The Road to Publishing Is Paved with…
- K.L. Romo
- May 26, 2022
You finish that sentence.
Fourteen years in July. It will soon be just over 5,000 days since I queried my first novel.
It’s a funny story. I’d worked on it part time for about 10 years while raising kids, working full time, making dinner, and keeping the house clean — you know, all the messy stuff of life.
I couldn’t wait to land a contract with the agent of my dreams. She wrote a book about how to write the perfect query letter, and I followed her instructions precisely. I was sure that within a matter of weeks, she’d offer me representation, quickly sell my masterpiece, and get me an advance big enough to let me quit my day job.
You have every right to laugh.
About a month later, her rejection shocked and devastated me. Being a newbie, I didn’t understand how following her how-to guide for queries and writing a blockbuster novel somehow landed me a big fat NO.
There you are laughing again, shaking your head at my naivete. (I am, too.)
After crying like a child who lost her favorite doll, I put my big-girl panties on and sent 150 queries in batches of 10 (and yes, I did my research; they went to agents who might be a good fit). I received that many rejections back — or even worse, silence.
You know the truth: My manuscript wasn’t ready to query. But I didn’t know it. I was stuck in that “You don’t know what you don’t know” quicksand.
Fast-forward a few years. I wrote another novel. Once again, I was sure my new manuscript was ready, but after sending another 150 queries with no real bites, I wasn’t sure how to proceed.
What the hell was I doing wrong?
Although I didn’t realize my second manuscript was nowhere near ready to query either, I did know I needed the support of fellow travelers.
While I’d already made forays into the writing community, I upped my efforts in 2016. I joined a writers’ association and poured myself into it. I interacted with as many members as possible and volunteered wherever needed. I also discovered the beauty of writing book reviews. Although most of mine are unpaid, they immerse me more deeply in the literary community. And (gasp) I have a blast doing them!
One of those reviews resulted in an invitation to attend the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers (ITW) — ThrillerFest — in New York City with a media pass. It was at 2018’s ThrillerFest that I found the most gracious and amazing group of authors (some very famous ones) who made me feel like I belonged.
After joining ITW, I again volunteered for as many projects and programs as they’d give me. I also connected with representatives of publishing houses and PR firms — expanding my book-reviewing reach — and met leading agents. Soon, I was writing for the ITW magazine, judging annual competitions, and assisting with ThrillerFest programs.
In 2019, I met the woman who would become my agent; she’s a much better fit than the one I thought I wanted all those years ago. But it didn’t happen overnight — not by a longshot. She was interested in my manuscript (the second one; I’d already given up on the first) and spent hours reading my material and talking to me over the phone.
We got to know each other. She finally suggested that my manuscript needed developmental revision and put me in touch with a popular thriller author who is also a book coach.
In 2022, after I rewrote about a third of the novel, my agent offered me representation. Yes, that’s almost three years after she first showed interest.
It takes time.
For years, I hated the words, “Try to enjoy the journey.” It seemed like the journey was the consolation prize for not getting an agent. But it turns out that the advice is spot on: Everyone must journey down the road to publishing. Whether you snag that perfect agent at the beginning of your trek or somewhere in the middle, you still need that involvement with the writing community.
So, what should you do to get involved?
Volunteer with writing organizations, meet people, build your tribe, review books, post to a blog, make yourself known on social media, and interact with followers. And do what brings you joy. The stronger your ties to the writing community, the better your chances of having others take notice. And once you get that publishing deal, the more “seen” you’ve become along the way will make it easier to market your work (for you and your publisher).
Just try not to stress over how long or hard or unusual your journey might be. Instead, make good use of it. I’m 99-percent certain that if you want to be published badly enough, it will happen eventually.
Take it from me.
K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: Teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues and loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets but HATES the word normal. She is also a book reviewer with bylines in the Big Thrill, the Independent, BookTrib, and Shondaland. Her reviews and articles appear at www.romosreadingroom.com, and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram.