Success Story Interview - Mike Grosso

An Interview with Mike Grosso (privatepook on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Eddie Schneider of JABberwocky 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?
Mike Grosso:
I AM DRUMS is a contemporary middle grade novel about Sam, an eleven-year-old girl determined to learn the drums after her school cuts their music program. It was born out of the idea that kids are told they can be whatever they want, but often given little to no support to make their dreams come true. I wanted to write about the kid who had to fight harder than anyone else in that respect. Sam was always a percussionist in my imagination because drummers are unlike any other musician. They live on another planet much cooler than our own.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Mike Grosso:
I’ve been writing on and off my whole life, but the first time I wrote with a serious eye on getting published was around 2004.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Mike Grosso:
The first draft of I AM DRUMS was written fairly quickly during the summer of 2012. My son was not quite a year old at the time, so my most productive writing sessions were during nap time. I finished the first draft in September 2012 and set an alarm in my cell phone calendar for six weeks later – the soonest I would allow myself to proofread. This was one of the best writing decisions I’ve ever made – it allowed me to distance myself from my manuscript and read it closer to the way a stranger might. I’ve made countless revisions ever since.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Mike Grosso:
I think every aspiring writer lives with two voices in their head. One that tells you to keep at it and one that tells you to quit. Every time I started to lose my drive, I'd get a rejection that was a little more encouraging. I still remember my first non-form rejection: "This is good writing, but not right for me. Try me again with something else." Talk about jumping out of my skin with excitement! Sure, I was still at square one, but an editor had said my writing was good. Up until that point, the quitting voice had been screaming in my ear. It was nice to finally hear the other guy a little louder.
QT: Is this your first book?
Mike Grosso:
I wrote four unpublished novels before this one. I still think one of them is decent. The others not so much!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Mike Grosso:
I have a minor in creative writing, one of my high points in college. It was the first time I felt compelled to put my work out there instead of hiding it in a shoe box or hard drive.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Mike Grosso:
I always make sure to have something polished and on submission at all times. By the time I let one piece go, I want something else on deck. It keeps things exciting and the path to accomplishing your goals on high alert. I’m somewhat addicted to the suspenseful feeling of waiting on submission responses.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Mike Grosso:
My wonderful, supportive wife is always my first beta reader. She's very sick of telling me not to look over her shoulder and ask her what she thinks so far! A few select family and friends have been beta readers as well, but my wife is often the most honest and helpful.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Mike Grosso:
I always write from the hip. I end up spending too much time outlining and not enough time actually writing. I also love the experience of writing stories and characters that develop as you go, and finding out what kind of people my characters really are when I set them free. Some of the most positive feedback for I AM DRUMS has been about character moments I wasn't expecting at the time I wrote them.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Mike Grosso:
I sent out about 23 queries, which is much less than in the past. I queried well over 100 agents while shopping around my first book. My only positive response was a partial request that nevertheless ended in a form rejection. What's even weirder is the request came from the agent who eventually came to represent me (he was right to decline the first time). Talk about coming full circle!
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Mike Grosso:
I started by querying agents who'd previously requested manuscripts in the past, and made sure to open with a line about their previous interest. Then I branched out to agents representing contemporary middle grade and thinned it out through research into their clients, literary tastes, and backgrounds.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Mike Grosso:
I always tried to tailor the opening to show that I had done some research. Most often it was a comparison to a current client or a quote from their bio or blog that made I AM DRUMS seem like a good fit for their list.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Mike Grosso:
Don't rush yourself. The publishing world moves very slowly, so you’re best off waiting until your book is the best it can be.

Take a lot of time writing your query. Write it multiple times, and then write it again. Get excited about writing it, so the agent reading it will share your enthusiasm. You've worked hard on your book – make sure it's represented as well as it deserves.

And finally, because I’m dying to use a music metaphor, think of reading and writing like practicing the guitar – you only get better if you keep at it and don't give up at the first sign of turbulence.

Query Letter:


I am seeking representation for I AM DRUMS, a 44,000 word middle grade novel that would appeal to fans of Jerry Spinelli and Rebecca Stead.

While other kids dream about cars, ponies, and fashion, all eleven-year-old Samantha Morris dreams about is playing the drums. And it’s hard to make your dreams come true when your parents don’t think music will ever pay the bills, and the kids at school think a girl that carries drumsticks and beats on dictionaries is totally weird.

Sam’s dreams are crushed when the middle school she’s set to attend cuts their music program, dooming her to a full day of regular classes. Her only hope to accomplish her dream is to find a private music teacher and pay for lessons herself, but that's not so easy in a bad economy where dreams of becoming a “professional musician” are a bad joke.

I currently teach fifth grade and have worked in the past as a freelance writer and talk radio producer in Chicago.

In accordance with your submission guidelines, I have included (ANY ADDITIONAL MATERIALS THE AGENT SPECIFICALLY ASKS FOR). Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Mike Grosso