From Query To Publication

Walter Rhein


Two years ago my friend Dan Woll, the author of North of Highway 8, approached me with a manuscript.

“I’ve got this book,” he said, “and I think there’s something there but I can’t quite make it work, and I’m sick of trying. How about this, you work on it for a year and if we can make something of it, we’ll publish it as a co-authored project.”

Initially, I was skeptical. I knew Dan to be a very talented writer, but it’s always difficult to find a publisher for a manuscript. I have relationships with Perseid Press and Harren Press, but I didn’t feel inclined to leverage those situations to get a co-authored work published. That meant if I took on the project, I’d be starting from scratch.

However, I had just finished The Literate Thief for Perseid, which had several books queued up ahead of it for publication. I had some time on my hands, so I concluded the least I could do was jump into Dan’s manuscript and see what I thought.

The manuscript had the working title ‘Fortune’s Fools.’ The book followed the lives of a young boy and a young girl. The story contained a philosophical exploration of mundane moments of ESP; like when the phone rings and you intuitively know who is calling. Everybody has had an experience like that, so it’s a relatable way to begin a discussion on a subject that people are curious about, but are also tempted to dismiss. I thought it was a strong hook so I kept reading.

The manuscript was as Dan presented. It had moments of really great writing and strong ideas, but it tended to lose the thread. Rather than read it through to the end, I began to do rewrites as I went. I figured I’d either finish the book, or give up at some point, but at least I was being productive. As I worked, I would send the rewrites to Dan to get his input.

“How are you doing this?” he asked.

“Doing what?”

“How are you rewriting a story that you haven’t even finished reading?”

“I’m picking up the narrative clues that you put in the book and I’m emphasizing the ones that most appeal to me. I trust your instincts as a writer so I think it will go somewhere. I hope it works!”

Throughout the process, I always thought there was the possibility that the book could become unwieldy, or the narrative structure I perceived would break down. But I had free time because of the delays with ‘The Literate Thief,’ so I kept working. The book eventually did have a sort of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ breakdown where the narrative took a sharp left from where it seemed to be heading. But by then, I could see how the book was supposed to end and we made the corrections.

It took a little over a year, but we finally produced a fun paranormal/romance/historical/thriller. I liked the fact that the book fit into so many categories because that meant it would be easy to market and therefore more attractive to a publisher.

About the time we finished, I saw an article about Amazon’s Kindle Scout program. Like it or not, Amazon essentially runs the publishing industry today. They have all the emails of everyone who has ever bought a book, they can push whatever they choose and make any novel a bestseller. The first place we submitted our manuscript, now called ‘Paperclip’ was to Kindle Scout. However, about a month after our submission, Amazon informed the world that they were dismantling the program. The news was rather irritating because it struck Dan and I as being a big waste of our time.

From there, we went through the usual process, scouring the Internet and web pages like Submittable for potential markets. I always enjoy working with the small presses that have developed loyal reader groups. Yes, getting placed with one of the major publishers would be like winning the lottery, but it’s just as likely. I’ve always been more inclined to follow the Michael Perry method of getting your work out there and making a big enough pile that somebody eventually starts to notice.

I found a small publisher out in West Virginia called Burning Bulb Publishing that had a Facebook group with nearly 40,000 members and I sent them a query letter.

Within a few weeks, Burning Bulb requested the manuscript, which is always a major achievement in itself. A lot of writers discuss how often they get rejections, but sometimes it is not emphasized how many books get rejected without an editor ever reading a single page of the work. As a writer, it’s easy to become dejected at a rejection letter, but it’s important to remember how difficult it is to get an honest evaluation. Editors and publishers never say, “I didn’t even look at this because I don’t have time right now, good luck placing it elsewhere.” Instead, their form letters contain language like, “Your work wasn’t right for us,” and you get those letters even without sending an excerpt from the actual manuscript.

The acceptance process always takes a few months, and during that time we continued to look for alternative homes for the book. When Burning Bulb finally offered us a contract, I was allowed a glorious day of going through my submission list and withdrawing ‘Paperclip’ from the dozen or so other places where it was still under consideration.

One publisher on Submittable had been evaluating the book for six months, and they wrote me a very kind email saying that the manuscript really stood out and that they had been strongly considering it. They even offered to help with promotion upon release. That email was encouraging because the next time I have a manuscript ready, they will be among the first publishers I contact.

Both Dan and I have similar expectations for this novel, it’s a small release with a small press and we hope that people find it entertaining and thought-provoking. We are already starting to organize library appearances, and public reaction has been encouraging. This is the start of a new journey, and I’ll be posting updates on my web page to let you know how it goes. Thanks in advance for the support!

Walter Rhein can be reached for questions or comments at: