14 March 2020

How It All Happened For Me

After work and dinner one night, I sat down in my bedroom, door closed, and wrote in longhand for one hour on a novel I’d begun years earlier. Several months later, when I wrote “the end,” it came out to 105,000 words. I transcribed it onto a computer, and then did nothing for a couple of years.

Finally, I decided to try writing some more, this time directly onto the computer. I also decided to write short stories because they were short. And for me, a lot easier and more fun to write. I also thought it would be a good way to try out different types of stories, using male protagonists as well as female, occasionally even stepping away from mystery to write a speculative story, or even something “literary.”

The local newspaper had a short story contest—1,000 words. I wrote one, submitted it, and didn’t win first place, but was one of four other authors out of fifty submissions who won a dinner at a fancy local restaurant. To say I was surprised and pumped is a huge understatement.

Next I decided to look for a critique group. I ended up joining two. One had three short story published writers who had all attended a community college class together and then started the group. I ate up all their knowledge about point of view, adverbs, other good advice, and specific thoughts about my stories.

I ended up placing a few of my stories, all work-shopped by either or both of the groups, and started on another novel. That also went through one of the groups, and within eight years, I had many short stories and three novels written.

I tried getting an agent for each of the novels. No luck. Then my husband retired, and we hit the road in a motorhome to travel to the United States lower 48. In eleven years, we hit all but four.

And I hardly wrote at all.

But in 2004, I decided to submit one of my novels to a new, small publisher. Several people I knew had signed with the press and were raving about it. I was given a contract for three novels. They first published Sara’s Search on time and with a cover I loved.

Sara's Search
When the month of June came around to publish the second novel, though, it didn’t happen. Several months went by. Promises were made to publish it in October. It had a cover (I didn’t love it as much as the first one, though), it had been edited, and the galleys had been proofed. Christmas came and went, and all of January. I found out that several other writers with the same publisher were having problems. Royalty checks stopped. The publisher no longer answered phone calls or emails.

We all, about fifty of us, became quite concerned. And unfortunately, as a group, we decided to pull our books and ask for the rights back to those already published. Of course, the publisher’s reputation was ruined, but he did the right thing and gave us the rights back, and even gave me the rights to the cover for Sara. All but one author left, sadder but wiser.

Some writers went with other small presses, and several had bad luck with them, as well. I wrote some more novels. I sent them to NY agents. Nothing happened. I was reluctant to try another small publisher. (Another one, WriteWay, had shown interest in another of my books before I placed Sara’s Search, but they went bankrupt before any contracts were signed, so I was leery—authors there, as far as I know, never got their rights back. If they ever did, it took years.) By this time, I had the one published novel and over fifty short stories as publication credits. Didn’t matter.

Then something unexpected happened. Electronic books, thanks to Amazon, started to become popular. Writers who had no luck with NY publishing decided to strike out on their own and get their books up for ebook readers. This was not too difficult to do. I watched and waited. I saw that some readers were unhappy with the books coming out because they were poorly written, had glaring spelling and grammar mistakes, and were badly formatted. I also noticed that many of the covers did not look very professional, and many were too dark to be able to read the title and/or authors’ names on the tiny thumbnails used online. So I decided to hire a professional cover artist, and between us, this is what we came up with:

I still like it. Next, the authors I read about who were successful hired professional editors and proofreaders to go over their manuscripts. And finally, if they couldn’t do a good job themselves, they hired yet a third person to format the work for them.

Someday I may change the cover for Sara’s Search because it’s too dark to show up well in a thumbnail. I also want a new paperback version, so that would need to have a back cover

Now I have eleven novels published and over seventy short stories (only one of those self-published). Beginning is the hardest part. After that, persistence and patience will do the job.

And that’s how it all started. I’m open to questions, and if they’d need a long-enough answer, that could become another blog post. So, ask away.

My website: www.janchristensen.com and find me on Facebook: https://bit.ly/2QfNNIr


  1. Hey Jan--Let me say again, it's great to have you here at SleuthSayers!

    Interesting column, and good advice to writers who might otherwise be tempted to give up. Congratulations on your successes!

  2. Welcome to SleuthSayers - and excellent advice. If I ever graduate again to novels (I have one from my youth that I have no intention of ever seeing the light of day), I will remember this.

  3. Good column. Makes a lot of sense. Taking control of your art is important.

  4. Hi Jan,

    I appreciate your honest article. I have found the same problems with publishing novels. It is harder to get a reputable agent than a publisher. Also, I've had several agents over the years. They did not sell for me. I sold to a number of larger as well as smaller publishers myself. But these days, it gets even more difficult to find reputable publishers. I commend you for having the courage to self-publish.

  5. Great post showing the ups and downs in a writer's journey. I don't know any of us who've not experienced some version of this. I'm so glad you didn't quit and are still writing today :)

  6. John, thanks for your warm welcome. It's great to be here!
    Eve, I know you could write a terrific novel. I hope you try someday.
    O'Neil, thanks for saying the column makes sense. I'm not aways up for that. :)
    Jacqueline, so true about it being harder than ever to get published successfuly using the older methods. I hope things get easier for you going forward.
    Carol, thanks for your comment. Great to see you here!
    Shelly, glad you enjoyed it. I hope I can keep the enjoyment factor going forward.

  7. It amazes me so many self-pubbers promote this amazing conspiracy theory that proessional publishers are all rich despots whose goal is to keep all the really good novels off the shelf. Because writing’s so easy, you know, anyone can do it, right after knitting a cardigan and learning to make mousse au chocolat.

    And editing? Why waste money altering each golden word? Or spend money on art when all covers need is a bare chest, male or female, depending upon your audience?

    Publishers going bankrupt is a nuissance. Mine weren’t so much disreputable as– I won’t say incompetant, but unable to compete or juggle all the balls such a business requires.

    Jan, I’m glad you point out how much sheer effort it takes to succeed at self-publishing. I’m pleased you joined SleuthSayers. Welcome!

  8. t
    Thanks for commenting, Leigh. I'm glad you liked my first effort here. And so very happy I joined all of you Sleuthsayers!

  9. Jan, thanks for sharing your story. Your persistence is the key but your stories/novels are also good--entertaining and well written. Sometimes I think we forget about the long slog to finishing that first book and getting it out there. Congrats on your success.

  10. What a perfect subject for your beginning post! It's a familiar one, alas. I coincidentally also have 11 novels published, but 2 are languishing in limbo after a small press closure and need attention--when I have the time. It's a tough business, not only for writers. Thanks for the story of your journey.

  11. Susan, thanks for your kind words. Sometimes I say I'm just stubborn. I was accused of that when I was a little girl. As for the writing itself, I believe good writers have a natural talent, but much can be learned by reading lots and lots and lots of books, including craft books, but especially books in the genre(s) the writer wants to write in. So, at least for me, it seems to be a combination of stubbornness, some talent, and lots of learning.

  12. Kaye, we do seem to be on a similar path. I know you also have loads of short stories published, and I've always enjoyed the ones I get to read. Going forwardc, I hope we can get more and more readers for our work. Good luck!

  13. Welcome, Jan. I enjoyed your first post and am looking forward to reading more.

  14. Thanka, Michael. I'm also looking forward to my next post. I'm debating what to write next.


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