My Publishing Journey by Judy Penz Sheluk – Guest Post and Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Judy Penz Sheluk will be awarding $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

My Publishing Journey
by Judy Penz Sheluk

I began writing The Hanged Man’s Noose on Christmas Eve, 2011. That may seem like an odd day to start a first novel, but I’m a freelance writer/editor in my day jobs (yes, jobs with an “s”) and for the first time in ages, I found myself with ten days off and no real plans beyond the usual Christmas dinners. By the end of that “vacation,” I was hooked, and for the next several months I wrote every single day. Sometimes it was only for a half hour, sometimes a few hours, but I was on a mission.

In June 2012, I met with an agent at the Bloody Words Mystery Writing Conference in Toronto. She loved my premise: a greedy real estate developer comes to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store on the town’s historic Main Street. She asked me to send her the full manuscript when I finished the novel. I didn’t realize, at the time, that most agents won’t even listen to a pitch unless a book is ready for submission, and certainly never from a beginning writer. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss!

I told my husband, family and friends. Drank champagne. Celebrated. Danced in my pj’s. The fact that I was still on the first draft of my very first novel seemed like such a minor point. Surely I’d have the book finished within a few months. Visions of advances danced through my head.

Spurred on by the agent’s enthusiasm, I completed the first draft by September. Reread and revised it in October and November. Polished it up in December and sent it to two friends to read in January 2013. Got their feedback in February, made another round of minor revisions, and voila! I was ready to submit.

I drafted up a decent query letter, reminded the agent of our meeting and waited. Six weeks went by without so much as a word. Was it too soon to follow up? I had no idea what the protocol was, but since I hadn’t received an acknowledgment to my first email submission, I decided to send another email. This turned out to be wise; she hadn’t, in fact, received the first email. On the plus side, she did remember me, and encouraged me to resubmit the entire novel, along with a bio, synopsis and marketing plan.

The bio wasn’t difficult. I had a professional bio as a freelance writer and editor. The synopsis was almost as difficult as writing the book. For those of you unfamiliar with a synopsis, it’s a one to two page document that tells the entire story, from start to finish, including the ending. That’s right: you are expected to boil 70,000 words down to less than 1,000 (and some agents/publishers want no more than 500 words). As for the marketing plan, I didn’t even have a website yet, let alone a Twitter account, Facebook page or Pinterest profile. I wrote that I was working on all four. Then I took a website course and got started.

I’d like to tell you that this dream agent wrote back with an offer of representation, but the reality is after four months of waiting, I received this email:

“Thank you so much for your patience while I reviewed this project! After much debate and multiple reads, we’re ultimately going to pass. I think that your voice is superb, and the premise is very strong, I just didn’t fall entirely in love with the characters. Please know that this was not an easy decision, and I genuinely wish you the very best with it.”

Did the rejection sting? Of course it did. The first cut really IS the deepest, if only because it marks the first loss of innocence. So I did what anyone would do. I cried. Shamefacedly confessed my failure to my family and friends. Brooded and ate junk food. Read about famous authors and their experience with rejection before they were published. Their stories gave me hope.

After a couple of weeks of feeling sorry for myself, I went back over my manuscript and started the revision process all over again, this time with an eye to making my characters “more lovable,” or at least more memorable. Then I hired a developmental editor—something I should have done in the first place—and dissected chapter by chapter, adding here, cutting there. The end result was a much stronger book. Unfortunately, we only get one chance with an agent or publisher, unless of course, they encourage you to resubmit. My dream agent hadn’t done that, but because of her encouragement, I completed my first novel, sent it out in the world to be read, and learned from rejection. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Here’s what I learned from this experience (and you can too):

• Don’t submit your story before it’s truly ready. Most beginning writers get impatient (and I was no exception). Remember this: you get one chance at an agent or publisher. There are no “do-overs.”

• Once your story is polished to perfection: Don’t query just one agent or publisher, regardless of how enthusiastic they may seem about your project. Writing is subjective and reputable agents are paid ONLY upon the sale of your books. Unknown writers are not on the top of their client wish list.

• Start building your Social Media platform early and methodically. The days of agents and/or publishers doing all (or even most) of the marketing are over. Slow and steady wins this race.

• Learn how to write a decent synopsis. Take a course. Study examples online. Try not to be daunted by the process.

