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photo by h.koppdelaney

Therese here. Today’s guest is suspense author Jenny Milchman, whose debut novel, Cover of Snow releases today! Jenny is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. She’s had short stories published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Adirondack Mysteries II, and in an e-published volume called Lunch Reads.

Cover of Snow was recently given starred reviews by both Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly. Here’s a taste of the former:

[A] superlative dark, wintry debut…These well-defined characters take us on an emotional roller-coaster ride through the darkest night, with blinding twists and occasionally fatal turns. This is a richly woven story that not only looks at the devastating effects of suicide but also examines life in a small town and explores the complexity of marriage.

She’s with us today to talk about her journey to publication. “I think that many writers when they start out are not aware of how long the road can be, or what will be required from them along it,” she said. “I know that I wasn’t. I wanted to write a post that focused on the magical parts of the journey–whether you are published or not–and then encourage people to keep going. If you don’t stop walking, it’s not that you haven’t arrived. You just haven’t gotten there yet.”

So true. Enjoy!

Where to Go for Magic

A writer deals with many kinds of magic. There’s the magic by which a blank page turns into one filled with words. How did that happen? Sometimes we’re not even aware of doing anything. We’re just the conduit to words flowing out of our fingertips.

That’s magic.

And then there’s the magic by which characters come to life. Who are these people and where did they come from? Their quirks, their personalities? Surely being able to conjure life from shadow-forms is magical. So is the fact that our characters quietly go away when we close the document, or the cover.

Or do they?

And don’t forget the magic of what a book is. A conversation between people who may never meet—author and reader—yet is as intimate as one that takes place between family members. About the deepest dimensions of life: love and hurt and heart.

Then there’s the arc of a story. Being able to impose order on the tangled messiness of everyday life is what we hope for from our deities. Such is the power of writing.

But when a writer escapes the bounds of his or her own creation, there’s an abrupt end to this terrain. The world of wands and sparkles and refracting crystal creations is left behind. The writer enters the all-too-real land of publishing. Here there be dragons.

When I started pursuing publication, the magic came to a screeching halt.

I was lucky enough on the agent front, getting offers of representation within about eight months (which felt like forever, ha ha, what did I know about forever), and signing with an agency that represented some great names. I thought my ship wasn’t just coming in, but already at the dock. Didn’t having an agent mean your book would sell?

The magic doesn’t always work that way. In fact, it was my third agent who finally sold my novel, and it wasn’t my first novel, but my eighth. Five others were submitted, and fifteen editors tried to make offers, only to be turned down by their editorial boards or publisher. All of this took eleven years.

Confused? That’s okay. So was I.

What should I do now? Write another book? Give up?

In the end, what allowed my agent to go to the one magic editor who loved my book and could make an offer on it, was an author whose work I had long admired and who stepped in to say, “I know just who this is right for!”

It was like magic. There’s that word again.

For when it finally happens, it is magic, of the purest kind, and I think that’s what keeps so many of us writers practicing our skills like a bunch of Harries and Hermiones at Hogwarts.

What did I do that resulted in the spell being cast, and how can it translate to your own writerly journey? Here are the elements, boiled down. Not quite lizard’s lid and a vial of blood from a maiden…but maybe close.

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  • First, write a book that garners some industry attention. Take classes, online and physical, go to writing workshops, join critique groups so you can learn what makes for a truly exciting book. This will set you on a path that brings you into the range of people who can make it happen, if not right away, then one day.
  • If that book doesn’t sell, write another one. And another. It’s a lesser or more known fact of the industry that most writers’ first novels don’t sell. And in some cases, their sixth or seventh doesn’t either.
  • Support your local bookstores, and your not-so-local ones, by shopping in the stores, and attending events. Drive, if you have to. Visit bookstores whenever you go somewhere. One day, booksellers will be the ones who start the all-important WOM (Word of Mouth), the key to making the book that has taken so long to happen into one readers can find.
  • Meet authors. Magic is rare and seldom occurs in exactly the same way twice. But this road is a long one, and keeping people who inspire you in sight is one way to know that you will make it yourself in the end.
  • Never, ever give up on your dream. What’s the real magic we writers possess? It’s the ability to envision possibilities. In the stories we write…and the lives we live.

Fare thee well on your writing journey!

Readers, you can learn more about Jenny and her debut, Cover of Snow, on her website and blog, and by following her on Facebook and Twitter. Write on!