featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Note: This site uses Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Today we're happy to have Jenny Milchman as our Book Club Friday guest author. Jenny is a suspense writer from New Jersey whose debut novel, Cover of Snow, will be published by Ballantine in January. Visit her at her website and blog. -- AP

Sisyphus? He’s Got Nothing on Writers

Right now, as I sit typing this piece for Lois’ terrific blog, my debut novel will be coming out in just shy of six months. OK, it will be out in five months, three weeks, and two days, but who’s counting?

I am.

Another timeframe I could share is 11 years. That’s how long it took my novel to sell.

And why I do call it a debut novel instead of a first? Because the book that’s coming out isn’t my first. Or even my second, or third. It’s my eighth.

That’s right. I have six other novels, which are probably destined to remain in a cyber-drawer. A seventh, which nearly sold before the eighth. And then the one that finally resulted in a magic combination of…something that led to a deal.

What was that something? Well, I can say for sure it isn’t only the book itself. My seventh novel had enough oomph to make it all the way to the publisher at the helm of [insert name of publishing house here]. The book that’s coming out I guess also had that oomph factor, plus happened to land in the hands of someone who could navigate the morass of editorial board and marketing and publicity departments and top brass and take it all the way across the finish line.

There were some pretty bleak moments before the fateful day came when my agent—my third agent, whom I call my forever agent—called to say, “I have some good news.”

One day I remember in particular happened when I was driving through a blizzard to see [insert name of big superstar author here]. I’d been attending readings and signings by authors I loved for years in the hopes of learning how they had done it, or just drawing inspiration from the fact that they had.

But on this particular occasion, I was lost. And late. And I had left my two children at home in the care of my husband, and my older one was sick.

What kind of mother was I, leaving her sick child to pursue this clearly futile dream? What I was doing that particular night wasn’t even tied in any tangible way to achieving the dream. But what else could I do? I was desperate. I had all the pieces in place. An agent who believed in me. A book editors wanted to buy. And still no offer. What was it going to take?

That’s what I said—no, cried—on the phone to my husband, who, in addition to the myriad other roles he played in this quest of mine, was also willing to serve as GPS to his tech-challenged wife. At least I’d asked how our daughter was first.

“She’s better,” my husband said softly, directing me through the snowy streets, tethered by an invisible series of satellite signals that lit my way.

It’d be fitting—like something out of a novel when the arc is finally nailed—if that night had turned out to be the key piece that fell into place, allowing my book to sell. But it wasn’t. In fact, if I’m recalling correctly—and I am; these events are seared into my soul, as much a part of me as a brand—there was still well over a year left before the magic happened.

I look back on my years of rejection, and frustration, and oftentimes despair, in two ways.

  • First, I believe my work really wasn’t ready for most of that time. I would’ve said it was, of course. But one of the things I worry about in the compressed time scale of indie publishing is a loss of the writer’s apprenticeship. If I hadn’t been forced to write all those books and drafts, I wouldn’t have. Too hard. Waaay too hard. I wanted readers! I wanted to be an author. But if I’d been published much sooner, my work would’ve been the worse for it—and so would I as a writer.

This article elaborates on the above. (And it even quotes John Mayer, so how can you go wrong?)

As for the second point, I believe in a sort of fated meant-to-be so this might get a little wiggy.

  • The editor who bought my debut novel has a brilliant, visionary view of fiction. And a mindset that uniquely fits what I hope to do as a writer. Not that there aren’t many incisive editors out there—I’ve met several others at my publishing house alone. The talent accumulated in the haloed and hallowed halls of publishing is not to be believed. But if I had wound up with any of the editors who came heartbreakingly close to buying my work, then I would not be with the editor I’m meant to be with. Someone who knows what I want to accomplish without words even being exchanged—funny, for two book people—and who can tell when I’ve gotten there.

I have met many indie writers who approach their path with the dedication and seriousness our craft deserves. Multiple rounds of readers. Critique groups. Workshops and conferences. Freelance editors. These are necessary resources before you’re likely to have a book that will truly draw in readers. And, to get a little wiggy again, before you arrive at the point on your writer’s journey when you are finally ready to be published.

I want to hold out a flag and wave it for indie writers who put together the team a good book deserves, and the others who are banging their skulls against the brick walls of traditional publishing, and tell them not to worry if it takes a little while.

Eight novels and eleven years.

You’re probably doing all right.

Jenny, you're an inspiration to every struggling writer. Best of luck with your debut novel. -- AP


Liese said...

Hey, Jennifer!

