Thursday, May 28, 2015

How I Got Published by Lisa Black

Lisa Black

It took fifteen years and nine completed novels. I had a long learning curve. I had never taken a writing course, hadn’t read a book on the subject and, in the interests of completely embarrassing myself will confess that I, a cum laude graduate of a private college, wrote my entire first novel misspelling the word “wasn’t.” I still don’t understand why that word doesn’t have an e in it. How can you go straight from the s to the n without a vowel? It’s anarchical.
            At any rate, through years of grueling trial and error I eventually produced something semi-readable. At the same time a little TV show called CSI premiered and since I and my character are both forensic scientists, that was enough to get an agent to notice me. I had been a secretary for ten years so if there was one thing I could handle, it was mass mailings. I would mail ten agents at a time, screw ‘no simultaneous submissions,’ and everyone got a query letter no matter what they asked for in Writer’s Digest. One momentous day I got a phone call from my first, excellent agent who sadly passed away a few years ago. I had no acquaintance or ‘in’ with her, mine was simply another query letter that showed up on her desk.
            However, she had some suggested changes to my book Trace Evidence…eight months of suggested changes. Some I liked, some I didn’t. (After the editor got it, she sent me nine pages, single-spaced, of more suggested changes. The olden days.)
            My agent decided to auction the book. (This is not a reflection on my writing ability but on the extent of the CSI craze sweeping the nation.) Coincidentally I would be on my way to Cleveland to visit my mother (which I did regularly) on that day. When I changed planes in Charlotte and turned on my cell phone, I received a message from my agent that there had been such a bad snowstorm in New York that she had postponed the auction until Monday, except Monday would be Martin Luther King Jr. Day and many people would be home what with kids being out of school and all that she decided Tuesday would be a better idea.
On Monday she called me just to ask ‘how I was doing.’ I think she had grown accustomed to much more high-strung clients.
            Tuesday came. My sister drove up from mid-Ohio to visit with me and we were about to take my 85 year old mother to pick up my 80 year old aunt to visit other relatives in two separate nursing homes, and were delayed because my agent called and said the auction was already over. She had sold it to Hyperion. These were the days when the economy was riding its false bubble and everyone was spending money as fast as they could make it, and she named me an astronomical sum. She must have been disappointed in my reaction—I simply asked her to repeat it, as I thought I must not have heard correctly. Even then, no screaming, shouting, jumping up and down. We’re not super-demonstrative in my family. But we were all very, very happy.
            Then, of course, we piled into the car and went to pick up my aunt--the day’s schedule had to be kept. While driving I called another sister, two brothers, and my husband. The focus, of course, was on keeping my husband from going on an instant spending spree. It would have been gone in two weeks if I didn’t keep all my business paperwork at my day job.
            Alas, in ten years things have changed. Hyperion got out of the fiction line entirely and I don’t know any authors who receive advances they’d actually get excited about. I often think of quitting. Then I don’t.
            My tenth book will be released in May 2016.



  1. James O. Born5/28/2015 2:21 PM

    Lisa, Thanks for this great insight. I knew your story but still found it fascinating.

  2. from Jacqueline: A really inspiring story, Lisa - and your attitude to sending out query letters mirrors my own. When I finished my first novel, I planned to send out ten at a time from a list of 30 (I could only afford to send out ten at a time). Luckily, I had several responses to the first ten queries and as a result met the agent I have to this day. And you won't give up even if the advances are nothing to write home about - if you are a storyteller, you still want to tell the story. Thank you for your post this week - looking forward to your next book!