Sunday, July 18, 2010


I'm ecstatic to help spread the news: Stephanie Blake recently sold her debut middle grade novel, THE MARBLE QUEEN, to Marshall Cavendish (the novel is set for a 2012 release)! Stephanie was kind enough to give us the scoop on how she broke into the market...

Congrats on the sale of your first novel—what an incredible accomplishment! Give us a synopsis, whet our appetites.

THE MARBLE QUEEN is a historical middle grade novel about a 9-year old girl named Freedom Jane McKenzie who longs to enter and win a local marble-shooting competition, even though she is told by everyone around her, including her difficult mama, that marbles are for boys.

What's your background? (Did you study lit in college? Were you a journalist, etc.? What brought you to the writing profession and to fiction specifically?)

I wrote sappy love poetry as a teenager, and my favorite classes were English and creative writing. I had a great English teacher in high school who really encouraged me. As a senior, I worked for the local newspaper as a cub reporter. I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I have a B.A. in English, but my minor is in technical writing. I had a couple of poems published. I worked for several years in telecom, writing employee handbooks and policies & procedures, but I’ve always written creatively on the side.

Why middle grade?

Middle grade is such an amazing time for kids. Most kids are dorks. They love their parents. They still sleep with stuffed animals. They get scared of the dark and of lightening. They worry about getting boobs and armpit hair. For some reason, I am really in touch with that. I was always the new kid because we moved around a lot. I didn’t make friends very easily, so I got lost in books. I loved to read about regular kids doing regular things. I think most kids are curious about other kid’s lives. It’s those years from about age nine to twelve that really define how a person will turn out. High school is all about fitting in, but in middle grade one can really explore things without worrying too much about what other kids think.

Growing up, my favorite authors were Beverly Cleary, Lois Lenski, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Judy Blume. I just loved Ramona and her way of thinking. In some ways, my character, Freedom, is a lot like Ramona.

Did you ever feel your background helped / hurt as you sought publication? In what way?

My college classes definitely helped. Also, I am a researcher by nature. When you go for publication without an agent, you have to figure things out on your own. Also, I am kind of stubborn. I don’t like to hear the word no. That college grammar class I had to take twice is coming in handy, too.

How long did it take to get to the first acceptance?

It took almost exactly four years, three novels, working with three agents, and over 200 rejections on various things before I sold THE MARBLE QUEEN, which got thirteen passes.

How many manuscripts did you write before drafting THE MARBLE QUEEN?

I wrote several short stories in the years after college. I wrote a couple of plays. I started a bad romance novel, but lost interest. I wrote articles for And about four years ago, I wrote this horribly clich├ęd women’s fiction (think Nicholas Sparks) and sent it around to a couple of editors. It had some lovely moments, but was really not ready.

THE MARBLE QUEEN is the 3rd middle grade manuscript I’ve written. It is also my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

How many times did you rewrite THE MARBLE QUEEN before selling it?

THE MARBLE QUEEN has been through about five revisions. I did two revisions for an editor at FSG. They passed, but those revisions definitely made the book stronger. I did another revision for Robin before she offered to buy it.

How'd you do it—agent or editor (slush pile)?

THE MARBLE QUEEN is a slush baby. It actually languished in the slush for over 10 months before my editor, Robin Benjamin, emailed to ask if it was still available. She said it needed some revisions before she could take it to acquisitions and asked if I was interested. She sent me some notes, I worked on it and sent it back. It took 13 months all together from submission to offer.

Why do you think your submission stood out in the mountains of slush?

Marshall Cavendish accepts full manuscripts, so I printed it out, put a nice cover letter on top, addressed it to Robin Benjamn, and sent it out in a plain old brown envelope. One of my kids kissed it before I dropped it in the mailbox. I don’t think I included an SASE. Then, I waited. About 6 months later, I put it on the “no response means no” list. Was it luck? Yes.

What was the best part of the acquisitions process? Scariest?

