Surviving Being Orphaned or Simply Unwanted
by Debra H. Goldstein
There’s a special feeling of satisfaction when one finishes a book or a story and sends it out for submission. The exhilaration of acceptance can’t be described. Rejection sucks. It takes the air from your lungs and creates an ongoing black mood. But what if you’ve had the high of being accepted, published, and then you’re told that’s it? Your work is being orphaned.
Being orphaned doesn’t mean what you’re writing is bad. I’ve been orphaned twice. Both times my books, which were each planned as the first of a series, were selling. In the first instance, the publisher went out of business and returned the rights to all of its authors; in the second, the company decided not to continue its mystery line, but kept the rights through the contracted period because the book was selling. My reaction both times was the same—sadness, anger, fear, desperately seeking advice, and then writing something new and trying to get it in front of a possible buyer.
The acceptance and publication of my first book, Maze in Blue, was a fluke (a story for another day). Listening to the advice of many after it was orphaned and therefore became a standalone, I wrote something new. When it was finished, I brought it to Killer Nashville, where I’d signed up for two roundtables. During a KN roundtable, the first two pages are read to an agent and editor who critiques them. If they are interested in the manuscript, they can ask for more pages. I thought it was an excellent mechanism for me to introduce Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players mystery to the world – and get some feedback in the process.
After the two pages were read at the roundtable, I received praise for my writing, tone, and dialogue from the editor. The agent echoed her sentiments. I asked the agent who had praised my work, “would you like to see more?” She said “no.” I was shocked, especially because the agent asked for fifty pages. Somewhat excited by the agent’s interest, but still dismayed by the editor’s reaction, I asked, at the end of the session, if I could talk to her for a few minutes. She agreed and we sat down (one thing about Killer Nashville is how accessible the agents and editors are). I asked her why she’d praised my book, but didn’t want to see it?
Her answer was simple: “That’s not what I’m here buying. It’s going to sell, but it doesn’t fit what I’m looking for today.” During the next fifteen minutes, she explained why it wasn’t a match for her. I walked away understanding that a good book might not find a home on a given day.
Two hours later, I went into another agent and editor roundtable. The editor’s remarks of praise were identical to what I’d heard from the editor during the first roundtable. A little nervously I asked if this editor would be interested in seeing more of the manuscript. She said “Yes,” so I followed her requested submission guidelines. A week later she bought Should Have Played Poker.
I rode Cloud 9 from purchase to publication. The publisher treated me well and the book was lovely. It was only when I was informed that the company was no longer going to have a mystery line that I crashed, but this time I was ahead of the game. I accepted that Should Have Played Poker was now a standalone and began writing something new.
That something new, taking into consideration some of the points the first editor had made during our discussion, became One Taste Too Many, the first in Kensington’s Sarah Blair cozy mystery series about a woman who finds cooking more frightening than murder. Two Bites Too Many was published in October 2019. Three Treats Too Many, which is available for pre-order, will be released later in 2020. Kensington has contracted for at least two more books in the series for 2021 and 2022.
Being orphaned isn’t fun, but taking control of the situation and moving forward can lift the blue funk and, hopefully, bring you that feeling of exhilaration again.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (One Taste Too Many, Two Bites Too Many and the upcoming Three Treats Too Many). She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and IPPY winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place, have appeared in numerous publications. Debra serves on the national boards of SinC and MWA and is president of SEMWA. Find out more about Debra at www.DebraHGoldstein.com