Jenny Milchman is a literary suspense writer whose debut novel just sold. COVER OF SNOW will be published by Ballantine in early 2013. Her short fiction has appeared on Amazon bestseller lists, and another story is forthcoming in an anthology called ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II. Jenny teaches courses on polishing, pitching, and publishing your work for New York Writers Workshop. She co-hosts the series Writing Matters, which draws speakers from both coasts to events held at a local independent bookstore. Last year she founded Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which was celebrated in 30 states, Canada, England, and this year spread to Australia. Jenny welcomes authors in the Made It Moments forum on her blog. Please look for her at http://jennymilchman.com
"Reaching the Starting Line"
by Jenny Milchman
"Reaching the Starting Line"
by Jenny Milchman
This spring, after eleven years of trying, I finally reached the starting line.
I received an offer on my novel, a literary mystery called COVER OF SNOW.
I can’t refer to this as the finish line, even though it certainly felt like I ran a marathon to get here, because all the really hard work starts now. Editing the manuscript (which I am doing right now, having just received my new editor’s brilliant thoughts—-this is the ninth version; it was the eighth one that sold). Reading galleys. (Oh! I can hardly wait to see this thing called a galley. It feels like the crown jewels to me. Or the Emerald City). Figuring out how (whether) to promote. More and more authors, such as originally self-published sensation M.J. Rose, say that the best promotion is writing more books. So—writing that next book.
But it was definitely something, an 11 year something in my case, to arrive at this point. How did it happen? It’s a story unique to the mystery and suspense community, which I liken to a circle of friends.
I’ve been represented by three great agents who between them found 15 great editors who wanted to make offers on one or another of my books. The editorial board remained the sticking point—-with potential deals being thwarted for reasons that over the years became less about craft, which I still needed to learn, and more about things that pointed to the sometimes arbitrary nature of the submissions process.
During this time, I went to readings and book signings by authors I admired. Laura Lippman. Tana French. Jonathan Kellerman (who played guitar). I watched, and learned, and yearned for the day I might be up there.
I also wrote to authors. And because authors—-I think especially in the mystery/suspense world, although this may be my bias—-are a forthcoming, supportive bunch, I got responses back. I started to make not connections but friends.
It just made sense that when I read good news about these friends, on listservs like DorothyL, I would drop them a quick did-you-see-this note? I was always happy to see achievements by people who were making it in this world, including some who had offered me encouraging words and support—-even going so far as to give an unpublished manuscript a blurb.
Then someone offered to do even more than that.
One of my favorite authors, whose most recent book had been mentioned in at least a dozen Best Of lists last year, wrote to me one cold, late winter day. I felt as chill and desperate as the weather. My latest almost-offer had just fizzled—-and it was our last shot.
“I just want to tell you that I love this book,” wrote Nancy Pickard, in an email that now hangs on my wall. “And if it doesn’t let me down in the end—and I can’t imagine that it will—then I will want not just to offer you a blurb, but to put it in my own editor’s hands.”
I don’t know to express how grateful I was for that email. (And it’s a bad thing for a writer not to be able to express something in words). The gratitude went beyond words, because Nancy’s response buoyed me for weeks. They carried me through my latest disappointment like a wave does a surfer. And though I didn’t think they’d do much more than that, it was enough, more than enough.
By now I knew how subjective the process was. What was the chance of an editor liking my work even if one of her authors did? And even if she did like it, what were the chances that she’d be able to make an offer?
I don’t know what the chances were, but somehow it happened.
Not only did Nancy’s illustrious editor love my book, but in a blindingly fast few weeks-—publishing time is best measured on a geologic scale—-she had acquired it.
After eleven years I was going to be a published author.
And it happened because of a friend I had made in this wonderful world of mystery.
I am uncomfortable with the whole promotion thing—I much prefer to be getting the word out about other writers’ books and triumphs. So when my novel comes out—when I finally reach that starting line—another dear friend from the mystery world has done me the honor of agreeing to announce the news.
Her name is Kaye Barley.