really leveled up your writing? Was there anything specific you learned or changed during the edit we did together that you think helped this ms's chances while querying?
This Time Around began as a fifty-page short story called Over Time that was included in a YA anthology published during the pandemic. Response was so positive, I decided to see if I could adapt it into a full-length novel. I was getting strong feedback from beta readers, but I wanted to do everything I could to make the manuscript the best it could be. And that's when you entered the picture. You pointed out a weakness in Chapter Two, a budding romance that needed more oomph if it was going to be a motivating force in Evan's journey. Beefing up that meet-cute opened up so many possibilities for character growth as well as opportunities for humor and a final grace note that tied Adam and Evan's arcs in a nice bow. It made a huge difference. As for other turning points, I think it was an accumulation of lessons from the authors at SCBWI, my writing community, reading my favorite writers, and figuring out what works for me.
4. How did you find the agent who eventually offered? (For example: cold query, contest, Twitter pitch event, introduction from a writing friend, conference, etc.)
Can I say all of the above?
Sera Rivers and I met at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC in 2022. I'd opted for a one-on-one manuscript critique session. And based on her wish list, I thought we might click. Sera loved the voice of my character, Adam, and the premise for the story. She felt it was timely and had commercial appeal. She encouraged me to lean into certain elements of the story and keep in touch. In the summer of 2023, I dropped a couple of twitter pitches into #QueerPit. Sera recognized my story from my tweets and sent me a direct message, asking that I send her the finished manuscript, which I did. Immediately. Months went by, and I saw she'd signed another #QueerPit author, so I figured that was it. She'd found someone, and it wasn't me. Game over. But I decided to nudge her, and Sera assured me she was going to read my manuscript next and that she hoped to get back to me in early December. And she did.
5. Tell me about the call. How did you know this agent was the right fit for you?
Sera and I chatted over Zoom, me blushing with all the nice things she had to say about the book and its potential, making caveats like, "If we end up working together," until she finally said, "You realize I'm making you an offer of representation." I hadn't. I needed her to spell it out. As it turned out, YOU knew Sera because you had edited her YA novel, resulting in her signing with an agent. So there's this connection, this common thread that happens to be you. And because you and I stayed in touch, I also made a horrible, embarrassing gaffe. While filling you in on the agents who'd requested the full manuscript, I also shared that Sera was my "dream agent." Then I sent that message to Sera. Oops. Only, I didn't say oops. I immediately sent another message to Sera to say how embarrassed I was. My writer friends said not to sweat it because now Sera would know other agents had the full, but she's my dream agent. In the end, Sera told me it wasn't a big deal and that she'd done much worse. Also, a misdirected text is a plot point in This Time Around. I like the symmetry of that.
So, yeah, I was mortified at the time, but now it makes for a great story. As for knowing Sera was the right fit, she had me at hello from our first face-to-face at SCBWI. She was so enthusiastic and encouraging. But she also put me in touch with three of her clients, and they all mentioned how determined, fearless, and hardworking she is. She's also a writer herself and is highly editorial. I can imagine us brainstorming a sequel to This Time Around and the resurrection of Dead Enough.
6. What’s your top tip for other querying writers?
Read, read, read. Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. If I'm not writing, I'm reading or listening to an audiobook. I love audiobooks.
Walks and drives. This is not just a mental health tip. Things that won't come together for me while I'm sitting with my laptop will often fall into place when I take a walk or a drive. Those stretches of alone time are great for ah-ah moments. Unless I'm listening to an audiobook.
I can't imagine going through the querying trenches without QueryTracker. It streamlined and organized the process. I can't imagine how I would have queried so many agents without it. Sorry if that sounds like an ad. I promise, no one paid me to say that.
John Klekamp is an Emmy-winning reporter and anchor with stints in the Phoenix, Detroit, and NYC markets. After moving to Wilmington, NC, with his super-supportive husband, Mike, and their golden retriever, Dory, John left TV news to focus on writing for young adults, joining critique groups and SCBWI to work on his craft. Two of John's YA short stories were included in well-received anthologies, Wicked South: Secrets and Lies (Blue Crow Books, 2018) and Unbound: Stories of Transformation, Love, and Monsters (Five Points Press, 2021). John is represented by Sera Rivers with Speilburg Literary Agency.
You can read Sera's "How I got my agent" story here.