Create, Pitch, Sell

My Journey To Publication

February 2010 (from the archives)

Twelve years ago my life was filled with sadness and despair. I wrote a novel to escape.

Writing another one six months later got me thinking about getting published.

I went online to research publishers and discovered literary agents. I made a list, bypassing anyone asking for a synopsis. I’d learned how to write a query letter, but I couldn’t seem to get a handle on the synopsis. Something else I didn’t know was that I couldn’t send the first draft. I mailed thirty queries.

It wasn’t long before an agent in New York responded. She said: “this is a good story” and “has many things of merit”. She suggested I send it to a book doctor. She was even kind enough to recommend one: Edit Ink. I sent the full manuscript and the required payment. Relying on their expertise I made the changes exactly as they were presented, and then contacted the agent to let her know the story was ready. She wrote back to say she wasn’t taking on any new clients at this time. I felt terrible. I thought I had taken too long to do the rewrite.

Later, I felt terrible for a different reason.

I rewrote the story. And learned how to write a synopsis.

To increase my chances of getting my work noticed, I joined Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and Romance Writers of America. I planned to write a story in each genre, and send out three times as many queries.

When an agent responded to a query saying the story was “convoluted” I realized the foolishness of my plan.

I let my memberships with HWA and RWA lapse. I prefer mysteries and thrillers, anyway. Eight years after joining MWA I cancelled my membership. I don’t think I gained enough to keep up with the dues. The other thing I’ve learned about this business [besides how slow things move] is that memberships won’t get your foot in the door, unless maybe you can afford to attend major conferences like Bouchercon. Even then, there are no guarantees. I do miss receiving newsletters from these groups, though. I love reading about what other writers are doing. At least I can follow them online.

I’ve written eight short stories and four novels – not counting the first two, which have been trunked. I had a website, and now this blog. I joined a couple of online writers forums. Joined three local writing groups. Two years in a row, I paid a mentor to critique the first fifty pages of the same novel. I couldn’t get it published. I didn’t blame them. I just passed on the offer to submit a third time.

I approached two famous authors at two small conferences, showed each my query and asked for their opinion. One told me what I should take out of the query. She said agents don’t care whether or not I belong to any organizations such as MWA. Agents don’t care where I work unless I am a cop or a lawyer or something else related to my main character. The logline? Cut it, it isn’t very good. No ideas on how to fix it. I was left with nothing but a brief synopsis, and no clear direction.

The other author was awesome. She told me what to put in my query. She asked if I buy groceries at the market. Yes. That makes you a sales and marketing professional, she said. She asked if I pay bills. Yes. Then you’re a finance manager. Wow, I thought, the excitement building. Do you talk to people about your stories? Yes, yes. Well then, you can say you are a professional speaker. How about your website, did you design it? Yes. Great!

On the bio part of my query I wrote: As a sales professional, speaker, webmaster and graphic designer, I have the willingness to make the product marketable along with the necessary skills and determination to sell it.

Uh-huh. The rejection letters couldn’t have arrived any sooner. I never knew there were so many different ways for agents to say, “you suck”.

I have received an inordinate amount of misinformation. Such as: two spaces after punctuation. No. One space after punctuation. Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly – disregard how many I find in best-selling novels. You have to personalize your query. No. A query is not a personal letter it is a business letter. The list of writing rules is mind-boggling.

A few years ago, I’d heard of a way to get published without an agent. Print On Demand. Sounded good. I sent in one of my stories and enough money to cover the fees. When the book became available, I contacted a number of bookstores to set up a signing. A few of them invited me in. And, they supplied the books.

I not only found out I could sell my books with ease I had a lot of fun doing it. By the way, I sold all of the books that were ordered. Confident in my sales ability, I was prepared to move forward and not look back on my unsuccessful query days.

