Meet Michelle Hauck, author of the Birth of a Saint series published by Harper Voyager. The first two books GRUDGING and FAITHFUL are out now. The last book in the series, STEADFAST, is scheduled for release November 2017. She’s represented by Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Literary. Other than mentoring in Pitch Wars, Michelle also co-hosts Picture Book Party, New Agent, Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, and Sun versus Snow
FAITHFUL is the latest book in your fantasy Birth of a Saint series. As an animal lover the horses in your series that bond with their humans intrigued me. What was your inspiration for the horses and do you have any real-life experience with horses?
The unique horse-human bond in my Birth of Saints series wasn’t really planned. It just sort of sprang into existence as I was writing. I gave the main character, Ramiro, a horse and I didn’t want it to be an ordinary horse. So I built up this backstory of the horses being super intelligent and the soldiers all forming a life bond with their own horse from a special herd. Which of course led to other characters having exceptional horses. Horses who could understand their masters and were incredibly loyal—not to mention able to fight. You’ll have to read the third book, Steadfast, to get the final backstory history on the origin of the horses and why they are special. That’s still a secret.
This may sound bad, but my only real life experience comes from the rented horseback rides I’ve taken on vacation. My information about horses all comes from reading and asking questions. But I think I’ve created the sort of horse-rider relationship I used to dream about having as a little girl. So that’s probably where the horses really came from.
The society in your Birth of a Saint series is based off medieval Spain. Even the cover for GRUDGING looks to be inspired by Spain. As a history lover I find that to be an interesting choice for inspiration and it’s not one I see often. What made you choose to use Spain?
I wanted to try something different. All my fantasy books until Birth of Saints were much more Anglo-European or American inspired. There was already a lot of that on the market. I wanted to give a try to writing something I knew almost nothing about. And we had just taken a trip to Tucson, Arizona where we did several hikes into the desert and visited an old Mission-style church. It was fun to take that experience, throw in a little bit of Spain and a little Zorro and a pinch of cacti, and turn it into a setting and a culture.
That’s the fun part about epic fantasy, you can make everything up as you go from the religion, economy, and history to the magic system!
It took you four manuscripts to get an agent. Do you think those first three helped you craft the manuscript that got you an agent in in any way?
Oh, for sure, writing is a learned talent to some extent. There are rules and tricks to writing just like in any other profession. Most people need time and practice to learn those rules and really perfect their art. Having already written some manuscripts, let me work out what I was doing wrong as far as big picture problems. Those mostly included lack of originality and lack of conflict. I didn’t like to make my characters suffer. I was too kind to my babies. Luckily, I got over that. 🙂
You also indie published before getting an agent. What was the hardest part about indie publishing for you?
The hardest part about any publishing is the marketing. Finding a fan base and some recognition of your books. That’s certainly more of a challenge with an indie book. Traditional publishing has that big name recognition they can put behind a book, if they choose.
What was your biggest hurdle in getting published traditionally?
I don’t think there was any particular hurdle there beyond getting an agent to submit your work to them. That did take me a while. Getting picked up by a Big 5 involves the same mix of luck, talent, and finding a unique concept that you would need for any book sale. Write a good book. Find an agent. Put your book out there and see what happens. I try not to worry too much while I’m on submission. It’s pretty much out of your hands at that point.
That’s where friends and chocolate helps.
Did indie publishing teach you anything that you put to use once you published traditionally?
Being indie published first gave me more time to build up my social media contacts. I think that’s important to do for any writer at any stage. And the sooner the better. Those contacts in the writing community gave me resources to go to when I had questions on how things worked or what I should be doing. They let me network with authors who are ahead of me on the journey as well as reach out to those coming up behind me.
Not only are you a mentor for Pitch Wars, but you’re involved in a lot of other contests including co-hosting Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, Sun versus Snow, Picture Book Party, and New Agent. What’s the most common mistake you see in entries that writers looking to enter contests should be on the lookout for?
Yep, I host a lot of contests and have read thousands of queries. I say this a lot but put specific details in your query letter. Don’t talk about “dark secrets” or “mysterious family drama” or “horrible complications.” Just tell us the actual secret, the drama, or the complication. Also I usually see a few query letters that spend more space on why they wrote the story or the themes than on sharing the plot. Don’t do that.
