Success Story Interview - Isaiah J. Campbell

An Interview with Isaiah J. Campbell (isaiahjc on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Marietta Zacker of Gallt & Zacker 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?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
My book is a MG Historical SciFi set in 1961 about a group of kids recruited by President Kennedy to fight Communism. I was inspired by a documentary about the history of superheroes (a personal passion of mine). In that documentary, Stan Lee talked about how involved comic books were with politics during World War II, but how uninvolved they were during the 60s. That got my brain cranking and eventually this story came out.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
I wrote my first "book" when I was nine, but you can't really count that. I wrote short stories all through middle and high school, though none of them went any farther than my friends and family. I got my very first rejection letter (which my wife has framed) in 2002, and I think that's when my writing career really began.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
The inspiration and research began in 2002, and I wrote a terrible first draft in '07. I pitched the concept to a comic book company in '08, got horribly rejected, and abandoned the whole thing until this summer, 2011. That's when I completely reinvented it and wrote the draft that eventually caught Marietta's attention.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
Oh yeah, way too many times. Rejection letters are painful, as are unfriendly critiques. If it hadn't been for my wife constantly believing in me and encouraging me, I would have abandoned it all to become a flautist. (And I hate the flute.)
QT: Is this your first book?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
No, but it is the first one to garner any offers of representation. I wrote a fantasy that got some nibbles, but the agents all agreed that it needed more work before it was ready. Plus, they felt like it was a little juvenile. Turns out, juvenile is what I do best.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
I took a creative writing class in college. Other than that, no.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
I'm a husband and father of three, so if I don't schedule my writing time, it won't happen. Generally, I've learned how to write while watching TV, eating dinner, or playing board games (that takes the most concentration). I don't give myself daily word count limits, though. There's only so much stress I can handle.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
More times than I can count. Once I finally landed on the current concept, I had three major revisions BEFORE Marietta ever read it. After, well.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
Yes indeed. I had four incredible beta readers who saved my butt on some serious problems. I wouldn't have been able to make it without them. What's funny is, they each have a different perspective on writing, and that helped out so much. One was an MFA student who examined the characters, voice, and plot points intensely. The second examined the themes more than anything else and helped me bring clarity. The third was a professional editor and did line edits, which were oh so important. I'd recommend trying to get different perspectives in your beta readers.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
I outlined like crazy, but I gave myself room to improvise while I was writing.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
I was querying for this one for about two months or so. Other books, between six months to a year.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
According to my handy-dandy profile, I queried 30 agents with this project.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
1. They had to represent MG.

2. They had to have a web presence. (I know, it's weird, but I felt like it was important)

3. They had to have done something comparable to my book, whether it was scifi, historical, or just a boy adventure story.

4. They had to have verifiable sales.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
Before I answer this, let me be clear. My query sucked, totally. I got rejections left and right. I caught Marietta's eye at WriteOnCon, and then used QueryTracker to find out all about her. And she offered in spite of my terrible query letter. So, no, I didn't tailor the query to the specific agent. Tailored crap is still crap.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Isaiah J. Campbell:
Remember to treat it like you're seeking an investor in a small business. It is very possible to get an investor for an amazing business with a crappy pitch, but it is impossible to get an investor for a crappy business no matter how good your pitch is. So, make sure your book doesn't suck. Focus on that before you even think about querying agents. You'll be glad you did.