May 18, 2011

The Story Behind the Story, or How My Book Was Bought

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 12:51 pm

Maybe this should be filed under front-story instead of backstory?

It finally happened. As many of you already know, my novel, COVER OF SNOW, has sold to the great Linda Marrow at Ballantine. Linda edits some of my all-time favorite authors, and enough New York Times bestsellers to intimidate the bejeezus out of me.

Here are the deets (as literary Janet Reid, aka Query Shark) taught me to say if I wanted to sound cooler than I am.

Ballantine will do the hard cover version, Random House the trade paperback, and RH has the world rights, which means my agent called me one day and said, “They’re talking about your book at Random House UK.” And I swooned.

Seriously, guys. After over a decade at this, to go from not being able to get in the door, not able to squeeze one toe through the door–or worse, to be standing in the doorway, all bright-eyed and smiling hello, only to have it slammed against my nose, ending up at Ballantine with (should I say it again?) the great Linda Marrow is more than a dream.

How did it happen? A lot of you have asked that, and I feel as if Suspense Your Disbelief readers, authors, and contributors are the best kind of family, supportive and boisterous and always ready to chime in. So I am honored to tell you this.

But I also have to say that this is in some ways an intensely private story. It’s a story of being desperate, of wanting something so badly that even with my nose broken and bleeding, I decided to try again.

And it’s a story that can’t help but name names, because I am all about giving credit where credit is due, so I would just ask you guys to be your tactful selves with those names. Obviously nothing is confidential on the blogosphere, but as I say, you guys are like family, which is why I do find myself spilling a lot of confidences here.

OK. So where were we in the backstory? The party had fizzled. I was t-h-i-s close to an offer from Viking, manuscript up there at the very top, process drawn out over weeks and months, as is often the case, and the possibility dried up. No offer was made. My agent and I, even the editor herself (who will be thanked in my acknowledgments–hear me now–because she made me believe in myself in a whole new way) were flattened.

I began to develop a new plan. Someone approached me, and she had a really great idea. An alternative, brave new world idea, but you guys know how I like those. Maybe traditional publishing just wasn’t for me.

It wasn’t as if the books needed more editing, or work on craft (beyond the more work on craft every writer needs at every point in her career). We’d gotten all those almost offers–weren’t they proof that things were in good enough shape? Maybe my work just didn’t fit a genre perfectly enough. Except authors were telling me it did, expressing surprise (and dismay) that I hadn’t been published yet. In fact, authors had been an enormous source of support, often heartening me when I was most flagging.

So I wrote to another. An all-time favorite author, whose work seemed the closest to what I aspired to write, and whose latest novel had been all the talk at a mystery list-serv I spend many of my waking minutes at.

“I never do this,” Nancy Pickard said, after I told her my story, gave her the stats. (Remember? 11 years. 3 agents. 5 novels. 14 almost offers.) “But your story really touches something in me. Send me the manuscript.”

Nancy Pickard read my work (I know, let me rephrase: Nancy Pickard read my work!!!) as the final word was coming down from that last almost offer. It was during a cold, bleak, winter-intruding-into-spring night, when the writing was beginning to appear on the walls that this time too would come to nothing. My husband called me upstairs to say an email had come in.

I read it with my eyes all but squeezed shut. I just couldn’t stomach any more blows.

I will never forget Nancy’s words. “I couldn’t wait till I finished to tell you how impressed I am,” she wrote. “Unless it totally lets me down at the end–and I can’t imagine it will–I will want to recommend it personally to my editor.”

And she did.

I emailed Nancy as soon as I heard that Linda Marrow liked the book. “I’m afraid to hope,” I typed. “But I do know this would not be happening without you, and even if it doesn’t happen, I owe you so much for bringing me this far.”

Don’t I sound gracious? You can’t hear the clenched fists or gritted teeth (please. let. this. work) in there at all.

Actually, every word was true. I was immensely grateful. No author can get a book sold for someone else. But for Nancy to have done what she did was spectacular. Simply reading the ms was spectacular.

Anyway, Nancy is far more gracious than I. She wrote back words to the effect of: “Linda is incredibly busy. If she didn’t truly love your book, she would not be doing this, no matter what I or anyone else had done.”

So Nancy’s editor has become my editor.

What do I take from how this happened?

Well, first of all, keep knocking on doors. If one doesn’t open, knock on wooden things that aren’t doors. And if that doesn’t work, start knocking on things that aren’t even wooden.

If you’re a writer and want to be traditionally published by a major, the road can be extremely long. Mine was longer than extremely. I had a lot of learning to do about craft and I also had not a little bad luck, with the almost offers. But since this novel, COVER OF SNOW, wasn’t done until right about now, and certainly not in this (let me say again, great) editor’s hands, the “bad luck” was maybe good luck after all.

