Potholes on the Road to Publication - The Long and Winding Mystifying Mystery Tour - Part 1

A road fading into the distance with the word “START” painted on it

I was finally heading in the direction I’d always wanted to go – writing mysteries. I slaved over each and every one of the 90,000 words it took to complete my first mystery manuscript. Then I was ready to hit the accelerator on my mystery writing career.

I quickly learned that the mystery publishing industry moves at a snail's pace.

First came the hellish query process. If you’re a writer, you already know how long and painful that process is. If you’re not a writer, I won’t bore you with the details – just know that it’s brutal (and if rejection letters were still printed and mailed, instead of sent by email, there wouldn’t be a single tree left standing on the planet).

The market had tightened since my romance writing rodeo – there were fewer and fewer publishers willing to look at work that wasn’t represented by a literary agent. British agents told me to query American agents. American agents told me to query one of the very few Canadian agents. None of those few Canadian agents replied my queries. I was feeling very rejected.

Then my mother died, but her death is actually what brought about my first mystery manuscript sale.

She’d always told me that having my hair returned to its natural colour (removing the strange grey streaks that were appearing with alarming alacrity) was a foolish waste of my time and money. But as I sat beside her hospital bed shortly before she died she suddenly started staring intently at my head. I asked her if a bird had pooped on my head, because she seemed to be fascinated by the top of it. She said “You really need to get your hair dyed.” I laughed and said “You’re the last person I ever expected to say that to me!” To which she replied, “I know, but I’ve never seen you in full bloom before.” She died two days later. I called my hairdresser and begged him to squeeze me in before my mother’s funeral. (My mother was a very determined woman – I didn’t want to risk annoying her, even after death, and wanted to avoid having to dodge any lightning bolts of disappointment that she might send down to zap my grey bits during her funeral.) He told me I’d have to share an appointment with another client, if the other client was willing. The other client graciously agreed and I ended up sitting in the chair beside hers for over an hour.

It turned out that I was sharing the appointment with a publisher – a publisher who published mysteries. (Thanks Mum!) (And thanks Jeff, for sitting me next to that client!) But it wasn’t the time or place to drop to my knees and beg her to read my manuscript. I spent the next year and a bit dealing with the Estate From Hell (which will definitely show up in a future mystery - lots of greed and lying and betrayal). Once that insanity started to settle down I sent my hair salon publisher/friend a query that started off with “You had a plastic bag on your head when we met …” It caught her attention. She asked me to send her the manuscript. I sent it. And then I waited. Then I waited some more.

She emailed me half a year later. She liked the story and the writing, but she wondered if I’d be willing to rewrite it to make it more of a standalone (I’d written it as the first in a series). No surprise, I said “Sure!” I spent a couple of months rewriting it. Then I resubmitted it. And waited. And waited. And waited.

About a year later she got in touch with me again. She was working at another publishing house by then and she thought they might be interested in my manuscript … if … I rewrote it as the first in a series. (heavy sigh) I unearthed the original version of the manuscript, went over it carefully to improve anything that needed improving, and resubmitted it. Then I waited. And waited. And waited.

Many more months later … she got in touch with me again. She felt the “new” version of the manuscript worked well and told me she was going to present it at the editorial board meeting “next week”. I was so excited.

That excitement waned dramatically as meeting after meeting was cancelled or rescheduled. The meeting “next week” didn't end up happening until many months later. But it was worth the wait.

They offered me a contract.

I was going to be a published mystery writer!!!

Little did I know how many turns and detours lay ahead …