My Long Journey to a Book Contract
In spring 2007, I completed my first mystery novel A Deadly Fall. After five drafts, I prepared to query publishers and agents. The story is set in Calgary and my preference was to publish in Canada.
My preparations began at a Writers Union of Canada one-day presentation on publishing. The presenters offered advice on manuscript submissions and query letters and a list of reputable Canadian agents. At home, I checked the agents’ websites and found a half dozen who were receptive to both unsolicited submissions and mystery genre books. I got my list of potential publishers from the Crime Writers of Canada website. That spring, they listed all the books submitted for the Arthur Ellis Awards, with authors’ and publishers’ names.
Large Canadian presses don’t have submission guidelines on their websites, since they don’t officially accept unsolicited submissions. They also don’t mention their editors’ names, probably so they won’t be flooded with queries from aspiring writers. The WU presenters said the big presses secretly comb the slush pile, not wanting to miss the next hot thing. They recommended sending a query letter and the novel’s first three chapters to the appropriate editor. I found those editors by going to the library and bookstores and studying the acknowledgements in the Arthur Ellis nominees’ books.
Small Canadian presses generally welcome submissions and post guidelines on their websites. Typically, they want a synopsis and the first few chapters, although some request the entire manuscript from the start.
My next step was to draft a query letter. People say this letter is vitally important. I modelled mine on the WU presenters’ sample, ran it by friends and scrutinized every word.
In June, 2007, I mailed my first batch of queries – to five large or medium-sized Canadian publishers and one agent. Three weeks later I received a request for the full manuscript from the agent. Wow. I was on my way. Four months later the agent sent an encouraging letter rejecting my novel. She liked the book, but felt new mystery writers were too hard a sell and had a few problems with my story. Her critique led me to make another, minor, revision before sending out more submissions.
I continued querying agents and publishers in batches and received form rejections and rejections with positive comments. Many publishers and agents did not reply. A second agent asked for the manuscript. She also liked the book but felt Canadian publishers weren’t buying mysteries from new authors. I entered unpublished mystery novel contests and didn’t place. I discovered more possible publishers through sources like Quill and Quire magazine. In July-Aug, 2008, I queried my 14th to 17th publishers. In November, one of them requested my manuscript – my first publisher’s request after almost a year and half of querying. In January, 2009, I got a request from Publisher Number 17, TouchWood Editions.
Statistically, publisher’s requests have about a 10 percent chance of leading to a contract. During the coming months, I queried 10 more publishers, knowing some were extreme long-shots. I sent e-mail follow-ups to the publishers who had my manuscript. An editor I’d sent it to unsolicited said he was passing it along to his publisher. I had a third faint hope.
In January 2010, I received an e-mail from Ruth Linka, the publisher of TouchWood Editions. She asked if my novel was still available and said she wanted to give the manuscript to another reader. I was too afraid to hope and knew my novel could go down to a final meeting, where it would be passed over for someone else’s.
I felt I was down to the wire with Canadian presses. I had tried all the ones I knew of that might conceivably publish my mystery novel - 26 in total. I expected to know by spring if my three hopes would fall through and came up with a Plan B: Revise the novel and try the US and British market. I was not looking forward to this.
In March, I went to Australia on holiday. Three days after I left, Ruth Linka called my home. The following week she e-mailed, asking for a convenient time to phone me. It took a week for me to get these messages and longer to find a suitable time to phone her from Australia. She made an offer to publish my novel. I was thrilled to say yes.
Back home, it all seems to be happening so quickly. I signed the contract with TouchWood this week. Next week, Ruth will put me in e-mail touch with my editor and in-house promotions person. I’ll be spending the summer editing and the year after that gearing up for the book launch.
It has been a long, hard eighteen years that don’t feel so bad now that they’re over. There were many times I felt like quitting, felt my writing didn’t measure up and felt I’d never get here. What kept me going, I think, is that I enjoy the writing process. I like sitting in my room making up stories. I like going over and over them to develop their meaning and make them come across to others. I like learning techniques to make my writing and stories better.
I also enjoy the social aspect – attending writing group sessions and gatherings and classes, meeting fellow writers and making new friends.
Now, I’ll enjoy the social part of giving readings, presenting at festivals and conferences and, I hope, connecting my stories to readers.
Author of "A Deadly Fall"
coming in 2011 from TouchWood