by Judy Penz Sheluk
There’s an old adage: Patience is a virtue. Unfortunately, it’s never been one of mine, although I have learned that it’s a necessity for writers seeking traditional publication. But in 2012, when I was armed with no more than a big dream and a bad first draft, I didn’t know that. I honestly believed it would be easy. After all, my 10+ years of experience as a freelance writer and editor had to count for something, right?
It all started off so well. While attending the Bloody Words Mystery conference in Toronto in 2012, I met with a “dream agent,” where I naively pitched my unfinished novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose. I didn’t know, at the time, that you were supposed to have a polished product before doing that. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Anyway, the dream agent (who shall remain nameless) was enthusiastic about my project. She loved the title (which is the name of a local pub in the book), loved the premise (greedy developer comes to small town with plans to build a mega-box store on historic Main Street), and seemed to love me.
Dreams of advances floated through my mind. I celebrated my success. Drank champagne. Told my family and friends. After all, I was convinced dream agent would offer me a contract when my book was finished. I submitted the full manuscript to her, at her request, in February 2013. Three months along, with no word, and I was starting to regret my impulsive need to share my news with the world. But surely it would all work out. After all, she had remembered me…
I’d like to tell you that my dream agent wrote back with an offer of representation, but the reality is after four long months of waiting, I received this email:
“Thank you so much for your patience while I reviewed this project! After much debate and multiple reads, we’re ultimately going to pass. I think that your voice is superb, and the premise is very strong, I just didn’t fall entirely in love with the characters. Please know that this was not an easy decision, and I genuinely wish you the very best with it.”
I cried. Ate junk food. Shamefacedly told my family and friends. Then, after some serious feeling sorry for myself time, I dusted off my bruised ego and tried again. By late fall 2013, I had queried 30 agents, netting a few partial requests, which in turn led to three full manuscript requests.
One agent wrote to say she was swamped and it would be several months to a full year before she even had a chance to read my manuscript. The other two agents ultimately rejected it, albeit kindly. They loved my writing, they said, and my premise, but the story had two protagonists with too many points of view. I’d already heard much the same from other agents who’d reviewed and rejected my partial submissions. As stubborn as I am (and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m very stubborn), it was time to accept the inevitable: a complete rewrite. One protagonist, one sidekick.
I spent the remainder of 2013 working with a professional editor, and then rewriting the story, start to finish. As much as I hated to let go of my two-protagonist, multiple POV premise, I had to admit the story was much stronger without it. I’d also given up on finding an agent. The process was too slow (I’d already invested a year) and too one-sided. It was time to find a publisher who would accept unagented submissions.
Enter Barking Rain Press, a not-for-profit small press publisher based out of Vancouver, Washington, that came highly recommended by my fellow Sisters in Crime Guppies (which stands for the Great Unpublished). I submitted the first three chapters during their “open” period in February 2014, received a request for the full manuscript in April, and waited.
Did I mention patience is a virtue?
And then on July 1, 2014, I received an email that started like this:
“Thank you for your patience as we reviewed your manuscript, THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE. It is an engaging story, filled with evocative characters and places — plus a very intriguing murder mystery. We would love to have the opportunity to publish this book in July 2015.”
Patience and perseverance: a winning combination.
And yes, the champagne tasted wonderful!
The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery is available in trade paperback and eBook at all the usual suspects. Read the first three chapters free at www.barkingrainpress.org, and order your copy by clicking on the cover below.
Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published July 2015 by Barking Rain Press. Her short crime fiction is included in The Whole She-Bang 2, World Enough and Crime, Flash and Bang, and Live Free or Tri: a collection of three short mystery stories. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find her at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she blogs about the writing life and interviews other authors.