So How Did You Get Published?

Moira asked about getting published and I’ve been out of the loop for a decade, so I thought I’d ask the published writers here–traditional, self, fan fiction, whoever’s putting story out there for public consumption,ption–when and how you got published.

I entered a novella contest in 1992 and won (along with Merline Lovelace) and that hooked me up with my first, excellent editor, and then a single title editor read one of books (I think it was Bradley) and wanted to publish me, but I knew I needed an agent to negotiate, so I went on author list I was on at the time, and asked for agent recommendations, and Anne Stuart and Susan Wiggs told me to try Meg Ruley, and Meg and I were clearly separated at birth, and she ran by career for the next twenty years. She’s a wonderful agent. My current agent, Jodi Reamer, is also a wonderful agent.

That’s how I got published.


20 thoughts on “So How Did You Get Published?

  1. In 1997 I printed out and sent a novel I’d finished to an editor I knew slightly socially online, and got on with writing another novel. A year later, he rejected the novel in email, saying that it was the kind of book people who were going to write good books later wrote, and I shouldn’t try to doctor it into being publishable, I should write something else and send it to him. I replied and said I had written another novel — it had been a year! — and did he maybe want to see it in email. He said yes. I sent the beginning. He read it right away and asked for the whole thing. I sent the whole thing, and three months later he bought it, and he’s been my editor ever since, now 15 novels. This is how I developed my superstition that printing things out is bad luck… I also got an agent because I knew you were supposed to, and she was good for a while but then started being terrible and in 2004 I fired her and got another one.

    There’s a book Shannon Page put together a few years ago called “The Usual Path to Publication” which has a longer version of this story along with a whole bunch of other publication stories from SF and Fantasy authors, which is a very interesting read and shows how differently people do it.

  2. I wrote romance for about ten years, and finally realized I wasn’t suited for writing romance, so I switched to cozy mysteries and did a bunch of writing (several completed manuscripts) and querying, got one manuscript rejected by everyone, but came close with two agents who said they loved it but didn’t think it was marketable. So, when I heard about a tiny boutique publisher starting up to specialize in cozy mysteries, I submitted there and sold the “unmarketable” story.

    It did turn out to be a tough sell to readers — I have some amazing readers who love the series, but not enough of them to earn a living.

    So when I heard that Rachel Brooks (BookEnds) was looking for cozies with cats, I sent her one that I’d already written but hadn’t had a chance to submit anywhere. It was a little too weird for her, but she asked if I had anything else with a cat, and I did (although the cat wasn’t as major a character as the first one I sent her), and she loved it and offered representation.

    That was the garlic farm series. It sold because the then-editor at Kensington was a huge garlic lover. Which also shows how random publishing could be — that editor thought “of course there should be a cozy set on a garlic farm,” while other editors we’d submitted to came back with a puzzled, “Seriously, a garlic farm?”

  3. I had written a screenplay (back when I was a fledgling screenwriter with a couple of microscopic-sized options under my belt), when a series of life events happened: I got an offer from Warner Bros for a development deal, but my youngest son’s best friend was killed in a car accident (literally same day) which was horrible on so many levels, and I was in L.A. and they were asking me to move and I knew he couldn’t be uprooted at that point in time. We all talked about it and agreed it wasn’t a good thing to move. So I decided to convert the latest script (only my agent had seen it and she was not a happy camper that I wouldn’t let her take it out) to a novel. At that time, I couldn’t remember how to do anything but dialog and short action lines, so I had to learn interior life of a character all over again. (Now I tend to have to force myself back the other direction.)

    So I had three chapters, and a friend asked to read it. (She’d read the script.) I sent it, and she then asked if she could send it to a friend who “knows stuff about novels.” I said sure. I didn’t think to ask who the friend was. Said friend turned out to be a respected published author, and she sent it to her sister’s editor at St. Martin’s Press. That editor called me and wanted to buy the book. (I only had three chapters. I knew this is not how this worked.)

    I panicked, told her I’d call her back. Called the friend of the friend, asked if she knew an agent. She recommended someone, who signed me on, and the agent and editor commenced to discussing the seriously non-existing book. I thought nothing would come of it. I got a call a week later from the new agent asking, “Is this a stand-alone or a series?

