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Courtney Maum on The Secret Life of Queries
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
September 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
September 2019

Do you ever feel like there is a magical recipe for getting into traditional publishing? One that hasn't been shared with you? Well, now is your chance to get it. Courtney Maum is breaking it down for She Writes University students in her class The Secret Life of Queries: How to Write Pitches, Proposals, and Agent Queries That Will Get You Past the Gatekeepers.

Get to know Courtney before her class and don't miss your chance to unlock the mysterious world of querying and landing an agent. 

About the Class

In this class, Courtney Maum will guide aspiring authors through the all-important labyrinth of pitches, proposals, and queries—a behind-the-curtain look at everything writers need to know to capture the attention of agents and editors. The value of knowing how to present your work to gatekeepers cannot be overstated, and this class works to demystify the process, while also giving writers some insights, tools, and yes—secrets—that will give their work that extra edge so necessary in today’s competitive world of publishing.

Meet Courtney

SW: Briefly set the scene for your writing habits: Where do you write? How do you write? What's your routine? 

My prime writing hours are from 8:30am to 2pm and my best days are Mondays and Tuesdays. By “best,” I mean “most productive.” The closer I get to the end of the week, the more steam I lose. By Friday, I basically only have the mental energy for errands and emails—my fiction engine is empty by that point. I don’t work on weekends. I used to, but now that I have a child, I find it’s essential to force myself not to work on the weekends so that I can shore up my energy for the work week ahead, and spend downtime with my family doing…well doing nothing, really! We are in an age where constant productivity is valued above all else. But the secret to quality production—and a quality life, I think—is taking time to rest and enjoy yourself and others.

SW: What is the first thing you can remember writing?

It’s a story called “The Last Unicorn” that a caring second-grade teacher helped me to turn into a book with the aid of some Laura Ashley wallpaper that we made end-papers out of. There is an “About the Author” section in the back that says “Courtney is 7 years old and her best friend is Kristen.” That poor teacher—I was so intoxicated by having my own “book” that I went on to write a suite of stories; all of them needing book jackets, all of them starring unicorns.

SW: Describe a moment when your own writing scared you or surprised you.

Well, I have not-so-fond memories of the time I won a writing contest as a freshman in high school for a homework assignment that I turned into a short story. We were studying Greek mythology, and the assignment was to write something about the theme of transformation and metamorphosis. Darkly-minded child that I was, I wrote a scene where a young woman who is being sexually assaulted transforms into a being other than herself. The arts council that granted the prize awarded it at a real celebration—it was me and three other students up on stage, and we were each invited to read our writing to the crowd. The only thing is, before I got up there, they awarded me the prize for non-fiction, instead of fiction. So I had to read this violent and scary narrative in front of my family who had never really heard anything I’d written, with everyone in the audience thinking this terrible thing had happened to my thirteen-year-old self. It was a useful early lesson though: whether you write fiction or non-fiction, most readers will assume that it’s mostly non-fiction.

SW: At what point did you begin to truly feel like a “writer”?

Thanks to the encouragement and support I received from teachers, I identified as a writer from the time I started writing in a serious fashion, with a mind towards contests and publication and the like—around age thirteen. Although I have had many, many other jobs in my life, I’ve always thought of myself as a writer and I always wanted to have a published book. One thing that helped me achieve that is that I always saw my jobs as companions to my writing life: I never thought, oh, I’m working in fashion PR, I guess that’s my identity, I guess I’ll never write. No. I assumed that whatever job I had would inform my work in some way, later. For example, working in restaurants helped me understand how to craft realistic dialog. Experiencing how people really talk, especially when they are rushed or acting snooty, that was helpful stuff. Not always pleasant to live through, but helpful for my writing.

SW: What’s one of the lessons in your She Writes University class that you really wish YOU had learned earlier in your writing career?

Not everything has to be a book! Gosh, if someone had explained that sometimes your good ideas are meant to be essays, short stories, or maybe just an anecdote that you share at a dinner party (or at a storytelling series), what a lot of word documents that would have saved me! It was all in the name of practice, but the amount of unpublished, sub-par novel manuscripts I have in boxes is honestly obscene. I spent a lot of time thinking that there was no form for my writing other than long-form, and specifically, the novel. Ahhh—it’s just not true! It’s amazing how many different options you have these days for content: maybe your great idea is a podcast, a play, a buzzy online article. Maybe it’s a YouTube video! These are exciting times.

SW: Why do you feel it’s important to offer a writing class to other women writers through She Writes University?

I am a huge believer in alternate forms of education, and anyone who wants to be a writer better save their dimes. I myself did not pursue an MFA degree but I certainly supplemented my writerly education by reading all the time, writing all the time, going to tons of readings, engaging in the publishing scene. And I took online writing classes! You know who was in my first online writing class as a fellow student? MIRACLE CREEK’S Angie Kim. Now her debut novel is a bestseller; she’s been touring nationally for months. The MFA experience can be rewarding, but it pains me to think that there are people out there who believe they’ll never be a writer or “make it” because they didn’t go to such and such a college, or didn’t get an MFA. Being a writer is about drive, perseverance, emotional generosity and stamina. Women understand this on a primal level, and it recharges me to engage with that kind of emotional intelligence. I can’t wait for my class!

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