Query.Sign.Submit.Debut! with Shari Schwarz

Shari picShari is a middle grade author and her debut, TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, is now available from Cedar Fort Publishing/Sweetwater Books.

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Now for Shari’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, going on submission, and being a debut author!


What advice would you give to querying writers?

Querying is hard. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Gather some really good people around you who love you and believe in you so that when it gets almost too hard to handle, they will be there for you to lift you up. You can do this! Don’t give up! It took me 100 rejections to get to my YES!

Did you ever have a Revise & Resubmit? What should a writer consider when deciding whether or not to take one on?

Very early on in my querying process, I had two R&Rs, pretty much at the same time. While I really credit both of them for helping shape my manuscript in different ways, they varied widely on their advice. It was a bit confusing to me as a writer new to the process. I tried to fit all of their advice into one R&R and failed miserably. (I’m a pleaser!) After a few months I began to learn that I didn’t have to take everyone’s feedback and somehow cram it all into my story. Now, I would tell other writers to listen to your gut on revisions and to take it slow. I’m a literary intern now, and I see how rushing the R&R can be heartbreaking. The writer is sooo excited to resubmit to the agent and thinks that they have to ‘strike while the iron is hot’ that sometimes they don’t pour themselves into the revision like they should. Take your time, get lots of good feedback from good readers and good writers…people you trust. And make sure your heart is really in the R&R. It has to resonate with you and the story you’re trying to tell.

What helped you get though the query trenches? Inspirational posts? Writer friends? Writing another book?

My critique partners helped tremendously as I went through the ups and down of being in the query trenches. There were times I thought I’d never write again. But reaching out to other writer friends and letting them know how I was feeling allowed them to help pick me back up by brainstorming with me, or looking at my manuscript again, or just giving me a pep talk. That, and going for good long walks. Sometimes I just needed to clear my head and get a new perspective. It’s easy to get sucked down into a blinding hole with one manuscript. We need help to find our way out sometimes. Writing two other books at that time helped me gain a fresh perspective as did reading posts about other authors’ paths to publication. It’s rarely easy for any of us…we’re all in this together!


Are there any specific questions you’d suggest writers ask an offering agent during “The Call”?

I got “The Call” from my acquiring editor, not an agent. I asked a lot of questions over the course of several days…you can find lists of questions online that spell out what you should ask an agent or editor. But the things that convinced me the most that Cedar Fort was right for my book were asking other Cedar Fort authors about their experiences with the company and looking at the quality of books and covers that Cedar Fort puts out. They put out very high quality writing and covers. I’ve been truly happy with them every step of the way! If you get a call from an agent, I’d recommend finding out from an agent’s current clients how their experiences have been. I’d also want to see what deals the agent has made in the past year.

What is the revision process like between you and your agent?

Since I don’t have an agent, I will focus more on my acquiring editor, Ashley Gephart. Her first round of edits to me were completely eye-opening. I had previously had well over 30 critique partners and beta readers on my manuscript before she worked on it and I’ve never experienced such deep, thematically significant edits. I agreed with 95% of what she suggested and the parts that I didn’t, she was fine with me keeping as it was. I have loved the friendly and professional back-and-forth with my editor over the months of working with her. It’s a wonderful partnership that I had not anticipated, but now can’t imagine writing a book without!


Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?

I was completely surprised. On Twitter, I had read an #MSWL written by Ashley, my editor, where she put a call out for MG submissions. I had a short conversation with her on Twitter and sent my manuscript in. Only three weeks later, I got an email from Cedar Fort offering me a contract. It was a total surprise. So much so that I thought it was spam, and then a joke, or maybe a mistake. I had to read the email several times before it began to sink in that it was genuine.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

I tried not to hyperventilate. I did an awkward little dance in the kitchen and then calmed myself down because I know these things can take time and sometimes not go through (at that time, I could have still declined). My husband took me out for dinner to our favorite date night restaurant.


What’s involved in promoting a book?

There is an endless amount of possibilities when it comes to marketing and promoting a book. I thought, because I am with a smaller publisher, that I’d have to do so much more self-promotion than the authors being published through the ‘big five.’ And, while in some cases, that might be true, for the most part we are all having to do the very same or similar things for our own books when it comes to promotion: scheduling book cover reveals, being active on social media (not only about my own book but about other’s books), scheduling blog tours, answering questions for interviews, ordering bookmarks and other swag, making connections at bookstores, libraries and schools, getting media outlets to be interested in some aspect of your book or career as a writer, scheduling an author release party and signings and the list goes on. I come across lists of 101 things to do to market your book, and suddenly, I feel my heart clench. It can be pretty overwhelming. One thing I’ve learned to do is to spend at least 5 minutes a day on publicity and focus on the aspects of it that I am most passionate about. I can’t do everything, but taking small bites out of it each day adds up to a lot in the long-run. It’s a month before my release as I write this, and I can already see how it is worth it.

Is there a lot of support among debut authors?

Absolutely! The Sweet 16s group has been a god-send. We are all in this together, and it has been so comforting to know that I’m not the only one who is afraid to look at their reviews, or who is overwhelmed by the amount of appointments that need to be made to promote their book, or who just wants to celebrate the fact that they got their bookmarks in the mail that day! It’s all so new and exciting, I can’t imagine doing this alone, without the support of others who are going through similar journeys.

What was it like to see your cover?

The first time I saw my cover, I cried. Seeing my cover made becoming an author feel so real. And I LOVE my cover. It wasn’t the final version that you see now and there were a couple of things to work out. They had a grizzly bear on the cover instead of a black bear. A minor thing, but since there haven’t been any grizzly bears in Colorado for decades, I had to ask if they could change it. They also worked on a few different styles for the typography and placement of the title and tagline, but in the end, I absolutely love my cover!

Thanks, Shari!

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