I’d like to tell you my path to publication was easy, but that would be a lie. It took five states, five assignments, one retirement, another move, and 17 (that’s not a typo–17!) years to publish my first novel. But when it happened — it happened fast.
I started writing a novel after seeing an ad for a short story contest in the Dayton, Ohio newspaper when we were station at Wright-Patterson in 1997. I tried writing a short story, but subplots and interesting characters kept bubbling up onto the page, and I realized the story was so much more.
So here’s my best advice about publishing:
Study the craft of writing.
I went to my first writers conference while we were stationed at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. As part of the conference, I read the first five pages to the group. As I read I thought, “This is the worst drivel ever written and it’s all backstory.” Fortunately, it was a very kind group–they pointed out what was good, and I got back to work. Since then I’ve attended writers retreats and conferences, taken classes at a community college, listened to every author speak that I could find, joined a critique group, and read lots of books about writing.
Get out there.
When we moved to Northern Virginia, I saw an ad for a mystery convention called Malice Domestic. While it’s considered a mystery fan conference, there were plenty of writers, agents, and editors roaming around. One year I met a well-known agent as I was checking in. She told me to mail her my manuscript and while she, ultimately, turned it down, it was an opportunity. In 2005, we found out we were going to be stationed at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston. That year at Malice, I happened to sit at a table with a woman, Julie Hennrikus, from Boston. She told me I should join the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and attend a conference called Crime Bake. That chance meeting eventually led to my being published–more on that in a bit. There are organizations for Sci-Fi writers, children’s writers, almost any type of writing you are interested in.
Get used to rejection.
In the early days of my writing journey, I snail-mailed my manuscript and got rejections back the same way–lots of them! I have a file folder with around 65 rejection letters. Some are just a copied form letter, some at least have a signature on them, then are some with a personal note. The ones with a personal note gave me a little hint as to why they said “no” and kept me going.
So back to meeting Julie. I did join the Sisters in Crime chapter and attended Crime Bake. I met more and more published and hoping-to-be-published writers. Three years ago at Crime Bake, another friend, Barbara Ross, introduced me to her agent, John Talbot. I pitched my series to him but he wasn’t interested (by that time I’d written three books). A few weeks later, I received an email from Barbara. An editor in New York had an idea for a cozy mystery series with a garage sale theme. The editor contacted John Talbot. John then asked Barbara if she knew anyone she thought might be able to write the series. Barbara knew I loved garage sales and asked me.
A week later, I’d written a proposal for the series. All the characters, the setting, and the plot flowed out of me. I turned it in to John. He tweaked a few things and sent it off. After much handwringing and pacing, I signed a three book deal with Kensington Publishing (and they’ve just asked for two more). The Sarah Winston Garage Sale series is set in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts, and on a fictional air force base I named Fitch Air Force Base. The first in the series, Tagged for Death, came out last December and was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel at Malice Domestic. All of those years of preparation paid off when an unexpected opportunity came along.
So hone your skills, meet people in the writing world, and don’t give up! If you have questions you can contact me through my website, SherryHarrisAuthor.com.
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Posted by Sherry Harris, military spouse. Sherry started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series