Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Interview with Author Michelle Hauck - Newly Represented!

Continuing with encouraging and heart-warming journeys into the world of publishing - this week let's welcome author Michelle Hauck back to Yesternight's Voyage. Michelle recently accepted an offer of representation from an agent. Her personal experience is more varied than the usual story, and there are nuggets here to help even the most discouraged querier keep at it.

1) How long have you been writing? What are your favorite genres to write in?

I’ve been writing five or six years. Time has a tendency to slip away so I wouldn’t be surprised if that number was higher. My writing tends to involve magic or the fantastic of some kind which puts me squarely in the fantasy genre. I like to branch out with age categories. My books span the gamut with adult, YA, and now middle grade.

2) What are your favorite genres to read? Which books have had the greatest impact on you?

 When I read for pleasure I tend toward epic fantasy or urban fantasy. I’m not a great fan of paranormal or fantasy based strongly on romance. Think Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, and lately, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

But I’m also a fan of biographies and non-fiction about history, especially the American Revolution and 16th century English royalty. While I guess you could say classics made up the backbone of my reading. I started with Jane Austin, Alexander Dumas, and the Bronte sisters and moved toward fantasy as I got into my late teens. Gone with the Wind and The Wheel of Time series all had an influence on my writing as I loved the involved and detailed characters of those worlds.

3) Aside from writing, what do you love to do?

Aside from writing and reading, I guess I’m a couch potato. I enjoy watching movies and TV at night with my husband. I’m a big sports fan for my local teams. Go Bears and Irish! I absolutely love football and baseball. And I like to make my yard colorful with all kinds of annuals and perennials, though I’m not so keen on the yard work. I might be a tiny bit addicted to twitter and running query contests. I’m a co-host of Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street. Those are my ideas of fun. Notice I didn’t say eat chocolate, but you can put that right up at the top.

4) May we see your agent-winning query letter?

This is the actual query that went to my agent, along with the personalized chit-chat I put at the beginning. Sarah used quite a bit of this query in the pitch letter she crafted. I’m kind of proud of that.

Thanks so much for volunteering to join my Agent Greeting contest. I’m looking forward to it on August 5th. I saw on Writer’s Digest that you were looking for middle grade and decided to send you my query in hopes you will find it interesting.
Tom, the classroom hamster, wants to escape from the h-e-double-hockey-sticks otherwise known as school. His military training at the pet shop didn’t include playing house or being sentenced to a boot camp of never-ending Show ‘n Tell, math facts rap, and story time. But he’s learned a lot behind the bars of his cage. For example, if you want to keep breathing, never trust a pygmy who has earned the nickname Squeezer. Somehow he has to get away before the pygmies dress him as Strawberry Shortcake again—or worse.
When a “subspatoot” teacher fills in, Tom sees his chance to put Operation Escape the Pygmies into action. He makes a run for the border, hamster style. Bad news. The principal says a rodent on the loose is a distraction to learning and better off flushed. The way out is turned into a battlefield of snapping mousetraps, sticky snares, and poisoned pellets.
Tom seems doomed until the friendless Squeezer lends an over-excited hand. She quickly goes from supervillain to super sidekick. Now, the greatest obstacle to his freedom may be Tom’s soft spot for this lonely pygmy.
A cross between Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and those cute AT&T kid commercials, PYGMY HAZARDS is a MG fantasy complete at 34,000 words. My epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, was recently released by Divertir Publishing. My short story, Frost and Fog, was published by The Elephant’s Bookshelf for their summer anthology, Summer’s Double Edge. I’ve worked at an elementary school as a special needs assistant for over ten years, giving me lots of experience with pygmies.
Thanks for your consideration.
5) How long did you query before finding your agent?

With Pygmy Hazards I entered a contest in April and started to query soon after. That would make it roughly five months before I got an offer. I will say that I got tons of rejections in that time period. Probably more than forty, though a good number were personalized about how cute the idea was and my very first query got a request. I got a whole lot of ‘just not for me.’ It wasn’t an overnight success by any means.

And Pygmy Hazards was my fourth manuscript to be queried. I was actually still querying for my YA dystopian, Dodge the Sun, when I started to query with my hamsters. And when my offer came, I had two partials out for Dodge that I had to notify. My journey to get an agent was a long and painful one.

My first manuscript was an epic fantasy which got three requests and over a hundred rejections. That’s about the time I began to get on the internet more and discovered critique groups. I soon found my manuscript was full of fatal flaws, not to mention a word count of double the usual length. The rejections were painful, but understandable given the writing.

My second manuscript was also an epic fantasy, but this time I did everything right. It was extensively beta read. All the writing flaws of my last manuscript had vanished. I got a grand total of THREE requests yet again. I was actually certain I was cursed. Cursed by the number three. Ask my CPs, they’ll vouch for that. Each rejection was like another stamp on my heart. When it queried out, I decided my manuscript was worth the effort and ended up getting an offer from a small press to publish. Validation! Kindar’s Cure came out in July 2013.

