Believe

2008.
2008.
2008.

I’ve been practicing writing it down for a few weeks now. It seems every year whenever I have to write down the date I’ll spend the first few months writing the previous year by mistake. Sometimes I’ll get he hang of it fairly quick only to revert inexplicitly in June or even July. Neuro pathways get crossed for no obvious reason at all.

But 2007? Yes, 2007.

I never had a problem writing 2007 down. From January 1st I was on it. Never a mistake. Never a crossed out ’06.

See 2007 was a special year. Like a couple of the other Murderati bloggers – Rob, Toni, & JT – 2007 was the year I debuted as a published novelist. It was something I’d been dreaming about since I was in Mr. Hodge’s sixth grade class back in the High Desert of California. Honest. I’ve wanted it that long.

As has happened to many of us, perhaps most – and perhaps is still happening to many more of us – life got in the way. School, youth, doubt, family, career…they all threw up roadblocks that I let stop me, sometimes for a month, sometimes for a year, and sometimes for several.

Then I finally got my act together, and really began concentrating. I finished a novel. It was actually my second, the first having come ten years earlier. It was great to get back in the groove again. I knew that with my concentration back, publication would soon follow. So I prepped a batch of queries and fired them off. When the majority of those came back as form letter no-thank-yous I didn’t worry. I just checked them off the list and moved on to the next batch.

In total, I sent out 72 queries: 54 form rejections, 3 bad address, 5 no response, and 10 requests to see material. Out of the 10 who requested more, 5 passed and the other 5 I never heard from again. I know all this because I kept a spreadsheet tracking progress. Yeah, pretty geeky of me.

But again, I didn’t let it deter me. I credit my mentor, the late William Relling, Jr. He taught me that it wasn’t easy, and that sometimes you just had to say maybe this wasn’t the one and it was time to move on to a new story.

So I did. I wrote another novel. Truth be told, I began it while I was sending out queries on the other one. That was another hint from Bill. Keep moving forward, always have a project your working on.

When I finished, I sent out queries again. I didn’t keep quite as good records this time, or if I did, I must have hid them someplace I can’t remember. Nonetheless, I’m sure I sent out about the same amount. And, as it turns out, with basically the same results.

This time I couldn’t help but feeling a little discouraged. I’d written a book I thought was pretty good, and I’d had a lot of very positive feedback on it. But it looked like I was going to have to put it on the shelf and start something new. I did start something, a book I was going to call NOT FOR US, about a writer who got feed up with being rejected and who goes to confront the person who rejected him last and accidentally kills him. It was a black comedy…with an emphasis on satisfying revenge.

But not long after I’d started, my mentor unexpectedly passed away, and I lost interest in the book. Because of Bill’s passing, I came into contact with an old friend and writer, Nathan Walpow. Years ago, when I’d written that first novel, Nathan and I had been in a writing group that Bill had run. Now Nathan had several novels published. When I told him about my frustration with all the rejections – an aliment I was well away all authors share – he offered to help me out. At that time he was being published by a small, well respected house called Ugly Town. He told me to send them the manuscript for the novel that I’d gotten the latest batch of rejections for to them, and he’d put in a good word for me.

So naturally I did. What happened next was…well…a whole lot of nothing. For almost eleven months I hear nothing. I reverted to what I knew Bill would have told me to do, that is write another book. Then one evening, while I was sitting at Starbucks doing edits on my newly finished book, I got a phone call…no, not a phone call, THE phone call. Ugly Town wanted my novel.

I was going to be published.

Only that wasn’t the end of the story. Six months later, just three months from when Ugly Town was going to release my novel, they had to suspend operations. Being a small publisher is never an easy game. I thought I was back to square one, but I wasn’t. Jim and Tom at Ugly Town didn’t kick me out the door. Instead they got a hold of an editor friend they had at Bantam Dell and pitch my book to her. Long story short, Bantam Dell bought my contract, and subsequently gave me a three book deal. That book that I almost shelved was obviously THE CLEANER.

So not only did I know every day of 2007 what year it was, 2007 is a year I will never forget. For God’s sake it was hard enough to get there.

For all of you out there still chasing that first deal, I don’t recommend using the path I took, but you should note that there are many paths to get there. But the two most important things you need to always remember is patience and persistence.

Patience and persistence…and then hopefully you’ll have your own year that you will always remember.

