Author Jenny Milchman, measuring success by how late she can keep readers reading.
Jenny Milchman spent 13 years writing and rewriting the novel that would become Cover of Snow. Her literary journey is an inspiring story of perseverance, optimism and love of craft. How did she do it, and what lessons can other writers draw from her experience? Some answers follow:
SP – Jenny, Tell us a little about the Cover of Snow, including how long it took to write and get published.
JM – The idea behind was a question that grabbed me around the throat and just wouldn’t let go. What would make a good man do the worst thing he possibly could to his wife? Of course, first I had to figure out what that ‘worst thing’ would be. Once I did, I had a premise and an opening scene that persisted over many years and about twenty-two drafts. It took me a very long time to get published. Thirteen years. During that time, I was always lucky enough to have agents, but although they got my novels close, interested editors were never able to get consensus from the rest of the house to make an offer. Cover of Snow is my first published novel, but it’s the eighth novel I’ve written.
SP - What have you learned in the process that might benefit others still struggling with their novels?
JM - Well, first I would offer a cautionary note. Just because we think our novels are done, brilliant, glowing, doesn’t mean that they are. A novel can always be improved—even after it’s published—but there are many improvements that need to be made before it’s published, and as authors, we don’t always see them. I know I didn’t. Novels and writing need time to mature, like fine wine. Don’t rush to be published, and seek out as many objective reads as you can get, always allowing feedback time to percolate before you decide whether or not it applies. And I’d also offer an encouraging note. The world will always need great stories. I think that the need for story is almost as elemental as that for food and water and breath. If you are able to tell a great story, then you will find readers one day, and there are more ways than ever now to do so. If it hasn’t happened so far, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means that you haven’t succeeded yet.
SP -What’s your view of self-publishing and why did you go the traditional route? Has technology made publishing so easy that writing a novel has become a glorified hobby?
JM - My view of self-publishing is that it’s one more route to readers. Self or traditional publishing are no better or worse than each other. It’s not a question of one being a fallback. There are pros and cons along both roads. On the self-publishing side think of speed and control and infinite shelf life. On the traditional side think of distribution and a share in investment and a team approach to building a career. These and other factors should be understood by the author so that a deep self-examination can occur and the author can think about which road will be the best fit for him or her. I don’t know if ease of technology will ever make writing a novel into a hobby, unless you consider hobbies lengthy investments of hope and heart and work. (Maybe they are). But though uploading a novel might be relatively simple, writing one will always be hard!
SP - You’re going on a unique author road trip. Tell us some details and why you chose to put so much time into the effort.
JM - I’ve dreamed of being a writer for 37 years, and I’ve been trying to get published for 13. But hard on the heels of that dream was another one…of going on the road once I had a book out, and meeting the people who supported me during all the time it took to get here. I met many of those people online, and I’m deeply aware of how forums and Facebook and listservs and Twitter all widen the world we live in. But there’s something about a real time, face-to-face meeting. I want to shake hands with the people who have helped me. I want to say hi to readers I never would otherwise have known. Hear their stories because they have done me the honor of wanting to know mine. As of now we have a few legs planned. One that runs north from Connecticut down to Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi, then out west to Colorado, and back through Wisconsin and Michigan. Another that goes up to Vermont, before running south again to Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. And then we will head west to San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle—and it’s not clear where we’ll go after that! Here’s what we’ve got so far: http://www.jennymilchman.com/tour
SP - What metrics will you use to decide whether your first novel is a success. Is it a certain number of sales? Reviews? Amazon ranking?
JM - If readers enjoy my book—if they stay up later than they intended because they need to know what happens—then this novel will be a success, and I will feel privileged all my life.
SP - I know you’re coming to the Washington, D.C. area. Please share any details you have firmed up so far.I will be at a Politics & Prose-sponsored event on February 2nd. This promises to be a fun night, at a wine and supper club, and I am hoping there will be several writers in attendance and that we can open up a roundtable conversation about writing and publishing today.
Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist from New Jersey whose short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Adirondack Mysteries II, and in an e-published volume called Lunch Reads. Jenny is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Her first novel, Cover of Snow, is published by Ballantine. Jenny can be reached at http://jennymilchman.com and she blogs at http://suspenseyourdisbelief.com
(To subscribe to Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icon on the blog homepage).