Saturday, January 29, 2011

And so it begins... Part 2b

Where did we leave off? Oh, yeah... I had made a list of agents, and begun proposing. Onwards and... upwards?

And so it begins... Part 2b

I sent out proposals to a dozen agents or more, probably, over the course of two months, two or three per week, all solicited queries. But... not all of the Vintage Kitchen series. Though I knew the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries was a solid cozy series idea, I also believed (still do) that the other book/series proposal was/is a good idea. Some of the literary agents were not suitable for a purely 'cozy' proposal, so I sent those agents the other idea. I would, I decided, leave it up to God/fate/destiny what happened.

One or two got back to me fairly quickly with a 'this isn't for me' kind of response. But it was a bad time of year to be proposing to anyone in New York. For those who don't know, the publishing world basically shuts down in December, July and August (in my experience). The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is especially bad, so I knew it would be tough sledding. Most agents and editors are determined to clear their desks of piled up work in that period, and focus on the clients and projects at hand.

One saving grace, in that time, was that I had a finished romance manuscript accepted at a big new start-up, so Christmas 2009 was not terrible. I can say that now. It didn't feel so sunny/rosy/rainbowy all over then. I was distraught and full of doubt. Had I made a mistake? Should I be writing the next big romance novel? After all, it was work, and I like romance novels.

January came, as it inevitably does, in the middle of that long winter, and so, as January progressed, came the 18th, right after the 17th, as usual. Jessica Faust was now... open for queries again!! But me? I let the date pass without leaping onto my computer and sending off the cozy proposal. Wouldn't want to look to anxious, you know. I was like the uber-cool fella who slouches along by the popular girl, but doesn't join the horde of hopeful suitors. I'd wait. A few days. I couldn't stand to wait long, mind you.

I sent my query to Jessica on January 20th or 21st, and sat back to wait. She requested the proposal fairly quickly, I sent it, and then sat back to wait again. And wait I did. She was inundated with queries/proposals, as I knew she would be.

But a few weeks later I got an enthusiastic email saying she read the proposal, couldn't believe she had waited so long, and wanted to talk. We talked, and in that phone call she tried to give me time to think about signing with her. Hah!!! As if I'd let her go that easy. I told her I didn't need any time; I'd done the research, and I knew that she was my 'dream' agent. I didn't need a moment more, not even a millisecond.

'Send me the contract', I said, and sent an email to every other agent who had one of my proposals. I was off the market. It had taken me five or six months, but I got my literary agent, and I was gung ho to go!

And so it begins... Part 3  - The road to mystery publication, which started so slow and winding, takes a steep new ascent, and I'm just along for the ride... wheee!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

And so it begins... Part 2a

Where did I leave off? Let's see... reformed romance author finds new agent she wants to work with, and begins to create new mystery series, blah, blah...

And so it begins... Part 2a - Turning an idea into a cozy mystery series, and the bumps along the way. Especially trying to find an agent! 

So, using the advice from the agent I wanted to impress, Jessica Faust of Bookends, I read some of her clients' cozies and conceived an idea for a series based on a vintage cookware/cookbook collector. I began to plan it out, (that, by the way, is a lot of fun; creating a series is like starting life over, inventing where you want to live, building the perfect house and surrounding yourself with all the stuff you like... cool!) worked out the plot, wrote the synopsis and three chapters. Finally, I thought... finally, I am getting close to being ready to present Proposal Number Two to Superagent Jessica Faust. I wasn't quite there, but I wanted to be sure I was on the right track.

Soooo, I went to the Bookends website to brush up on query/proposal FAQ and... OMG!!! Found a note there that Jessica had gone on query/proposal hiatus for FOUR months! Four! Not one, not two, not even three freaking months, but FOUR. Four long, difficult, tiring, anxious... okay, I think you got it. For a starving and anxious writer - I was without a book contract for the first time in ten years - four months is a long, long time. It was September, and she wasn't open to queries again until January 18th, 2010. See, I remember the date! That's how anxious I was.

Writing Tip: When approaching an agent, take time to look over their website and check out their query/proposal preferences. Tailor your proposal to what they like to see, and you'll give yourself a boost in the dicey game of finding an agent.

But... I've been in the business a while. The first rule of publishing for someone who wants to be published is, don't put all your novels in one bookcase. One must be adaptable, flexible, Cirque du Soleil stretchy! I worked and polished and wrote and polished some more until the proposal for 'Hoosier Dead Guy?' and the next two books in the Vintage Kitchen Mystery series (it wasn't called that yet; Jessica - of course - gave me that idea) was shiny-bright 'n ready. And I began, late in 2009, to approach (gasp!) other literary agents. I had to move ahead, and it was the only way I knew how. So I did the research and began with a list of good agents, worthy agents. Respectable and capable agents. Solid agents who I knew would represent me well.