This is Liese waving from Texas!

An inspiring story and all the best for the future!

Kathleen Kaska said...

Love your story, Jenny. I'm so proud of you. I teach writing classes and so often I meet writers who have written "that " book and believe it was done. It's too hard to go over it again and improve, rewrite, revise, etc. and then they wonder why it doesn't get published. Working with a critique group of serious, talented writers is a valuable tool I strongly suggest to writers who want to improve their craft.
I'm glad you stuck with it, Jenny. You're on your way!

Peg Cochran said...

Love "forever agent." I have one of those now, too, after going through three others!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

This is fabulous. And you are an inspiration.

The universe works in such mysterious ways--and we can;t always understand it or see it at the time. You are so beautifully open to that... Thank you so much for this story.

Congratulations! And I cannot wait for your book!

Peg Brantley said...

You rock!

Janet C said...

Congratulations on sticking with it. I'm looking forward to reading your first book and many more to come. I've already got Cover of Snow on preoreder.

jenny milchman said...

Aww...it's so great to see all of you, and thank you, Lois for having me to your fun blog.

Liese--great to see you here! (And perhaps one day our paths will cross in TX. Do you ever go to Murder by the Book? [I mean, I realize it's a big state :])

Thank you, Kathleen, for helping me not feel crazy for hanging in all that time.

Peg--I want to hear the story of *your* forever agent!!

Hank, your encouragement and understanding--from someone I admired for long before THIS happened--means more than a lot to me. To paraphrase U2. I can't wait for your new book, as you know, and can't believe you are thinking about mine.

Peg, another Peg, a longtime Peg to me--the evolution of your novel has been a journey I've watched almost--almost--as avidly as the one with mine!!

And Janet...I can't quite communicate what it means to think of your reading my book. Thank you.

Thank you, all.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

You may have needed to call Josh for directions, but your writer's GPS was working. No matter the distance or the roadblocks or the detours, you kept on. You're an inspiration.
And, as a personal note, when you come to dinner, you bring the BEST desserts. Mike and I are looking forward to seeing you when you're out promoting this book.

Jennifer McAndrews said...

super, super post! kudos to you for sticking to it. Wishing you every success!

DonnaGalanti said...

Jenny, you lighten my heart on a day when it's heavy...I have novels being written, novels behind me, and novels in me yet to be written. And yes, even with positive things in the works (a book out and agents with my new MS)I still wonder - when will I "make it"?

So to hear of how you have persevered and kept writing and kept working to make your dream happen - and now it is - so inspires me! And I was already inspired by you from all the amazing work you did to welcome us debut authors at ThrillerFest! Not only will you have "made it" but you will already have a lovely energy force out there for others to connect with and follow. Cheers to you! And adore the cover of your "debut" novel :)

jenny milchman said...

Carolyn Rose, mystery author and best hostess in Washington (she even gets every last need a kid might have right)--thank you for saying I have some sort of GPS. I will use this when people laugh at me for calling the Garmin the Margarine.

jenny milchman said...

Jennifer, it's very nice to hear your voice--thank you for commenting on this post! And the wishes, too.

Donna--I'm sorry it's a heart-heavy day. You have already made it, and I have no doubt you will continue to reach new heights. I've heard how people respond to your work. I am crossing fingers for the agents who are reading--I didn't realize that was where you were at. Feel free to get in touch anytime you want to talk over this process--I can't wait to hear where it leads you :)

Barbara Quinn said...

Jenny, Awesome post! Truly inspiring. I can't wait for Cover of Snow. One of these days we will connect in Mo'town.
Best, Barb

Johanna Garth said...

Eight years and eleven novels. Those words alone should be enough to inspire anyone who wonders whether "this next book" will be The Book.

jenny milchman said...

Barbara, hi! Thank you for saying that. And how can we connect in Mo'town--we should think!!

Johanna...I know you feel me. You did the repeat novel gig too, and your fourth is worth a serious look!

Connie J Jasperson said...

It's wonderful to hear Jenny's story! I am SO looking forward to january and her debut!

Elizabeth Aldred said...

Thanks, Jennifer (and Lois) for a inspiring post. The writing and the journey are magical. I've finally reached that point where I no longer object to the idea of yet another rewrite. That's just what has to happen. It's not ready until it's ready.

I'm glad yours is ready!

Michelle Fidler said...

I'm just a reader. It's a lot easier to be a reader than a writer. I wouldn't want to have to deal with publishers.

Michele Drier said...

