I first met Hannah Holt in the 12×12 forum and then later in person at an SCBWI conference. She is a light in the kidlit community and I’m thrilled to interview her for Writer’s Rumpus.
Kirsti Call: Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a published children’s author?
Hannah Holt: Sure! I began writing during children’s naps and after bedtime. During my first year, I received only form rejections and non-replies. By my second year, I had started receiving personal rejections and requests for more work.
Then my twins were born. With four children ages five and under, I took a year break, so I could attempt sleep every now and then.
After a year away, the writing itch returned stronger than ever, and I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge. Two years after my writing reset, I signed with agent Danielle Smith.
She sent my work out, but we never seemed to hear anything back. She strung me along for a year, promising interest from editors. However nothing ever materialized—not even rejections, and we parted ways.
After another year of querying, I signed with my second agent, Laura Biagi. Oh my heavens, it was such a difference working with a real agent! We sold two books together. Then she left agenting to pursue her own writing.
I’m now represented by Jennifer Weltz, the president of Laura’s former agency. Publishing is full of twist and turns, but I try to focus on things I can control, like improving my craft.
KC: Your stunning debut, The Diamond and the Boy, mesmerized me and my kids. What was your inspiration?
HH: Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! The subject of this book is my grandfather—inventor H. Tracy Hall. I grew up hearing stories about his life from family members. As a child, I would stroll through his office, amazed at the fantastic gadgets on his desk.
However, by the time I was aware enough to ask meaningful questions, I had lost him to the fog of Alzheimer’s. Through researching this book, I was able to developed a stronger connection to my grandfather even though he has passed away.
KC: How did you decide to tell the parallel story of the diamond and H. Tracy Hall? What was revision like for this story?
HH: My parallel version of this story came as a result of responding to failure.
As mentioned previously, my first agent was Danielle Smith. That was a hard year and a half! Red flags of warning were blazing bright, but I didn’t know enough about how agents work to see them. I just knew my work wasn’t attracting attention from editors and assumed Danielle must have made a mistake in accepting me as a client.
When I couldn’t handle the silence from editors any longer, we parted ways. She wrote me a long and hurtful note when we separated. Looking back, her insults were classic gaslighting, but at the time, it cut me to my core.
I wasn’t sure if I could or should go on writing. For the next month, I didn’t write a thing. Instead, I did a lot of soul searching. In the end, I came to the following conclusions:
- I liked writing and missed it.
- I couldn’t control whether or not anyone else liked my writing.
- I could improve my craft.
- I could become smarter about how and where I submitted my work.
This story, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, was one of the first stories I revised after this writing break. Previously, I had tried writing the story about Tracy’s cleverness or rocks that sparkle, but those ideas no longer seemed important.
Instead, I saw the need for resilience.
Graphite needed to become resilient…Tracy had to become resilient…
And I needed to get over myself, too, if I wanted to write this story well. So I threw out all my old drafts and started from scratch. Writing a story in parallel about change and resilience seemed natural because it was the journey I was on myself.
This story went on to attract interest from multiple houses.
As a side note, Danielle Smith disappeared from agenting earlier this year after some of her shady agenting practices were exposed.
Some people might cheat their way to the top for a while, but lasting success takes hard work and resilience.
KC: What other projects are you working on?
HH: My second book, A Father’s Love, comes out this year just in time for Father’s Day. It’s a lyrical non-fiction picture book that celebrates different types of animal father’s from all around the world. [A Father’s Love cover image]
I have two other submission ready picture books. My agent and I are exploring options for these.
In the background, I have 41 picture books and two chapter books in my “Active WIP” folder. I’m always plunking away at something, and I try to start something new at least every other month.
I also have an “Old and Dead” folder. That’s my WIP graveyard. It has about sixty stories in it, so for every hundred stories I write—I publish one or two.
KC: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
HH: Write, write, write!
When you’ve written one story, it’s automatically your best work. But it’s also your only work. When you’ve written several stories, you get a better handle of your skills as a writer, your voice, and your passions. You’ll find some stories rise to the top, while after a while others feel—meh.
Other aspects of writing, like taking classes, networking, critiquing, reading current books and etc, are important, too. You have to invest some attention to writing as a trade. However, studying writing is no substitute for actually writing.
Publishing a book isn’t possible if you haven’t written it.
So…write, write, write!
KC: Thank you, Hannah! I’m so excited THE BOY AND THE DIAMOND in available for purchase and checking out at the library! Here’s my review.
Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies. You can find her on Twitter and at her website: HannahHolt.com