Story of a Sale: Fly a Little Higher, Piper Lee by Dianna Dorisi Winget

Not every sale happens quickly or easily, but when you finally make that connection with a project like this, it’s very gratifying. Such is the story of the middle-grade novel FLY A LITTLE HIGHER, PIPER LEE, by Dianna Dorisi Winget, pictured below.

Dianna was one of my first clients and I loved everything about Piper Lee DeLuna’s sweet, salty, and Southern middle-grade voice. This book is the story of a girl who holds out hope that her pilot daddy is still alive after a crash…a belief that keeps her from embracing her mother’s plans to remarry and rebuild the family. You can check out a beautiful teaser page for it here. PIPER LEE had been in the works since 2003 and Dianna writes:

I’m not from the South but I’ve always been intrigued with it and had a lot of fun doing research on Georgia, which is the setting I chose. In 2004, I won a scholarship to attend the famous Highlights Children’s Writers Workshop at Chautauqua in New York based on the first chapter of Piper Lee. While at the conference, my mentor, author Juanita Havill, gave me lots of encouragement and advised me to find an agent enthusiastic for middle grade fiction and not to settle for anything less.

I spent the next year querying at least thirty agents. I received a lot of ‘personal’ rejections and scribbled notes of praise but no takers. Frustrated, I set PIPER LEE on the back burner. But I never actually forgot about Piper Lee. How can you forget about a story you love so much? So in 2009 I bought the latest edition of the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and decided to give it another go.

I very methodically narrowed my list of prospective agents down to 15 and sent out my first batch of five e-queries. Mary Kole was one of the five, and within a few short weeks she’d requested the whole manuscript, read it and called to offer representation! After seven long, doubt filled years I’d finally found someone as passionate and excited about Piper Lee as me.

But connecting with me was only one piece of the puzzle. What Dianna and Piper Lee’s Dream Team needed was an editor who loved her as much as we did. That part turned out to be more difficult, as contemporary coming-of-age MG came to be seen as “too quiet” in the marketplace around the time we submitted. I went out with PIPER LEE in January 2009. One of the editors on my first list was Harcourt VP and editorial director Jeannette Larson, who I had just met in San Diego. She was busy with a move to the New York office and so she passed it on to her assistant, Adah Nuchi.

Adah says:

I took a quick glance at the first page and was immediately drawn in by the Southern voice and fantastically spunky main character. The very next day I sent Jeannette an email that began, “I took a sneak peek at the first couple of pages of Fly A Little Higher, Piper Lee and have to admit, I couldn’t stop reading after that!” A few months later I was still thinking about Piper Lee and reread it to see if it still held the same spark. It did. While Jeannette really liked it, she wasn’t sure it was quite strong enough to acquire, but she did mention to Mary that I had loved it.

With some other feedback in mind, I advised Dianna to revise PIPER LEE so that we could send it out to a second round of editors, including Piper Lee fans Jeannette and Adah. Since Dianna had seen a lot of rejection for PIPER LEE over the years, she wasn’t really excited about its chances. She writes:

When I signed on with Mary, I was overflowing with hope and optimism. But after the first long round of submissions and no takers I was very discouraged. I thought, “See, I knew it was stupid to get my hopes up. Who am I trying to fool?” And then after I did the big revision you asked for and it headed out on its second round, I tried to be optimistic again but it was tough. This little voice inside my head kept saying, “You don’t really think this is ever actually going to sell, do you?” Even when we started getting positive feedback from Jeannette and Adah, I really expected it to turn out the way all the other positive responses I’d gotten over the years had turned out.

But I wouldn’t give up. I love PIPER LEE so dang much that I knew this book would find a home. During the second round, though, Jeannette and Adah, who were the most passionate about it from day one, wanted another revision. This was tough news to break to Dianna, and, of course, I had a few moments of doubt myself, but I really wanted to follow through and give PIPER LEE one last shot. Adah recaps:

After Dianna revisited the story over the summer of 2010, Mary sent the revision to Jeannette and reminded her that this was the manuscript her assistant had loved. I read Dianna’s revision and liked the direction she had taken it, but it still needed some work. I was enthusiastic enough about Piper Lee that Jeannette was willing to hand the project over to me to see if I could help get it where it needed to be for acquisition. I sent editorial comments in January of 2011 and received Dianna’s second revision in April. After that it was just a matter of getting the right approvals, and luckily everyone in-house loved the manuscript, too.

Finally, in May of 2011, more than a year after I first sent PIPER LEE into the world, after over 30 agent rejections, two dozen editor declines, and two serious revisions, I knew we were very close. Adah wrote that she was putting together an offer! I couldn’t wait to tell Dianna the great news!

Dianna remembers:

Honestly, it wasn’t until Mary told me that not only did Adah love it but that her publisher had given wholehearted support to acquiring it, that I finally started to allow myself to get excited. Then when I came home that day and heard Mary’s message on the machine asking me to call, that’s when I finally started to believe.

