Kath here. Please welcome longtime WU community member LynDee Walker. LynDee is an award-winning journalist. She traded cops and deadlines for burp cloths and onesies when her oldest child was born. Writing the Headlines in Heels mysteries gives her the best of both worlds. Her debut mystery novel Front Page Fatality is receiving advanced praise.
“Author LynDee Walker sure knows her way around a plot twist. She kept me turning pages late into the night, following the rollercoaster adventures of her fashionably feisty heroine—crime reporter and designer shoe fanatic Nichelle Clarke. Front Page Fatality is smart, funny, and loaded with surprises. A terrific debut mystery.” —Laura Levine, author of the Jaine Austen mystery series
LynDee says, “ I have learned so much from WU over the years, and I wanted a way to give something back to the community here. This was the thing about my journey that was different that a lot of others, and I thought the story might help someone else reach their goals.
Take it away, LynDee!
Any writer who’s done more than a half-hour of research on the publishing industry can tell you there are some cardinal rules of querying. In summary: look up submission guidelines (and then follow them), personalize your query letter, wait out the quoted response time and then some before you nudge (and for the love of God, don’t even think about calling), and never reply to a rejection.
I know the rules backward and forward, the obsessive research cortex in my reporter’s brain having caused me to spend way more time than anyone should poring over agent and editor blogs and tweets.
For over a year, I followed the rules to the letter. Know when I got a book deal? When I broke one.
Now, before you reach for that phone to call up all the agents you queried with a mass email yesterday (kidding!) let me say I’m not here to advocate willy-nilly flouting of publishing’s hard-and-fast rules. But I am here to share my story and hopefully give you an idea of when bending one could help you, and how to go about it.
When I started querying Front Page Fatality, I read about agents, made a careful list, and sent letters written just for them. When I got requests (18 from 31 queries) I again followed all the directions, sent off my manuscript, and held my breath (chewed my nails, drank wine, wore out the refresh button on my email) waiting for replies. Some never came. The ones that did were all rejections. And they all said pretty much exactly the same thing: “you’re a talented writer with a great voice, and this was a tough call, but I decided to pass on this one. If you don’t find representation for it elsewhere, please send me your next project.”
In fact, I thought that was the industry standard form rejection until some writer friends informed me that it was good for a publishing pro to ask to see more of your work.
After the first 17 rejections, a couple of things happened in my life that caused me to set my publishing goals aside for a while: I had a(nother) baby, and my mother passed away. Eventually, mom’s insistence that my book was good (because, let’s face it, all the rejections can make the most confident among us question that, can’t they?) made me dust it off and do a serious search for a small press that might be a good fit for my novel. I may have very well shouted “eureka!” when I came across Henery Press, a young publishing company with a catalog of almost exclusively humorous mystery. Their cover art was amazing, the book blurbs hilarious and interesting.
I read the sub guidelines carefully and sent off my manuscript. Three and a half weeks later I got a polite, encouraging rejection that said the same thing the other 17 did. The difference this time? Front Page Fatality was the only piece of my fiction my mom got to read before she died, and I really, really wanted to work with this publisher.
So I replied to the rejection. Gasp!
I know. I’m such a goody-two-shoes, I shocked myself.
Here are my caveats, before you dive into your rejection file and start emailing folks:
*The editor had been complimentary and had asked to see other projects from me. Since I knew by then that this doesn’t go in most form rejections, I was pretty sure there really was something she liked about my novel.
*I was nice. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important.
I emailed back the same day and said, essentially, “I’m so sorry if I’m being a pain, but if you have time and it’s not too much trouble, could you please tell me that the heck is the matter with this book?”
See, I knew my book wasn’t perfect. I knew it could be better. But after years of revising and beta readers and everything else you’re supposed to do to get a book ready to submit, I wasn’t sure what else to do to it to get that “tough call” everyone kept talking about to swing in my favor.
I chewed my nails some more, figuring I might have just decimated my chances of submitting anything else there.
Two hours later, I got a reply. A very sweet reply that called my book “a gem in the slush pile” (I totally framed it). It also outlined two major issues that would require a massive rewrite (try 53,000 words deleted and replaced with 48,000 new ones) to address.
I should have had a cartoon lightbulb over my head as I read that email. As soon as I read her comments, I knew I could fix it, and I was so excited to have something to fix that I (gasp!) emailed her again to thank her for her help.
That time I got a reply that ended with “if you want to rework the manuscript, I’d be interested.”
I danced around my kitchen for a good while. And then I dove back into my book. Three months later, I sent back the new version, and ten days after that, my editor called me to offer me a contract.
Since then, Front Page Fatality has hit number 1 on amazon in new humorous fiction, and I’ve signed three more contracts: two for novels and one for a novella, all in the Nichelle Clarke series. I am constantly looking behind shrubs and around corners for Rod Serling and my arm is red from all the pinching it I’ve done, and I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t replied to that email.
Rules are nice. This goody-goody is a big believer in them. But every once in a while, breaking the right one can change your whole life.