Success Story Interview - Brianna Heath

An Interview with Brianna Heath (briannaheath on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jenna Satterthwaite of Storm Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Brianna Heath:
My friend made a joke about artistic lesbians in karaoke bars doing murder. It seemed like a weird and fun concept, so I took it, ran with it, and now I have a book about two lesbians who run a queer karaoke bar together while also being contract killers (and also staging an original musical in their spare time).
QT: How long have you been writing?
Brianna Heath:
I started writing short stories when I was a teenager, so over 20 years ago. I stopped all creative writing for 10 years while I did grad school and also recovered emotionally from grad school. I started writing seriously again in 2021.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Brianna Heath:
I wrote the first draft in the span of 3 weeks, and then I worked on revisions on and off for about a year.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Brianna Heath:
Oh, for sure. I had bouts of self-doubt and despair all through the querying process. Finding community is so, so critical. My amazing online writer’s group gets full credit for helping me through. I also had actually pretty well given up on this book when someone in my writing group shared a mentorship opportunity, which I ended up being selected for, and working with a mentor renewed my faith in this book, so I gave querying another go!
QT: Is this your first book?
Brianna Heath:
I've written 9 novels. This one is the 4th one I wrote.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Brianna Heath:
My mom started and ran her own business teaching writing courses for 20 years. I was the beta tester for pretty much every course she developed, and I ended up working for her when I was in college. Nothing beyond that, though, and a lot of what I know at this point is self-taught.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Brianna Heath:
When I’m drafting, I write every day, usually for a couple hours every night. But that’s not sustainable constantly, so when I’m not drafting or revising, I have huge blocks of down time where I don’t write at all.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Brianna Heath:
I did a few initial self-edit passes, revisions after each round of betas, and then some significant expansion through my mentorship. Hard to keep track of it all, but maybe 5 or 6 full passes through the book in total?
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Brianna Heath:
I did, although not as many as I would’ve liked, to be honest. I wrote this book before I really found a writing community to call my own, so it was very hard to find readers. But I did a couple rounds of betas, with 1-2 readers each round.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Brianna Heath:
Outline, for sure! I had the whole plot and subplot arcs mapped out by chapter/scene, and then I built up characters and the world as I went along.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Brianna Heath:
This book I queried for 1 year, almost to the day. I queried another book before that with zero success. I’d mostly given up on this book, so I started querying a third book earlier this year as well, but decided to do one last push on this one (and am glad I did!). In total, I’ve queried 3 books over the span of about 3 years.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Brianna Heath:
A lot. My goal was 100 rejections, which I met and exceeded!
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Brianna Heath:
As long as they didn’t explicitly say they didn't rep the genre and there were no clear reasons I wouldn’t want to work with them, they made it to my list. I queried really broadly. It’s so hard to tell exactly what someone might like, and I took a “why not?” approach to querying.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Brianna Heath:
Nope! I maybe personalized 5-10 total out of over 100 queries. And of the full requests I got, all but one were from non-personalized queries. (That said, I did have a personalized query for Jenna, because one of my comp titles was on her MSWL, so I emphasized that.)
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Brianna Heath:
Querying is rough. It isn’t you. It’s very easy to get rejection after rejection and interpret it as “I’m a terrible writer” or some other negative nonsense. But publishing is far, far more chance-based than skill-based. Write the very best book you can, but know that past that point, it’s just waiting and hoping for the right eyes at the right time to see it.

And beyond that, if trad pub is your dream, keep going and don't self-reject. I considered this book pretty much done. The agent I signed with wasn’t even an agent when I started querying, and I almost didn’t query her at all. But I ended up going for it anyway, and here we are!

Query Letter:

Dear _____,

[Personalization here] TITLE is an 89,000-word contemporary adult mystery with the noir detective vibes of Jane Pek's The Verifiers and the dark humor of Knives Out and Glass Onion.

Robbie McNeil takes pride in successfully balancing her career as a contract killer with co-owning a karaoke bar with her queerplatonic partner. And not to brag, but very soon, Robbie will be adding ‘musical theater producer' to her resume.

When a new client hires her for a hit, it's sketchy as hell that he won't tell her anything about the target beyond a name. But hey, she didn't build her reputation by asking questions. However, when her new target vanishes entirely with no record he ever existed, Robbie chucks her no-questions-asked policy out the window, determined to figure out who this target really is—and why she was hired to kill someone who doesn't exist. And if it's not too much to ask, she'd love to do so while keeping this job-gone-wrong from toppling her carefully balanced life and endangering her partner and their bar.

The story incorporates my identity and experiences as a neurodivergent lesbian (albeit not as a contract killer). When not writing, I manage autism and ADHD research programs, and train professionals on disability advocacy. I co-run a local queer writer's group and previously worked as a writing instructor. I had two short stories included in The Last Post, an anthology from Chalk Path Books.

I appreciate your time and consideration.


Brianna Heath