Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guest Blogger: Jennie Bentley

As a published writer, I often get asked how long I’ve been writing. The honest answer to that, of course, is ‘forever.’ The alternative answer is about four years, from the time I decided to get serious about getting published until now. I started the manuscript for “A Cutthroat Business” in 2005 and finished it in 2006, found an agent that same year, and by 2007, I had a three book contract with Berkley Prime Crime. For the past couple years, I’ve been busy cranking out a book in the Do-It-Yourself home renovation series every six months while trying to find “A Cutthroat Business” a home. Which—hallelujah!—we have finally done, and it will be in stores everyone in June 2010.
The whole process went rather fast, and I only sent out 42 queries before I found an agent, so I can’t really claim to be an expert on rejection, even with the dozen or so no’s from big houses that “A Cutthroat Business” had to endure before we placed it with someone who loves it the way we do. Still, there’s a short period in my past I don’t talk about often, mostly because thinking about it makes me want to kick myself. Hard.
Once upon a time, back about ten years ago or so—before I had kids—I thought I wanted to be a romance writer. Largely because someone had told me it was ‘easy’ to get published in romance.
I’ll take a short break here, to let you wipe your tears and catch your breath from laughing yourself hoarse.

Yeah, we all know it isn’t ‘easy’ to get published in any genre, don’t we? I was young and naive, though, so I believed it. I joined RWA, I joined my local organization (the Music City Romance Writers), I entered their annual contest, I won their annual contest... it all seemed very—dare I say it?—easy. So I thought to myself, maybe I should just send out a query for this book while I’m at it. Now that it was a contest winner, and everything...
I should perhaps mention that at this point there existed no actual book. The contest called for the first chapter of a romance. I was just dipping my toe into the water and hadn’t started writing anything yet, but I wanted to enter the contest—it was a chance to let someone other than my reluctant husband read my writing—so I came up with an idea and two characters, and wrote a first chapter. I didn’t do anything more with it, just wrote it, entered it in the contest, and sat back and waited. By the time it won, I still hadn’t written another word of the manuscript. But when I got the idea to query, the guidelines on the publisher’s website said to send a synopsis, so I wrote one. For the book I hadn’t written. And then I sent that out—mentioning the contest-win in the query letter, of course—and sat back to wait some more.
Stupid much?
In retrospect, the most amazing thing about the whole situation was probably that I got a response at all. And not only was it a response, but it was a two page, personalized response, detailing everything that was wrong with the plot of my (non-existent) manuscript and making suggestions for what I could do to deal with the problems.
Sounds great, right? I had an editor at the biggest publishing company in the world liking my synopsis enough to provide two pages of personalized feedback. I should have been dancing.
You’ve already guessed what I did, haven’t you?
Yep, you’re right. I did... nothing. I put the letter into the rejection file that I had to make especially for it, I ate some ice cream, and I stopped writing for a few years. Yes, I started having kids right about then, so I had an excuse, in all the diaper changes and middle-of-the-night breast feedings, but the real reason was that I’d been rejected.
I can laugh about it now, because I know that a two page personalized rejection letter isn’t really a rejection at all. And I can laugh about it because things worked out anyway; I made it into print a few years later. It wasn’t the end of the line for me. But it’s a sour laugh, because I also realize that I could have been published eight years ago if I’d just taken the time to familiarize myself with the business I was so eager to enter. Just a little bit of research, and I might have seen the rejection letter for what it was: an opportunity, a foot in the door, and not much of a rejection at all, really.
So there you have it. The story of my first rejection. The moral of the story being that it helps to know what you’re getting into before you’re putting it out there.
And that’s the view from this writer’s desk.

Bente Gallagher is the author of the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime under the pseudonym Jennie Bentley, and—come June 2010—the Savannah Martin real estate mysteries from PublishingWorks as herself. As of right now, Jennie is the only one with a website:


Laura Benedict said...

Hi, Bente. Funny how things happen in their own sweet time, isn't it? Congrats on placing "A Cutthroat Business!" Can't wait to see it!

Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks, Laura. That's so sweet of you! You know, I do have a digital ARC... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this blog. It's great to hear an upbeat story during these troubling times in publishing.

JLC said...

I have a feeling you've left out the part that makes this story a tad less upbeat for your readers on this blog: you don't address the talent that set you apart from the average wannabe from the start. It isn't just studying the business and the market that make the difference (believe me, for over 25 years I've done that), it must have a tiny bit to do with the way you made that very first blundering approach.

Congratulations, but no more false modesty, please;-)