Haley agreed to let me
torture interview her. Here’s how it went down…
So let’s get this party started. What made you decide to enter Pitch Madness, and how did you feel during the contest?
Hi Brenda! Thanks so much for having me! So, up until recently, I was one of those lone wolf writers, mostly keeping to myself. It wasn’t intentional–it just never occurred to me that there was this huge wonderful community of other writers online. Near the end of last year, I really started to explore the online writing community, and I decided to enter the Baker’s Dozen contest on the MSFV blog. To my extreme disbelief, my entry was chosen. From that contest, I connected with one agent, but it didn’t result in an offer. I’d been reading up on Pitch Madness and following your blog, so when March rolled around, I decided to give another contest a try. When I read that there were over 900 entrants, I knew that getting picked was a long shot. So, I mostly tried not to think about it. I didn’t even tell my husband I’d entered! When the list was posted, my manuscript was near the end, so I’d convinced myself that I hadn’t made the cut…and then there it was! A thousand high-pitched squees! I was super excited, but at the same time, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. So again, I tried to put it out of my mind until the agent requests were revealed.
I think many of us start out as lone wolves before coming out of our writing caves. And which blog were you on (psst…which I know, but they don’t know) and what was the title of your entry? How many requests did you get? Any other details you’d like to share?
I was on your blog (Go Red Team!) for my women’s fiction manuscript, The Wildflower Season. I thought I would be lucky to get one or two requests, so I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that I had eight requests: three fulls and five partials! Luckily, no one else was around to see my extremely embarrassing happy dance.
I was so happy to have you on my team! Go Red Team! So you sent in your request to your agent. Was it a partial or a full? Tell us the details of the submission and wait time you had before Jess Dallow and Suzie Townsend with New Leaf Literary asked for the Call?
Jess had requested a partial from me, which of course I sent. I also sent out the requested material to the other agents who had expressed interest. One week later, I got an offer from one of the agents who had requested a full. I had a wonderful phone call with that agent, but to do my homework, I touched base with the other agents who had my work. Jess got back to me immediately and said she wanted to read the full manuscript. A few days later, she emailed saying that she and Suzie would like to talk with me.
Okay, this is my favorite part *sits at the edge of her seat*. Tell us about THE Call.
Jess and Suzie were both incredible. We had a nice talk about what they liked about the manuscript, and where they thought it could be improved. Since I’d had one phone call already, I was actually able to form a few complete, coherent sentences this time! I immediately liked that both Jess and Suzie, and New Leaf as a whole, seemed so incredibly supportive of their authors. Near the end of the call, they made an official offer of representation. Unbelievably, the next day I received another offer. I ended up with three offers total, which should have put me on cloud nine, but as someone who has a tendency to second guess herself on just about everything (you never want to go to dinner with me–I take forever to order!), this was a BIG nail-biter. Everyone always says to go with your gut…but my gut just wanted to keep them all! I actually took a day off work just to be alone, so I could think about who was going to be the best agent for me. When it came down to it, I was really impressed with how invested Jess and Suzie were, not just in my manuscript, but in me as an author. Jess had already sent me some notes on what she loved about the manuscript, as well as what she thought could be improved, and other members of the New Leaf team had actually reached out to me via email to introduce themselves. I was flattered, of course, but I also felt like I had an immediate support system, kind of like a big (non-creepy!) group hug. Suffice it to say, I accepted Jess and Suzie’s offer of representation!
Can you tell us a little about your book?
The Wildflower Season is the story of a woman who believes that she killed her best friend when they were just teenagers. Though she remembers little about the event, and was never arrested, her life has been shaped around the idea that she is a killer. When a man from her past shows up on her doorstep in search of a missing diary that may tell a different story about what really happened to her friend, she embarks on a journey back to the Southern hometown she despises in order to find the book. Locating the diary turns out to be easy; what she finds out about her best friend is much more complicated.
I love this premise!! How long had you been querying before you got your agent?
This story has gone through a few different incarnations. About five years ago, I finished up the manuscript (I thought), polished it, and started querying. I got a few requests, but ultimately they ended in rejections. So, I put it away. I wrote some other things, and for a while, I even went about life pretending I didn’t want to be a writer. But the story wouldn’t leave me alone, and eventually I found my way back to it. With fresh eyes, I could easily see how simple the story was–too simple. It needed more twists and turns and conflict! So, I took the story I’d originally intended to tell, and then turned it on its head. The second incarnation is a much deeper, much more powerful story. I finished that manuscript last November, and started slowly querying. This time, I had several full requests; however, no offers until Pitch Madness.
