I’m pleased to welcome American author Denise Heinze to the blog today who is sharing something of her journey to publication. Her novel, Sally St Johns, was published on 11th May. You’ll find buying links at the end of the guest post.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Getting Published
Back in late October, when the last of a sultry North Carolina summer finally gives way, and the leaves fall with giddy abandon, I too felt surrender. My lifelong dream of placing my novel with a traditional publishing house had not reached fruition. I had persisted for years, won awards, received accolades, but no agent and no publisher. Then, in a moment, on that brisk autumn day, I said “Enough.” Like the last golden and amber holdouts on the branches of my sycamores and tulip poplars, I suddenly let go.
All of that sounds really dramatic, I know, as if I plunged headlong over the abyss, multiple manuscripts in hands. But in some ways, what I opted to do instead was perhaps even more frightening. I deigned to self-publish. Nothing big, I told myself. I’d test the waters, start with a short piece. “The Grid,” a ghost story, had been properly vetted, even named a quarter finalist in an international contest. I chose an online publishing service, did all my own formatting, designed the cover, and submitted the work. What happened next was truly spooky.
Now, keep in mind that I had been dutifully sailing along following all the rules of a successful writing career. It paid off. Over several decades, I published scholarly works, essays, reviews, short fiction, memoirs, and a poem. I cheerfully assumed that my novels (yes, there is more than one) would be the next. I doggedly and methodically went about getting an agent. I came tantalizingly close numerous times only to have my hopes dashed over and over again. After a while, I grew disaffected, and started losing my desire to write, period. After all, I was like Virginia Woolf’s madwoman in the attic, entertaining herself day in and day out with stories no one, apparently, would read, but herself. I even switched up genres, putting aside the historical fiction I had focused on to write a madcap eco-thriller, which is how Sally St. Johns came about. I fell in love with Sally and gang, but shelved them to concentrate on my more “serious” fiction. I also snobbishly resisted self-publishing as something “those” people do who can’t actually write. This, in spite of the groundswell of evidence that self-publication is increasingly a viable and lucrative avenue for authors.
Then, something gave. Maybe it was the onset of daylight savings, which meant shorter days and longer nights. Or the threat of my own insistent mortality. Could have been my churlish cat, Karma, perched on my keyboard as if it were meant for nothing more than to keep her warm. I said the hell with convention and took the plunge. Call it serendipity, synergy, or a supernova– stuff started to happen.
Several months after “The Grid” went live, I received a letter (how quaint and anachronistic is that?) from the editor of a print-only literary journal informing me that my story had been accepted for publication. It came with a bit of money and a lot of prestige. But wait. There’s more. Last month I received an email from a contest administrator asking if “The Grid” were still available (alas, it wasn’t), because it would be among the semi-finalists and thus in the running for a large cash award and publication as a chapbook. Suddenly, this little ghost thriller was hot.
That might be the end of these surprising turn of events if it weren’t for one final twist. While publishing “The Grid” gave me great joy, it was not a novel. I didn’t think I had the technical skills to self-publish a longer work, or the money to pay someone else to do it. And, I still held on tenaciously to the hope that I would find a publisher. Well, well. In January, I entered a trivia contest sponsored by a respected self-publishing company. I won. The prize? The company would publish my novel for free. All I had to do was send them a manuscript. I chose what I considered my most commercially promising work, and by April, Sally St. Johns was born.
I know what you’re thinking. “Come on. What did publishing “The Grid” have to do with Sally St. Johns?” Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Here’s what I believe: When I let go of waiting for other people to validate my work, when I decided to take that leap of faith and put myself out there, alone and unmasked, the earth, if ever so slightly, shifted, aligned, and the seasons changed.
About Sally St Johns
Forty-three-year-old Sally St. Johns is in deep trouble. A major player in alternative energies, Sally is on the verge of a revolutionary breakthrough in energy consumption. But before she can unveil her discovery, she is arrested and implicated in a terrorist plot to destroy all competing energy sources.
To exonerate herself, she must join forces with the U.S. government to find the real terrorist, a shadowy figure named Switchgrass whose goal is to control the nation’s power grid. But time is short. If, in 48 hours, Switchgrass’ demands are not met, a series of bombs planted in nuclear plants around the country will be detonated.
For Sally to save the day, she must draw on her checkered past to help identify and locate Switchgrass. She thinks back to her childhood when she grappled with Marfan syndrome. She relives her professional basketball career, a brief stint as a madam, and the eureka moment when she discovered the solution to global warming. In the midst of the crisis, she relies for the first time on others, including her idealistic attorney, Bud, and her fiercely protective mother who, though racked with advancing age and a heart condition, becomes an unlikely hero.
Sally St. Johns