I was SUPER lucky to have interviewed Shelby Mahurin, author of upcoming YA Fantasy (and the 2019 book I’m MOST excited about!) SERPENT & DOVE, out September 3, 2019! If you’d like to learn about her publishing journey, advice for querying authors, and the importance of taking time to celebrate your victories, check out the interview below!
Hi, Shelby! Thanks for chatting with me. Your book, SERPENT & DOVE, comes out in September. Can you tell us a little about what your query journey was like for this book?
SM: My querying journey for SERPENT & DOVE was a bit unusual because I didn’t actually query–or at least, I didn’t query through the slush pile. Honestly, I didn’t even know what querying was when I first began writing S&D. At that point, publication was the farthest thing from my mind. I’d just given birth to my second child, and I wrote as a way to feel human again. (This isn’t to say I don’t love my children–of course I do! But I needed to rediscover my worth and identity outside of motherhood, and writing was the perfect creative outlet.) When I finished drafting, I tentatively researched steps toward publication, and that’s when I discovered Pitch Wars, a mentorship contest founded by Brenda Drake. My agent and I connected through the agent round at the end of the contest. I wrote a whole blog post about my Pitch Wars experience and how I got my agent here.
Did you have a moment, in writing or revising or querying or sub, when you felt like giving up?
SM: I was incredibly lucky. Querying, revising, and submission all happened quickly for me, so I didn’t necessarily have that breaking point moment. I did feel very weary while re-writing the entire manuscript for Pitch Wars. That was a lot of work in a short amount of time, and it affected my ability to produce creatively for awhile. But the worst by far has been writing S&D’s sequel, which I’m still doing. I’ve heard horror stories about sophomore novels, and HOO BOY. They were all true! Giving up isn’t an option, though. It’s more a delicate balance of pushing through when necessary, but also knowing when to take breaks. If the creative well is empty, it’s empty. I like to refill mine by reading outside my genre and watching lots of bad television.
When you got THE CALL from your agent, how did you celebrate?
SM: Is it completely horrible to admit I didn’t allow myself to celebrate? Looking back, it’s ridiculous that I didn’t. I just remember immediately looking toward the next steps, which were revision and submission (my family forced me to celebrate when S&D sold by taking me out to an uber-fancy restaurant; the restaurant personalized my menu with my name and a congratulations message and everything!). If you’re at the beginning of your publishing journey, please don’t do what I did. Celebrate every single victory, and live in the moment! Publishing is a rollercoaster of incredible highs and debilitating lows. If we don’t celebrate those highs, what are we even doing here??
How about those other victories? Selling to HarperTeen, getting international rights?
SM: When my agent called to tell me about HarperTeen’s preempt, I seriously fell to my knees and shrieked–like, banshee-shrieked. My husband–who’d been all up in my ear, trying to overhear everything my agent said on the phone–and I did a little dance right there in the kitchen. Then I immediately called my mom. It was such a surreal moment. I hope the details of the memory never fade. Another big moment I specifically remember is when my agent told me that a film agent, Mary Pender of UTA, wanted to represent me. (Mary represents a couple other little authors by the names of Suzanne Collins and Angie Thomas. 🤯) It’s been almost a year since our phone call, and I’m still in shock to be on her list.
What’s something you learned as an agented author that you didn’t know before?
SM: Before I signed with my agent, I didn’t realize just how collaborative writing a book is! So many brilliant minds go into the final product: yours, your agent’s, your editor’s, your sensitivity readers’, your copyeditors’, your proofreaders’. And that’s not even counting all the other people at your publishing house who read and provide feedback, like the sales team, the marketing team, the design team, etc. I think my cover designer actually caught a major issue in my revised manuscript that needed to be addressed? Seriously, the version of S&D hitting shelves in September is so much stronger than any version I could’ve ever written on my own.
How do you make time for writing in your daily life? How do you find a balance?
SM: Let me tell you–it is HARD. I wish I could answer this question, but I’m still trying to figure out what family-work-life balance looks like for me. I have three small children who demand and deserve quite a bit of time, so I mostly write at night while they’re sleeping. Sometimes it works, and other times I’m too tired to keep my eyes open. It’s a real shame I don’t like coffee or tea!
What is your next author dream? Fanart? Cosplay? An S&D tattoo?
SM: Um…all of the above?? I think I’d lose my mind if any of those three things happened! On a more serious note, author dreams are hard because so much of everything is outside our control. For example, I’d love to receive stars from trade reviews like Kirkus and Booklist. I’d love to hit the New York Times Bestselling List. I’d love for Netflix to adapt S&D into a television series. Unfortunately, I don’t control any of that. All I control are the stories I tell. So I guess my next realistic, attainable author dream is to write a better story than S&D. Gotta keep climbing!
Lastly, do you have any encouragement for writers out there in the query trenches?
SM: YES. Please always, always, always remember that publishing is an industry built around subjective tastes. Just because one agent–or even a hundred agents!–doesn’t fall in love with your writing, it doesn’t mean no one will. Keep going. Revise the hell out of it. Revise it again. Recognize when you’ve done all you can with it, and put it in a drawer. Don’t forget about it, though, as you’re honing your craft. Just because you can’t fix it now doesn’t mean you can’t fix it later. Then…write a new story. You have more than one in you. Remember someone out there needs them, and you’re the only one who can write them.
Shelby Mahurin grew up on a small farm in rural Indiana, where sticks became wands and cows became dragons. Her rampant imagination didn’t fade with age, so she continues to play make-believe every day—with words now instead of cows. When not writing, Shelby watches the Office and takes pictures for Instagram. She still lives near that childhood farm with her very tall husband, semi-feral toddlers, two dogs, and one cat. You can visit her website at www.shelbymahurin.com, or follow her on IG and Twitter at @shelbymahurin.
About SERPENT & DOVE
Pre-order SERPENT & DOVE: https://www.amazon.com/Serpent-Dove-Shelby-Mahurin/dp/0062878026
Add SERPENT & DOVE to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/40024139