• Believe in your story. Rejection is part of every writer’s life. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, was rejected 60 times before getting a publishing contract. Learn from it, and move on.

MediaKit_BookCover_TheHangedMansNooseSmall-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in a tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok.

Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful Canadian traitor. As she interviews the local business owners for the magazine, Emily quickly learns that many people are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.

But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter at a town hall meeting about the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered, and although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused.

Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme—before the murderer strikes again.

Enjoy an excerpt:

The faint scent of vanilla filled Emily’s nostrils. “Pure vanilla extract, the real stuff, not the imitation kind,” a man’s voice called from the back of the store. “Stir one tablespoon into a gallon of paint and you get rid of that new paint smell. I add it to every gallon I sell.” He came out into the open, held out his hand, and smiled. “Emily Garland, I presume.”

The main thing Emily noticed about Johnny Porter, beyond the fact he was roughly her age and drop-dead movie star gorgeous, were his eyes. Eyes so dark brown they looked black. Miner’s eyes, her old pals at boarding school would have called them, the kind of eyes that could dig their way into the depth of your soul. Emily made an effort to collect herself. Acting like an infatuated high school student was not the way to start off her new life in Lount’s Landing.

“And you must be Johnny Porter.” Emily shook his hand, noticing his grip was firm but gentle. Thought his hand lingered a moment longer than necessary. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Johnny said, although Emily got the distinct feeling he was assessing her. She wondered if she made the grade.

About the Author:MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_TheHangedMansNooseJudy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery was released in July 2015 through Barking Rain Press. Her short crime fiction appears in The Whole She-Bang 2, World Enough and Crime, and Flash and Bang. In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy is the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal and the Editor for Home BUILDER Magazine. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find Judy on her website where she blogs about the writing life and interviews other authors.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Triberr | Amazon Author Page

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  1. Thank you for hosting

  2. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it?

    • Hi Peggy,
      I think every writer suffers from writer’s block at times (well, maybe not Stephen King). When it happens to me, it is for one of two reasons: the first (and most common) is an inner voice telling me that the story is going in the wrong direction (I’m a pantser, don’t work with an outline). So I’ll back away from the story, go for a walk, read a book, watch TV, waste time on Facebook or Pinterest. Nine times out of ten, I’ll see how the story SHOULD be going vs. the direction I have been going. Then I’ll backtrack to the part where I got stuck, and start again.
      The second reason is plain burnout. As the editor of two magazines, my day job is writing and editing (though my day jobs can be done at any time of the day or night, since I work from home…but you get my point). Then I write fiction. I’ve always thought if I was a plumber, for example, it would be easier, because writing would be an escape. As it is, I write, then I write, and then I write again. Sometimes I just run out of words. On those days, I take the day off an don’t do anything that involves writing.
      I think, though, that the most important thing is to TRY to write every day. If it doesn’t work after an hour, I give myself permission to do something else. Or work on a different story. Short stories are great diversions from novels. Hope that helps!

      • Thank you for taking the time to answer my question, Judy. I really enjoyed reading your answer … many authors tell me they never suffer from writer’s block and I find that hard to believe so I appreciate your honesty and explanation.

        • Thanks for letting me know! I think you’ll find I’m very honest about this process. I try to do this on my blog. Hope you’ll consider following it. Tomorrow my post will be on my experience with public speaking (definitely NOT my strong suit).

  3. Good Morning. Congrats on your release. Did you have to do some research for it? Do you enjoy research?

    • Hi Debra,
      Most of the research was done long before I ever thought of writing a novel. I’d been fascinated by the history of Samuel Lount, a real life Canadian politician who was hanged for treason in the 19th century, and so it was fun to name my fictional town after him, and incorporate a small amount of that history (though the book is set in present day). In fact, the title of the book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, comes from the name of a bar on the town’s Main Street. The owner is a history buff.
      The antiques shop angle was also easy, as I’ve been the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal since 2007.
      There is another theme that runs through the book, but I don’t want to put in any spoilers! I did do research for that.
      As a freelance writer since 2003, research is part of the life, and so I’ve gotten good at it, and I do enjoy it. The danger for me is that I can get so involved in the research that I don’t write!

