I’ve been excited all weekend because today is our first 2009 debut author! Cheryl Renée Herbsman (www.cherylreneeherbsman.com) lives in Northern California with her husband and two children, but she grew up in North Carolina and often spent summer vacations at the Carolina coast. Like her main character, Savannah, she fell in love as a teenager, and like Savannah and Jackson, she and her boyfriend carried on a long-distance relationship. They are now celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary.
Check out the awesome back cover copy of her debut novel, Breathing, and her cover (of which I am seriously jealous)!
What if the guy who took your breath away was the only one who could help you breathe?
Savannah would be happy to spend the summer in her coastal Carolina town lying in a hammock reading her beloved romance novels and working at the library. But then she meets Jackson. Once they lock eyes, she’s convinced he’s the one—her true love, her soul mate, a boy different from all the rest. And at first it looks like Savannah is right. Jackson abides by her mama’s strict rules, and stays by her side during a hospitalization for severe asthma, which Savannah becomes convinced is only improving because Jackson is there. But when he’s called away to help his family—and seems uncertain about returning—Savannah has to learn to breathe on her own, both literally and figuratively.
This debut novel has it all—an endearing, funny, hopelessly romantic main character, lots of down-home Southern charm, and a sunny, salty beach setting that will transport you to the Carolina coast. Y’all definitely want to check it out!
Thanks again to Cheryl for stopping by and now, I’ll let y’all learn from her exciting new experiences!
Breathing is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
Starting from virtually no background in writing, it took me about a decade to get published. When my kids were very young, I wrote a little here and there. It took me five years to finish my first novel, which was about a woman in her twenties. Then, about five years ago, I wrote a YA fantasy. After spending a year writing it, I spent two years trying to sell it. As I learned more about the business end of publishing, I started to get more interest in the manuscript from professionals. I had many requests for both partials and fulls. But ultimately, it just wasn’t all there. Something was missing. So on that book, I probably received somewhere around 45 rejections. (Ouch!)
Meanwhile, while I was trying to sell the fantasy, I started writing BREATHING. When it was about half-written, I went to an SCBWI conference in New York to try to sell my YA fantasy. At the writers’ intensive, I shared the first pages of BREATHING and everyone got so excited about it, it gave me the motivation to focus on it and get it written. About 3 months later, the manuscript was complete, and I sent out just 3 queries. One of the agencies I queried was interested and took the time to suggest specific revisions. This agency was really excited about the manuscript and said they wanted to help me “launch my career”. I spent the summer working on revisions and sent it back to them. And they rejected it! (Ouch, again.) There was a certain character they had wanted me to drop, and I just couldn’t do it. So I cried for two days, then I went back to my computer and sent out five more queries. I got two requests for the full within 24 hours, and 1 request for a partial. A couple of days later, one of the agents who requested the full emailed me, saying, “Don’t accept representation with anyone else until I talk to you. I’ll call you on Thursday.” Needless to say I was flipping out at this point. That Thursday I was sitting by my phone, wondering if it was really possible that she would call, and she did!
Great story of perserverence! Thanks. Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
I think the agent call was the most exciting. Somehow it symbolized the end of that awful, hopeless-feeling period of rejections. She was so enthusiastic about my work and had such a great reputation and track record. I was completely euphoric. After so many rejections on other books, for this to happen so quickly was just incredibly exciting.
I think you’re the first person I’ve heard say “agent,” but I can totally understand why. Throughout your journey as a writer, what resources have you found most valuable to your success? Websites? Books? Conferences?
Aside from books, which are always helpful, I think there have been two resources that have been crucial for me. One is my writing group, which is not a critique group. We do writing exercises together that get the creative juices going, and we offer positive reactions and support. It reminds you of all the good things about your writing. The other resource that has been invaluable is conferences. They’re expensive, but you learn so much about how the system really works. Even if it’s just a small, local conference, you can learn a lot.
That sounds like a cool spin on the critique group. But even with their help, we all know that writers go through hard times on their way to success. How have you handled rejection in the past?
Rejection is never fun, and it’s often painful. Sometimes I would try to focus on the positive things that were said about my work (on the occasions when the agent or editor took the time to write something specific.) But I think the main thing was to let myself mourn a little each time, let it be okay to just feel bad for a couple of days, reach out to family and friends, who would tell me that my work didn’t suck and that I shouldn’t give up. Then, after a little while, I’d be able to dive back in and try again.
This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
When I was seeking an agent for my YA fantasy, I queried an agent that I’d found on the internet. She actually offered me representation. But then when I researched her further, I realized that she had only just started agenting, had no background in publishing, and was on her own in it. She didn’t seem to understand her own contract and wanted a small amount of money up front for expenses. I’d always heard that if an agent wants money upfront you should run the other way. So, even though it was really hard to walk away from an agent offering representation, I did. To this day, I’ve never heard of that agent selling a book. So I did the right thing. But “oops” on querying an agent you haven’t researched!
Huge lesson to be learned from that! And thank goodness you dodged that bullet. You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?
I am very grateful and excited to be at the beginning of my writing career. I hope to write many more YA novels. And I hope people enjoy them and find some solace in them. My goal is always that my work feed the soul of the reader.
I’m sure it will. Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?
My favorite part so far has been working with my editor. She is so smart and thoughtful and thorough and also responsive and easy to communicate with. I have loved suddenly not being all on my own with the story anymore, having someone who cares about it and thinks about it like I do. At the same time, I love that my editor has really allowed me to keep it my own. She makes suggestions about areas to work on, but I get to choose whether or not and how I want to change things. That means a lot to me.
I think the thing that has surprised me the most is how many people are involved in bringing a book to publication – people I will probably never even meet!
And they’re all working on your idea. How neat is that!? Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?
My editor began my letter by saying what great shape the manuscript was in and how little work it needed. That was followed by a four-page letter of editorial suggestions. I felt overwhelmed at first. But once I started working on it, just one issue at a time, I found that it came together fairly quickly.
Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
There are so many books that I love. But one of my favorite quotes is this: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and it will be lost.” — Martha Graham. I take many things from this quote, but one of them is that we each have something so different to share with the world. So, although I may admire others’ work, that’s not what I have to offer. So I try to just focus on being grateful that a story I wrote is something someone wanted to publish.
Thanks so much for this interview! I really enjoyed your questions. Have fun with the rest of the Debs!
Thanks so much for coming on and sharing with us! Great things for everyone to look forward to. Congrats again and I can’t wait for that book to hit the shelves this spring!
(*Thanks again to Cyn Balog, author of Fairy Lust, for helping organize the interview series!*)