And through all of this you've been a caring, compassionate blogger and supporter of other emergining writers. You are a class act! Congraulations on reaching this milestone.

jenny milchman said...

Connie, it is so great to see you here! Thanks for your comment--means a lot...

Chris, it's so nice to meet you, and also to read such a kismet line. Finally getting to the point where you no longer object to rewriting--I don't know if I've reached that point yet (I still stomp every time, although later I get to work), but I aspire to.

Michelle F., you're not 'just' anything; you are a Reader (should be followed by tra la!) and you are the reason I hung in there for 11 years. Thank you for commenting on this.

Michele, so nice to see you here, and read your kind words...

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm so inspired by your dedication and journey, Jenny! Terrific to meet you at Thrillerfest, and as others have said, thank you for all you do for the Debut authors.

jenny milchman said...

Thank *you* for your comment, Amy! I'm already excited for next year's ThrillerFest :) I hope you'll be there, too?

Cindy Sample said...

Jen, your journey is such an inspiring story. Despite years of angst, you took the time to learn your craft, you've shared what I refer to as your own "pothole-filled path to publication," and you've continued to promote other authors on your wonderful blog.

You're already a star as far as I'm concerned:-)

Priscille Sibley said...

Hey there, Jenny.
I love your cover and title and I'm looking forward to reading. It is a long journey. Maintaining the faith in yourself is difficult. Cheers to you for doing it and making it work. Hope to see you sometime again along the way.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jenny,

I believe your story will encourage many other writers not to give up.
Hold on to those other novels and resubmit when this one is a big hit as I believe it will be. By the way, the love your book cover!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Oops, meant to say I love your book cover! I need my coffee!

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Hi Jenny,

Your disciplined approach to writing is nothing short of phenomenal. The way you've managed to keep your focus and sense of humor over the long haul boggles the mind. Now you're getting your reward for the fabulous support you've provided other authors over the years. Glad you're in Oregon. See you soon.

jenny milchman said...

Cindy, I love pothole-filled road! Mine was filled with craters, I think ;)

Prisille, so nice to see you! I can't wait for your book either :) And I do hope we get to have a lunch again where we can really talk :)

Jacquie, I knew exactly what you meant, of course! Thank you, and I hope we can chat together about books somewhere together in 2013...with coffee on offer, of course :)

Liz, I lost my humor more than once, but I guess I had a laugh or two along the way. In 11 years, you have to laugh. Can't wait to see you in this beautiful part of the country!

Barb Ross said...

Can't wait to read it!

Deborah Blake said...

Congrats on finally becoming an overnight success :-)
I always love to read these kind of stories; they help me to keep going on my own path. I'm working on novel #7, after novel #3 got me an agent but we couldn't sell it (even though everyone loved it). Novel #6 is out there right now, and I'm hoping to get that "I've got good news" phone call any day now.
*any day now, universe*
And I agree about being happy that those first two books didn't sell, and that I've had all this extra time to practice and improve my craft.
I hope your debut book does gangbusters!
*waves at Lois*

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Jenny, mega-congratulations on not giving up. You go girl!

Radine Trees Nehring said...

How beautiful, and how very Jenny! Because you've kept us posted on events and your thoughts along the path of this journey, I think many of us feel unusually close to the novel and to you! I know I do. Here's to icing on your nose!

Gigi Pandian said...

Your story continues to be so inspiring to me, Jenny!

jenny milchman said...

Barb, thank you. It's hard to express how much your five words mean to me.

Deborah, I hope you'll feel free to get in touch with me any time you want to bounce a question around, a hope, or even have a good long vent, along this road. They're all different, of course, but I will pass on what one of my favorite non-mystery authors, Jennifer Egan, once wrote. "When you start getting almost-offers [editors who love it], it means you're close." She was right. It just took another few years. I'm hoping the universe is listening and get the call SOON.

Joanna, thank you :) You go, too, with that new release of yours!

Radine, to icing on our noses! We are close for reasons beyond the books, kindred spirits of books.

Gigi, it's great to see you! I'm inspired right back by you...

Leah said...

What's great about this story, Jenny, is that I bet everyone chasing a dream has had that moment where they feel pulled away from everything they KNOW they should be doing (home with a sick kid is a stellar example), to do something, anything, to get them closer to their goal. You know I find you to be an inspiration. :)

jenny milchman said...

Thanks, Leah. Truly--you and the others right here on this blog (including Lois herself) kept me going through some of the bleaker times (as well as my loving human GPS + at home, and a thankfully large family who believed). I am grateful for each and every one of you.