Thank you Pari and JT and the rest of the ‘rati gang for inviting me to play.

Murderati Newbie,

Brett

20 thoughts on “Believe

  1. Patti Abbott

    This was very inspirational to me–about to start sending out queries this week. Thanks for the timely posting.

    Reply
  2. Tammy Cravit

    Welcome, Brett! And thanks for sharing your story of persistence. I’m finishing up that first book that I hope might be publishable, so your post really resonated with me.

    I think it was J.A. Konrath (among others, no doubt) who said that a published writer is an unpublished writer who didn’t give up. I have that written on an index card tacked to my desk, for all those times my enthusiasm and confidence flag.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply
  3. Christa

    Welcome, Brett! I’m looking forward to your stay here. I’m about halfway through my 150-agent list. Had some decent responses but no bites yet. So your debut post is good to see.

    Hey, how did you get your mentor? This is something that’s always puzzled me a bit. I’ve had great support from the crime fiction community but no one person I can go to for advice (which I’d love to have, because that way I wouldn’t feel like I’m bothering “real” authors).

    Reply
  4. pari noskin taichert

    Brett,Welcome! It’s wonderful to have you here at Murderati.

    Your story is familiar, more familiar than the “instant wonders” who are out there. What makes it different is how many people went to bat for you. That’s absolutely beautiful.

    The thing about publication that surprised me was that it’s a road, not a destination. There’s always something to learn, somewhere further to go — in our writing, our publishing, our audiences.

    Christa,You asked about mentors. I’ve had a few on my path so far. They’re people I admire and with whom I have some kind of prior relationship.

    Some have been mentors informally. Others . . . I actually asked if they’d be willing to give me advice and serve as sounding boards.

    I’m sure you have mentors in other parts of your life; this is no different.

    Reply
  5. Louise Ure

    Welcome, Brett. God, what a road you’ve traveled to get here. I don’t know that I would have had the same perseverance. I was the kid who tried skiing once and when I failed on the bunny slope, decided it wasn’t for me.

    Louise (Miss Instant Gratification)

    Reply
  6. JT Ellison

    Brett, it’s so good to have you here! You’re a ‘Rati to the core, I can tell it already.

    Isn’t this the greatest story ever? I’ve always had the utmost respect for Brett’s perseverance, and it paid off in spades. There are so many great lessons in this post for new writers — especially move forward. Forward momentum, forward momentum, forward momentum.

    And I second the recommendation of Brett’s book, THE CLEANER. Totally fabu, and on my list of top books for 2007!

    Reply
  7. Brett Battles

    Thanks JD & JT for the book plugs…always appreciated!

    Patti, get those queries out! Then work on something else while you’re waiting.

    Christa, I actually met Bill, my mentor, when he was teaching a novel writing class at UCLA extension. He then invited several of his students to join a writer’s group he was forming. I was lucky enough to be included. (As was Nathan Walpow, and soon to be published Marc Paoletti.) It was a great experience for me. Might be one angle for you to look into (the finding something through a class or writing group thing, I mean.)

    Guyot…I forgot I was going to have to deal with your…eh…interesting comments here. Maybe I should reconsider. 😉

    Pari, your right. I did get a lot of unexpected help along the way. But I think I also helped to make that happen. Made sure I had the best manuscript I could, helped others when I can, and with Ugly Town, I actually wrote my own 25 page Marketing Plan that really impressed them and kept them interested in helping me. Still, at any point, any of those people could have just not helped. So I am so VERY gratful for them.

    Louise, I know what you mean. I’m that way with somethings to!

    Reply
  8. Charlene

    Welcome, Brett

    Your blog was incredibly inspirational. I got impatient and ended up self-publishing last year, but am still desperately hoping to be traditionally published someday. (I’m making rapid progress on the next project!) Your post gave me hope.

    As a side note, it was great to see you are (or were) from the High Desert. I am also a “desert dweller.”

    Reply
  9. Zoe Sharp

    Dammit, Brett, now I’m going to have to come up with something much better than I had in mind for next week!

    Great story of how you got started, by the way. Persistance is everything in this business.

    Cheers

    Reply
  10. Christa

    Brett, thanks for the mentor info. Right now it’s logistically impossible for me to take a class or find (or start) a local group – money, time, location, money… that’s why I’m hanging out on blogs and Crimespace. But I’ll definitely keep it in mind for the future! Thanks again!

    Reply

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