  4. Thank you for hosting me on your blog! I look forward to answering questions and addressing comments.

  5. Excellent post! Best of luck with sales. 🙂

  6. Hi Judy, I really enjoyed your guest post! Thank you for sharing and for the contest!

  7. Thanks for posting what you’ve learned from your experiences. Look forward to reading your book

  8. Danielle Corrow says:

    thanks for sharing the great excerpt with us.

  9. Eva Millien says:

    A very helpful post and great excerpt, sounds like a great read, thanks for sharing!

  10. Becky Richardson says:

    What is your favorite genre?

    • Hi Becky, definitely mystery. Some of my favorite authors are: Tana French, Sue Grafton, Sara J Henry, Louise Penny, John Sandford and Michael Connelly. But I also read other genres. For example, two of my Top 10 books of all time are Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I tend to avoid paranormal, vampires, fantasy and sci-fi, just not my thing, though I get that they are hugely popular.
      Thanks for asking!

  11. Great excerpt, thank you.

  12. Thanks for sharing the excerpt! I’m looking forward to checking this book out, it sounds like something I’ll enjoy 🙂

    • Thanks Victoria. The book is getting great reviews — a reviewer in the Toronto Star said, “Judy Penz Sheluk probably sets the record for the most characters with skeletons in the closet.” That made me laugh because really, who among us doesn’t have a skeleton or two hidden away? He went on to say some really nice things about the book, which is always nice to read.

      • That’s so awesome!!! And yes, you are absolutely right about that… so with that, it definitely makes the story/characters more realistic 🙂

  13. Thank you for the post and the giveaway!

  14. Thanks for the guest post and the giveaway! Who designed your cover art? Why did you go with those particular images?

  15. Really enjoyed reading the entire post, thank you!

  16. Gabrielle Compolongo says:

    I love the excerpt!

  17. Patrick Siu says:

    I have enjoyed learning about the book. Thanks for sharing it.

  18. Thank you for the chance!

  19. I would like to read The Hanged Man’s Noose. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  20. I didn’t realized that you could only submit your book to the publishers once! That would be nerve racking to have to decide when it is “perfect” enough to publish!

    • Hi Amanda, think of it like a job interview. If you interview for a job and don’t get it, what are the chances you will get another chance to interview for the same job? Perhaps if you were second pick, and the other person turned it down, but otherwise, it’s just another job you did not get. Same with books. Unless the publisher says, “Not quite there, but if you do X and X and resend, we’ll reconsider,” it’s over for that publisher and/or agent.

  21. Edis Zukić says:

    Do you daydream about some make up stories and situations (like JD from tv show “Scrubs” ) 😀 . Thank you for the giveaway.

    • i Edis, I’ve never watched Scrubs but in answer to your question, I don’t daydream about stories or situations, though they will pop into my head — usually when I am not thinking about writing a story, like when I’m trying to fall asleep or in the middle of the night, I’ll wake up.

      I have a notepad by my bed, and a pen with an LED light in it, so I can write down the ideas without turning on the bedside lamp. My hubby bought me those pens 🙂 Here’s a couple of example of the pens I mean, on Amazon. OR

      I hope that answers your question! And good luck with the giveaway.

  22. Cathy French says:

    I imagine that with the author being Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal she has a lot of trips to unique antique items throughout the nation if not even abroad. What a fun job I would think.

    • Hi Cathy, I wish! The reality is that the office is in Palmer, Mass. and I live north of Toronto, Canada. I have worked for NEAJ since 2007 and have never even been to the office — let alone any of the major antiques markets in the US like Brimfield, Mass. There just isn’t the budget for that sort of travel in print media any longer and magazines and newspapers are increasingly cutting back or giving up altogether, a combination of high postage rates and everyone reading online = fewer advertisers (no ads, no money, no jobs).
      BUT it is a great gig. I work with terrific people who live in Rhode Island, Vermont, Quebec and Massachusetts, and we do everything online using PDFs and GoogleDocs. Plus I have learned so much over the years from the many contributors who have written for us. And of course, I visit antiques shops and shows in my local area because I enjoy doing that. My favorite antiques period is Arts and Crafts (also known as Mission Style).

      Thanks for commenting!

  23. Could you imagine to amateur sleuth yourself? Not that I wish you’d ever stumble upon a corpse. 😉

    • Hi Birgit, WOW, no one has ever asked me that before. Well done, you, for being original. That said, I’d probably be a horrid amateur sleuth. It would mean going about asking all sorts of people all sorts of questions … oh, wait a minute. I do that as a freelance writer 🙂 But seriously, I think in fiction, we as readers immediately agree to suspend our sense of disbelief. In the real world, it would be far more difficult to carry on and to get information. But great question!

