Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Journey of 11 Years Begins With One Day by Jenny Milchman

Hello, The Thrill Begins readers! Thank you for stopping by to read. If you leave a comment, you will be entered to win a copy of my Kindle short story "The Very Old Man", which has
been an Amazon bestseller in mystery anthologies.

Today I wanted to talk to you about my journey to publication—which took one day...and then another eleven years.

If I had known how long it would be, I might have stopped before I even got started. Or maybe I wouldn’t have. After all, I’d wanted to be a writer since before I could write.

Family lore has me dictating bedtime stories as a sleepy two year old to my mother.

At first it didn’t seem like it would take me very long at all. In fact, it even seemed like I might be one of those instant wonders! After all, I received not one but two offers from agents, one at an illustrious NYC agency, the other greener, but hungry and passionate, just months after I began querying.

Now I could sit back and wait for my novel to sell, right?

Questions like that call for only one answer: Wrong.

What I learned was that even the wisest, most experienced, and devoted agent doesn’t sell every project she or he takes on. (What percentage do they sell? I think this is a secret more closely guarded than whether women of a certain age have had work done).

I also learned that my writing—despite having a spark, a certain something, that attracted agents—had a long, long way to go.

It wasn’t just work on craft that enabled me finally to sell, although that must’ve been part of it, for surely I improved over the course of eight (count ’em) novels.

But other things came into play, and I’m listing three tips here, in case one or more is helpful to other emerging writers walking (sometimes plodding) along this road.

1. Pursue what I call para-writing activities. In my case, I began a literary series with events taking place at a local bookstore. I got to know writers, and I got to know booksellers, and many of these people became interested in my journey. It may not have helped me sell any faster, but it sure made the trip less lonely.

2. Join writing organizations that embrace emerging as well as published writers. I write literary suspense, and can recommend three that seemed to work particularly well. One is Mystery Writers of America, another is Backspace, and the third, of course, is International Thriller Writers. While you may have to have a contract or offer in hand to take advantage of some of these groups’ benefits, all offer conferences and events that are open to everyone. Which brings me to—

3. Attend writing conferences. You will learn from the panel discussions. You will commune (and sometimes commiserate) with other writers who are trying to get published. And you will meet authors who can give you faith that a) it will really happen and b) may even be able to help you. Some authors are kind enough to read a few pages of your work, offer his or her agent’s name, or simply tell you how they got their first break.

How did I finally get published? All of the above.

I attended a conference that led me to my third (and ultimately successful) agent. I had grown the writing series enough that I had editors’ names to give my agent. (Sometimes people don’t realize—certainly I didn’t eleven years ago—what a partnership the agent/author relationship is). And finally, I got to know a favorite, much admired author who ultimately agreed to read my unpublished manuscript, and in the end all but put it in her editor’s hands.

It may not be clear, when you’re taking that very first step, how your book—or even which book—will ultimately sell. But I can tell you that if you just keep walking, it will.


Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from New Jersey. She is the founder of the literary series Writing Matters, which draws authors and publishing professionals from both coasts to standing room only events at a local independent bookstore. In 2010 she created Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, a holiday that went viral across the web, enlisting booksellers in 30 states, two Canadian provinces, and England. Jenny is the author of the short story "The Very Old Man", an Amazon bestseller in mystery anthologies. Another short story will be published in 2012 in a book called Adirondack Mysteries II. Her novel, a literary thriller called COVER OF SNOW, is forthcoming from Ballantine.

My various homes on the web:




Unknown said...

Jenny - thanks for your transparency in this article. It gives many of us "aspiring -wip- authors" hope for the future. If we only persist...

Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for joining us at The Thrill Begins and for sharing your great tips!


Jenny Milchman said...

Thank you, Tracey, for this beautiful post! The blog is fabulous. And thank you, M.E., for reading. I am always happy to chat or bounce around ideas about this brave new world of publishing. (Thankfully the writing part has changed less :)

Randy Susan Meyers said...

Great honesty--few have that straight from the gates story and it helps so much to share.

Sharon Bially said...

Jenny - wow, this sounds so familiar! Over the course of the past 10 years I've had 2 separate agency contracts for 2 separate novels. Neither sold to a publisher. After a painfully close call with my third novel, Veronica's Nap, I decided to self-publish it. I would add self-publishing as an option, too, for writers "walking this road." In this age of no more (official) stigma, self-publishing is a fabulous way for writers to keep their stories alive while building invaluable self-promotion and marketing skills -- not to mention a platform, which can really help the prospects of hooking agents, getting better and getting publishing deals and publicity budgets for future books.

Andrew Peterson said...

Jenny, you're a role model! An author who experiences instant success can't understand what most of go through. It seems so hopeless at times, I'm not sure why we keep going. Maybe it's in our blood, we just can't quit once we start something important.

I believe there are three kinds of people in the world:

1) People who make things happen.
2) People who watch things happen.
3) People who wonder what happened.

I'm really glad you're in the first category!! Bravo.

Brad Parks said...

Congrats, Jenny. And if I may brag on your behalf: Jenny is not just getting published, she's getting published by Random House. Not too shabby.

Thanks also for making me feel good about the mere nine years it took me to get published -- I never felt precocious about it until just now. ;)

Carla Buckley said...

Congrats, Jenny--I'm so glad you persevered and I can't wait to read your debut!

I wrote eight novels, too, before selling my ninth. Wish I'd known you on that long, lonely road. Well, at least I know you now.

(And we all know Brad IS precocious.)

Jenny Milchman said...

Randy, hi!! What a coincidence--I just referred to you and TMD in the comments over at a blog at Sleuth's Ink You have a wonderful blend of marketing, naturalness, and pure good writing. Thanks for reading my post :)

Jenny Milchman said...

I agree with you 100%, Sharon. It's a fact: good books fail to sell. And the advent of digital publishing and POD provides a way out of this. It can be a back door into traditional publishing, or it can be a front door in greater independence and control. When my students ask which I think is the best path I say there is no such thing. There's a combination of where we are at any given moment, luck, opportunity, and pros and cons to every side of the fence. Best of luck with VERONICA'S NAP--and if you do any guest blogging, please consider writing a "Made It Moment" for mine. We are very indie author friendly--in fact, just plain author friendly :) Thanks for reading today, and sharing your own road.

Jenny Milchman said...

Andrew, as the King of Hanging in There, I will save these words of yours for a long, long time. Maybe there are more of us than I at least thought? I am shocked to hear that you, Carla, were a nine novel-er :) You had instant success written all over you when I read THINGS--or maybe I projected that. And Brad, you too? It's like we're all stepping forward, My name is Jenny, and it took 11 years. Well, I'm very proud to be in company like yours, and hope one day I can make others feel as welcome as you have me. Thank you all for being here today.

Tracey Devlyn said...



Congrats on winning a copy of Jenny's bestselling short story "The Very Old Man"! Please contact me at: tracey @ traceydevlyn . com with your email address.

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by!!


Nancy Bilyeau said...

I am coming to this late, but thanks Jenny for sharing your experience. And I also gained a lot from reading the comments that follow. That is an interesting question--the number of clients that an agent has that don't sell on the first round. I know that my agent has a few and he tries very hard. As for the number of years it takes to break through, are there many instant successes? I encountered a lot of failure as an aspiring screenwriter. I decided to write my book instead and it took a very long time to research and craft it, all without any indication that it would sell at all. That kind of experience makes you go a little crazy. In a good way, I hope. :)

Martin Bodenham said...

Great article, Jenny.