My Publishing Journey: The First Cut is the Deepest

61c4466bf283bd9fcdeabee7a559b024A year ago, I was actively looking for a home for my debut mystery novel, THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE. I’m happy to say that I found the perfect fit with Barking Rain Press, but the journey to get there was filled with highs, lows, lots of learning and a liberal dose of rejection.

My journey began in June 2012 when I met with an agent at the Bloody Words Mystery Writing Conference in Toronto. She loved my premise and asked me to send her the full manuscript when I finished the novel. I didn’t realize, at the time, that most agents won’t even listen to a pitch unless a book is ready for submission, and certainly never from a beginning writer. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss!

I told my husband, family and friends. Drank champagne. Celebrated. The fact that I was still on the first draft of my very first novel seemed like such a minor point. Surely I’d have the book finished within a few months. Visions of advances danced through my head.

Spurred on by the agent’s enthusiasm, I completed the first draft by September. Reread and revised it in October and November. Polished it up in December and sent it to two friends to read in January 2013. Got their feedback in February, made another round of minor revisions, and voila! I was ready to submit.

I drafted up a decent query letter, reminded the agent of our meeting and waited. Six weeks went by without so much as a word. Was it too soon to follow up? I had no idea what the protocol was, but since I hadn’t received an acknowledgment to my first email submission, I decided to send another email. This turned out to be wise; she hadn’t, in fact, received the first email. On the plus side, she did remember me, and encouraged me to resubmit the entire novel, along with a bio, synopsis and marketing plan.

The bio wasn’t difficult. I had a professional bio as a freelance writer and editor. The synopsis was almost as difficult as writing the book. For those of you unfamiliar with a synopsis, it’s a one to two page document that tells the entire story, from start to finish, including the ending. That’s right: you are expected to boil 70,000 words down to less than 1,000 (and some agents/publishers want no more than 500 words). As for the marketing plan, I didn’t even have a website yet, let alone a Twitter account, Facebook page or Pinterest profile. I wrote that I was working on all four. Then I took a website course and got started (the result is what you see here now, the work ongoing).

I’d like to tell you that this dream agent wrote back with an offer of representation, but the reality is after four 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.

Did the rejection sting? Of course it did. The first cut really IS the deepest, if only because it marks the first loss of innocence. So I did what anyone would do. I cried. Shamefacedly confessed my failure to my family and friends. Brooded and ate junk food. Read about famous authors and their experience with rejection before they were published. Their stories gave me hope.

After a couple of weeks of feeling  sorry for myself, I went back over my manuscript and started the revision process all over again, this time with an eye to making my characters “more lovable,” or at least more memorable.

The outcome might not have been what I hoped for, but, because of one agent’s encouragement to this newbie writer, I completed my novel and sent it out in the world to be read. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Here’s what I learned from this experience (and you can too):

  1. Don’t submit your story before it’s truly ready. Most beginning writers get impatient (and I was no exception). Remember this: you get one chance at an agent or publisher. There are no “do-overs.”
  2. Once your story is polished to perfection: Don’t query just one agent, regardless of how enthusiastic they may seem about your project. Writing is subjective and reputable agents are paid ONLY upon the sale of your books. Unknown writers are not on the top of their client wish list.
  3. Start building your Social Media platform early and methodically. The days of agents and/or publishers doing all (or even most) of the marketing are over. Slow and steady wins this race.
  4. Learn how to write a decent synopsis. Take a course. Study examples online. Try not to be daunted by the process.
  5. Believe in your story. Rejection is part of every writer’s life. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, was rejected 60 times before getting a publishing contract. I had 59 more rejections to go.

About the photo: The Emotions of the Publishing Process is available for free download at

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12 responses to “My Publishing Journey: The First Cut is the Deepest

  1. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thank you Cindy. It’s hard to share our “failures” but I do hope the post helps others. And yes, in hindsight, this helped me in more ways than I ever imagined.

  2. HI Judy. I was an optimistic writer just like you who met an agent at a conference who couldn’t wait to read my manuscript. Although it was far far from ready. But just think how motivating she was for you. You finished your book, completed a website and learned how to write a synopsis. And you’re much better prepared now to do all the promotion once your book is released. I personally can’t wait to read it. Thanks for sharing your journey. I know your post will be encouraging to everyone.

  3. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Carol. Some folks might even call me stubborn!

  4. You are very persistent and your post is very encouraging. Yes, writing a synopsis is really difficult. Thanks for sharing what you learned from this experience. 🙂

  5. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Diana. Yes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (or at least a bit wiser). And yes, knowing when something is ready, that’s the real talent!

  6. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thank you for reading it, Christine. I’ll admit it was tough to write this and share it but I hope it helps someone else. And thank you for wanting to read The Hanged Man’s Noose. It should be out by July 2015, maybe sooner! Stay tuned.

  7. Yes, I’ve been there. Stings when they build up your hopes like that. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The problem is with noobies, we actually think that it IS ready.

  8. Christine Finlayson

    What a wonderful story, Judy — thank you for sharing it! I love hearing about authors’ journeys to publication. Congratulations on finding a home with Barking Rain Press, and I look forward to reading your book.

  9. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Gillian. I will be posting more on my publishing journey in February!

  10. Gillian Hobbs

    Fascinating, and probably something most writers can empathise with. Now ! I want to know what happened next……..

  11. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Susan. It was difficult to share this, but it was important to me to be honest about the process. I was so naive!

  12. Fantastic story of how you felt through all these twists and turns, Judy. It always seems like the agents are the sticking point.

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