You should also avoid typical openings for your first page, like waking up, the first day of school, moving to a new house or going to stay with a relative. Those get old. Come up with a new place to start and mix action with a few lines of backstory or exposition.
I have blog posts about how to make stronger query letters, avoiding crutch words, the dangers of filtering and so on that I trot out before each contest to try and inform. You can take a look at those on my blog under the editing label if you want to see more suggestions.
What drew you to getting involved in so many contests and how do you find the time for them all? I imagine you must have organizational super powers to keep track of everything for the contests and your writing!
I’m a big proponent of recycling. My co-hosts and I reuse a lot of our blog posts and spreadsheets from prior years. That save us a lot of time, but it does take hours and hours of work before, during, and even after a contest. Especially Query Kombat. We had over forty mentors/judges this year and you have to sign them up, do a blog post about them, set up twitter chats with them, and schedule them to judges all the different rounds, not to mention sending them reminders when it’s time to get to work. That’s just one part of the contest. Organization smooths the way and still gives me time to write. My deadline for each Birth of Saints book is smack in the middle of the Query Kombat agent round. I’ve had more than a few hectic days lately.
As for why I host contests—I just find it really fun. I like reading through all the entries and seeing the trends. I love the interaction on twitter and making new friends. It’s so rewarding to see a book published and know your contest had a small hand in getting it there. I keep a list on Goodreads of books that came through our contests and hope to add many more!
Despite all the contests you are involved with you got your agent through the slush instead of a contest. While many authors are still picked from their agent’s slush instead of through contests, do you think the popularity of writing contests like Pitch Wars and Query Kombat will continue to grow for writers and agents?
I’ve noticed a real increase in the amount of contests over the last three years. Some continue and some fail and fade away. The twitter pitch parties are getting almost overdone, there’s so many of them. I fear agent fatigue with those eventually. And the pitch events are so huge that it’s hard to get noticed. But I don’t think twitter pitch or blog contests are going anywhere for the foreseeable future. The agents seems to enjoy them. We never have any problem finding willing agents.
I will say that I see contests more as a great way to connect to the writers in the online community—to make friends and find critique partners. Contests are to help relieve some of the stress and tension of querying and throw a little fun into the mix. The rejection is a little easier if you’re having fun. Contests can also help writers learn how to create a stronger query letter and pick up some writing advice and skills. The success stories are more like the icing atop the cake.
Any parting words of advice for those hoping to sub to you this year for Pitch Wars?
Show me a unique first chapter. A little humor in the query or first chapter doesn’t hurt. Make me curious about the character or the situation. Have a diverse cast. It tends to be a mix of the strength of the characters and the strength of the storyline that hooks me.
I’d recommend buying a few of the mentors books in your category as a way to really see if your tastes collide, thought I read much more than epic fantasy. It helps you decide on which mentors to try and helps the mentors, too.
Thanks so much for inviting me, Katelyn!
Want to know more about Michelle? Visit her author website.
A world of Fear and death…and those trying to save it.
Colina Hermosa has burned to the ground. The Northern invaders continue their assault on the ciudades-estados. Terror has taken hold, and those that should be allies betray each other in hopes of their own survival. As the realities of this devastating and unprovoked war settles in, what can they do to fight back?
On a mission of hope, an unlikely group sets out to find a teacher for Claire, and a new weapon to use against the Northerners and their swelling army.
What they find instead is an old woman.
But she’s not a random crone—she’s Claire’s grandmother. She’s also a Woman of the Song, and her music is both strong and horrible. And while Claire has already seen the power of her own Song, she is scared of her inability to control it, having seen how her magic has brought evil to the world, killing without reason or remorse. To preserve a life of honor and light, Ramiro and Claire will need to convince the old woman to teach them a way so that the power of the Song can be used for good. Otherwise, they’ll just be destroyers themselves, no better than the Northerners and their false god, Dal. With the annihilation their enemy has planned, though, they may not have a choice.
A tale of fear and tragedy, hope and redemption, Faithful is the harrowing second entry in the Birth of Saints trilogy.