Heather Shumaker has already published three non-fiction books for parents about early childhood development, but this is her very first fiction book and it’s for children!
She always had a dream to write fiction, but it was always hard to find the time. (When is there a convenient time? Never!) Thankfully, she found the time so we can enjoy her story.
Heather sat down with me to discuss her new book, The Griffins of Castle Cary, and her journey to get it published. Check out the full interview below.
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Debut Middle Grade Author, Heather Shumaker, and Her New Book The Griffins of Castle Cary:
Your debut Middle Grade book, The Griffins of Castle Cary, came out this year. Tell us a little bit about your book:
The Griffins of Castle Cary is an adventure story. It’s about three kids and their big, Newfoundland dog, who are trying to solve a ghost mystery. This story mixes magic in a contemporary time, so kids should be able to recognize everyday life when they’re reading.
This was always the kind of book I enjoyed reading as a child and it’s the kind of story that normally hooks kids on reading. Kids always notice the magic around them, even though the parents may be oblivious to it. And that’s how I wanted my story to portray to the readers.
Was the publishing process any different for fiction vs. non-fiction?
No, it was still very similar, especially since I chose an agent who sells both non-fiction and fiction books. Although you normally do not write a book proposal for fiction books, I did with this book like I do with all my books.
Would you suggest other fiction authors create a book proposal?
I definitely think a book proposal is important–so much so, I even teach a course about it! A lot of the time, an editor will fall in love with a book but they will not be able to sell it to their marketing team. Which is why it’s really important for the author to think about marketing from the beginning.
Not only can a proposal help you get noticed by an agent or editor, but it also gives your story clarity in your own mind.
With a complete book proposal, you’ll know what the main selling points of the book are, who the target market is, and how you plan to sell it. The whole time someone is reading your proposal, you’re using every sentence to hook them and keep them reading, which is important for every author.
How long have you been agented and how did you get an agent?
I first signed with my agent in 2011, so about 8 years now. And finding an agent was a WHOLE learning curve. Like most writers, I knew I loved to write, but I had very little knowledge of the publishing side of the industry.
Before I started submitting to agents, I went to conferences to meet people and try to learn as much as possible about publishing. It wasn’t until I felt like I could be teaching the breakouts that I then started researching agents, then submitted to the slush pile as most writers do. I queried six agents, and four of them offered representation, which was an awesome chance for me to choose who I wanted to work with.
One of the reasons rejections are so high is because writers submit before they’re ready. With agents, you normally only get one shot, so you want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. And that starts with learning everything you can to make sure you’re absolutely ready before you start submitting.
Do you want to continue writing middle grade novels?
Definitely! I love this age and I have a whole stack of ideas to get started on. I also have an outline for the sequel to The Griffins of Castle Cary, in case the publisher decides they want to make more. Although the book was created as a stand-alone, depending on the sales, there could be an option for more.
What would you say is the most important thing to do to get people to read your book?
If you want to sell more books, it all starts with writing a good book. Very few books are awarded marketing dollars with their publisher, so it will be up to you and word-of-mouth to sell your book. And the more people love what they read, the more they will recommend other people to read it, too.
This is why I wrote 47 drafts of my book! Unlike adults, children have such a small window to enjoy all the marvelous books, and I wanted to write something that would be worth a child’s time.
What was the most challenging part about publishing this book?
Not for this book specifically, but the hardest part of publishing was getting the agent. However, the most nerve-wracking part was sharing my fiction with others.
Unlike non-fiction, fiction is more personal and that can be scary to hear what people have to say. You’re sharing ideas that you made up and you cannot always be sure how that will resonate with people.
What’s been the biggest obstacle so far?
The hardest part about finishing the book is deciding that this is the final proof. You can read your book so many times, you can’t see straight but I wanted to make sure I had everything exactly right. Of course, I read it out loud and put it aside for a while, but it’s hard to be absolutely satisfied that you didn’t miss something.
What has been your favorite part of the publishing process?
I love meeting readers. I’ve met readers before with my other books, but there’s nothing like meeting child readers. Their eyes are so excited when they see you and most have never met an author before, so it’s thrilling for you both.
Plus, I love hearing that a child is re-reading my book. That’s when you know you really made an impact.
What is one important thing you’ve learned?
It’s always hard to think of just one thing! But I would say research is super important, even for fiction. Even if you pick a place that you think you know, there is still so much more that can be dug into and that you can learn about. For instance, I first wrote about chocolate fudge ice cream only to realize that is not a very British flavor!
Take your time with your story to make sure you’re being authentic. And don’t be afraid to reach out to others for more information. People love to help you and they get just as excited as you are when the book comes out, so it’s like building a team of cheerleaders when it comes time to launch.
What’s the main advice you have for unpublished writers?
If you want to publish a book, you need to find a time of day to write. Holding a book idea in your head takes up a lot of time and energy and you need to find the time to put it on paper. It doesn’t matter when you just need to do it.
Also, I recommend you find your people, both in critique partners and writing groups, and people to help with your story. You can’t do it all by yourself and you shouldn’t want to. Publishing is a team effort.
Thank you so much to Heather Shumaker for taking the time to share her publishing journey with us! She’s been traveling all over to talk about her book, The Griffins of Castle Cary, and it’s a nominee for Battle of the Books.
And for more Author Interviews, check out these other articles:
- Debut YA Author, Laura Snider, shares her Publishing Journey
- How to Self Publish a Chapter Book with Rinda Beach
- Book Review of Top Middle Grade Novel, Small Spaces
- Maggie Ann Martin’s Publishing Journey without an Agent