Someone convinced me I should hire a publicist. I did. He got me a radio interview. But the interviewer wasn’t going to call until midnight. At the time, I was a hostess in the restaurant of a well-known hotel and I had to get up at three a.m. to go to work. I drank a lot of coffee to stay awake for the interview – which took all of ten minutes. Between the excitement and the caffeine I couldn’t go to sleep. I went in and worked a nine-hour shift, feeling like the living dead. Having paid such an exorbitant amount of money to hire the publicist (who did nothing other than set up the radio interview), I could no longer afford to go on a book signing tour. I’m not as gullible as I sound. I did the best I could with the information I was given.

I have racked up more than 700 rejection letters. I tried to walk away but couldn’t. I made up my mind to work harder. I wrote new stories. Rewrote old stories. Honed my skills. Paid my dues. Did everything I was supposed to do, and I still haven’t found a home for my work. Am I bitter? Not at all. They don’t call it a journey for nothing. Sure, I’ve seen more bad than good. But I’ve had fun, too.


April: A literary agent’s assistant requested the full manuscript of my mystery novel, SMOKE ON THE WATER. Two weeks later, she emailed a form rejection stating she couldn’t connect with the voice. The same voice I used in the query and a 5-page sample? That voice?

May: Some things in life are a crapshoot, but you can’t have great rewards without taking risks, and you can’t move forward if you remain caught up in the old ways of doing business. You have to take control of your own destiny. So… after twelve years of trying to find representation for my work, the time had come for me to stop wasting my time, paper, ink, envelopes, and postage querying everyone under the sun. I stopped sending out email queries, as well. Thought a lot about the pros and cons of epublishing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

June: I fed twelve years worth of rejection letters to a paper shredder. I had saved every single letter in the hope that one day, after signing with an agent, I’d have a huge bonfire and make smores to celebrate. I deleted all emailed correspondence. Shredded nine spiral notebooks containing the names and contact information of agents, publishers, and editors. Shredded every version of my query letters and synopses. Deleted all blog links for agents, publishers, and everything else writing-related. What an exhilarating experience to witness the end of a long and tiring journey through Query Hell.

July: Began the first draft of SERIAL QUILLER.


January: For the first time in twelve years, I woke up on January 1 with the knowledge that I don’t have to prepare a new batch of queries to send out on January 2.

March: On the road! Traveling all across the US in a[n] RV, exploring the country one state at a time. It’s going to be a great adventure. I’m especially enjoying not having to shovel the driveway anymore.

December: I put up nine titles this year. I am very happy I did what was best for me. I’ll never regret choosing to become an indie author. It has changed my life. Instead of spending, er, wasting time sending out queries I’ve gotten quite a bit of writing done. I’ve also had a lot of fun making my own book covers. So. If I hadn’t taken the initiative and moved forward I’d still be checking mail for a response to my query letters. Many of those responses were never even sent out. Had I ever found representation, though, I’d have to wait at least eighteen months just for ONE title to be released. I’m guessing it would take almost twenty years to put eleven titles out there. Why would I want to go through that? Other writers have found great success in ebooks. Who’s to say I can’t?


December: Here’s to better days and happier tomorrows.


Growing up the way I did, and then being trapped in a bad marriage for several years, I honestly didn’t expect to make it this far in life.

I’ve come a long way, even further since I had written the February 2010 post.

So I didn’t understand why I haven’t completed the Bad Mojo series by now. This blog has suffered, as well. I used to post interesting things. I listed e-books written by other indie authors to show my support for them. Posted useful links to screenwriters, writers conferences, and more. I also used to post about my RVing experiences.

For now, I’m an overnight stocker at a grocery store. Living on island time, life is easy. But even easy costs money. Working almost every night (six on, one off) and sleeping all day leaves little time for writing.

A couple of days ago two things occurred to me: I should’ve let SERIAL QUILLER be a stand-alone until I finished the series, and I had been working so hard at the store I was downright exhausted. My job is physically demanding. Having only one day off at a time to recuperate wasn’t enough. I unpublished SQ two through five, lowered the price on the first book, and cut my hours at the store. Now that the pressure is off, I believe I can bring this series to an exciting conclusion.