Our readers are often curious about the process of writing and publishing books, and we’re happy to provide access to the experts. In this week’s edition of Publishing U, Linda Joffe Hull (Sweetheart Deal, 2015), an author who lives in Denver, Colorado, explains why, when it comes to getting published, living in the middle of the country isn’t the end of the world.
True or false: If you’re an aspiring author and you don’t live in New York City, it doesn’t matter. Work hard and learn your craft well enough, and your work will always find its way to publication.
I’m not sure how scenic Denver, the gateway to everyone’s dream mountain getaway, can possibly be considered Flyover Country. In the world of publishing, however, just about everything west of the Hudson River meets the criteria, so at least I’m in good company. Over the 15 years since I finished my first manuscript and sent it off to certain fame and fortune (yeah, right!) I’ve learned one thing for sure while living here. Actually, two.
The answer to the above statement is true. The answer is also false.
As I collected enough rejections to wallpaper my office and the adjoining hallway, I met more than a few fellow pre-published authors who were clearly more talented than I was, even if they weren’t having any better luck with the manuscripts languishing their own hard drives. While learning to genuinely cheer the successes of others who had written the right thing at the right time (there’s no denying the allure of vampires), I continued to hone my craft. I also began to wonder if there was anything more that could be done beyond sending out blind queries and attempting to stay out of the psych ward while I waited to meet up with destiny here on the western side of Flyover Country.
An agent can say he is looking for (insert genre)
and you just happen to write the best (insert genre)
he’ll ever read, but your (insert genre) isn’t at all
the (insert genre) he’s looking to acquire.
The rejections continued to filter in. Gradually, it occurred to me that had I been able to meet every agent I’d researched and sent a personalized query, I would have realized over our first cup of coffee that we (and thus my writing) weren’t a match, saving my ego the beatdown of all that rejection. After all, much like an online dating profile that states, I’m looking for a short, perky, blond, 40–50, I may fit all the qualifications and still not be my coffee date’s type. And we all know he could look nothing like his photo—not any more, anyway. Similarly, an agent can say he is looking for (insert genre) and you just happen to write the best (insert genre) he’ll ever read, but your (insert genre) isn’t at all the (insert genre) he’s looking to acquire.
What it all came down to, I realized, was making sparks fly in person—an author/agent love connection, if you will. But knowing I would have few, if any, opportunities to mingle at a literary cocktail party on a Manhattan rooftop terrace, I decided to do what I could from Denver to bring Manhattan to me.
But how? Here’s what worked for me.
Join your local writers’ organization and show up at events. For me, it was the amazing and invaluable Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Go to the meetings, workshops, and critique groups. Not only will it improve your writing, you’ll meet and connect with other writers. I’ll never forget the gratitude I felt the first time a published author offered me the name and contact info for her agent, simply because we had a friendly conversation.
Get involved. I offered to write an agent spotlight in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s monthly newsletter. As a result, I found myself with the unique ability to contact agents who sounded interesting and make a personal connection by interviewing them about what they were really looking to acquire. Readers benefitted and so did I. In fact, I landed my first agent as a result.
Attend conferences. Simply by showing up, you’ll learn a ton and have lots of fun. The real trick however, is to volunteer. At the RMFW conference, we have a kick-off party specifically for volunteers and guests of honor. What better way to have VIP access to the slate of attending agents and editors in a casual setting before they are inundated by the masses? I started out my volunteering career by coordinating the conference’s agent/editor critique groups. The benefit? Not only did I get first dibs on getting the first ten pages of my work-in-progress to the attending agent of my choice, I also played point person—a job that led to contact with all of our guest agents and editors.
Enter contests. Okay, so you may have figured out that I am one of the rare birds known as an extroverted writer. How, you might ask, could quiet, self-contained, my-stellar-work-will-speak-for-itself you have anything to learn from me, the swirling, far-too-talkative person at those painful social gatherings? Enter writing contests. The finalists are typically judged by agents and editors. I know more than a few published authors whose first deal resulted from a contest entry.
Don’t be afraid to make small talk. Believe it or not, after being inundated with pitches, that editor at the end of the conference bar will probably be relieved to talk about almost anything but what you’re working on. Many are actually writers themselves. Chances are, a conversation where you don’t mention your book might even result in a connection that leaves an agent or editor interested in who you are and, thus, what you write. I met my agent at a conference because he was in the process of signing a friend of mine. Later, he signed me. My debut novel was published in 2013, three years after an intense conference-lounge discussion with my now editor about his favorite writers. The Mrs. Frugalicious mystery series came about when another editor, whom I’d met and liked over a conference weekend, suggested I try my hand at mystery and send her the manuscript. Even my first novel, which seemed doomed to suffer the fate of constant near-misses, was recently published by a small press whose publisher was a long-time member of, you guessed it, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.
Five published books and four friends later, I can honestly say that getting involved in my little, local writing world was the key to getting published—and a whole lot more valuable than an in-box full of impersonal rejections.
Linda Joffe Hull is a former president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is currently on the board of Mystery Writers of America. Her debut, The Big Bang (2013), was published by Tyrus Books. Since then, she has published three books in the Mrs. Frugalicious mystery series for Midnight Ink. Her most recent title is a romantic comedy called Frog Kisses (2015), published by Literary Wanderlust. Find her on the web at www.lindajoffehull.com and follow her on Twitter at @lindaejh.