Potholes on the Road to Publication - My first book sale!!! Or not ...

This post should more accurately be called One Humungous Sinkhole on the Road to Publication, because what I fell into was way more than a simple pothole.

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I sincerely wish this story was fiction. I’ve actually left out a lot of the more bizarre stuff because even I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t lived it.

After my completely unsuccessful first round of trying to sell a manuscript I followed the advice of my former New York literary agent – I wrote a romance manuscript. (Gosh, that sounds so easy when you only use 5 words to describe it … it took 55,000 words to write it.)

And I did a ton of research to learn more about the romance market; which publishing houses and editors to query, how to query them, etc., etc., etc. Through that research process I met several other writers, all of them trying to achieve the same goal that I was striving for – getting published. I quickly recognised the writers who were only talking to me because of my production credits and some of the connections I had in Hollywood. Those fake friends had visions of multi-million dollar movie deals dancing in their heads (with me opening the doors to those deals for them). I ignored those people. Thankfully, I met many more very supportive fellow writers who became real friends. We commiserated with each other when we received rejections and shared information about new opportunities. One of those opportunities was a brand new e-publishing house in the US. I knew several people who had or were going to query that new publisher.

I was leery. A start-up publisher? Publishing only e-books? They were just starting to come on the market and I only knew a few people who actually owned an e-reader at the time. I decided to wait until I’d exhausted all my options on the traditional route to publication before I queried the new company.

That exhaustion hit me over the next many months as I received rejection letter after rejection letter from both agents and publishers. Some were nice. Others were just plain rude. Quite a few never bothered to reply. So I queried the new e-book publishing company.

They asked me to send them the full manuscript and then offered me a contract. An editor got in touch with me and we started working on the manuscript. Then it started to get really weird.

They missed deadlines and their excuses didn’t make sense. Then their excuses started sounding like the storyline from a bad soap opera. It seemed that everyone associated with the company had some sort of personal catastrophe happen in their lives – everything ranging from car accidents, to suicides, to violent armed robberies, to leg amputations. [NOTE: A multi-published mystery writer friend of mine recently had a less dramatic but still similar experience with a small US publishing house just last year – they did publish her manuscript, but then the stories and missed payment deadlines started and their excuses were almost as bad as the ones I’d heard many years earlier. One of those excuses made me laugh. The person responsible for handling royalty payments had cut his thumb and couldn’t type. In the end, my friend did get the payments she was owed, but she had to fight for them.]

While cars were crashing and limbs were falling off at my so-called publisher’s company, I got a phone call from a senior editor at one of the big well-known publishing houses in New York whom I’d queried earlier in the year. She wanted to buy my romance manuscript … but … I’d already signed it away to the e-book/personal injury publishing house and I had to turn her down.

I couldn’t believe it! I was turning down a sure thing for a thing that was becoming less and less sure (or real) with every incoming email. 

I don’t want this post to end up running 55,000 words so I’ll just list the highlights of the next events in point form:

  • I called my lawyer
  • She hired a private investigator who in turn hired two investigators in the US (two off-duty cops)
  • Her investigator got in touch with the Toronto police to discuss the suspected fraud and also dug up massive amounts of information on the so-called publisher
  • The US investigators had a pleasant chat with the very-much-alive person who had supposedly committed suicide, and also went to take photos of the publishing offices and the 2 home addresses that they’d found for the so-called publisher
  • There weren’t any publishing offices
  • My lawyer fired off very formal letters to the so-called publisher and the so-called editor and, in return, we received a letter confirming that my rights to the manuscript had all reverted back to me, effective immediately
  • Then I fired off one very firm ‘don’t ever contact me again’ email to the so-called publisher (after my lawyer and her investigator vetted it) ... and, just for fun, I put a line in it that I knew would blow his mind - “FYI – the men who came to the house and asked questions about the boat that’s on the trailer in the driveway weren’t really interested in buying it.” He had no idea that I’d had people investigating him for months … but I bet he figured that out pretty quickly when he read that line
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I was left with a manuscript that had been rejected everywhere and held in limbo by a fake publishing company that wasn’t anywhere, and I didn’t know where to go next.

Shortly before this all happened my old Executive Producer had called and offered me a dream job - producing a film starring an actor who already had an Emmy, a Golden Globe and an Oscar in his trophy cabinet. As exciting as that offer was, I turned it down. I'd left production because I wanted to write. If I was serious enough about writing to pass on an offer like that I wasn't going to let one bizarre experience stop me. I was more determined than ever to make a success of my writing career.

So I squared my shoulders and was just about to start the vicious query cycle again when I remembered the phone call from the senior editor at the big New York publishing house. I contacted her, explained that my rights to the manuscript had reverted back to me and asked if she’d be interested in considering it again. Not only did she remember my manuscript, she still wanted to buy it. Less than a year later it was on bookstore shelves across the US.

My first book sale!!! For real!!!

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It sold so well in the US that it was also published overseas.

It’s taken over 1,000 words to tell this story. It took almost as many days to live it.

And just a few weeks ago I accidentally discovered that this story is still being written … but I’ll save the next chapter for another post.

That was the beginning and end of my romance writing career.

Mysteries were what I’d always really wanted to write and after the fake publisher experience I really really felt like killing someone (fictionally, of course). So I started writing again … and began my ride down the bumpy road to mystery publication …

Janet Forman