What is the recipe for becoming a published, successful novelist? According to Jenny Milchman , who addressed the Sisters in Crime-NY chapter on May 20, the answer is a combination of persistence, networking with genuine interest, good writing, super supportive family, total faith in the path taken, and another huge dose of persistence that keeps you going through 7 unpublished novels, 3 agents, and 11 years.
Jenny Milchman provided her fellow sisters in crime with a candid view into her journey to success. Her first novel weighed in at 180,000 words. She sent it off to the top agents and “surprise” didn’t get any offers, but did receive some painful and helpful feedback. So that was one unpublished work down. Six more novels and time spent networking resulted in a relationship with the author, Nancy Pickard ,who volunteered to read Jenny’s manuscript and after being so impressed, brought the book to her own editor.
Key takeaways from Jenny’s experience for aspiring authors:
- Network, network, network—live and virtually, but do it with genuine interest. Jenny spent years going to author book signings and events of authors she admired and speaking to them about their work—not trying to sell her work or asking for their help, but learning from them and building relationships. For those of us in NYC, there are opportunities every day to do just this (follow the blog: authorspottingnyc for announcements of upcoming author events).
- Engage with other authors virtually—Jenny specifically mentioned Dorothy L. a very active list serve of mystery writers and fans.
- Get feedback—use writer’s groups—and really take feedback to heart, as painful as it might be.
- Agents can be a sometime thing: Jenny shared how, much to her dismay, agents “dumped” her when they couldn’t successfully sell her books. New authors spend so much time and energy to secure an agent, the thought of having to do it multiple times—yikes!
- With each book the game starts again: Just because your first book is successful, doesn’t guarantee acceptance of your next book. Each book represents a new battle.
- Getting the book published is just the first step in getting readership. Demonstrating both the support of her husband and children, and her unfailing drive to get the book out there, Jenny took it upon herself to take her entire family on a 7 month book tour (in spite of the lack of support and encouragement from her publisher). She traveled from book store to book store and book club to book club making connections and selling her book and herself. This approach was so successful that she has done versions of the family road tour for each of her subsequent books (with her publisher now behind her).
- Choose your path to publishing: Jenny chose the traditional-agent- large publishing house route. As Jenny demonstrated, this can be a long and bumpy journey. Traditional publishing is built on many stages to getting that acceptance: the agent; the agent to an editor; the editor to an editorial board; and finally approval by the publisher. The rejections can come at any one of the stages and each has its own time frame. Jenny chose and stuck with great persistence to this path. She wanted to see her book on the shelves in the bookstore next to her favorite authors. But, these days, authors do have many options for publishing–choose wisely.