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Success Story Interview - Heather Head

An Interview with Heather Head (heatherhead on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Ethan Ellenberg of Ethan Ellenberg 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?
Heather Head:
It's a science fiction novel set in a world where the dominant species is a plant and humans are kept as livestock​. Because they cannot hear humans talk, and because humans operate at much faster speeds, they have no idea that humans think and feel like they do. Jed, the 11-year-old protagonist, discovers that he can communicate with them, and that changes everything--for better and worse.

I was inspired in part by my children. I'd read each portion to them whenever I got done with it, and I loved that, and they loved it. I was also inspired by research that, at that time, was just starting to come out about plant intelligence. And I thought, if plants are intelligent... what would happen if one of them became Earth's dominant species? Then I flipped how we treat plants on its head and went from there.

I also read a lot of care guides for animals, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to write a "care and keeping of humans" guide from the point of view of a plant, and so there are these little segments throughout that are taken from a guide written by a "human breeder." I just had fun.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Heather Head:
​All my life, so... assuming I learned to write around the age of 6 (??), about 36 years. Professionally (as a copywriter) since 2011.​
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Heather Head:
​I started in 2013, if I remember correctly, and took a long break in the middle somewhere.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Heather Head:
​Absolutely!! Gosh, it's a long, hard journey. I wanted to give up SO many times. I actually did give up a few times, and then I'd pick it back up and get back to work.

I had really good friends who know the industry and believed in my book, and they helped me keep going. My children loved it, and my husband, who has very good taste in literature (and who helped me tremendously in untangling sticky problems with the plot), also loved it. So, in short, it was my supporters who kept me going. I am so grateful to them.​
QT: Is this your first book?
Heather Head:
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Heather Head:
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Heather Head:
​Sometimes. Um. Sort of. So, I wrote the book in an hour a day. I would set my alarm each day for exactly one hour earlier than strictly necessary, and write. I haven't been that consistent in recent days. Now I tend to work it in around other things I'm doing, setting timers for 25 or 30 minutes at a time. It's not ideal, but my business is much busier than it was when I got started, so I've had to make compromises.​

​All that being said, I'm a professional copywriter, so I write roughly 10-15,000 words a week in the course of my business. This means that I'm continuously honing my writing muscles, even if most of it is not fiction. Still, I do have to be disciplined if I want to get my own stories written, of course.​
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Heather Head:
​I am embarrassed to say... a lot.​
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Heather Head:
​Yes!! So many. I kept having to get new batches of beta readers each time I did a major revision. A few people read it repeatedly--my husband, and a couple of friends--and to them I am SO grateful. To all of them, honestly, including those who read part of it and said, "This is boring. Sorry." Hahahaha!! You need that, too, and it helped to know *where* they got bored and stopped reading, because that helped me make it a better book.​
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Heather Head:
​From the hip, all the way. I'm also an improv performer, so I'm all about letting the characters and the "what's interesting" lead the way.​
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Heather Head:
Well, I made one big mistake on that one, though it turned out fine. Because I'd written ​the book with my children in mind (at least one character is inspired by each of them), I thought what I'd written was YA or MG.

So I looked for agents in those markets, and it turns out that it's really more suitable for an adult audience. Ethan was the agent to pick it up and see that, and want to represent it for that market (I actually didn't even query him--I'd queried someone else in his agency, who reps YA, and that agent--Evan Gregory--saw potential and passed it to Ethan--so it's true that they will pass it on inside some agencies if they think someone else is a better fit). So I'm incredibly grateful to Evan and Ethan for that.

I had originally only queried agents who were recommended to me by authors I know. Then I spread my net a little farther and used QueryTracker to filter & search for agents representing YA sci fi. QueryTracker, of course, is wonderful for this! Then I'd research each one, looking to see that they're reputable, that they make frequent sales, etc. This is how I found Ethan (thank you, QueryTracker!!!).

Contrary to some advice, I didn't "start at the top and work my way down." I tried to query a range of agents--from top shelf (like Ethan!) to new agents and everything in between (so long as they were reputable or with a reputable agency). I don't know that my approach was right--the advice is probably better followed than broken. I'm lucky, however, and thrilled, that ​I was offered representation from someone of Ethan's caliber.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Heather Head:
Only a very little. For instance, if they specified in their profile that they enjoyed "spec fic," I would call it "spec fic" (of which sci fi is a subcategory). If there was something that really caught my eye--for instance, if they're part of the WNDB movement--I might mention my own interest in the area, but mostly I kept it very simple and customized only with small tweaks.​

​Of course, I did always send precisely what they asked for. If they wanted a synopsis, I sent a synopsis. ​If they wanted five pages, I sent five pages. If they wanted a synopsis, thirty pages, and pet hamster well... that never happened. But you get the point.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Heather Head:
​Never give up! I know that's the advice everyone gives, but it's true. Also, tweak in increments. So you're sending a query letter and you get NO manuscript requests? Tweak your query letter (and consider whether you might be querying the wrong market!!!!!) and keep going. Getting requests, but no offers? Tweak your manuscript.

I do think there's a point at which you have to accept that maybe this one isn't ready for an agent (or the market's not ready for it), and try something different. That's why you're supposed to be working on your next novel, of course!

Thank you so much for having me, and for the excellent resource that is QueryTracker.