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Success Story Interview - Sarah J Schmitt

An Interview with Sarah J Schmitt (writinghoosier on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency, LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Sarah J Schmitt:
REPLAY is a YA Ghost Story about a 17 year old girl, who is accidently killed by a Grim Reaper. In an effort to redeem her soul, she must repeat three key moments in her life, making choices that will result in a life worth saving. Prior to REPLAY, I’d written two books that were intended to be the first of two series. They were dark and slightly epic and delicious to write, but after trying to find a home for them with little success (one was a NA Paranormal and the other a YA Thriller with a pre-dystopian slant), I needed a palate cleanser. I joke that I was tired of trying to save the world and just wanted to save the cheerleader. (Shout out to all you HEROES fans.)
QT: How long have you been writing?
Sarah J Schmitt:
I started writing when I was in fourth grade. I’d been a fast and furious reader and loved getting lost in books. Eventually I realized I could get lost in my own worlds and it was like stumbling upon a cauldron of magic. I was hooked.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Sarah J Schmitt:
REPLAY is a 2012 NaNoWriMo book. So it took about 23 days to write and six months to edit.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Sarah J Schmitt:
Of course there were times when I felt like giving up. Or questioned whether the time I was spending away from my family was justifiable. But the truth is writing is like breathing for me. I can’t imagine not doing it and still feeling alive.
QT: Is this your first book?
Sarah J Schmitt:
No. The First Book is in a manila envelope buried deep, deep, DEEP in the recesses of my office, never to see the light of day! It is so horrible I can’t even bring myself to burn it for fear the essences of it will pollute humanity for all time. But I learned something very valuable from that book. I learned how not to write a novel.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Sarah J Schmitt:
Nope. I’ve thought about it, but the truth is, I like my voice and I like my style. I don’t want anyone to try to change that. However, if I knew then what I know now, I might have pursued an MFA. In lieu of that, I attend conferences and make sure to be in writing/crit groups with writers who are better than me.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Sarah J Schmitt:
I have two boys, one in first grade and the other in second, so my schedule is whenever they don’t need me to help them with their homework or run them to soccer or swimming or scouts. However, I do write (or edit) daily. When I’m working on the first draft, I don’t stop until I have at least one chapter done. This sometimes makes for late nights (or into the early mornings), but I can’t leave my characters in the middle of a scene. It’s just seems wrong, almost cruel, really.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Sarah J Schmitt:
REPLAY went through two edits before the first set of queries went out. On hindsight, another pass or two would have been advisable. Luckily, Liza saw the diamond in the rough and signed me anyway.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Sarah J Schmitt:
This is the first book I didn’t have beta readers take a look at. When I finished edits, it was the middle of summer and since almost all of my beta readers have kids, it wasn’t the best time for them. So I took a chance. Again, not something I will do in the future, but it worked out okay this time.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Sarah J Schmitt:
I’m a combo-writer. I stumbled upon SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder and it was like manna from Heaven. No longer did I feel compelled to plot out each scene in detail. If I can line up the “15 Beats”, the rest seems to fall in place. With REPLAY, I took the “punster” aspect one step further. You know those “Choose your own adventure” books? The ones that stop at a pivotal moment and the reader must decide which door to open or whether to fight or flee? That’s the approach I took with this book. Each time RJ, the main character, came to a crossroads, I presented her with two options. One was pretty predictable, while the other was the path less traveled. Sometimes she played it safe. Other times, she took a chance and those moments were a lot of fun to write.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Sarah J Schmitt:
Okay, this is where people are going to either think I’m lying or just plain hate me. From query to request to offer was eleven days. It would have been nine, but a scheduling gaff prevented THE CALL for an extra two days. Since the book was out with other agents, I sent obligatory nudges with notice of the offer, but I couldn’t even wait the full week. I knew Liza was the agent I was supposed to be with so I pulled the manuscripts and signed on my mom’s birthday. But before you get the literary pitch fork out, please remember, this is after trying to get representation for two other books, so we’re talking two years of ongoing rejection.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Sarah J Schmitt:
Thirty-Five. Out of those, nine resulted in requests and ten are still outstanding. Wait, I take that back. There are still nine out. I got a rejection last week. For once, I smiled and pressed delete.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Sarah J Schmitt:
I research agents pretty intensely. Some might say it borders on stalking, but it’s a gray area. I only submit to agents who are interested in YA novels and don’t hate paranormal. I’m also especially drawn to agents who are willing to consider New Adult as well, since I hope to be able to straddle that fence. I have a host of agents I follow on twitter and subscribe to their blogs. I also tend to check out their clients to see if they have similar tastes, etc.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Sarah J Schmitt:
For some, yes. I’ve been pretty lucky to meet several agents face to face so I make sure to remind them of where we met and if there’s any little moments we shared. For example, one agent, who shall remain nameless, got me hooked on chocolate covered espresso beans. Do you know how hard it is to fing chocolate covered espresso beans in Indiana? I have to import them from the coast. So for her, I made sure to mention the beans. For agents I don’t know, unless I can find a quote that directly connects them to me or the book, I don’t personalize it. I know lots of people say you should, but I think, if you have to stretch, you probably shouldn’t say anything.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Sarah J Schmitt:
First of all, watch what you say online. If an agent is interested in you and they check out QT or Google or visit your website and they see you bad mouthing the industry, other agents, or heaven forbid, them, and yes, that does happen… that could be all it takes to turn a request or an offer into a pass. Second, take chances on agents. When I sent a query to Liza, I have to admit, the lack of information online made me hesitate. But I also knew, from QT, that she was fast at response, so I figured I might as well try. And I’m so glad I did. I could not ask for a more supportive partner on this journey. Finally, BE PERSISTANT and PASSIONATE! The road to publication is long, and it’s hard and it’s not for the faint of heart. Being a writer means you willingly agree to have homework for the rest of your life. It means putting your creation out to the slush pile knowing that there’s a good chance you’re going to get rejected over and over again. But don’t look for any agent. Look for YOUR agent. Just before I hung up the phone from THE CALL, I remember telling Liza that I thought she might love my book just a little more than I do. That’s what you want: Someone who’s going to fight for you and support you and tell you when you might want to think about cutting characters that you love because it will make your story stronger. I strongly suggest going to conferences. My first conference was Midwest Writer’s Workshop four years ago. I’ve been back every year since. It’s where I met my writing family and has become a great event to recharge my writing batteries.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sarah J Schmitt:
Sure. This is the original query letter:

Query Letter:

REPLAY, a 70,000 word YA ghost story, is Mean Girls meets A Christmas Carol. It can stand alone but also has trilogy potential.

Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an over-zealous arch angel, who has grown tired of the white wings and harps and the Hawaiian-shirt wearing Death Himself.

While she waits for the decision of the Tribunal charged with determining whether her life merits rewinding the hands of time, RJ meets the Cornhole-playing St. Peter and Al, the handler for the 3-headed Hound that guards the gates to Hell, who offer her some unsolicited advice. Finally, the Tribunal presents her with two options: she can remain in the After life’s waiting room until her original timeline expires or she can replay three moments from her past in an effort to create a future worthy redemption. It sounds like a no brainer. She’ll take the walk down memory lane. How hard can changing her future be?

But as she changes her life to please the Tribunal, this former Social Queen Bee, finds herself becoming a social pariah. RJ begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth spending the next sixty years as an outcast.

When not writing, I am a K-5 school librarian and a public library Youth Services Professional for Teens. I am also a member of SCBWI and ALA and attend both the NESCBWI Regional Conference and Midwest Writers Workshop.