August 13, 2010

Made It Moment: Carolyn J. Rose, Part II

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:16 am

And now, Part 2 of Carolyn Rose’s Moment, which is as suspenseful as the novel itself! Anyone who has ever queried an agent will relate to some of these insider details below, and feel a shudder of pain along with Carolyn. Will there be a happy, or at least satisfying, ending? Read on…
Hemlock Lake

Carolyn J. Rose

That rejection due to death was the final punch to my pummeled self-esteem. Reeling, I stowed away the manuscript for Hemlock Lake and, lest I developed delusions of adequacy, filed all those rejections with it. Eventually, I moved on to other projects—first avoidance projects like gardening and then writing a few cozies on my own, co-authoring two mysteries and a fantasy with my husband.

But I am, as my father used to say, “as determined as a terrier at a rat hole.” So, after a few years when the numbness passed, I took another look at Hemlock Lake and found that I still believed in it, still wanted to see it in print. Without an agent, there was no way most major publishing houses would consider it, so I made a list of smaller presses and, after several weeks of procrastination, began querying.

Rejections still arrived, but they came more slowly than they had from agents. Six months might pass and I might allow myself the tiniest spark of hope before I’d get word that a publisher:

· already had sufficient titles in the pipeline

· was overloaded with current projects

· felt it wasn’t right at this time

· felt it wasn’t compatible with current editorial needs

· had recently changed its policy regarding manuscript submissions

· couldn’t connect with the story, setting, or character

· had discontinued the imprint I’d queried

· was feeling economic constraints

· wanted a large sum of money to “go into partnership” with me

Three years into this process, the pain of rejection turned to grim amusement. As I filed each letter, I joked that this process was as torturous as trying to get a date during my teen years. I measured my stack of rejections against the square footage of the office wall I planned to paper with them and noted that I still needed another four square feet. I told myself that I wouldn’t quit, not as long as I could lick an envelope or tap out an e-mail message and hit the “send” button.

Four times editors wrote to say they liked Hemlock Lake and were moving it on to the next level for further consideration. Twice it was put on extended hold because of economic considerations and once it went into terminal limbo when the person considering it left the publishing house. Once it got glowing reviews from two rounds of readers before it hit a wall with the final editor.

I considered the validity of every comment I received about plot and characters, revised, and queried on, quoting Galaxy Quest, “never give up, never surrender.”

And then, in December of 2008, I got a different type of reply from Rosalind Greenberg at Five Star.

So hardened had I become to rejection that I was immune to accepting acceptance. This must be a joke, I thought. One of my soon-to-be-former friends is messing with me and has created a fictional publishing house.

Then I did a search and found that Five Star really existed. I called my long-suffering husband in to read the message. He assured me that it really contained the words, “I liked your novel so much . . .” and, “I would like to request approval to acquire your manuscript . . .”

In July of 2010, Five Star releases Hemlock Lake.

I feel like I’ve piloted a ship across a vast ocean, through a hundred squalls and storms, past a dozen reefs, around a whirlpool, and through a rocky channel. I’m grateful that I made it and proud that I kept faith with my characters and myself.

Will readers like Hemlock Lake? I don’t know. I hope so. When I’m not at work on the sequel, I have my fingers crossed.

Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She has published a number of mysteries and lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, radio air personality Mike Phillips, and a motley collection of pets. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking. Surf to for more information. And watch the book trailer for HEMLOCK LAKE at


  1. What a happy ending to a knuckle-biting ride! Of course, it’s an ongoing story at this point.

    Best of luck to you!

    Comment by Shelley Stout — August 13, 2010 @ 11:47 am

  2. I absolutely know what you mean about becoming so inured to rejection that you think even an acceptance is a rejection–when my latest agent accepted my book for rep. her first sentence (“I finished reading”) made my heart sink. I had to read the letter about 3 times before I actually believed it. (Actually, I am not sure I truly believed it even then). However, thus far I’ve only had the “horrid” rejections from agents; my rejections from publishers have all been quite straightforward, no jerking of hopes. I think Jenny M can totally identify with your journey! If an actual editor at a publishing house got me through several levels, only for my work to wind up rejected, I think I would just go postal. My hat’s off to you guys who go through it and survive (and, moreover, the eds survived!). Wow. Congrats on your hard-earned, and very well-deserved, success!

