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04/06/2010

Tuesdays with Friends Introduces Jenny Milchman

The Mysterious Journey of a Mystery Novel

or,

What Happens AFTER You Write the Book

 This blog post should start, as many stories do, with “Once upon a time.”

 Once upon a time, I wrote a mystery/suspense novel.

 Wait. Actually it should start with “Once upon a time, a long, long time ago.”

 I didn’t know it would be this long between finishing said book and having it actually land in a reader’s hand—which it hasn’t yet—but as every fan of mysteries and suspense knows, a good story depends on lots of twists and turns.

 My story—and I don’t just mean the fictional one—has its fair share of them.

 Writers will tell you that the middle of a book is rife with opportunities to get bogged down. And when that happens one of the things to do is ask, What happens next?

 After I finished my novel, I asked that very question. And the answer I got was, find an agent.

 So I did. It took me about eight months to receive my first (and second) offers of representation. I knew that wasn’t a terribly long time in the scheme of this industry, and so I was feeling pretty good.

 You remember the “long, long time ago” part, though, right?

 Once I decided on an agent—which, after the writing, was the best part yet; getting to talk to these wonderful people, and hearing their plans and ideas—I thought the next plot twist would be simple.

 So predictable, in fact, that if it appeared in a book, you’d have to edit it out.

 Sign with agent, book sells. Right?

 Not right.

 I had chosen a wonderful agent. I will always have very fond feelings for this early believer in my work, and have read with excitement the news of her many sales since we came to an amicable parting of the ways.

 A good suspense novel depends on surprise. The reader should be surprised by the ending and also by events along the way.

 This business has continually surprised me. I’m surprised by the level of subjectivity, how one editor’s “languid and literary” is another’s “fast-paced.” Or even, “too fast-paced.” I’m surprised by how incisive those editors’ eyes can be, how they can completely turn around a manuscript I thought was in great shape.

 That’s what happened with my novel. It needed to be completely turned around, which I think most writers would agree can take quite some time. It’s taken me a long time anyway. Luckily, I went on to sign with another terrific agent who has helped with it all.

 And so maybe, just maybe, I’ll soon be in for a surprise myself.

 

Comments

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Your story is familiar with all struggling artists, I suspect, Jenny, but I can tell from your humor, compassion, and understanding that you WILL have that wonderful surprise! And let's hope soon. I wouldn't want a long, long time ago to become any longer.

The publishing process is not for the weak, for sure. Through all the twists and turns it makes us stronger, stronger than we ever thought we could be.

Hi Savvy and Judy, so nice to see you here! Strength comes under fire or some such?

Jenny,

My experience, from listening to friends, is that agents are highly overrated. One of the things that I like about small presses is that you seldom need an agent to submit your work directly to them. Another reason is that small presses are turning out some of the best work I've read in the past year.
However, if you're bent on agents and NY publishers, I do wish you all the best.

Pat Browning

Thank you for weighing in, Pat. I'm not really bent on anything (except finding readers hopefully)! I'd love to hear more about your experiences/anecdotes--and I agree that small presses are doing some very exciting stuff. One of my favorite discoveries last year was Michael Lister's DOUBLE EXPOSURE, published by Tyrus. I also found my way to several Oak Tree Press authors who are terrific.

And of course, there's Kadi herself!

Oh, and I still recall a thriller released by Hard Shell Word Factory that positively gave me tingles. So I am a big fan of all things indie--presses, bookstores...people :)

Thanks, by the way, for hosting me, Kadi, and to everyone for the great comments.

Jenny, I'm waiting for phase two, when you finally get the deal you deserve with that big publishing house!

Thanks, Shelley! From your lips to...

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