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/.