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Paige Shelton on Getting Published

Paige Shelton
Farm Fresh Murder
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: April 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

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How to Do Almost Everything Wrong and Still Get Published . . . Someday

I think I still have the notebook with the psychedelic design on its cover. I pasted comical cigarette stickers all over the back of it. It was 1971 after all, and I was only seven years old. Inside, on the first page, I wrote a poem titled “My Kite.” As I finished the four-line masterpiece, I realized that I was destined to be a writer. Surely, the magnificent feeling that creating the poem gave me meant destiny was speaking – determining my future.

If only it had spoken a little more clearly.

I continued to write for my own enjoyment, but between 1971 and 1997 lots of other great stuff happened, like friendships, school, marriage, motherhood, jobs that weren’t always soul-sucking. In 1997 I decided it was time to turn this writing dream into a reality. I decreed I would be published by 1999, just in case all that Y2K stuff came true.

Though I was an avid mystery reader, the only local writing group I could find was the Utah Chapter of Romance Writers of America. I should point out that I looked the number up in the phonebook – the Internet wasn’t as grown-up as it is now. Anyway, they were (and still are, by the way) a great group of women (and some men) who taught me so much, but it was a huge mistake for me to think that I could write romance when, at the time, I hadn’t read even one. I started reading and writing, but I reached December 31, 1999, with only a bunch of poorly written love scenes and way too many euphemisms for sex.

I’ll summarize the next number of years by saying they were full of rejection – some constructive, some downright vicious. Honestly, when I hear about writers who dream (while sleeping) something that they turn into an immediate bestseller, I want to beat my head against my desk. I don’t begrudge anyone their success; I just wish it was that easy for the rest of us. I still dream about missing the all-important Psychology 101 final. I never dream bestselling stories.

Then somewhere along the way, the Internet did grow up. Suddenly, information became so . . . available. There are some amazing editors and agents out there who were kind enough to start these things called “Blogs.” Suddenly, I learned so much. So, that’s what a query letter is supposed to sound like! I’m not supposed to call editors? I need an agent? Really? Well, okay then, let me work on that.

With a few more manuscripts under my belt, more rejection followed until one day an agent said she actually wanted to represent me. Of course, I was stunned and excited beyond belief – and believe it or not, this was another huge mistake. The entire time I talked to her during our first phone call, something in my gut told me that she and I wouldn’t be a good fit. Something told me that I should politely tell her that I didn’t think it would work, but I didn’t. Instead, I spent the next two years trying to reach her – by email, phone or snail mail. The only time she responded was when she was in a hurry to something else and didn’t have much time to talk. I have no idea if she submitted my manuscript to the people she said she submitted it to.

But, I also spent those two years working on a mystery – this was my fifth completed manuscript. I won’t say the writing was easy, but it was almost a relief. I’ve probably read thousands of mysteries. I loved the plotting, I loved planting the red herrings, I loved . . . well, I loved the mystery. In fact, though I’ve always loved writing, writing this story was more satisfying than even the masterpiece poem I wrote when I was seven.

And I certainly wasn’t going to give it to my agent. I fired her – too politely probably – and set out to find another agent, a good one this time.

I’m not sure I can remember the exact sequence of events, but a few months into querying, two agents – two really good agents – were suddenly interested in my work. One had had the manuscript for a while. One hadn’t responded to my first query, so I sent her another one – finally, I did something right. The second one, the one who hadn’t responded at first, was Jessica Faust.

Things happened quickly at that point – this was February/March 2008. Not only did I know Jessica and I would be a good fit, but when I told the other agent who was interested (who is awesome, too, by the way) about Jessica, she only wished me luck and told me I was in great hands. She was right, and from the beginning Jessica has done exactly what she said she would do, and she has never once ignored a communication from me even if she didn’t have good news to share. These are things everyone should expect from their agent. I wish I’d known that sooner.

Anyway, Jessica set out to sell the manuscript. And, much to our disappointment, it didn’t sell. But Ms. Faust doesn’t even know the concept of “giving up.” She and I had a brainstorming session. Here’s the deal: When you have a brainstorming session with your agent and you feel like she knows you better than you even know yourself, rest assured you’ve signed on with the right person. The Farmer’s Market Mystery Series idea came from that meeting.

It took some time for me to get about a hundred pages written, but in October of 2008, with those pages, Jessica sold the first three books of the series to the fabulous Michelle Vega at Berkley. The first book, Farm Fresh Murder, comes out today, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Yes, I made lots of mistakes along the way, some stupid, some just human, but I’m sure that somehow everything has worked out the way it was supposed to. It might have taken thirty-nine years from that first poem to get published, but hey, at least it didn’t take forty.

Farm Fresh Murder is Paige Shelton’s debut novel and the first in A Farmer’s Market mystery series. She also made a recent deal for If Fried Chicken Could Fly and two other books in the Grandma’s Cooking School mystery series. Both series are published with Berkley Prime Crime. More information on Paige and her books can be found on her web site www.paigeshelton.com/.

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39 comments

  1. Paige, congratulations on your debut! I have a question about that uncommunicative agent: When you fired her, did you get a list of her submissions? And if not, did that affect how you went about looking for a new agent? I may find myself at a similar crossroads soon, and I've heard that it's hard to find representation for a project that's already made the rounds.

