Laura is a middle grade author and her debut, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, is now available from Wendy Lamb Books/Random House. She is represented by Stephen Barbara of InkWell Management.
Connect with Laura . . .
Get the book . . .
If querying was a long time ago for you, what do you remember most?
Querying was a very long time ago for me. I attended my first kid lit conference in 2003 and began querying – too soon! -- not long after that. I remember feeling more comfortable querying the editors and agents I’d gotten to know at conferences than I did when I sent out a cold query. I met my agent, Stephen Barbara, at a local SCBWI conference in 2008 and we had a great conversation about our favorite novels in verse. I don’t think I would have queried Stephen (four years later) with my verse novel if we hadn’t met in person. And without that personal connection, I probably would have given up instead of convincing Stephen, over several months, that he was the right person to represent THE LAST FIFTH GRADE.
Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?
Before I started working on THE LAST FIFTH GRADE, I was querying another contemporary middle grade. ARCHIEOLOGY is about a boy who thinks the pile of rocks in his back yard hides a buried secret. In hindsight, it was my practice book. It’s going to stay hidden in my desk drawer, where it belongs.
Are there any conferences you attended that really helped you move forward as a writer during this stage?
In my final six months of querying, I did two events that really helped me. One was Eastern PA SCBWI’s Pitchfest. Each attendee had a ten-minute session with one agent, one editor, and one author, in addition to an all-day roundtable critique with other attendees. I was very lucky to be paired with Kelly Bingham, who wrote the SHARK GIRL verse novels. Right after that conference, I participated in Pitch Wars. Combining Kelly’s feedback with guidance from my Pitch wars mentor, Joy McCullough-Carranza, helped me polish my manuscript. When I signed with Stephen a few months later, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE went right out on submission.
What was the week surrounding your offer(s) of representation like for you?
When Stephen emailed me about setting up a phone call, I was looking at colleges with my son – the classic spring break of junior year road trip. Because I was traveling, we couldn’t set up our call for a couple of weeks. That gave me a chance to prepare. I did a lot of meditation, which helps keep me grounded. I needed it! The book sold quickly – it was a crazy few weeks.
Do you send sample chapters to your agent or do you wait until the manuscript is finished?
It depends on the project. I have a speculative YA short story that I shared with Stephen after about three drafts. I wanted his opinion on whether to develop the idea into a full novel. Right now, I’m working on another contemporary middle grade for Wendy Lamb Books. Because I don’t write novels in a linear way, it takes me several drafts to have a readable manuscript.
How much contact do you have with your agent when you are out on submission?
I heard from Stephen every three or four days when THE LAST FIFTH GRADE first went out on submission. He gave me a list of the editors and houses he was pitching the book to, and would send updates by email when there was a pass or a request to read the manuscript. When the process heated up, we talked or emailed every day. I had a chance to speak with interested editors on the phone at one point. I’m so grateful that Stephen took the time to give me a pep talk, including dos and don’ts, before those editor calls.
What is the next step if an editor shows interest?
Having the opportunity to chat with editors was important to me. I wanted to hear their ideas about what parts of the book were working and what they hoped to develop during the revision process. But -- going back to the importance of a personal connection – I also wanted to get a feel for who might be the best fit for me.
What is the best thing about being a debut author?
My favorite moment was at the book launch, which was at Baltimore’s Ivy Bookshop. Right after the bookseller introduced me, my sixteen-year-old daughter surprised everyone by making a speech. She talked about watching all of the hard work and perseverance that went into writing, querying, and selling THE LAST FIFTH GRADE. Everyone cried. Knowing that my kids are proud of me is the best thing.
Is there a lot of support among debut authors?
I’m a member of the Sweet Sixteens debut author group. Their support has been amazing. We’ve done mini book-tours together, invited each other to bookstore events, and had meet ups at large conferences like ALA Midwinter. Although I’ve published as a poet in small presses, this is my first experience with a large publisher. Being able to share the highs and lows with other debut authors made the whole process feel less overwhelming.
What was it like to see your cover?
AMAZING! Abigail Halpin illustrated the cover. Her designs for the characters are perfect. Not only are the members of Ms. Hill’s fifth grade class adorable, but I’m so happy that the cover represents how diverse the schools are in Maryland, where I live and teach.
Thank you, Laura!