I would also add that the road doesn’t have to be as long as all that. Traditional publication a) can happen somewhat faster–not a whole lot faster maybe, but even half my time would be considered more than putting in one’s dues and b) is not the only way to get your work out there. Not even the only respectable, optimal, wonderful way. New doors are opening every day, and the e-volution will return power to the up and coming writer, the mid-list writers, and the mega star alike.

Decide what you want and go for it. Be open and flexible to new ideas. I’m not saying anything new, or anything unique to writing even.

More in my graduation song? Make as many friends as you can. Be as good a friend to others as you can.

Know that the world of writers is the most loving and supportive you could find yourself in and the only way we flourish is all together.

And never, never ever, give up on your dream.


  1. Jenny,
    I loved this post. I’m vey happy for you. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Marilyn Levinson — May 18, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

  2. What a wonderful story, Jenny! I’ll be sharing the lesson of your perseverance with my writing classes. And what a terrific thing for Nancy Pickard to do — a very special lady!

    Many congratulations to you and the best of luck on the next stage of your journey! (But surely this was a Made It Moment!) xox, Vicki

    Comment by Vicki Lane — May 18, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

  3. Jenny, you know that we are excited for you and your tale of persistence is encouraging. Gives me courage to try a few new ways to get the word out about my novels. I feel that TREE SOLDIER will find its stride and I will be able to connect to the forces that be. My slog has been even longer than yours, but I feel a shift as I grow as a writer. Good things have happened and more is to come. Thanks for beating the path!

    Comment by JL Oakley — May 18, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  4. I’m so thrilled for you! It’s good to hear that persistence pays off. And I can’t wait to read COVER OF SNOW!

    Comment by Lucinda Surber — May 18, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  5. Jenny, it’s been such a privilege getting to know you over the past 6-8 months, and I’m so happy to see your book finally finding a wonderful home. Your editor and publishing house sound absolutely fantastic, and Nancy Pickard really was exceptional in giving you her time and using her connections to get your ms in Linda Marrow’s lap. I agree with you, if we build connections among other writers and readers and constantly remain a friendly and supportive presence, we can begin building our own success there. You’ve inspired so many people to keep trying, no matter what the obstacles seem like, so thank you for sharing your very personal story of your long and bumpy road to publication. I can’t wait till the day I see your book on the shelves at my local bookstores! And hopefully I’ll get to meet you in person a lot sooner than that. ^_^

    Comment by Becca — May 18, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

  6. Luck is such a funny thing. You can be unlucky for years and then one lucky day you make up for it all. With Ballantine and RH behind your book, your time has come. Congratulations on your so-well-deserved success!

    Comment by Sara — May 18, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

  7. Yay! :)

    Comment by Judy — May 18, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  8. Love it – Yay! Having read your other ms that Viking passed on (Um – why???) I am tickled pink that you finally got that”Yes!” by a big house with a great editor. Kudos to Nancy Pickard for taking time out of her busy schedule to read your ms and support you.

    But most of all congrats to you Jenny, for all your determination, perseverance and hard work.



    Comment by Pamela DuMond — May 18, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  9. Nicely done! And though I haven’t known you (virtually) long, I feel safe in saying also, richly deserved. I’m so glad you persevered–that so many of us have/do when faced with a crisis of faith in ourselves and our writing. I hope you’re still dancing around the house!

    And now, get ready for the *other* work. :-)

    Comment by Tammy Kaehler — May 18, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

  10. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story! CONGRATULATIONS!

    Comment by Gigi Pandian — May 18, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  11. Wonderful, Jenny. And no one in the world could possibly have followed your own advice to “be a friend” better than you have. And no matter how much-published a writer may be–WE ALL NEED FRIENDS! Thank you for being you and once again, congrtulations, my firned!

    Comment by Donna — May 18, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  12. What a beautiful, intense piece of writing and dramatic recap of the long journey. Tenacity is key! What a vivid illustration. Congrats, congrats and thanks for sharing these intense moments.


    Comment by Mark Stevens — May 18, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  13. Isn’t Nancy fantastic? She’s been very supportive of my work too. Thanks for sharing this

    Comment by Warren — May 18, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

  14. You’ve been helpful to so many writers, I’m glad to hear karma finally came back and thanked you!! Congratulations and best wishes on as you go on the next leg of your journey!

    Comment by Erica Olson — May 18, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  15. Your blog filled me in on all the missing details of this journey to success. What a wonderful story of determination and effort. But it would not have happened without your inherent talent as a writer. As your adopted “aunt,” I couldn’t feel more proud. Congratulations. Margie

    Comment by Margie Dorne — May 18, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  16. What a wonderful story!!! I got goosebumps. :”> Thank you so much for sharing and actually… I think I’ll have to read Nancy’s work specifically because she was so kind. Huzzah for Authorly-Love!
    I’ve downloaded ‘The Very Old Man’ and hope to finish it by the end of the work-day today. ;) I’m *really* excited to get to read ‘Cover of Snow’ once it’s out. :D

    Comment by Becky Chapin — May 18, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

  17. Dear Jenny,

    Thanks for posting this lovely story. May it inspire many others. This is your moment. Enjoy!


