The Road to Publication: 4 Valuable Lessons Learned

When I started writing, I had no idea what the road to publication would be like. I really hadn’t given it much thought. I figured I’d find out about it when I got there.


But somewhere in the back of my mind I had the thought that the road to publication would be akin to a jetliner speeding down the runway, lifting off into the wild blue yonder, bound unencumbered for some amazing destination! I know I’m romanticizing here, but I did think for the most part it would be a straight forward process, if not an easy one.

NOTHING could be further from the truth! Little did I know that the road to publication would be obstructed with pot holes, cracks, and some rather large speed bumps along the way; each having the potential for delaying, deterring, or stopping me dead in my tracks!

So, I’m going to share with you what my road to publication has been like so far, and I’m hoping that my experience may help you avoid some of the pitfalls that tripped me up.

To date, I’ve pitched my manuscript to seven literary agents and one managing editor of a small press. Three of the literary agents and the managing editor asked for the complete manuscript. The other four asked for sample chapters, but didn’t request the full manuscript.

Each time my manuscript has been requested, I’ve been ecstatic! One step closer to publication!!! And each time it is passed on, I’ve felt dejected and incompetent. Sometimes I’ve felt like throwing in the towel, thinking this is just TOO hard. So what do I do to get past this moment of temporary insanity?

I throw a pity party for a few hours, then I pack away my party favors and take a hard look at my actions and the feedback the agent provided. From that, below are 4 valuable lessons I’ve learned thus far on the road to publication:

1. Make sure your manuscript is ready.

On this first one, I shot myself in the foot. The literary agent I pitched to was very excited about the concept of my story. The problem was, I wasn’t finished editing my manuscript so I knew there would still be errors. I just wanted to get some practice under my belt pitching my novel. Not a good idea.

So, even though the literary agent was very interested in seeing my complete manuscript, I didn’t send it to him fearing it would be rejected because of the errors. A missed opportunity. Before you query a literary agent or editor or pitch to one, make sure your novel is complete and as close to perfect as you can get it.

2. Make sure you’re pitching your story in the right genre.

I have to admit this was a rookie mistake. The next literary agent I pitched to was a native New Yorker. I could tell she was tough. As hard as nails. But when I pitched my story, she liked it and asked me to send her the full manuscript. I did immediately.

A few weeks later I received an e-mail from her. She told me how excited she’d been about the premise of my story; that she’d pushed some other projects back in order to get started with mine. But then she said while I had good dialogue and good characterization, there was nothing “thrilling” about my story. Gasp! (Deer in headlights look).

She said at least there hadn’t been up to about chapter fourteen; after which she stopped reading. Well, I pondered what she’d said, and I thought about other thrillers I’d read. I realized that I’d placed my manuscript in the wrong genre. I had labeled it a sci-fi thriller, which meant there should have been heart-pounding action on every other page.

I knew that wasn’t my intention when I wrote Elysian Escape. The story doesn’t lend itself to action on every other page. So now I pitch it as a sci-fi murder mystery. Just by making this minor tweak, I’ve changed the expectation of the reader. Minor change, huge impact!

3. Know the agency you’re pitching to.

When I pitched my story to the managing editor of a small press, I had no idea which genres she published. I was also clueless how an editor of a small press differed from a literary agent, and how a small press differed from the big five publishing houses in New York.

But I figured I could get my manuscript published through her agency if she liked my work. So I pitched my story to her, and she liked it and asked me to send her the complete manuscript.

About six weeks later, she sent me an e-mail stating that while she enjoyed reading my story, she regretted that it did not fit within their catalogue of cozy mysteries and young adult titles. Not exactly the perfect fit for a sci-fi murder mystery, right? I had essentially wasted her time.

Before you pitch to a literary agent or editor make sure you do your research to determine at the very least they represent your genre. You should also check out how long the agency has been in business, view their client list, check out the titles they released during the last couple of years, etc., to make sure you’d be a good fit for them and vice versa. Their web site should have all of this information.

4. Listen and learn.

Finally, my last pitch to a literary agent was April 2016. She represented a New York literary agency. She said she loved the concept of my story and asked me to send the first five pages ASAP. I fired those pages off as soon as I got home from the conference that Sunday evening.

Monday morning when I opened my e-mail there was a request from her for the complete manuscript. Yeah! I’m turning cartwheels and doing back flips (all in my head of course). Then I promptly e-mailed the manuscript.

So thirty days passed and I’d heard nothing, then sixty days, still nothing. No news is good news I kept telling myself.

Then, I decided to research the proper protocol for follow-up after submitting a manuscript. I learned the industry standard is 90 days. Okay, cool! I can be patient.

Well, about two weeks later, the long awaited response appeared in my e-mail box. I took a deep breath and read. The agent said while she was initially intrigued by the premise and the strong voice, she just didn’t fall in love with my story the way she needed to take on. I swallowed the lump in my throat.

She went on to say she didn’t get a clear sense of how the subplot connected to the main plot and murder. Okay, this is good! This was feedback I’d never gotten before.

So after I had my pity party for not being offered a lucrative three-book deal, I resolved to learn from the agent’s feedback.

And based upon her feedback, I’m going to deconstruct the subplot to determine how I can connect it better to the main plot and murder so that it’s crystal clear. I figure if it’s confusing to one reader, it’ll probably be confusing to others. And besides, the literary agent has a trained eye.

While I’m not happy that my manuscript has been rejected by six literary agents and an editor, I feel fortunate that I’ve received substantive feedback that is helping me improve my manuscript. And while publication is important, it’s not my ultimate goal — having my best work published is!

How about you? Drop me a line or two about a valuable lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication. Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *