Saturday, August 15, 2020

HOW TO RELEASE A BOOK IN A PANDEMIC: Guest Post by Jenny Milchman

How to Release a Book in a Pandemic 

Hi Mystery Fanfare readers! My name is Jenny Milchman, and I write suspense novels in which women face overwhelming odds…and triumph. I’d like to tell you about my journey to become a published author because it says a lot about the mystery community…and even includes a stop at Janet Rudolph’s very own home!

Ready to travel along with me? First we have to go back a ways into the past. Don’t worry, this won’t take long…but there will be some twists and turns. Just like in the best mystery novels.

It took me eleven years to sell my “first” novel, which was actually the eighth one I’d written. If you’re thinking that that’s a long time to be told no every day…you’re right.

There were nights I lay in bed, the lines from my latest rejection letter running through my head, and cried. There were mornings it was hard to get up.

My husband kept encouraging me. Saying I didn’t have to fall back on Plan B, I could stick to Plan A, for as long as I had in me. He seemed to know, even better than I did myself, that I wouldn’t be truly happy doing anything else. Writing had been my dream since I was a little kid, but after more than a decade of trying to get published, it seemed like I might never get to share my work with readers. (Back when I started, self-publishing wasn’t the viable route it is now. It was called “vanity publishing” for a reason. And I didn’t have any money to spend on it). I could let my earnings crash by dropping my work hours so I‘d have time to write. (I stayed home with the kiddies, saving on daycare).

I could keep us in our starter home where my husband and I slept in a nook off the living room with no door and hoped we’d be able to move before the kids got old enough to wander in on their own. But I was not going to take money out of our food or clothing budget to print books no one had wanted.

There is one reason I finally broke through and got published — and although I’d like to say it was because my work kept getting better and I finally wrote a really good book…it wasn’t that.

It was because I began to reach out to others in the mystery world.

First, I started attending bookstore and library events where authors were speaking. I would drive as many as five hours—through snow and rain and gloom of night, just like a postal worker, or a character in a mystery—to see authors who almost certainly include favorites of yours, along with perhaps one or two new discoveries.

Lisa Scottoline, John Searles. Chris Bohjalian. Jodi Picoult. Harlan Coben. Lee Child. Kate Morgenroth. Carol Goodman. John Burnham Schwarts. I could go on.

If I couldn’t go and see the author, I’d reach out with a note. A real snail mail letter back when I started, progressing as the years accumulated to email. I told them what their book had meant to me and why.

After I became more confident in my writing, had gotten an agent, and editors wished to acquire my book but couldn’t get consensus for an offer, I began letting the authors I contacted know that I was a writer. And having a durn hard time of it.

Eventually an author who is beloved in the mystery world offered to read the unpublished manuscript my agent was shopping without success. This author decided to give it to her own editor. And five torturous weeks later, that editor made an offer on it. The kicker? She was at an imprint that had rejected the same book six months before!

My debut novel went on to win the Mary Higgins Clark award, hit the USA Today bestseller list, and seven years later, it still appears on things like Book of the Day calendars and 100 Mysteries to Read in a Lifetime lists.

Life lesson? The people who tell you no don’t always know what they’re talking about. Whether it’s about a book, or anything else.

After my debut novel sold, my husband (the aforementioned source of encouragement) and I thought about how much it had taken to get to this point, and decided we really needed to be all-in in terms of trying to make the book a success.

So we did the next natural thing.

Rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, pulled the kids out of first and third grades to “car-school” them as we traveled from bookstore to bookstore, library to library, and book club to book club across the lower 48.

Shelf Awareness called it the world’s longest book tour.

One of those stops took us to Janet Rudolph’s legendary literary salon, where I appeared alongside Richard North Patterson—a legend whom I’d met earlier that summer at ThrillerFest.

See? The mystery community, with its spiderweb of connections, strikes again. Don’t they say spider thread is as strong as steel? So is this community of ours.

Which brings us to the pandemic.

Seven years later, I’m still alive as an author, and in fact, my fifth novel has just come out. But I have never forgotten what finally got me here. The mystery community. Authors, and now readers, with whom I still want to connect.

The world’s longest book tour has to go virtual. 

What does this mean? Well, there are bookstores and libraries doing robust virtual events, and I’m scheduled to appear at some. If you have a beloved bookstore in your community, or your library is open, check out their calendars. And if they haven’t begun doing events via Zoom or one of the other platforms, you could propose one!

Also online book clubs. I’ve always loved a great book club, and though I’ll surely miss the extravaganzas an in-person meeting often turns into—one group made noose cookies for my first novel, and a canoe cake swam through a river of frosting for my fourth—a rousing discussion of whodunnit and why transcends format. If you’re part of a book club or know of one—and you too are missing community during this time—why not suggest a remote gathering?

And if at any of these, you might want a guest author to appear? Well, please reach out—to me and others.

Because even in a pandemic, especially in a pandemic, the mystery world is needed.

Jenny Milchman is the author of COVER OF SNOW, which won the Mary Higgins Clark Award, RUIN FALLS, an Indie Next Pick and a Top Ten of 2014 by Suspense Magazine and AS NIGHT FALLS, the recipient of the 2015 Silver Falchion award for best novel. Her fouth novel, WICKED RIVER, was an Indie Next Pick and selected as one of Strand Magazine's Best of the Year. Her fifth novel, THE SECOND MOTHER, comes out this summer. 

She served as Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, is a member of the Sisters in Crime speakers bureau, and the founder and organizer of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated annually in all fifty states. Jenny lives in the Hudson River Valley with her family.


Joseph LeValley said...

Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your success. It’s an inspiring story filled with valuable lessons. Joseph LeValley, author of the Tony Harrington thriller series.

Jenny Milchman said...

Thanks so much for having me on Mystery Fanfare, Janet!