  2. First kiss, car, job, degree, first tumble in the hay, and wedding day. (hey that rhymed)The birth of a child and then watching that child lovingly walk away to the future, all of it as momentous as the day your first book comes out.
    My first by-line…wow what a day it was.
    Paige…enjoy ! Your life guided you to this moment, it's great is'nt it…congrats!
    nn

  3. Thanks so much everyone. It is very exciting.

    Sherri — when I fired my first agent, I didn't get a list of her submissions. I asked for one, but never did get a straight answer. I didn't continue to submit that manuscript so I wasn't too concerned. If your current agent won't give you a list of submissions and you want to continue to work with that manuscript, I suppose I would just be as honest as possible with further submissions. I've heard the same you've heard — that's it's difficult to find representation for a project that's made the rounds. Just do what you can to make sure you know for certain it has made the rounds.

    I wish you much good luck. Never give up.

    Paige

  4. Thank you for your quick and honest answer, Paige. I'm terrified of starting over, but I'm also dreading handing over this new manuscript. Lots of soul-searching going on here. Thanks again!

  5. Well done, Paige 🙂

    This is great to hear. You read so many stories about how authors lucked out and got published first time 'round. It's good to hear that you stuck with it and made your childhood dream come true.

  6. Congrats on your success, Paige! I feel like your story is sort of similar to mine. I spent the 90s writing really bad romances. I was targeting Harlequin/Silhouette, so I didn't even try to get an agent until I started writing young adult a couple of years ago. Now I have one…and it's a completely different experience. A lot of waiting…and that's excruciating! But I've found a really good agent and we have great brainstorming sessions…I'm so glad I found her! When I think of all of the agents I queried blindly, not researching to find out if they were actually compatible with me, I cringe a little. I lucked out, for sure!

  7. Congratulations, Paige! Thanks for sharing this. I, too, fired my agent due to the same type of issues and also refused to give this agent more of my work. I did receive a list of submissions, but suspect some additions to the list were bogus entries. The warnings signs were there, subtle signs, but enough to cause a pause in me, and I should've listened. Now I look at it as a life lesson and am in search, as you were, for the agent that will be a good match for me. That said, it's encouraging to see that it worked out for you! Love mysteries and look forward to your books!

    When you queried new agents, did you tell them about having been agented before (even though nothing was sold)?

    And Jessica, does it matter to you if a writer has been agented before when there are no sales from said agent? Even if the work they are submitting to you never fell into the hands of previous agent?

    Z.A.

  8. Congratulations!

    It must be a wonderful felling.
    How do you feel about coming back to romance? Do agents accept an author that write in multiples genres, or will they only work with you in the mystery line?

  9. Again – thanks, everyone.

    Sherri — hang in there. One step at a time.

    Way to go, Stephanie!

    Z.A. — When I queried for a new agent, I did not tell them I had been agented before. Since I'd put that manuscript away I just acted like I was starting over. Your situation is a little trickier. I know that agents and editors definitely want to know if your manuscript has been shopped (and where it has been shopped), but I'm not sure of the exact moment to tell them that information. Jessica?

    Anon 2 –Some writers have different agents for different genres, some have one for everything. It all depends on the writer, the agent and the genre. But don’t be afraid to have this sort of discussion with your agent.

    Good luck!

    Paige

  10. Thanks for your feedback, Paige. I'm not shopping the same manuscript either. As you did, I put that mss away figuring some day I'll go over it again and see what I can fine tune, or else I'll have a good laugh. I've also taken the road of starting fresh and have started introducing my newest story to the agenting world. BTW, like your web site and your blog.
    Z.A.

  11. Thanks for sharing your path to success. I find these perseverance stories soooo much more inspirational than the overnight success ones. Best of luck with your debut!

  12. Congratulations, Paige!

    What a thrill to learn, via Lesli's post on the URWA listserv, about your debut mystery!

    Sharing your publishing journey here was a wonderful read. So I can only presume your mystery will be an even finer read 🙂 I just put your book as Number One on my TBR list!

    Alice

  13. Congratulations Paige and thank you for sharing your very inspiring story. Wishing you and your book the very best. Enjoy your big moment!

  14. Congrats, Paige – what an exciting day this must be for you! I started writing "seriously" in 1995. This past November, I found my "perfect" agent and we're readying my YA novel for submission now.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I wish you much success as you move forward in your career.

  15. Everyone's comments are so appreciated. Congrats on the success stories. Keep at it — as Donna said: the difference between failure and success as a writer is one more query letter or one more submission.

    Yep, I agree.

    Good luck!

    Paige

  16. Awesome post, Paige. Very inspirational. A good reminder to never give up, no matter what.

    Best wishes for your debut and the rest of the series. I know it will be a smashing success.

  17. Congratulations, Paige, for sticking with it and for finding such a terrific agent! I wish you all good things with your debut novel. Believe me, from one who took that long road to publication, this is the beginning of an entirely new phase in your life. It's a very special time–savor the moment and then get back to work!

  18. We at BOOK'em Mysteries in South Pasadena CA take great pleasure in selling your book! The cover is an absolute knock out and a joy to see on the shelf.
    If you visit California please come by to sign your books, it would be an honor to meet you.

  19. I would've gone nuts during that same two year period that you spent trying to get in contact with your first agent. It's freakin' awesome that you and Jessica brainstormed your way to Berkley. That's the stuff dreams are made of! (I'm still at the "So that's what a query letter is supposed to sound like!" stage. Very, very long way to go.)

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