The day of THE CALL was the best day ever. I cried, I hollered, and we celebrated with champagne. Telling my father I was being published was wonderful. Signing the contract was pretty cool, too. The scariest was waiting for Robin to get back to me after I had sent revisions to her. I waited about six weeks, and I doubted myself the whole time.

Why Marshall Cavendish?

Marshall Cavendish puts out some beautiful, meaningful books. I had studied their lists, read some of their books, and I knew from research that Robin likes historical fiction. Actually, she rejected my first novel in 2006, but wrote a very nice personal comment about my writing on the bottom of the form, so she went on my “to query again” list. Also, they take unagented material—bonus!

What was the one thing that helped you snare that first deal more than anything else? (This could be anything—attending a conference, or maybe establishing an online presence or joining a writer's might even be a personality trait.)

Persistence. I am really involved on the blue boards, I have a blog and a website. I am a member of Publisher Marketplace, and I have gone to three big SCBWI conferences. I had an agent for my 2nd manuscript. I have met tons of great people, other authors and editors and agents, but none of that matters. It is about the work. You have to be willing to revise. You have to get your butt in the chair and write. And rewrite. And after all that you have to target your submissions, which means finding out everything you can about the editor or agent your are submitting to.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing as you began your journey toward publication, what would that be?

I would tell myself two things. First, slow down and second, spell check is not the same as revision.

...When I'm not in front of the computer, which is nearly always, I can be found in my backyard with my dog, my husband and my three boys in Parker, Colorado. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a country singer. you can find out more about me on my blog.

Hear that, guys? Three agents later, Stephanie sold her manuscript on her own. (As a slush pile success story, I love to hear about authors forging their own way!)

I, for one, have THE MARBLE QUEEN on my 2012 TBR list...Thanks for stopping by, Stephanie!


  1. Thanks Holly! You asked some hard questions.

  2. Great interview. Stephanie, I've been following your journey on the blueboards and gave a big cheer when I heard about the sale. You are right--it's all about persistence. Glad you kept at it. I can't wait to read this book and to share it with my son, who I think will love it. Congrats!

  3. Your story is so inspiring, Stephanie, and that's a great photo of you, too!

  4. You're welcome, Stephanie! I LOVE to hear of success stories like yours, and I can't wait to read THE MARBLE QUEEN!

  5. YAY Steph!! You inspire us all!

  6. This sounds like a really cool MG novel. Awesome interview!

  7. Great interview, Steph! Good luck on the editing road and I can't wait to read the Marble Queen! :)

  8. This was such a great interview about such a happy outcome. It gives hope to all of us. Bless those slush piles! You never know when something you wrote will rise to the top. Congratulations, Stephanie!

  9. Wonderful interview! I'm so excited for you, Stephanie (I'm also a member of the 'kiss for good luck club")

  10. yay stephanie - so happy for you :) You deserve it!

  11. Thank you all for your good wishes.

  12. Great interview, Stephanie and Holly. I've followed Stephanie on the Blue Boards and I'm so happy about her success. Persistence is key!

  13. Loved the interview--thanks Holly & Stephanie! Hooray for slush-pile success stories! :) (Also, from now on I'm enlisting one of my kids to kiss all manuscripts before I drop them in the mail.)

  14. great interview. followed over from verla kay. new follower. awesome.

  15. What a great story, especially since I have followed your progress on the blue boards. It may sound like a cliche, but you're an inspiration. No reason for me not to keep on trying now!

  16. What an amazing story! That is truly inspiring, congratulations.

  17. I loved hearing the whole story! Congrats again, Steph!

  18. Wonderful story! Congrats on the earned success...

  19. Thank you all. Thanks, Holly for the great interview!

  20. Excellent interview! Thanks for sharing, Holly and Stephanie, and I can't wait to read The Marble Queen!

  21. I found you via Catherine Winn's blog. And I'm glad I did. This is a wonderful interview I'm going to copy for my reading files. I do this for exceptional posts I want to refer to later. Thanks.


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