One of the things I love most about my W.O.W. interview today with Jenn Bishop is her advice about querying and the writing process. What struck me most were her comments about studying other writers’ journeys and understanding that the path to publication would not be easy. It is this realization and determination to succeed that lead to her connecting with her agent and eventually selling her debut, THE DISTANCE TO HOME.
Many thanks to Jenn for sharing her writing odyssey today…
Amy: When did you begin writing seriously with the intent of wanting to be published?
Jenn: Probably 2007, though I would not say it was something I devoted as much time to as I maybe should have if I was really serious about it. What really kicked my writing into high gear was becoming an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. It wasn’t until that program (I attended from 2012-2014) that I developed a writing schedule and made it a habit.
Amy: Was THE DISTANCE TO HOME your first Middle Grade manuscript?
Jenn: It was! Which is not to say that it was my first manuscript. I wrote and queried (unsuccessfully) two young adult novels prior to beginning this book.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Jenn: The query process for this book was different, mostly because I entered into it with the accumulated knowledge and experience from the previous two unsuccessful attempts. I developed a plan of attack and carefully documented my communication with agents—somehow having control over the data for my undertaking, being able to see all of it in some spreadsheet, gave me some sense of control. By this point, I had read about and discussed so many other writers’ experiences with querying and was completely accepting of the fact that rejection was a part of the game. I knew it all came down to finding the agent that “got” my story, and I was willing to continue the hunt until I found her/him.
Amy: I love how THE DISTANCE TO HOME surrounds the topic of baseball. How much did your love of the Red Sox influence your manuscript?
Jenn: It’s funny how the more we write, the more our writing drifts away from autobiographical elements. I find that many people’s first novels include so much about themselves. By my third book, I was definitely not writing at all about myself, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t finding a way to work in the things I love. I’m a huge fan of the Red Sox, through good and bad, and read lots of sports journalism pieces. It was an article about Victor Martinez (no longer with the Sox, but back then he was their catcher) that sparked part of this book. He spoke of his experience with his small-town American host family, as a minor league player from Venezuela, and how close he stayed to them over the course of his professional career. Having a future star stay in your house for the summer sounded so cool to me, and I kind of tucked that thought away, waiting for the right story.
Amy: Publishing can be a very difficult business. What do you think inspired you to keep writing through good times and bad?
Jenn: A huge part of it was just wanting it badly enough, and knowing it wasn’t going to happen if I gave up. I follow several agent, publishing, and writing blogs, and reading stories of authors I admired and hearing about their journeys showed me how many hurdles there often were.
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Katie Grimm? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Jenn: Katie was so friendly and chatty on the phone, and also the first person I had no real connection with (not a classmate or writing friend or family member) who was excited about my book. That phone call was definitely a surreal moment. I remember printing out a list of questions I wanted to ask her, hardly believing this was happening. I knew Katie was the right fit because she had such a strong vision for my book. We had a fair amount of revision ahead of us, but I loved knowing that she was eager and willing to revise with me. Not every agent is editorial (though it feels like more and more are, these days) and I knew that was something I wanted.
Amy: If you were giving a keynote speech at a writers conference, what would the most important piece of advice you would share?
Jenn: Don’t give up. It sounds really simple, but I strongly believe that if you continue to work on your craft, to keep writing and putting your work out there, starting new projects, reading tons of books in your genre, and learning from what agents and other writers have to say about your writing, you will get better and better at it. The project that connects you with an agent and editor might not be your first, or your second (or your third, fourth, etc.), but you’ll learn so much from all the projects that came before.
Jenn Bishop is a former youth services and teen librarian. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English, and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Along with her husband and cat, Jenn lives just outside of Boston, where she roots for the Red Sox. For more on Jenn, check out her social media links:
Twitter handle: @buffalojenn
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/jennbishopauthor