Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Road to Publication by Dana Fredsti

Getting published is not an easy thing. And how’s THAT for a most simplistic stating of the obvious statement you’ve read in a while? But it’s true. I’m sure there are publishing urban legends the equivalent of Lana Turner being discovered in Schwab’s Drugstore; some of them might even be true. But most of the time the instant success stories are fabricated by publicist spin-doctors. The kid who wrote Eragon, for instance, self-published the book and promoted it relentlessly with the help of his family, building up a readership at fantasy conventions and such before being noticed and then picked up by a major publisher. Good for him, btw!

The first draft of MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon (henceforth referred to as MFH) was written in a month, by my best friend Maureen and myself. We alternated chapters and character POVs and wrote the entire thing longhand. I had semi-legible handwriting back then (it’s since deteriorated into ‘I should be a doctor’ illegibility) and Maureen printed instead of using cursive, so it wasn’t too hard to transcribe it with my step-dad’s then state-of-the-art word processor. He had a snazzy dot matrix printer. Remember those? The ones that used the paper that came in perforated folds and you had to separate each page and remove the side strips? Yes, folks, that’s how long ago we wrote the first draft. There were a few gaping holes in the story; places where we’d scribble ‘need action here!’ or ‘this doesn’t make sense. Fix! But we pretty much had what we thought was a pretty smokin’ first draft. In fact, we thought it was so good, we sent out a slew of query letters before we’d even typed the thing up. We figured we’d have a few months before hearing back from any of the publishers (this was back in the days when you could still send manuscripts directly to publishers and have a shot at it being read), which gave us plenty of time for typing and tweaking. Imagine our surprise -- and panic -- when we got a reply with a request to see the entire book from an editor with St. Martin’s Press less than a week after sending out the first batch of queries.

This prompted a three day and night marathon of revisions and filling in those holes as we typed it up. I did the actual typing because I was the better typist. Maureen sat in a chair next to me and added her opinions/commentary as I typed. We were hopped up on chocolate and/or Beringer white zinfandel for most of the marathon. The sugar/caffeine/alcohol cocktail combined with sleep deprivation made us very loopy by the last night (and all of this no doubt account for some of the things that made their way into the finished first draft). I still remember typing madly at 3am by the light of the word processor and a small desk lamp when Maureen suddenly said in a singsong voice, “Dude, if you were a supermodel, would you rather be Cindy Crawford or Paulina what’s-her-name?” After staring at her in disbelief, my reply was a borderline hysterical “I don’t know! I don’t know!” before turning back to the computer and continuing to pound the keys like some insane pianist. Maureen, btw, preferred Cindy Crawford. I still haven’t made my choice.

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that St. Martin’s Press politely declined to publish the first incarnation of MFH. Maureen and I are still both a bit mortified we thought it was even close to publication-ready when we sent it in. But talk about a wasted opportunity. The mystery market wasn’t glutted at the time, we’d gotten a crack at a major publishing house without even trying…and we blew it because we didn’t have the common sense to make sure our finished product was a: finished and b: well written before sending off query letters. Points for hubris, same points taken away for stupidity.

It took me approximately 16 years from the time the first draft was written to get MFH published. During that time span the manuscript was: stuffed in a drawer (or the electronic equivalent) for a few years; underwent massive rewrites at least 5 times; waited patiently while query letters and the first three chapters went out to agents and publishers; collected many rejection letters, and was occasionally sent out in its entirety to interested parties. Sometimes it was returned with polite ‘no thanks, not what we’re looking for’ and twice it was returned with ‘we like it, but it needs work in these areas.’ So I’d do rewrites and try to fix the problem areas indicated, but could never get it to the point the interested parties actually wanted to publish it.

During this same 16 year period I had short stories and essays published and a couple of screenplays produced, but I couldn’t seem to break through the wall of book publishing. I really wanted to get MFH published and had built a pretty solid emotional and creative barrier that got in the way of really committing to another novel project. My break finally came because of a writer friend, Brad Linaweaver, who’d read every draft of MFH (except for the first one, which is buried in a secret crypt never to again see the light of day) and thought it deserved to be published. He championed it to James Rock with James Rock Publishing Inc. and after a long wait during which James Rock read two incarnations of MFH, it was accepted for publication in February 2007. It was a long road to publication, but so worth it to finally hold the finished bound copy!

Now I'm working on the sequel to MFH (MFH: The Big Snooze) and working my way through an 8 book contract for Ravenous Romance, a new E-publisher dealing in spicy genre romances. My first novel for them, RIPPING THE BODICE, came out in February and will be out in print soon. The road to publication has been replaced by the road to meeting one's deadlines. I am humbled and gratified. Okay, and a little bit stressed! But it's so worth it!


Dana Fredsti is ex B-movie actress with a background in theatrical sword-fighting. Through seven plus years of volunteering at EFBC/FCC (Exotic Feline Breeding Facility/Feline Conservation Center), Dana's had a full-grown leopard sit on her feet, kissed by tigers, held baby jaguars and had her thumb sucked by an ocelot with nursing issues. She's addicted to bad movies and any book or film, good or bad, which include zombies. Her other hobbies include surfing (badly), collecting beach glass (obsessively), and wine tasting (happily).


  1. Sixteen years, huh? I'm feeling pretty good about the three years, give or take a month, I've spent on my book. Except that it's a kid's chapter book and only 12,000 words that I keep rewritng EVERY OTHER MONTH.

    I have to give you props for pushing along on the Road to Publication and knowing you had a good story, Dana. I know I liked MFH. But I might like the first draft just as much (if I could ever find it :-)

  2. Just goes to show you the value of persistence - Never give up, never surrender!(and being a kick-ass writer certainly doesn't hurt, either!)

  3. Heh. Cathy, that first draft exists in a sealed vault somewhere in my garage. :-)
    It was just so weird how when I finally got a publisher, it took..3 months from acceptance to holding the first copy in my hand. Sweet!

    Kids books are harder to write, in my opinion. People who think they're easy haven't tried it!
    Heh. I wrote this comment with a cat sucking on my hand. He was weaned WAY too young...

  4. thanks, David! Don't forget the shoulder rolls! :-)

  5. Absolutely wonderful! Always great to hear success stories that are all about hard work and persistence.

  6. Thanks, K.A.! And dont' forget mixed in with a bit of hubris and stupidity. :-)

  7. Dana,

    I thought 10 years to get Dream or Destiny published was a record, but you've surpassed that. Congraulations on having the persistence to finally achieve publication. And congratulations on the sequel and the 8-book contract.

  8. Hi Dana:
    It was a delightful article. Thanks for writing about your experience. I have recently discovered that I love writing. Judging from the fact that English is my second language, I think I can hope to get published sometime around 26 years from now! My toddler just laughed…I think he agrees.