    “Um….. a…. series?”

    “Good answer.”

    She hangs up. Then calls back later and they want to do a pre-empt offer to take it and the next two books WHICH DID NOT EVEN EXIST off the market.

    I had a heart attack. (Well, it felt like it.) And said yes. And then freaked the hell out that I suddenly had to finish writing a book when I didn’t know how to write a book. (Screenplays? Sure. They’re only 105 pages or so, and fast. Books? Not so much.)

    Even though Hurricane Katrina hit and we were without electricity, my husband hooked up a generator for me to use for the laptop so I could hit that first deadline.

    [And prior to all of this was 20+ years of writing non-fiction for newspapers, first, then magazine, then going back to school and graduating and then going into the MFA program. So it was 20+ years of an overnight sales experience.]

  4. I wrote an adventure story about a plane crash for a creative writing assignment in Grade 7. My teacher thought it was good enough to submit to magazines (this was the late 70’s) but being 12 years old I had no clue how to go about doing that. His approval gave me confidence.

    Then in Grade 11 I submitted a story to a contest run by a local newspaper and won. That gave me more confidence.

    Then I graduated and needed a “real” career so went to broadcast school and spent the next 30+ years writing radio and TV commercials. It gave me (what I believe) is an excellent ear for dialogue, because you have to write to be spoken out loud. I tinkered with writing novels between having three children and working part- and full-time, but I really don’t think I would have finished anything if my husband hadn’t bought me a laptop for Christmas (a truly extravagant gift we really didn’t need at the time) and said “Finish something.”

    Six months later, I did. That was MOUNTAIN FIRE.

    I submitted to one large house but was rejected. Ebooks were taking off (it was 2011-ish) so I submitted to a small press (The Wild Rose) and was accepted right away.

    My next book was also published by them but since then I’ve gotten the rights back and self-published them and six others. I’ve tried occasionally to get an agent or editor interested, but it feels futile to sit on a finished manuscript for months when I can get it out and start selling it. And since most small presses do little marketing, I figured if I had to do most of the work and spend most of the money I might as well get most of the revenue (such as it is).

    Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. There are fabulous success stories (I’m not one of them). I have not broken even on any of my books yet. I won’t compromise on quality so I pay an excellent editor and cover designer what they deserve. But I keep learning and growing and look at every book as building my backlist, not as a failure because it didn’t reach the New York Times Best Sellers list (or any best sellers list LOL!).

    My ninth book is with my editor and I am working on the tenth. I figure I won’t quit until the idea of NOT writing is more compelling than the enjoyment I get right now from having written.

  5. Question: when you are doing your discovery draft, do you use one document and cut and paste or do you have several documents and keep them in a first draft folder? I hope this makes sense.

    1. It depends. Usually, it’s one doc and I just keep rewriting. Sometimes I think about doing massive cuts or big changes, and then I copy the draft and do all the big stuff on the copy so I can go back to it, labeling it “Draft Two” or sometimes just with the date (September draft).

      When I post a draft here on Argh, I do the first draft in word and then post it on the Works in Progress Page, which makes it a completely different draft (same thing happens when I print it out) so I revised on the website then (I’ve made over thirty changes to the posted draft of Anna, mostly small things, since I posted it on Friday.). Then I copy the page off the website and put it back into a Word doc, where I can get to it and make whatever small changes need to happen as I do the next parts.

      1. Ditto, more or less. If I’m contemplating substantial changes, I just give the new file a different name, usually the working title plus 1, 2, 2.5, 2.7, etc. I usually have over 10 files before I’m done.

        I always use email as a backup. I send the latest file from one of my email addresses to the other. One’s on yahoo, one’s on gmail, so that’s two separate servers.

  6. I wrote a children’s fantasy (middle grade readers) when my kids were young, and it got accepted by a small publisher I knew of because of family and Baha’i contacts. Which was a big thrill, but I didn’t get anything written for years after that.