My third manuscript was a goldmine. I’d seen the trend in YA and lowered my main character’s age to go for the YA market. I still told my story, but I adjusted it a little for a new age category. Dodge the Sun got nearly twenty requests and most of them were fulls. I also set this story in the ‘real’ world. Agents jumped right over partials and asked to see the whole thing. But that’s when the market let me down.

Dystopian was a dead end. It was so crowded, that no publishers wanted it anymore. Full after full came back with ‘just didn’t connect.’ My last two fulls came back as rejections of, you guessed it, ‘just didn’t connect’ on THE SAME FREAKING DAY! It wasn’t that the agents found anything wrong with the story or the characters, they just couldn’t sell it. It was a heartbreaker for me. I used to stare at myself in the mirror while getting ready for bed and try not to cry it hurt that much. I wanted the big time tradition deal for this story so I put Dodge on the shelf, hoping the market would change.

While I waited on some late partial for Dodge, I had an ace in the hole. A little middle grade I’d finished that was nothing like any of my other books. The main characters are animals. There’s no magic, unless you count talking hamsters as magic. It is set in an everyday world inside a school. And it’s humorous! The whole story started as part of a short story contest started by Joyce for something with a talking animal. It was never meant to be a serious contender. I started querying without high hopes. The daily grind of querying has a way of squashing confidence and inflicting pain that makes me defensive about keep my expectations low.       

6) What can you tell us about your new agent and the process of signing on with her?

I sent a lot of my queries for Pygmy Hazards to new agents with the expectation that new agents were more interested in building their client lists. Sarah Negovetich was one of those new agents. She’d spent some time as an intern, learning the ropes, and was now accepting her own clients. She’d actually reached out to me first. I was having a small query critique contest where people could win critiques from agents and Sarah wanted to be a part of it. Shortly after, I sent her a query for my middle grade.

But the first offer I received came from another agent toward the end of August. Agent A had requested Pygmy Hazards from that very first contest I entered back in April. As you see, it took many months for her to get around to offering. After about a week of trying to find a time, we had the call on a Friday and talked for two hours. It was a great conversation, but I told her I needed to notify other agents and think her offer over. I just wasn’t sure because she didn’t rep fantasy and most of my writing involved fantasy.

I put out a nudge to all the agents with my material and any outstanding queries that were less than a month old. Things started moving very fast. I woke up Saturday morning to a request from Sarah to see the full. Another agent asked for a partial. Those with my material promised to get back to me within the week. Several polite congratulations but passes came through my inbox. I was honestly so busy deciding what to do and checking my inbox that I didn’t have time to celebrate. It didn’t really seem real.

I believe by Monday afternoon Sarah wanted to talk. I had a second Call with her on Tuesday. Her call actually caught me out on a walk with my husband and dogs. Let me tell you, we high tailed it home at double speed! We meshed well, and Sarah preferred speculative fiction! She had an answer for all my questions and they were very honest. She was a hands-on editor for her clients, and I loved that about her. I thought her ideas about an agent helping with their client’s marketing were a new and needed diversification for agents.  

My deadline passed, and I decided to go with Sarah. It was a perfect decision for me. We get along great and have the same ideas for Pygmy Hazards. She really keeps me informed on how the submission process is going.

I don’t think the whole process really hit me until about two weeks later. Sometimes I lay there in the middle of the night and get a little shiver that I have an agent after so long.

7) What advice would you give to those who are actively querying or getting ready to query?

It’s pretty cliché because everyone gives this same advice, but I’d say write another story while you query. That way you have something new ready to go if the querying doesn’t work out. Also do some networking and try to let agents get your name in their radar. Plus most importantly, don’t give up.

8) What have you learned from querying and writing that you didn't know before?

Writing pushed me to come out of my shell. I was always a very shy person and this process has given me a new confidence. Not only do I start up conversations with writer’s I don’t know, I’m not afraid to approach agents for invites to contests or interviews.  

9) How important were your beta readers/critique partners?

My critique partners were so important and not just for finding flaws in my manuscripts. CP’s are the ones you can turn too when you’re cursed on three requests and can never, never get any higher. They are the ones who understand what you’re going through. They are the people you forward your requests to and the ones who talk you off the ledge when you’re ready to quit. I do believe the q-word came up for me a few months ago.

10) What are you most excited about regarding the whole being agented experience?

Why now I can run more contests! Wait, no. That’s not it.

I’ve always been a curious person. I want to see behind everything to how the process works. Now I get to see behind the agent curtain to what happens during submission. So far it’s a lot like querying as far as the waiting—only now I have a filter. Sarah is between me and those rejection letters! It’s so wonderful to have a cheerleader in my corner!

Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your story and your wisdom with us. I know personally, I'm looking forward to reading all of Pygmy Hazards with my kids.

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.

She is a co-host of the yearly contest Query Kombat. Her epic fantasy, Kindar's Cure, was published by Divertir Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, was published by The Elephant's Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer's Double Edge. She’s represented by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.

Goodreads: Kindar’s Cure

Kindar’s Cure at The Book Depository


  1. I can only cheer! YAY! I know it was a long hard road, but you made it :)

  2. Thanks for inviting me, Joyce! And thanks for the cheer, TJ!