    Comment by Bonnie Hearn Hill — May 18, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  18. Congratulations again Jenny! I think I’ve covered 4 platforms with my well-wishes already, but I couldn’t be more happy to see you acheive your dream.

    I someday hope to be riding that same wave of accomplishment as you. :)

    Comment by Thomas A. Knight — May 18, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

  19. So happy for you, Jenny.
    Love your closing thought: “never, never give up on your dream.”
    So true!

    Comment by Lauryn Christopher — May 18, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  20. I am so filled with joy for your accomplishment, Mr. McCarthy would be/will be proud!

    Can’t wait for you to sign my copy :) Thanks for sharing this incredible journey, Jenny, great post!

    Comment by susan — May 18, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

  21. All right, I know I’ve danced and WAAHOO’D with you repeatedly.

    But I’ve got a little dancing left in me.

    I’m so happy for you!

    Comment by Rosemarie Benintend (Summertime Rose) — May 18, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  22. This couldn’t have happened to a nicer or harder-working or more deserving person. And I know you’re going to hustle hard to make it sell, too, because that’s the next hurdle. Fingers crossed that you end up with a great big success!!!

    Comment by Sandy Hutchison — May 19, 2011 @ 7:05 am

  23. What a great story. I loved Nancy’s books, and she is some classy lady. and you are a good friend who spreads the good feelings around. One more “yay” for you1

    Comment by Lil Gluckstern — May 19, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  24. What a lovely story of a talented writer, a generous author, and a smart editor. I’m so thrilled for you!

    Comment by Karen McQuestion — May 19, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

  25. Oh, yay! I’m so happy for you! And excited! I really can’t wait to read COVER OF SNOW!

    A wonderful post! Congratulations. :D

    Comment by Rebecca — May 19, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

  26. Jennie: Carolyn and I know from experience, how hard it is to persevere when you’ve been close and things didn’t happen. Best of luck in your relationship with Ballantine and Random House. Looking forward to reading Cover of Snow.

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — May 19, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

  27. Thank you, thank you, to everyone who read this, and to those who left comments. Seeing this comment stream is a whole other kind of thrill for me. There are brand new faces, good friends, old friends, friends becoming ever closer friends, and at least one person who’s known me since 6th grade, and another since I was about 6 months old.

    Friends I hope finally to see in person traveling across the country this summer, or next–or even right here in my own backyard.

    Stephen King says that a story unread is like a circle unclosed, or words to that effect (better, of course). The idea that you guys will one day read COVER OF SNOW brings with it the elemental joy of a circle achieving its rightful shape. Thank you for wanting to, and for sharing this with me.

    Comment by jenny — May 19, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

  28. Congratulations, Jenny!!!!! Can’t wait to meet you in person to personally shake your hand!!! This Jersey gal salutes you!!!

    Comment by Coco Ihle — May 19, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

  29. What can I say but YAY!!! You deserve it so much! And I love how you said–quite rightly–that HALF the time you’ve spent would be considered paying your dues in full!

    Comment by Savvy — May 20, 2011 @ 9:15 am

  30. Wow, what a story! Nancy Pickard apparently is every bit as wonderful as her books. And many congratulations to you — this has got to feel all the sweeter, given the long hard road you traveled.

    Comment by Lisa — May 20, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

  31. Your story is an inspiration to many. And now for the second part of your story, best wishes that “Cover of Snow” will become an international Best Seller.

    Comment by Giora — May 21, 2011 @ 12:28 am

  32. Thank you again, everyone who’s stopping by. It’s amazing to see you all here, and hear your thoughts. It’s funny how things can change on a dime. I am so lucky to know all the wonderful writers and authors gathered here, because without you I would have very little clue what to do next…

    I feel honored and grateful to see your names in this beautiful row. I really don’t know what more to say, except I hope my book delivers, and we are all here to read each other’s work and support each other for decades and decades to come.

    Comment by jenny — May 21, 2011 @ 11:18 am

  33. Congratulations, Jenny! Your hard work paid off. That’s a very inspiring story, and I wish you the best. Hope you sell through immediately.

    Comment by Ellis Vidler — May 21, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

  34. Your story of perseverance touched me emotionally and I don’t even know you! Best of luck always, Rae

    Comment by Rae Hunt — May 21, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

  35. All I can say is Wow! Thank you for sharing this story. All the best for COVER OF SNOW. I’ll look out for it.

    Comment by Cathy Lea — December 28, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  36. [...] do this on the blog very often, but I think I have to talk a little about the mechanics behind my upcoming book release. Something happened the other day that really stood out in my [...]

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