The Road to Getting Published: Debbie Riley-Magnus’ Story

The waters are highly unpredictable and very often cold, hard and unforgiving. For those who make it, there are thousands who don’t. Dreams are lost and found, as is intestinal fortitude. In the sea of agents and publishing houses, writers who make it ride the swell and oftentimes, set sail again…to try to repeat their maiden voyage. For those who don’t, leaving dry land again is sometimes difficult and daunting.

We spoke with four writers at different stages in their journeys. A couple have been published, the others have not, but not for lack of perseverance. They gave us a glimpse into their triumphs and frustrations. They shared their hard-won advice and pearls of wisdom. All in the hope of showing aspiring authors that their literary travels will always lead them somewhere.

Debbie’s tale is one that many writers are familiar with:  Sending out multitudes of queries and hearing little -if anything- back from literary agents and/or publishing houses. Her determination and “it will happen someday” attitude is one that other writers should emulate.

Debbie Riley-MagnusDebbiRileyMagnus

What are you trying to get published and how long have been trying?

I’ve been writing for fifteen years, but primarily seeking representation and publication for my fiction over the past three years. The first is a literary novel. Two years ago I sought an agent and stumbled onto one of those agents you should never sign on with; the kind that requires payment for everything. Having fired them eight months later, I continue my search for representation. I have been lucky enough to have three agents request more chapters (one the full manuscript) for that literary novel and was told more than once that in this economic climate, it was unlikely an agent would pick up a literary piece by a first time author. I then began writing an urban fantasy fiction series. I queried the first book of this fun series four months ago with amazing results; an average of 2 of every 6 queries resulted in a request for more. To date, it has not been picked up for representation. I am also writing a cookbook and attempting to make my way into publishing through the non-fiction door. I am querying all three pieces at this time.

How many places have you contacted regarding this/these piece(s)?

Let me check my query notes … yup. Of the three books, one literary, one fantasy and the other non-fiction, I have sent more than 100 queries. I’m diligent about keeping this process moving and query at least one of the books every single week.

What hurdles have you run into when you tried to contact these companies?

I seldom try to contact an agent when I’ve just queried, but I have contacted them after they’ve received requested material (three chapters to full mss). I use email, remind them that they had requested the material and noted that it had passed the number of days they suggested it would take for the read (90 seems the usual). They’ve always replied quickly with an apology and note that they are behind or over loaded and will get to the requested material as soon as possible.

What kind of feedback have you been given?

The feedback ranges from wonderful to the typical form letters. Some are so vague it can make a writer’s head spin. Comments regarding the “missing X factor” or stating “wonderful plot, great character development and terrific prose but not for us” are not helpful. Needless to say, with the volume of queries I send out, I have enough rejections to wallpaper my office, but on the good side, at any given time, at least three agents have additional chapters of one of my books.

What frustrates you the most about this process?

I suppose everything about the process is frustrating but the key is to work through the frustrations and push on. I’m constantly working to improve everything from the query letters to the full manuscript. Taking classes and accepting assistance from professionals and published authors can be just as frustrating and even more confusing. For example, when one person offered help, they asked for various pieces and proceeded to completely rewrite the query letter for one of my books. It was actually funny … that query letter was the only thing that was working. I believe there comes a time when we as writers have to just take up the challenge and go with our gut; to trust ourselves and just do it. If something isn’t working look at every angle, our genre, the market tolerance for that genre, the writing, etc. It’s a “never give up” world and not for the weak of heart, that’s for sure.

Have you considered self-publishing?

I have not considered self publishing for a number of reasons. But some e-publishing may be in my future. I have several novels that aren’t my “loves” but are really good all the same. It may be a good avenue to at least earn a little and get more online exposure.

What tips can you give to those writers out there who are about to jump into the publishing world?

Gird your loins. Polish your armor. Believe in your cause. Never say never. Have I missed any clichés? I hate to say it, but the reason clichés apply to tackling the publishing world is because it may be the hardest thing a writer will ever attempt to conquer. There is definitely a badge of honor at the end. I want that and my advice is that if another writer doesn’t want it bad enough, get out of the pond.

What are your next steps?

I have a tiny advantage of having been in the marketing, advertising and PR business for many years. Using that experience and knowledge, I’m connecting with several other writers (published and unpublished) as well as a few publishers to help promote my clients’ soon to be released novels. This has strengthened not only my knowledge of how to assist in my own success when it comes, but it has clearly shown the lay of the land for me. As far as my writing career … easy. One foot in front of the other. A little e-publishing. Continue to query my novels. Continue to write. Continue to work on my cookbook proposal. And always remember that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In addition to her writing website, Debbie also has a blog and a literary website filled with the work of many very talented writers.

A big ‘thank you’ to Debbie for sharing her story with us! If you have publishing story that you’d like to share with our readers, please drop us a line!

Michelle Krasniak is a copywriter and Social Media Marketing consultant. You can contact her through her website.


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