BUT if you’d like to check it out, you can find Mr. Heine's query on Matthew MacNish’s helpful and informative blog, The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. (And guys, it’s a good query. You’ll want to check it out.)
All right, back to the interview! Mr. Heine’s answers will appear in orange and Ms. Lawrence’s in blue.
KV: Mr. Heine, how did you first come up with the idea for AIR PIRATES?
AH: The world was a conglomeration of a bunch of things. I wanted airships, like
But my viewpoint character, for whom the world of airships and pirates was brand new, became this cowardly bookworm who believed he wasn't good at anything and never would be--everything I was as a teenager. And I realized I wanted to take him on the same journey I took to learn that he can be good at anything if he really wants to (though his journey involves a lot more sword fights and explosions than mine did).
KV: Tell us a little bit about your querying experience. How many queries did you send? Did you send them in batches or all at once? Did you ever pull back and revise your query and/or your manuscript, and if so, why did you decide to do that?
AH: So I originally wrote and queried AIR PIRATES as an adult novel then, after about 50 rejections there, revised it as YA. There are a LOT more YA agents than adult SF/F, and I knew very little about most of them, so I ended up sending out 140 more queries (do I wish I had sent fewer? Oh, yes). I most definitely sent them in batches.
I tweaked the query occasionally (like if I got feedback from, say, an Agent's Inbox contest), but for the most part I made sure my query was as good as I could make it even before I queried the adult version. I'd already made the mistake with my first (trunked) novel of sending a lame query to my top agents. I wasn't about to do that again.
KV: How did you learn about Ms. Lawrence?
AH: About four days before she offered representation ;-) I first heard about Tricia when Ammi-Joan Paquette, whom I actually queried, passed on my manuscript but said the newest agent at her agency might be interested.
As it turns out, I couldn't have queried Tricia even if I wanted to. For one, Erin Murphy Literary doesn't accept unsolicited queries (Ammi-Joan contacted me after reading my entry in one of Nathan Bransford's contests), but more than that, Tricia wasn't an agent until after I'd sent out my last query letter.
KV: Ms. Lawrence, when you received the referral for Mr. Heine's manuscript, what caught your attention?
TL: Ammi-Joan Paquette, my fellow agent, forwarded me Adam's query and manuscript and told me that she was so, so, so, so close, but it wasn't quite for her and would I be interested in taking a look. I took a look and was immediately intrigued. The first chapter alone makes you want to know what in heck is going on in this story. Joan also sent it to my boss, Erin Murphy, who immediately said that she would definitely take a look after me, if I decided to pass (yes, I got first dibs! and I'm so happy!). So, what got my attention? An excellent referral, and a fantastic first chapter.
KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about AIR PIRATES?
TL: I loved that I cared immediately for the main characters and that the writing gave me perfect details--just enough to get me to read, but not so many that I didn't have to use my own brain to imagine it in my head. Plus, I loved the idea of air pirates. Who wouldn't? And in Adam's version, we've got Jack Sparrow and Malcolm Reynolds and Gandalf the White all wrapped up together in a bow.
KV: How quickly did you read Mr. Heine’s manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?
TL: I read very quickly (within two or three weeks) and that is not typical at all. Our typical response times on requested full manuscripts is about four months, but I am attempting to improve on that. We're always attempting to improve response times; it's our constant resolution, New Year's or not. Agents and editors are deluged; that's just the plain truth.
KV: Mr. Heine, now that you’ve reached the querying finish line, what do you wish you had known when you were back at the start gate?
AH: I wish I'd known the third query I sent out would be the one ;-)
Seriously, I wish I could've been smarter about who I queried. For a lot of agents, there's only so much information out there, and I didn't want to limit my options by not querying someone, but if I could do it again, I'd make a short list (you know, like less than a 100) of agents I actually wanted instead of querying everyone under the sun. (Then again, I don't think I could've made that list until now, so I don't know what to tell you).
KV: Ms. Lawrence, what querying tips do you have?
TL: A query should interest me so that I ask for more material. Your promotional plans and your previously published work doesn't really matter until I've seen your writing. Show your stuff in a query; write what you think should go on a book jacket if your book was on shelves, or what Amazon gives as the blurb when they are selling your book. Interest one person and you just may interest a wider audience!
KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?
AH: Don't let rejections discourage you for more than a day (for easy ones) or maybe a week (for hard ones). The pain does go away, and you can use it as motivation to do better next time.
TL: If this is your dream, do everything you can to get it. Read, read, read. Study, study, study. Practice, practice, practice. Submit, submit, submit. Don't give up. Dig deep!
And there you have it! Thank you, Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Heine, for sharing your insights and experience with us. You’ve given us a lot to think about.
I’m sure all you YA and MG writers wish you could query Ms. Lawrence, so take a nod from Mr. Heine: Participate in the online writing community. Share tiny pieces of your work through contests and other forums. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a bite.
Have a great weekend, all!