    Eventually, I entered a vampire mystery/romance in the Daphne contest, finaled, and got a request for the full ms. from Chris Keeslar, who was at Dorchester Publishing at the time. I was too shy to follow up (even though I did get up the nerve to approach him at a conference, and he remembered my story). After THREE YEARS he emailed and said he was cleaning up his office, and was this story still available. I said yes, he read the rest, and offered me a contract. That book came out in 2010, and the second in the series was due to come out the same week Dorchester went under. So the second mass market paperback never happened. After a while, Amazon publishing bought the Dorchester contracts, and they published the third (and best, IMHO) under their mystery imprint.

    I also submitted a Regency novella to Harlequin Historicals which was also published in 2010. I pub’d 9 novellas with them but never could manage a contract for a full-length story, usually because I had too much plot, sub-plot, etc.

    Since then I’ve been published by Soul Mate Publishing (Regency romances) and Level Best Books (Regency mystery). Also I’ve self-pubbed a few. I don’t seem to have any problem finding publishers, but I never got anywhere with agents — which I think is a good thing, because I don’t have the drive to really make a career out of writing. I expect I would have been a disappointment to any agent foolish enough to take me on. 🙂

  7. I had sent out a number of picture book manuscripts, and was dismayed by how long it took for publishers to get back to me. So for my first kids’ novel, which I basically wrote to see if I could get published, I applied for an Australian Society of Authors mentorship with an established author, and when he liked the book I asked him if he would show it to his smallish mainstream publisher. She liked it and published it.

    Then I set out to write the kids’ book I really wanted to write, Museum of Thieves. When it was done, I didn’t think my first publisher was right for it, so I sent the first few chapters to a friend who had an agent – again saying, if you like it, please send it to your agent. She loved it, so did the agent, who put it up for auction in Australia, while her fellow agent in the US did the same.

    Back doors are always useful if you can possibly find them. They save so much time. And my agent has become a good friend, and I love my Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin.

  8. It took me more than forty years to come up with a story idea I could write at novel length (and did), and by then it was clear that I had no ability at all to write to deadline, or to specification, so there was really no point in chasing traditional publishing. (“I can not, in good conscience, sign a contract with you until the book has been revised to your specifications, and I have NO IDEA how long that will take, if I can do it at all.”) So I spent six months learning new skills, and self-published. A year and a half later, I have not yet sold 100 copies, but I have gotten glowing reviews from total strangers, and a couple of pieces of fan art (!). I am hardly content with this situation, but it is much better to have written and published a book than not.

    P.D. Haynie

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with your last statement, Paul! At least I finished the damn thing, and SOME people have read it. I’ve been saying that for 8 books now. Congratulations on your accomplishment.

  9. I never did ‘get’ published. 🙂 Way back in the 90s I wrote a Fat Historical Romance Novel that I actually queried the old-fashioned way. Got a couple of rejections, had too much going on (master’s degree, moving across the country) to bother with it. Fast-forward to 2012 and the Kindle Direct platform.

    At that point I thought huh, why not just throw this thing up on here? But first I tried turning an old screenplay into a novella because that was a lot less work than FHRN. So I did that, and the sky didn’t fall, so I did it with the FHRN. Then I wrote a sort-of sequel to the FHRN and published that, in between a couple more novellas, and a short contemporary novel.

    Basically nobody noticed, which was great because I could make a lot of mistakes, figure out how to fix them, get better, etc. Have temporarily pulled the historicals because I want to make them better. High-volume writing started in 2017 as a direct response to perimenopausal another-f**king-layoff midlife crisis, and continues. Got serious about presentation in 2018 and marketing in 2019.

    There may come a time when I think it is worth spending $750 for the chance of selling 700 copies of one of my LGBT+ titles on a Book Bub promotion. Not quite there yet. Working on a fourth platform for advertising, continuing to write and polish and get better.

    I write to stay sane, and I publish because the barriers to entry are so low there’s no good reason not to. Now I have 40+ titles and they are all the stories I wanted to write.

