For anyone who has ever gotten a R&R from an agent and wondered if it was worth the work--here's your answer. I've seen tons of chatter on twitter about Heidi Schulz's upcoming book, HOOK'S REVENGE, and here is the story behind it.
Girl pirates are all but unsalable at the moment. You have wasted your time on this book.
That was the first professional feedback I ever received—on anything I had written. It was given by a well-known and reputable literary agent in front of a room full of people.
It’s true that misery loves company. I felt a bit better when the agent gave similar feedback to nearly everyone else taking that query letter workshop, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t concern me. I left the class thinking, “I’ll show you! (I hope.)”
Two months later I sent out my first queries. When they began to garner requests, I was more relieved than I care to admit. True confession: I was also a tiny bit smug. The letter I sent out was not much changed from the one I shared at the workshop.
Even in the early stages of communication, one agent stood out. Brooks Sherman (formerly of FinePrint Lit, now with The Bent Agency) read my sample pages and responded, not only with a request for the full manuscript, but with incredibly thoughtful questions about the characters in my manuscript. Those questions made him an early favorite.
As the weeks went on, I received more requests, several form rejections, and, from some agents, a whole lot of silence. But then, bout a month after sending him my full, Brooks emailed to see if we could set up a phone call for later that week! This was it, kids! I was going to get an offer of representation!
That night I started rereading my manuscript. I got about a third of the way in before deciding to go to bed. I climbed under the covers and stuck my cold feet on my sleeping husband, because that is one of the perks of marriage.
He screamed and said something about how my feet burned like dry ice. I replied that since he was awake, I had something to tell him: I thought my book was really good. You see, it had been more than a month since I had read it and I was reading it with fresh eyes. I liked what I saw.
The next night, I read on, determined to finish before I got The Call so everything would be fresh in my mind. But things weren’t quite as good as they had been the night before. The story was falling apart. Why hadn’t I seen that before?
When I reached the end I saw what I had been blind to before: That manuscript wasn’t ready. Brooks would only be calling to tell me so. I didn’t know why he would take the time to tell me over the phone. Maybe he was even nicer than I thought.
I am glad that I had spent that time rereading. The fact that Brooks did not offer representation on our phone call the next day was no surprise. He had obviously seen the problems that existed. But, here is the surprise, he did think it had a lot of promise. We spoke for nearly an hour, a good portion of the time focusing on what had gone wrong and what I might do to fix it.
I really enjoyed talking to him. As with our initial email contact, he asked great questions. I hung up excited to get to work on revisions. I had a new direction, a new vision for my manuscript and couldn’t wait to see it on the page.
When I was finished, I sent it right to Brooks. A couple weeks later, he emailed me to say he really liked my revision. He wanted to set up another phone call. Not just a call, THE CALL. I was thrilled when he offered representation.
I ended up with two great offers before making my final decision to work with Brooks. Four months later, my “unsalable” girl pirate book, HOOK’S REVENGE, sold to Disney*Hyperion after a five house auction.
I made a lot of mistakes in the querying process, not least of all, jumping the gun and sending out a project that wasn’t quite ready. Even so, I did at least one thing right: I realized that opinions, even those of well-known, reputable agents, are subjective. One does not speak for all. One no is just that, one no.
Please note: I’m not saying it’s a good idea to ignore professional advice. I am saying you should weigh all advice against other opinions and your own feelings before making a decision. Make changes if you need to. And then, be brave and follow your gut.
At least that’s what worked for me.
Heidi Schulz is a bit of a riddle, even to herself. Her high school career aptitude test suggested she would be an excellent air-traffic controller, possibly because she is always thinking of a million things at once. She enjoys cooking but hates having to cook—there is a difference, you know. She loves spreadsheets almost as much as she loves creating new worlds on paper. She is suspicious of giraffes and despairs of ever being normal.
Heidi lives in the same Oregon community that she grew up in, although she did take a much beloved three year break with her husband and daughter to live in Maryland. It never fails to delight her that her town’s public library still has the same three-story dollhouse on display that a very young Heidi liked to look at, nor that the children’s librarians are able to continue coming up with new ways to arrange the furniture.
Heidi worked in accounting until the birth of her daughter, at which point she chose to pursue a career in playing Barbies and scraping Playdoh out of the carpet. After many years, she was promoted to head chauffeur and frequent co-conspirator. She has been homeschooling her daughter since 2007. If you see Heidi out and about, feel free to quiz her on her times tables.
Heidi lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and five irascible chickens. Early in the morning and/or late at night she writes stories for children. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, HOOK’S REVENGE, will be published in the US by Disney•Hyperion on September 16, 2014, and in the UK by The Chicken House shortly after. Bloomsbury Kids will publish her picture book debut, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, in Fall 2015.