Every sale is gratifying and unique, and I’m so happy that I had faith in PIPER LEE from the very beginning. I sometimes had to have enough faith to keep Dianna excited, too, but all of her hard work paid off and now FLY A LITTLE HIGHER, PIPER LEE will soar on Harcourt’s 2012 list!

Adah writes:

It was a long process from first submission to acquisition, but I’m so excited to be able to share Piper Lee with readers.

25 Replies to “Story of a Sale: Fly a Little Higher, Piper Lee by Dianna Dorisi Winget”

  1. Stella Michel says:

    I love these stories of hard work and persistence finally paying off. Congratulations, Dianna! You certainly do have a distinctive voice that shines through.

  2. Oooh wonderful! Which month will it be out? Or do we just have to keep our eyes peeled in 2012?

  3. So glad it finally sold! The number of R&Rs seems consistent with what I heard about in my editing class for Contemporary MG. It’s good that these books are given a chance to shine, but I don’t like that they’re considered too “quiet”. Some of my favorite books are quiet MG. (Bell Prater’s Boy, anyone?)

  4. Becky Wojahn says:

    Congrats, Dianna! Don’t know if you remember, but we were roommates at Chautauqua. So excited to hear that PIPER LEE found a home. Can’t wait to read it!

  5. CONGRATULATIONS to you both, Dianna and Mary! Will definitely be picking up a copy of PIPER LEE. 🙂

  6. Congratulations, Dianna and Mary! Whoohoo! It sure sounds like an awesome book, and all the work and passion behind it makes it sound even more special. I’ll be reading it for sure!

  7. Dianna Winget says:

    Thanks so much for all the support and encouraging comments! And yes, Becky, of course I remember you. I’d love to catch up and hear what you’ve been doing. And to all of you engaged in the frustrating, disheartening grunge work that it takes most of us to get published–don’t give up. Just keep repeating to yourself, “persistence pays off, persistence pays off.” It really does. Sometimes it just takes a lot longer than we want it to.

  8. Congratulations, Dianna and Mary! It’s nice to see persistence pay off!

  9. I think hearing these types of inspirational stories helps keep all us writers encouraged. Congrats to both of you!

  10. Congratulations! I love to hear about journeys where hard work and diligence pay off!

  11. Good for you, Dianna. Talk about persistence! My hat is off to you for seeing this through, and you’ve sure earned this.

    Congrats Dianna and Mary!!

  12. Adele Richards says:

    Wow, respect to Dianna for keeping going with the revisions.

    What were the main ways the editor wanted it revised? Was it mostly to make it ‘less quiet’?

  13. What a compelling story of love and persistence. I can’t wait to welcome Fly a Little Higher, Piper Lee and review it on my Middle Grade Mafioso blog. I’ll definitely have my eyes out for this one!

  14. Thank you for this! I have a YA that I fear is considered “too quiet” but the character will not leave me alone. Ten years in the making. (Obviously, it’s not the only book I’ve written!) Your story inspires me, and encourages me to continue with my work. Can’t wait to read Piper. I love Ruth White!

  15. Melissa K says:

    What an awesome story. I wish I could read one of these every day.

    I love the title FLY A LITTLE HIGHER, PIPER LEE. Out of curiosity, was it the original title for the project? Or did it change during the submission process?

  16. Yes, congratulations to both Dianna and Mary. Persistence and a patient, positive attitude do often pay off! Thanks for sharing your story.


  17. Dianna Winget says:

    More wonderful comments and questions! Adele, there have been so many little and big revisions over the past couple years I don’t think I can remember them all. But yes, most of the editorial revisions had to do with making Piper Lee take a more active role in her search for her dad and also with making Piper solve her own problems instead of having someone else solve them for her.

    Michael, thanks so much for your offer of review! I’ll definitely check out your blog. And Melissa, the title changed more than once, I’m not sure exactly how I came up with the present title. But once I started getting positive feedback about it I knew it was the right one.

    Thanks so much again to all of you!

  18. Wow, congratulations Dianna!

    Thanks for sharing Dianna’s story with us Mary – I loved reading it. I’m so glad you both persevered and got there in the end. Can’t wait to hear more about Piper as it travels through to publication.


  19. I really enjoyed reading about this journey! Thanks!

  20. Adele Richards says:

    Dianna – thanks for your response, that’s good to know.

    I love the title.

    All the best.

  21. I’m back, having now read what is now called A SMIDGEN OF SKY, and having loved it. It will be featured on Middle Grade Mafioso tomorrow! (As I foretold in the comment on July 5, 2011.) Dianna’s story about her road to publication is an inspiration–and Piper Lee’s story is transcendent. It even brought tears to my grizzled old mafioso eyes. Good job, everyone!

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