Perseverance is key in this business. Okay, now it’s time to have some fun. Coffee or Tea?
Tea! Green tea, ginger tea, chamomile…you name it, I love it. Unless coffee is dressed up, it just doesn’t appeal to me that much. Plus, I’m a crazy whirlwind (not always in a good way!) when I’m all caffeinated up! I’ll never turn down a coconut milk Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks, though.
Potato chips or chocolate?
All the chocolate, please.
What’s your favorite cookie?
Can I have a brownie instead? Preferably with half of the items in the baked goods aisle mixed in. Have you heard of those “slutty brownies”? The ones with the Oreos and cookie dough baked inside? I’ll have those, please.
Oh my gosh, I never knew these brownies existed. A slut never looked so good! Ahem, sorry got carried away there. So, which vacation would you prefer: camping out in the wilderness or shopping in a quaint town?
I’m not a camper at all. Bears, raccoons, scary people hiding in the forest…oh my! Shopping in a quaint town, though, that’s a good day.
Where do you write?
I bought this huge comfy chair off of Craigslist that my husband and I refer to as my writing chair. It’s probably twice my size, and it has this amazing ottoman. I’ve never been one to stay put at a desk, so this big chair is the perfect place for me to spread out all of my notes and get comfy. I associate it with writing and nothing else, and as a result, I start feeling inspired the second I plop myself into it. I’ve always had this lovely mental image of myself typing away in a coffee shop, but when I try it, I find that I’m just sitting there, eavesdropping on other peoples’ conversations and imagining that I look very trendy writing in a coffee shop (while doing no actual writing).
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Hmm, I’ve been writing so long it’s hard to say! But, Margaret Atwood is the first author I read that made me think: Yes. I want to do this. I want to not just tell a story, but make people feel things. I’m still in complete awe of everything she writes.
What author would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her?
I’ll have to again say Margaret Atwood. I’d love to hear about her writing process, and about her life in general. If I could bargain for a second day, then I’d want to spend it with Sarah Addison Allen, talking about the inspiration for her magical Southern stories.
What book character or movie character best describes your personality?
Claire Waverly from Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells. Like Claire, I’m a bit introverted, and sometimes need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, out of my comfort zone. I also love to cook–I used to own a bakery, whereas Claire runs a catering company. Sadly, the food I make seems to be missing the magical properties that Claire’s food is known for.
And the big question, are you an outline or panster type?
Both. I like to make the most general outline you can imagine, and then just go for it and see what happens!
Before I untie you from the chair, do you have any advice for those seeking representation? Anything you wished you’d done differently?
Yes, LOTS of advice (though I’m hardly qualified to give it)! First, seek out writer friends! I wish I’d jumped into the social media writing community ages ago. No one understands what you’re going through like other writers. Second, find a beta or a critique partner that you don’t know in your real life. Internet buddies are the BEST, because they have the freedom to tell you how it really is with your story. They don’t know you, so they don’t have to be overly concerned with your feelings. All criticism should be constructive, of course, but if you’re having your best friend beta, chances are he/she may not tell you the down and dirty truth. Also, enter contests! Sure, many people get agents through querying, but I think it’s worth noting that of the three agents who offered me representation, not one of them was on my list to query. That’s right. Not. One. Not because they aren’t fabulous–without question, they all are, and I would have been lucky to work with any of them. But, one of them was off my list because I’d queried another agent in the same agency, and the other two weren’t there because I had the impression, based on the online interviews I’d seen, that they were focusing all of their energy on YA manuscripts. Little did I know that both of those last two were actively looking to add more WF to their lists! There is something to be said for having your work out there in a forum where agents are actively seeking new things, and who knows? It’s possible that an agent may fall in love with your writing, even if what you write isn’t specifically what’s listed on their MSWL. Lastly, I know people say this all the time, but trust your journey. Everyone’s is different, and for some of us, these things take time. If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d finally snag an awesome agent (or two!), and that I would be talking about it on your blog now, there’s just no way I would have believed it!
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Haley. I can’t wait to hold the actual book when it comes out one day. Congratulations, and here’s hoping you sell tons of books. And now it’s time to celebrate!