    Comment by Savvy — August 13, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  3. Hate to say it, but the work is not over!
    Now it’s marketing time!
    Morgan Mandel

    Comment by Morgan Mandel — August 13, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

  4. An offer is the starting line, for sure, Morgan. Congrats to Carolyn on getting HEMLOCK LAKE to it. May Savvy (and I) reach it soon as well!

    Comment by jenny — August 13, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  5. Yes, Morgan, it’s marketing time. I think that, like writing, it’s something we need to do some of every day–no matter how intimidating the process may seem.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — August 13, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

  6. Carolyn,
    I really “enjoyed” (for lack of a better word) your story — but I’d also love to know what happened after the editor decided to acquire your book — what layers of editorial did she have to go through? How long did it take to get to contract, etc?

    Comment by Judy — August 13, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  7. Got the contract within a month. Then Denise Dietz, a wonderful mystery writer who also is part of the Five Star team, went through the story correcting minor problems with punctuation and tag lines, and pointing out places (very few) where she felt the characters weren’t acting in character. Every suggestion made sense, and made the book stronger. After that, Tracy at Five Star went through and found a few more little issues–mostly punctuation. Then I looked at it again and discovered a logic issue or two. When we got the ARCs, I had friends go through and uncover a few more tiny issues. And I’ll bet I could still find some things I could change.
    But all in all, the process was relatively painless. Except for the waiting. It was 18 months from contract signing to book release.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — August 13, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

  8. YAY for all those editors who turned down HEMLOCK LAKE because they gave *me* the opportunity to acquire the book.

    As an author I’ve had similar experiences. THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER, written as Mary Ellen Dennis and inspired by the poem “The Highwayman,” was turned down many, many times. Editors had “concerns” over the paranormal elements [two 12th-century ghosts in a 1790s time period]. When at long last Landlord was published, not one *starred* review had problems with that, and the book went into 4 printings. And it will be reissued in mass market paperback next April.

    And finally, after 10 years of research and writing and 10 years of marketing, with rejections that uniformly said, “Love the writing but no one buys sagas,” HEAVEN’S THUNDER – a Colorado Saga – will be out next May. Circa 1893 to 1923, its emphasis is on Colorado’s silent film industry.

    I like your dad’s “as determined as a terrier at a rat hole,” Carolyn. My mantra is: “If you drop a dream, it breaks.”

    Comment by Deni Dietz — August 14, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  9. Ah, Deni, thank goodness for editors like you, who see through to what readers will love and respond to. During my whole journey toward (I hope) publication, I’ve been baffled, getting rapt blurbs from authors who had no reason to extend themselves, beyond goodness and a genuine liking of the story–only to hear reasons from editors for turning it down that didn’t seem to have to do with “a good story well told” at all. Not even marketing concerns–but picayune things such as, I wouldn’t have done that in that scene, or that character didn’t speak to me as much as the other one did.

    I keep thinking, but a 100 readers will find a character who speaks to them who wasn’t the one who spoke to you–and isn’t that what reading a book is all about? The nuances and layers that rise up so that each book is a completely different thing for every different reader.

    It’s a miracle really, this phenomenon of story.

    Anyway, I see I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent. Your editorial coup with Carolyn really speaks to me, and congrats again to you both!

    Comment by jenny — August 14, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  10. I’m sitting here smiling and hoping that Deni has a catcher’s mitt in her closet. In a week or so, I’m going to pitch another dream of mine in her direction.

    But seriously, an editor who can thin the trees without clear-cutting the forest is a gift.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — August 14, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

  11. Carolyn, you must keep us posted!! Good luck! And–lucky you, Deni :)

    Comment by jenny — August 14, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

  12. [...] Stay tuned for part two… [...]

    Pingback by Suspense Your Disbelief » Guest Post: Carolyn J. Rose — July 5, 2011 @ 7:41 am

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