One of the typical questions I ask in this interview is about “the call.” Frequently, writers gush about the agent, and how they were immediately offered representation. But when I asked today’s featured author, Heidi Schulz, about her “call,” her response was unexpected. As she explains below, her first conversation with her agent, Brooks Sherman, was not an offer, rather a discussion about how she could make her book stronger. I love that Heidi shared this. Often times we as writers don’t get it quite right out of the gate. But if we are fortunate enough to hit the right agent, at the right time, they can offer advice that makes all the difference. Heidi listened to these changes and eventually signed with Brooks. A perfect example that hard work and perseverance can help you reach your dream!
Many thanks to Heidi for sharing her journey today…
Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Heidi: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I have always had ideas floating around in my head, little bits of stories and odd character sketches, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I decided to stop simply dreaming of being a writer and actually finish something.
Even so, it took me quite a while to stop thinking about myself as “someone who would like to be a writer” and start thinking of myself as an actual writer.
I wish I could go back and tell myself that there is no entrance exam, no minimum requirements. If you write, you are a writer.
Amy: What inspires you to write Middle Grade fiction?
Heidi: I love both middle grade books and middle grade-aged kids. That age is such a time of discovery. When you are a middle-grader, you are taking those first tentative steps into the adult world and experiencing so many changes. Everything is in flux: Friendships, family relationships, and most especially yourself. At the same time there is just so much possibility.
You still might find Narnia in your wardrobe, discover a whole subterranean world under your laundry room, or receive your letter to Hogwarts.
It’s a fun time to write about.
Amy: I love the premise behind HOOK’S REVENGE. Have you always been a fan of the Peter Pan story?
Heidi: I loved the Disney movie as a child, and I’m certain I read the original somewhere along my way to growing up, but the story didn’t become particularly meaningful to me until I was a young mother. The original J. M. Barrie classic was the first longer-than-a-sitting book I read to my daughter. She was two and I read it to her every night as she played quietly in her bed.
It took several days for me to be sure she was even listening, but once she caught the story, she caught it completely. Peter Pan became both her imaginary friend and her alter ego for the next several years. We spend hours pretending, reenacting the story and making up our own new adventures.
It has a very special place in my heart.
Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish HOOK’S REVENGE? If so, how critical were they to the process of completing the manuscript?
Heidi: I shared early chapters with a few friends. Their encouragement helped me to keep writing on those days where I questioned whether I was creating anything more than a mess. However, I’ve come to learn that for me, I need to have a complete draft before I share in much detail and/or elicit a critical response. I recently left a fabulous, supportive critique group because I find I need a certain amount of creative isolation while drafting.
Once the initial draft and perhaps a second pass are finished, that is the time I need feedback. Beta readers are invaluable in helping me decide what form my revisions should take.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Heidi: I didn’t query for long, but even so, the process caused far more anxiety than I ever expected. I once read a tweet or a blog post (I wish I could remember where) that compared querying with standing naked on a stage and asking for critical analysis.
That image rang true to me. Seeking professional confirmation that my work had promise made me feel incredibly vulnerable. Rejection, or worse, no response at all, can be so demoralizing—but it is a necessary part of the process.
That vulnerability doesn’t end once you have signed with an agent. There will still be terrifying moments of sharing, of waiting, of rejection or lackluster responses. It may not be the most fun part, but it is part of the job.
On the other hand, it’s a pretty great job to have. The only way to get what you want is to be brave and put yourself out there.
Amy: How many agents did you query for HOOK’S REVENGE?
Heidi: I queried 15 agents and received an additional five requests from contests.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
Heidi: My shortest wait was 15 minutes but there were a good amount that never responded at all. Of those that did respond, I’d say my wait averaged out to be about 2 – 3 weeks.
Amy: As many writers know the publishing world is very hard to break into. What was the one thing you did to help garner agent attention?
Heidi: I researched on QueryShark and various blog posts on the best form for a query letter, I tried to clearly follow each agent’s submission guidelines, and I paid attention to agents’ blogs and watched for opportunities for query feedback. That’s pretty much it. And I’m not certain there is a lot more to be done.
I’ve heard writers discuss ways to make a query stand out from the rest of the slush, but some of those ways seem circumspect to me. My best advice for others querying is to use the abundant resources available to learn to write a great query letter, follow directions, be professional, and be patient.
Also: stock up on chocolate. And maybe Xanax.
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Brooks Sherman? How did you know he was the right fit for you?
Heidi: My first call with Brooks was not an offer. He liked what he had read but he (rightly) felt it wasn’t ready yet. We spent some time talking through revision ideas. I appreciated what he had to say and felt inspired by his suggestions.
The next time we spoke, he offered representation. The following day another great agent offered. It was initially a hard choice, but in the end, I went with my gut. Brooks had the most passion and enthusiasm for my manuscript. I knew that he really understood it and would be able to help me further refine my vision in preparation for going on submission. I also knew he would be a lot of fun to work with.
I was right.
Amy: What was one piece of advice you got early on in your writing journey that you still use today?
Heidi: “Sit down and write your book.” So true. You can’t sell what you don’t finish.