Every single one of them (from whom I heard back,) asked for the proposal from the query. That's very good, in the publishing business, when it's sometimes hard to get beyond the query. But I knew my solid writing background had gotten me thus far. If the work wasn't good enough, it would get me no further. I was still pining after Ms. Faust, but I had steeled myself to look further afield.

And so it begins... Part 2b  - Will one of those agents grab me? Will I be faced with the decision of whether to wait for Jessica (aka Ms. Superagent) to open up to queries again, or will no one else want me? Hint: the time of year was in my favor, in one weird way, and I do believe that fate/destiny smiled on my enterprising little heart!

Monday, January 24, 2011

And so it begins, Part 1b

Here I am again, and as I said in Part 1a, I listened to Jessica's advice to read up some of the books by writers on her list of cozy mystery authors!

Valuable Writing Tip; when an agent you respect gives you advice, listen.

 So, I read a couple, (more than a couple... all of the covers here are of Bookends' client books that I read - Look below in the right hand column for links to these cozy authors' sites and more!) and got the idea that the current crop of cozy mystery series are often centred around hobbies or interests. I read a glass blowing mystery, an apple orchard mystery, a crochet mystery, and so on.

Hmmm. I am a crafty kinda gal; what could I center a series around? I like to cross stitch and cook, I love cats and tea, and nature. Nothing called to me, until... I am a rabid collector of kitcheniana. In my fairly small kitchen I have crammed vintage Pyrex, Corelle, utensils, teacups, vintage cookbooks, vintage linens (tablecloths and napkins), and lots of other stuff. Including a big and beooootiful Hoosier-style kitchen cabinet.

I didn't want to do a series about an antiques dealer, and I am not competent enough to write one about a deeply studied collector. I needed, for a protagonist, someone who, like me, was new to the collecting game, enthusiastic, still learning, and yet someone who knew what she liked. And so Jaymie Leighton, star of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, was born, as a lover of all things kitcheny and vintagey.

Part 2 - Turning an idea into a cozy mystery series, and the bumps along the way. What to do when the agent you want is not going to be accepting queries for four long months? 

Friday, January 21, 2011

And so it begins... Part 1a

This is all new and exciting for me, creating a mystery series, and if you are a cozy reader, I thought the process might interest you.

I am introducing my new cozy mystery series, the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, starting some month/year in the future with the publication of Hoosier Dead Guy? (that's the working title, anyway... do you know what a Hoosier cabinet is? If not, you soon will!). (Edited May 9th 2011 - New title is A Deadly Grind... so far, anyway. Editor was concerned folks would hear 'Hoosier' and think basketball!!) I thought, in speaking of the series in this blog, that I'd start at the beginning and work forward. Even in Wonderland, this usually works quite nicely. (Remember, the King of Hearts said, "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end, then stop."

So, the beginning of my achievement of a lifelong goal - a three-book contract with Berkley Prime Crime for a cozy mystery series - is thus; several months ago I achieved my dream of scoring the big score... Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary agreed to represent me. Amazingly. I've spent years thinking I wasn't ready, and maybe I wasn't, or maybe I was holding myself back by writing things that weren't really up my alley. I love and read cozy mysteries, but I wrote several mysteries that could best be described as awkward hybrids, neither fish nor fowl. (Sidebar... where did that phrase come from? Note to self; look it up.)

But wait a minute... that's really not the beginning, is it? What proposal did I show Jessica that convinced her to take it - and me - on? How did I come up with the idea, you ask?

Okay, so we really need to go back further, more than a year ago.

I had a literary agent, and we had worked together for years in my previous incarnation as a romance author. (Aha, says the perspicacious reader, so you did have a hand up in the business! In one sense, I suppose I did. Successfully transitioning from being a romance author to publication in my first love, mystery writing, eluded me for years, though.) But he and I were going in different directions, and that's okay. It took me far too long to recognize it, and we stayed together for too long out of loyalty and mutual appreciation. He was (and is) a really nice guy, and a good agent. For someone else. But I wanted to be a mystery author, and always have, and he didn't have a whole lot of experience in that area.

So, I began to research agents, and it didn't take me long to figure out that Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary was it, the pinnacle, the epitome of everything I wanted. So I brushed up my proposal for a mystery series, and sent it to her.

And got a polite rejection. I could have left it at that, but I didn't. I emailed her, thanking her for the rejection (!! This is generally not advised, but I did it anyway.) and asking if I could do something to the book that would make it more palatable. She said, 'not really'. Then she wrote the key phrase that changed everything for me. She suggested that I was a very good writer - that wasn't the problem - but if I was truly interested in writing a cozy mystery series, I should look at her list of clients, and pick a few books to read.

I listened, and...

Continued in Part 1b!