Friday, May 08, 2009

My Journey to Publication - Part II


Rhonda McKnight

Before I continue this story, I need to step back a bit and clarify something, particularly for those of you who know nothing about publishing and then for those of you who do. It was pretty bold – insane – downright silly for me to say at the end of the 2006 that I was going to sell a book that wouldn’t actually be ready until April. Selling a manuscript to a publishing house is not easy. Even the best manuscripts are rejected. Then there's the waiting. Publishing has got to have the slowest response time of any business on the planet. I've had friends wait a year to hear from a publisher. Editors receive hundreds of queries every month. Wading through the good, bad and ugly is time-consuming. I knew this when I made my declaration, but I’ve got this crazy faith thing going and honestly, it’s been working for a sistah, so it was my faith talking…not my lack of knowledge about the industry.

So, here I am, it’s the end of August. I only have four months to sell my manuscript. I set my sights on another publisher. A small house that does a real quality job with their line. I send two emails; one to an author buddy who is already with the line and one to the acquisitions editor. I ask both to advise the submission process. The editor responded first. I’d just missed the quarterly submission deadline by two days. They wouldn’t be taking new submissions until January. Then my author buddy emailed me and said the same, but guess what? She called her editor and requested an extension for me. I had a week.

Lesson #3 – Network. Develop relationships with other writers and authors. People will help you.

I’m excited now, but I have this huge packet of stuff to do. They want a competitive analysis, a marketing plan, a longer synopsis, egads, another synopsis. I wanted to give up then. But I’m no quitter. I hunker down for the weekend, get it all done, mail my package (I don’t think I took a picture that time) and then I do what? You guessed it…wait.

Now, I’m a proactive girl, I know where my editors live, or at least work, so I’ve already found out the area code this publishing house is in. I always give my cell phone number. Heaven forbid I should get "the call" and it goes to voicemail at my house, or better yet, my husband or son take a bad message. No way. I know what I’m looking for, so when my phone rings on November 1st at 2:15 in the afternoon my heart nearly comes out of my chest. It’s “the call”, “the call”! I slow down because I’m doing about 80 miles an hour on I-85. (Getting dead before they print the book would be like an Afro-Greek tragedy.) I push the talk button, and try to contain my excitement which instantly becomes easy to do when I realize the person on the other end of the phone is NOT the acquisitions editor. Surely she makes "the calls". If I was in charge, I’d make "the calls". It’s an editorial assistant, and she’s calling to tell me they thought my manuscript was strong, but they’d like me to rewrite the first chapter. (No surprise there, I’d always hated the first chapter). Her exact words were “African-American readers like drama and we just need a little more of it in the first chapter.” My tongue’s hanging out, because I mean who can’t rewrite one chapter. I’ve heard of writers having to rewrite a quarter of a book. This is it, it’s my big chance! They want me! Almost. She gives me more instructions and follows up with an email. I’ve got until December 28th to get it to them. The only disappointment is I won’t sell by the end of the year, but by golly I’ll sell – so I think…

To be continued on Tuesday!

Lesson #4 – I’m a real stinker to leave you guys hanging this way. No seriously, the lesson is if you don’t like a chapter, why would you think anyone else would? I knew chapter one had issues, but I could not, would not dig in and get creative enough to fix it. The entire manuscript could have been rejected on a bad chapter one. I should have made it perfect.


brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Rhonda, great post! Do I ever understand market analysis-the proposal is the hardest! The writing is the fun part. I can deal okay with editing and I almost enjoy the process.:)

Anonymous said...


I love this post. Remember, the journey is the best part! Enjoy.

~ Celeste

La Monica R. Smith said...

Great lessons to file away and still enjoying your journey.

Daphine Glenn Robinson said...

This is some very good info. After publishing three on my own, I'm ready for number four to be "the one."

Thanks for sharing,

Daphine Glenn Robinson

Sharon Ball said...

You're so right, Rhonda, in encouraging us writers to rework the chapters that we know are weak. Especially chapter one which is critical to the book getting off to the right start. I've rewritten chapter one so many times that I've lost track, but at least I'm now at the point where I really like it. chapter down, 40 more to go. :-)

Ty said...

I know about that first chapter thing! LOL! I'm looking forward to reading more of your journey.

Happy Mother's Day!


PatriciaW said...

Rhonda, you're sending me back to the drawing board. I'm not crazy about my beginning, and I thought I was going crazy trying to get it right. I'm sticking a virtual pin it so that I don't lose momentum and get the story out, but I will go back and fix it before I submit.

Loving your story.

DonnaD said...

Rhonda this is a great story. But girl you can't leave us hanging like this! You're wrong!

I haven't done a market analysis before and I wouldn't have a clue as to how it's done. If you can, give us more information on this. I didn't realize publishers expected you to have this information.

Rhonda McKnight said...

Brenda - editing is my favorite part too. I don't eat as much along the way.

Sharon - I read alot of weak chapters in published novels. I think the 1st chapter to S&L was comparable to what's out there in Women's Fiction, but when you're a new author you have to bring it with a higher level of intensity or you won't get people to buy it. They won't try you out. You know how we look at the cover, flip the book over to the back an then do the first page test. An established author has already shown their readers they can deliver. When you're a newbie you have to knock one out of the park.

Thanks for stopping by - Daphine, LaMonica and Celeste.

Rhonda McKnight said...

Pat - You have the right attitude. Don't go back until that draft is done. I keep preaching that to my writer's group.

Donna D - I'll see about posting part of it for you. If not you can always email me. I'm a sharer. I'll send you what I did.

Roishina Clay Henderson said...

Thanks for sharing! Enjoying your storytelling.