A Plot to Publish
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
In my entire writing life, I have only met one writer who didn’t want to be published. A member of the writing group I belonged to, she wrote small gems, her stories short and stunning. I suspected she’d tried agents and traditional publishers with no luck and had given up. But what if she’d come up with a plan? What if she’d got in on the Flash/Sudden Fiction phenomenon? What if she’d found little markets, magazines, and developed her genre? Wasn’t it worth a try?
Watching this woman take great pleasure in reading a new story each week, I vowed I wasn’t going to be her. I wouldn’t stop trying to publish my mysteries, go as big as I could go, not until those final flames got me and I went down still waving a manuscript in my hot little hand.
The PLAN began with what I was writing. It had to have a little more to it than the mass of other published stories—I concentrated on making my female characters a little quirky, a little deeper, having trauma in their lives—nobody perfect but all of them pretty damned special. I love my female characters. They are me—at my worst and best; all the friends I’ve cried with and laughed with over the years. They are the women I decry and those I admire. I wanted strength, individuality, and a past I could call on to fill in the ground beneath their feet. I didn’t even agree, always, with what they did in the novels—as long as they were true to who they’d come to be and were interested in creating a great story—no matter what I put them through.
Okay, I wrote the first of these female mysteries and finally—after a few years—was satisfied. Many drafts. More to come. I fell in love with nothing. If an editor would ask me to consider changing this or that—I would consider anything —and never find a hill worth dying on.
I sent the novel to five agents I’d researched closely. For me, each had to be a woman. Each had to have a decent client list—some of them writers I had heard of before. Each had to publish a lot of work by women. Each had to be listed almost monthly in Publishers’ Weekly with solid sales. Each had to have a great, client-friendly website with advice for writers on how to approach her, and often be quoted in articles about what agents want.
All five of these agents turned me down, but one said to send her my next novel and to stay in touch. This was the one I wanted most from the lot, so I started a file and began to send her any mention of me in media and news of what I was working on—always reminding her she said to keep in touch.
Never did I stalk her, as one writer did. She asked what they could do if she just came to their office and sat until they took her on. The answer was “Call the police.”
I only sent word of what I was doing when I had something to report—an article published, where I was on the new novel, conferences, seminars, and appearances.
I stayed friendly and kept my tone light.
All of this became the next part of my Grand Plot to Get Published!
I sold that first novel to a small, but solid, publisher on my own—listing articles I’d had in magazines and stories in newspapers. (This is a little like making it off-Broadway—not easy to do either). I included a local article on me in The Detroit News—as being president of a local writers’ organization (all things I’d done on my way to learning how to write and to connect with writers). I wrote about the famous writers I’d taken classes with and those I’d met while helping put on a writers’ conference.
I worked tirelessly at becoming a well-published writer, whether I was ever going to get anywhere or not. Actually, I never let myself entertain a single thought that I wouldn’t finally get where I wanted to go.
After that first book came out—very small thump in the publishing market—it did get me an offer of a contract on three more novels. I wrote these and with each got a little more attention, but not much. Smaller publishers give you credence, some bragging rights. Any kind of attention—newspaper, magazine, online; any good reviews (you ignore any other kind—though there won’t be many. People are starting to read you and will write nice things).
With each published novel, I let kept my Ideal Agent up to date with pub date, reviews—anything and everything. I told her where I was speaking, she had my website. If she was going to ignore everything, I’d give up eventually (but I doubt it). She began to answer—always congratulating me.
I wrote the contracted-for novels and then wrote a different series, with this agent in mind. I sent off exactly what she asked for on the website, no taking advantage of a make-believe friendship but still with very strong reminders of my contacts—and news of a call from a different New York Agent, asking to represent me (one not on my ideal list and definitely not this special woman I was after).
And then came the phone call. We already knew each other. It was fun talking and agreeing on what would be done with the new book. Now we are eleven books into our relationship. The relationship is all I wanted it to be. I’m being called an ‘emerging’ writer now (after all these books better to be ‘emerging’ than receding).
My plan wasn’t an easy one. Nothing was guaranteed. I listened to no one but myself, kept what I wanted at the front of everything. Never questioned what I was doing, nor asked advice. Maybe it’s the old thing about making a mental image of what you want and going after it. I have no magic mushrooms, no amulets, no secret book of phone numbers. All I’ve got is the best novel I could write and a plot, or plan, that I believed in. After all, if we can spend so much time writing the perfect plot for a mystery, why not for our own lives?
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli lives on a small lake in northern Michigan where crows and bears give her ideas for novels.
With three series out now, she has just turned in the fourth of the Little Library Series, due out next summer: AND THEN THEY WERE DOOMED. Her novels include: GIFT OF EVIL, the Emily Kincaid series, a Texas series, SHE STOPPED FOR DEATH, A MOST CURIOUS MURDER, and IN WANT OF A KNIFE (Just out). Having written fiction all of her life; having five children, ten grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, her life is not only full but bursting with mystery and surprise.