  10. My first published book was a nonfiction on modern Witchcraft, which I submitted in 2005. I wrote the first 50 pages and an outline, looked up all of Llewellyn’s submission rules, since they’re the top publisher in that field, and sent it off. They said online it would be about 6 months before you heard back, so I figured I had plenty of time to write the rest of the book. Two weeks later, I got an email from editor Elysia Gallo, saying she loved it, and could she read the rest. THERE WAS NO REST YET. So I wrote it in 5 weeks, got my mother (who is actually a very accomplished writer in her own right) to edit and proof it, and sent it back. Then I didn’t hear back for 6 months. Har. It turned out that Elysia had just gotten the job 2 weeks before, and my submission had landed on what she later called “an eerily empty desk.” Luckily, she loved the book, and 15 years and 12 books, a tarot deck, and an oracle book later, we are still working together, as well as being good friends. Book number 13 is in the works as we speak. Ironically, I’d never intended to have a career writing nonfiction, since my first love was fiction.

    My first published novel, however, was a different story. The first novel I wrote (a paranormal romance) finaled in numerous RWA contests, and even got one “best of the best” award. I sent it out to agents for over a year, got lots of rejections (67 in total not that anyone was counting, although many of those were after requests for partials or fulls), and a few “send me your next book when you write it.” My second novel got sent out to a few of those folks, but mostly I was getting responses like, “If you’d sent this out 2 years ago, it would have been published, but the market is really tight right now.” * headdesk* Then I went to one of Jenny’s workshops at RWA Nationals and it helped me figure out how to take my writing to the next level. The third novel I wrote got me my agent, the fabulous Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency. YAY!

    Except we couldn’t sell that one. Or the next one. In all, it took me 3 books to get an agent, and 4 more to finally get a contract with Berkley. (They did, eventually, put out that third novel, an urban fantasy, and two sequels, as ebooks.) Persistence has definitely been the theme of my fiction career. Eventually Berkley dropped my Baba Yaga/Broken Rider series, and I self-published the final book so my readers could get closure. Then self-published a few more while Elaine and I sent out proposal after proposal to editors who said, “We love this book, we love her writing, we love her characters, but…” That “but” will drive you to drink, just sayin’. And major chocolate consumption.

    Finally this year we got a new contract for three cozy mysteries, which are requiring me to completely reinvent my writing style (except there is still a lot of humor, and plenty of quirky). Hopefully, when the first one comes out in February of 2021, I will finally be an overnight success.

    Never say die, Argh people. Never say die.

    So that’s my “how I got published” story. I should also add that in my early years as a budding writer, I spent a lot of time following authors I loved and agents/editors I respected around the internet. We won’t call it stalking, will we, Jenny? (Although I did kind of stalk her around one conference with chocolate.) I was polite and supportive and enthusiastic. A couple of authors ended up being serious mentors. Many of these folks became friends and eventually peers. Establishing relationships with people in the publishing world–whether or not they ever help your career–is well worth the effort. You can learn a lot, and we all need to support each other. It’s a tough world out there.

    1. I think it is stories like these that “created” self-publishing (other than ereaders and basically no production costs). How frustrating to be told I LOVE this book – sorry, can’t sell it. You are the perseverance queen, Deborah!

  11. I applied to ghostwrite romance novels for a ghostwriting agency so I could get some practice and make some side money, since paying for any kind of formal training post college just wasn’t an option, and the ones that were an option tended to focus on poetry and literature.

    In the last year I’ve ghostwritten four novellas and two novels. On the plus side, you get to practice, learn some of what’s selling (or at least what people think are selling), and embrace the idea that sometimes good enough is good enough. It also lead to some freelance writing romance outlines for Relay Publishing, a company I’ve really enjoyed working with.

    On the downside, it only works if you can write relatively fast. You don’t get to pick the topic. And at the end of the day, you don’t get to tell anyone you wrote this thing that has a 4.5 star rating on good-reads.

    I highly recommend it as a way to push yourself to write faster, try things you didn’t think you could write, and make some side cash. You also learn a decent amount about digital self-publishing. But it normally doesn’t pay enough to live off of, and it takes up time you could spend working on things you could actually put your name on. I recommend it as a way to learn, not as a permanent way to try to get your work out there or make a living as a writer.

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