Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reaching the Starting Line by Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman is a literary suspense writer whose debut novel just sold. COVER OF SNOW will be published by Ballantine in early 2013. Her short fiction has appeared on Amazon bestseller lists, and another story is forthcoming in an anthology called ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II. Jenny teaches courses on polishing, pitching, and publishing your work for New York Writers Workshop. She co-hosts the series Writing Matters, which draws speakers from both coasts to events held at a local independent bookstore.  Last year she founded Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which was celebrated in 30 states, Canada, England, and this year spread to Australia. Jenny welcomes authors in the Made It Moments forum on her blog. Please look for her at

"Reaching the Starting Line"
by Jenny Milchman

This spring, after eleven years of trying, I finally reached the starting line.

I received an offer on my novel, a literary mystery called COVER OF SNOW.

I can’t refer to this as the finish line, even though it certainly felt like I ran a marathon to get here, because all the really hard work starts now. Editing the manuscript (which I am doing right now, having just received my new editor’s brilliant thoughts—-this is the ninth version; it was the eighth one that sold). Reading galleys.  (Oh! I can hardly wait to see this thing called a galley. It feels like the crown jewels to me. Or the Emerald City). Figuring out how (whether) to promote. More and more authors, such as originally self-published sensation M.J. Rose, say that the best promotion is writing more books.  So—writing that next book.

But it was definitely something, an 11 year something in my case, to arrive at this point. How did it happen? It’s a story unique to the mystery and suspense community, which I liken to a circle of friends.

I’ve been represented by three great agents who between them found 15 great editors who wanted to make offers on one or another of my books.  The editorial board remained the sticking point—-with potential deals being thwarted for reasons that over the years became less about craft, which I still needed to learn, and more about things that pointed to the sometimes arbitrary nature of the submissions process.

During this time, I went to readings and book signings by authors I admired. Laura Lippman. Tana French. Jonathan Kellerman (who played guitar). I watched, and learned, and yearned for the day I might be up there.

I also wrote to authors. And because authors—-I think especially in the mystery/suspense world, although this may be my bias—-are a forthcoming, supportive bunch, I got responses back. I started to make not connections but friends.

It just made sense that when I read good news about these friends, on listservs like DorothyL, I would drop them a quick did-you-see-this note? I was always happy to see achievements by people who were making it in this world, including some who had offered me encouraging words and support—-even going so far as to give an unpublished manuscript a blurb.

Then someone offered to do even more than that.

One of my favorite authors, whose most recent book had been mentioned in at least a dozen Best Of lists last year, wrote to me one cold, late winter day. I felt as chill and desperate as the weather. My latest almost-offer had just fizzled—-and it was our last shot.

“I just want to tell you that I love this book,” wrote Nancy Pickard, in an email that now hangs on my wall.  “And if it doesn’t let me down in the end—and I can’t imagine that it will—then I will want not just to offer you a blurb, but to put it in my own editor’s hands.”

I don’t know to express how grateful I was for that email. (And it’s a bad thing for a writer not to be able to express something in words).  The gratitude went beyond words, because Nancy’s response buoyed me for weeks. They carried me through my latest disappointment like a wave does a surfer. And though I didn’t think they’d do much more than that, it was enough, more than enough.

By now I knew how subjective the process was. What was the chance of an editor liking my work even if one of her authors did? And even if she did like it, what were the chances that she’d be able to make an offer?

I don’t know what the chances were, but somehow it happened.

Not only did Nancy’s illustrious editor love my book, but in a blindingly fast few weeks-—publishing time is best measured on a geologic scale—-she had acquired it.

After eleven years I was going to be a published author.

And it happened because of a friend I had made in this wonderful world of mystery.

I am uncomfortable with the whole promotion thing—I much prefer to be getting the word out about other writers’ books and triumphs. So when my novel comes out—when I finally reach that starting line—another dear friend from the mystery world has done me the honor of agreeing to announce the news.

Her name is Kaye Barley.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Jenny - Welcome!!!!!!

Have I mentioned lately how VERY proud I am of you?!

We all are.

huge hugs, my friend.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! Thanks for sharing the difficulties of your journey, Jenny, and in such a helpful and kind way. I greatly look forward to reading this book (and all of your future ones).


L.J. Sellers said...

Jenny, I'm so happy that your hard work paid off. I know how long and frustrating that road is. Hang on to your enthusiasm while you wait to see the book in print. And by all means, write another great book. Can't wait to read it.

Jenny Milchman said...

Kaye, not only have you said it, but you make me feel it every time time we are in touch. Thank you for having me to your wonderful blog. I hope M&M is here for mystery lovers always. It's truly a home away from home.

