March 17, 2010


Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words
Edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay
358 pages, Writer’s Digest Books

Review by Melissa Conway

“Rejection Letters. They’re like Dear John letters from people you’ve never met.” - Chris Grabenstein, author of the John Ceepak Mysteries

There are few things in life a yet-to-be-published author appreciates more than validation of his/her work. Even the most back-handed little kudo can shore up a writer’s wobbly ego. Every non-snarky comment on our blogs makes us swoon; every tweet retweeted sends us over the moon. But since validation can be a fickle old biddy, our second choice is commiseration.

‘How I Got Published’ has dozens of chapters, each written by a multi-published author, that offer the kind of commiseration I’m talking about: stories of persistence in the face of rejection—that eventually prove lucrative.

Interspersed throughout are advice chapters such as ‘Getting to Know Literary Agents and Editors’ and ‘Fish Where the Fish are Biting,’ written by the editors. Useful stuff, surely, but the meat of the book is how so many well-known authors suffered, sometimes for years and years before they broke through the publication barrier. Like mystery writer Sue Ann Jaffarian, whose own agent, when commenting on her manuscript, said, “No one wants to read this crap!” Sue Ann self-published, successfully marketed that book and the next, and eventually got picked up by a “real” publisher. Or Marilyn Meredith, who had one publisher go out of business, another get jailed for fraud, and whose agent died, but nobody bothered to tell her.

Some of the suffering isn’t as spectacular. Less inspiring were the stories where luck played a significant role, such as the story told by Kyle Mills, whose father was good friends with Tom Clancy. Sure, Mr. Mills tried to get published on his own and did suffer rejection to a great extent, but he always knew he had that ace in the hole (unlike those of us who can’t muster up six degrees of separation to anyone in the biz, much less literary royalty like Clancy).

Some of the chapters don’t delve deeply enough into the suffering, like the chapter made up of four succinct sentences from author Jack Bludis:

“My story is simple and probably uninspiring. I kept writing until I got published. I’ll keep getting published until I make a living at it. There is no magic formula—just persistence and send the damn thing out.”

Several chapters wax poetic about the glory days of publishing, when it was just as hard as it is now to get noticed, but things were done differently. Especially fun are the stories depicting the authors’ use of out-of-the-box methods for getting an agent/editor’s attention. These are ploys that are no longer acceptable, if we are to believe the submission requirement pages that are full of dire warnings against trying anything cute. Clive Cussler got cute—he describes the wonderfully amusing tale of how he pretended to BE an agent hawking his own book (it worked, and he’s still represented by the agent he fooled). Or Harlequin author Cassie Miles, a.k.a. Kay Bergstrom, who left her first manuscript and a dozen home-baked chocolate chip cookies on an agent’s doorstep.

‘How I Got Published’ is another one of those ‘go to’ books I have lying around the house whenever I need inspiration. In the forward, the editors tell us, “The definition of luck is, ‘The place where persistence meets preparation.’” This constant advice to be persistent, to be patient, gets old. Sometimes a writer needs more: PROOF that persistence pays off—and that’s just what you’ll find in this book.

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