Potholes on the Road to Publication - The Long and Winding Mystifying Mystery Tour - Part 4

Flip calendar with days torn off and floating away

Time flies by when you're having fun ... and goes really really really slowly when you're not.

According to the contract that I’d signed, of my own free (dice rolling) will, the publisher had an option on the next book in the series for 60 days after I sent them a partial of the manuscript (the first three chapters and an outline).

I perfected my partial and sent it to my publisher. And then I waited. And waited some more. 60 days passed. 120 days passed. By the 180th day of waiting I was well into doing research for a possible new series and I decided to walk away from my first mystery (and any further stories in that series). I started to get excited about the new series - new characters, new situations and, hopefully, a new publisher. Then an e-zine contacted me – they wanted to interview me about my published mystery. I wasn’t going to say no to something that might help promote my first mystery! 

The e-zine sent their list of questions by email and asked me to send my answers back as soon as possible. One question stumped me – could I give them a brief description of what the next book in the series was going to be about. As far as I knew, there wasn’t going to be a “next book in the series” but just to be sure I contacted my publicist and asked how I should answer that question in light of the fact that I hadn’t heard anything since submitting my partial 240 days earlier. She said she’d look into it and get back to me. [Note: that was over 1,200 days ago - she still hasn't got back to me.] I came up with the right words to dodge the question about the 'next book' by answering it without really saying anything, the article was published and I got back to work on my new series.

Many weeks later I got an email from the senior editor at the publishing house – she wanted to buy the next book, based on the partial I’d submitted to her almost a year earlier. I was so torn. Once again, I was weighing a sure thing (publication of the next book in the series) against something that was completely unsure (I hadn’t even finished writing the first book in the new series, let alone started querying agents or publishers about it).

It took everything in me to do it but, for the second time in my life, I turned down an offer that most people (including me – before my first mystery had been published) would have jumped at the chance for.

More weeks passed. I continued to work on the new series. Then I got another email from the senior editor – she offered me a two-book deal, for books 2 and 3 in the series (without seeing word one of whatever book 3 would be about).

I may be able to turn down tempting offers, but only an idiot would turn down a two-book deal without giving it some serious consideration. Even so, it still didn’t feel right and I'd already ignored my gut feelings to my own detriment twice. So I reached out to a world famous bestselling mystery author who has years of experience in the publishing business and asked for her advice. I briefly explained my situation, without naming names. She strongly, strongly, strongly advised me to do everything I could to get a literary agent on my side.

The clock was ticking … the two-book deal offer was only good for a limited time … I went for broke and wrote the fastest query letter I've ever written (and didn't let myself hem and haw over editing it and trying to make it as perfect as possible). I sent it out in a selective blast to the best literary agents in the world who specialised in mysteries. I'd stacked up a veritable CN Tower-tall pile of rejection letters and emails from agents over the years, so I wasn't holding my breath waiting for replies, let alone positive replies - but I had to try. 

I couldn't believe it when the two most highly regarded agents on my list got back to me quickly; one in the UK, the other in the US. Both asked to read my partial, so I sent it to them right away. The literary agent in the UK, who’d been at the very top of my Dream Agents list for years, emailed me forty-eight hours later - and offered to represent me. I had a hard time writing my reply to him. Writing the message - 'Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!' - wasn't the hard part. What was hard was trying to type on a keyboard that was above my head; the shock of getting his offer to represent me had knocked me out of my chair. And I felt like I was living in an alternate universe when I then had to reply to the US agent who had also offered to represent me - I never dreamt that I'd ever write a rejection letter/email to an agent. 

I can’t begin to describe the relief I felt knowing that I had someone who was 100% on my side, someone who would look out for my interests, who knew more about the business than I ever could. I actually think I was more excited about the UK agent offering to take me on than I’d been when I was offered my first mystery contract. I knew how selective he was about taking on new clients.

He's known for spotting the potential in as-yet-unknown writers, like when a then-unknown author named Vikas Swarup submitted his manuscript to him. He offered to represent Vikas and found a publisher for his novel Q & A. Then he played an integral part in turning that book into a movie - Slumdog Millionaire.

My brand new big-time agent got in touch with my publisher. They sent a few emails back and forth and a deal was hammered out. The publisher said they’d send the contracts to my agent. Then we waited. And waited some more. After several more weeks, my agent contacted the publisher again and asked where the contracts were. Their reply email was short and to the point – “We changed our mind. We don’t want the books.” [My paraphrasing, but not far from an exact quote.]

Going through that was so much easier with a kind, knowledgeable agent on my side. (I guess you can tell how I feel about Peter, my agent. He’s wonderful! Even if my books don't ever make it to the mid-list I'll always be grateful for having met him and for everything he's done for my career ... and my psyche.)

He told me to concentrate on getting the first manuscript in the new series finished. So I did just that ... and Lee and Jack came to life in the first book in the Lee Smith Mystery series, One Way Ticket.

I sent the finished manuscript to Peter. He started approaching publishers and told me to get going on Lee and Jack's next story. I wrote No Return while he talked to publishers and then, just a few weeks after sending him No Return, he emailed to tell me that he’d worked out a three-book deal with a British publisher.

Woman wearing backpack looking at the sun rise with arms raised in the air

I’d really made it this time! I had a literary agent. I had a three-book deal. I was going to be a multi-published mystery writer!!

The story’s not done yet …