Brenda, thank you for reading and for your kind response. It gives me a tingle to imagine people reading the book. In fact, imagining it, it's hard to sit still in my chair.

My journey was indeed filled with...valleys? And if I can ever help anyone with ideas about how to climb out of them, I would love to.

Be back again tomorrow. Thanks again, Kaye & Brenda.

Jenny Milchman said...

Oh--LJ, how great to see you here! Coming from you these are meaningful words indeed. As you know I am a real fan!

Peg Brantley said...

Jenny, in front of every wonderful thing you've ever said or done for someone else (and you've said and done a lot) has always hung this little sign around your neck that said, "This is My Dream Too."

I love, love, love that this is happening for you. And happening in the way you've always dreamed.

You go, girl.

Jenny Milchman said...

Wow, Peg. That brought tears to my eyes.

And here I thought I was hiding it ;)

Here's to dreams coming true for all.

By the way, it's Peg who introduced me to LJ's work. THE BABY THIEF. Chills to this day.

Julie D said...

Jenny, what a wonderful story. Your journey, like any, had its high and low points, and you've come out the other end a published author. Many warm wishes, congratulations and high hopes for this book. I cannot wait to read it. And I will always be grateful for the kind words from you right here on M&M that buoyed ME for days. My dear, I know the feeling, and I thank you. You deserve every moment of this.

Warm hugs!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Congratulations, Jenny! What a long and frustrating road you were glad it's worked out well and that we'll all be able to read your book!

Judy said...

I never tire of reading your story!

Jenny Milchman said...

Julie, it's so nice to see you here, and if I did any buoying I am so glad about that. You're right--we all need it--some for longer than others ;)

Elizabeth, great to see you too, and in response to your comment: tingles again :)

Judy, thank you, and so glad you found Kaye's blog. It's a repository of the best author stories in the world (and I don't mean mine).

Carolyn J. Rose said...

No on deserves to get to this starting line more than you do. I know you'll run an astounding race to the finish line - which is, of course, the starting line for the next book.

Jenny Milchman said...

Carolyn, I think you mean to say that a writing career always means we're just getting started :) A recipe for staving off the inevitable perhaps.

Thank you for being here.

Brenda Buchanan said...


Your consistent support for other writers is remarkable. I see your name every day, always bucking up someone else. So gracious and generous.

I look forward to your book. You deserve great success.



Ken Lewis said...

Very happy for you, Jenny! And you are correct in your estimation of the traditional publishing world. It isn't the writing, or even the story that usually holds an author back from seeing their work in print, it is the chronically open, bottomless manhole of the commercial side of the business many of us fall into and just can't climb back out of without a helping hand. Looks like you, and your book, found that helping hand.

Jenny Milchman said...

Hi Brenda and Ken. I'm so glad to see your comments and meet you here. Brenda, thanks for another case of the tingles. I hope I "buck others" in some way--for sure, I haven't been able to do what was done for me. But maybe someday. Which speaks to Ken's comment. Everybody needs a helping hand and when you get one the result can be just exactly what you needed.

Take care, everyone, and thanks so much again to Kaye for having me.

Anonymous said...

Jenny, great post, and great title! You've always been so willing to give others a helping hand (including me!), it's especially fitting that that's how you ended up getting into the hands of the right editor. Can't wait to see your book in print!

Lauren Sweet

Jenny Milchman said...

Thank you, Lauren, for being here. (And for anyone still reading these comments, that's Lauren Sweet commenting, whom I call the Best Freelance Editor in the World :)

Karyne Corum said...

Jenny, you have earned this, and it is with utmost pleasure and pride I tell everyone about my marvelous friend who is going to (finally!!) be published. Oh and I make sure to tell them, it's a must read!

Unknown said...

Your perseverance and determination are truly inspiring, Jenny! I think I will be coming back and reading this again... and again... whenever I feel the need for a little inspiration.

I love the idea that when one puts 'finis' to a story/novel, we are really just beginning a new adventure. Instead of settling into a twilight, we should always be looking toward the next dawn... the same way we live our lives.

I love too, what you say about talking up and helping others. I would rather talk about someone else's work than my own. Since I began writing a couple of years ago, I have gotten so much support and encouragement from other writers... their help has been invaluable and it means so much to me... I want to return that in whatever way I can.

Again, congratulations on the publication of your first novel, Jenny. I am very much looking forward to reading COVER OF SNOW. I am sure that I shall want to do a small review as well when I am finished reading it.

Veronica Marie