  24. Jackie Mercer says:

    I love the giveaway! Which of your story lines is your favorite to write?

    • Hi Jackie, of all of my stories, my personal favorite is Live Free or Die (in my short story collection, Live Free or Tri), because it is loosely based on an experience I had as a naive 21-year-old with a 31 year-old man who turned out to be a cad. It was wonderful to take that premise and get my revenge many years later!

  25. Jennifer Red says:

    Thank you so much for doing this. and what is your greatest inspiration in writing?

    • Hi Jennifer, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid and read Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame). It’s the story of Emily Starr of New Moon, PEI, who wants to grow up to be a journalist — and succeeds. It was many, many years before I actually started writing for publication, and even more before I started writing The Hanged Man’s Noose, but when I did, I named my protagonist Emily. By doing so, I could remember my earliest inspiration and stick with it. My only regret is that I should have started much sooner — it’s all too easy to put off our dreams “until tomorrow” so I try not to do that any longer. I suppose that’s my real inspiration.

  26. Judy Thomas says:

    I love reading murder mysteries and trying to figure them out 🙂

    • Hi Judy, when I’m reading, I just like to get swept along with the story and I don’t try to figure it out. If I start trying to figure it out, then I start reading like a writer, instead of a reader, and I get caught up in the “why did they put that comma there?” sort of silliness!
      I hope you try The Hanged Man’s Noose. If you do, let me know if you figured out the ending, and if so, at what point and how you did it. Thanks for commenting.

  27. Right on the money. knowing when it is ready is really key. Good luck with the book and this tour

    • Thanks Debra. I think that is where a professional editor pays off (vs. a beta group or friends). Their job is to make your book shine. Friends/beta readers, no matter how honest, are not as likely to find the things that can pull a reader out of the book.

  28. You are so correct, Judy, about not sending out your book before it’s ready. The problem for beginning writers (that’s me, too!), is we don’t know it isn’t ready yet! Like you, I hired an editor this year to look at both of my novel drafts and it’s been a miraculous experience. A writing group is valuable for other kinds of input (style, for example) but can’t give the sustained attention to structure and character a whole novel requires. Excellent post!

    • Thank you Vicki. It’s true, when you work with a good editor, it is miraculous. It’s not about changing your voice, or your story, but making it stronger. Worth every dime. I thought, because I am an editor in my day job, I could do it myself. Wrong! You don’t find your own shortcomings or mistakes. Good luck with your journey. Be sure to contact me (there’s a form on my website) when you get a contract so I can drink champagne for you (I’m big on champagne!)

  29. Tiffany Banks says:

    Does writing come easily for you? Or do you get frustrated at times trying to think of a new book to write?

    • Hi Tiffany,
      I keep a notebook in my purse, on my desk, on my bedside table, and in my end table in the living room. Whenever an idea comes to me (it can be as simple as a name of a character), I jot it down. If I don’t, guaranteed the idea will slip away from me. So, I have lots of ideas, but transferring those ideas to the blank page is hard work, for me anyway — I’m not one of those writers where the book or story “writes itself.” But I find if I try to write every day, my mind says, “Ok, this is what we have to do now” and that makes it easier. Thanks for such a great question.

  30. Shania Croney says:

    Thank you so much for the chance.

  31. An professional editor and proofreader can do wonders for a manuscript. What is the advice from an editor you found hardest to follow?

    • Great question, Kristina. I can remember being really proud of one chapter in The Hanged Man’s Noose, where there were multiple scenes, each scene in a different point of view. My editor, Narielle Living, said it would be stronger told from one POV. That gutted me. I loved that chapter. But as Stephen King so famously said, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings.” And so, I listened to Narielle and darned if she wasn’t right. But that doesn’t mean I was happy about it 🙂

  32. Alexandru Rusu says:

    Thanks for this giveaway and for hosting this interesting books

  33. Elisa Panjang says:

    Thank you for hosting!

  34. Holly Guerrio says:

    Great giveaway, thank you!

  35. Beutifully written post & i enjoyed reading it very much.Good luck with the sales…

  36. Jessica Cyr says:

    great book, looks very interesting ! , thanks for much for the giveaway !

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