A few years ago, I wrote a Fanny Flaggish novel, The One And Holy Skillet. After a session at the San Diego State Writers' Conference--a terrific place to connect with editors and agents--I had several agents wanting to represent it. I chose one, highly reputable, who had almost signed a friend's literary-ish mystery novel. She loved it, asked for almost no changes, and began to submit it.
We were in the process of moving between states while she sent me email after email: editors who, with deep regret, had to turn the novel down. This one couldn't get collegial support, this one's executive editor said no. Typical was the note from an editor at a hugely successful publisher who went bankrupt last January. "Alas, we have decided to pass on The One And Holy Skillet. I'm disappointed as I found it entertaining, smart, and well written . . . [But the Publisher says no.] I'm sure you will find just the right home for this refreshing book - the author handles the large cast of characters with finesse and nicely balances the more serious issues with humor and irony.”
I was excited when one--Lorna Landvik's acquiring editor--said she loved it, and wanted to work with me through minor changes, the kind of thing editors used to do, I gather, in the long ago days of publishing. She told us she was searching for her notes, which she had lost somewhere on her desk. And then, she died. (Kind of tough to find the appropriate reaction--you want to be swearing and irritated, but on the other hand--she's dead.)
We had just moved, I was pregnant, and caring for a kid who has often been seven children wrapped in one, when my then-agent handed me back the manuscript, after having submitted it to three or four small presses. We got nos, or "I've lost the manuscript, send it again." And then, they lost it again. Although I now lived in a city with several fabulous small presses, I was overwhelmed with my life and chose to focus what little energy I had on writing The Color of Safety rather than selling Skillet. (See earlier post about The Color Of Safety.)
Then, a couple of months ago, I found a copy of Skillet. Enough time had passed that I could read it as though someone else and written it. It was a rip-roaringly good read. Funny and interesting, page-turning, and unexpected, but in a way that felt inevitable. There was real pain in the main characters, who felt like real people. I found rare insight and even wisdom in the pages and unexpected depths for a novel that is such a romp. (Yes, I know it's my novel, but I'm being honest here. Why not?)
I sent it to a dear and trusted writer friend, Cece Box, who read it right away before starting on a Fanny Flagg jag. "I can't tell you how good this is. I can't remember when I've hung on a story so intently, and I can't wait for the rest. Amazing story telling, wonderful, wonderful characters. I think it is a mark of good literature when the reader cannot predict which way each character is going to go. Found myself thinking: well, it's a comedy, deep down, so it has to be a "happy" ending.... But what will "happy" turn out to mean?"
So, I decided to find the small publisher I should have looked for seven years ago. I even tried to locate the editor who wrote the quote above, from that publishing house that went bankrupt. I think I have found her working on a low-residency MFA in poetry in Montana. I hope she's enjoying the process.
I have a dear friend, M. Louisa Locke, who self-published her cozy historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, in 2009. (http://mlouisalocke.com/blog/) She hosts an extremely informative blog about self-publishing and has, with many a sigh, said to me, "When you are finally ready to self-publish, let me know and I'll help you through it."
Since her Maids, she has published two other novels in that San Francisco series, and several short stories. They are a delight, I know she is doing very well with her self-publishing.
And yet, I think that The One And Holy Skillet is, if not literary, then literate--think of Edna Ferber's delicious romp, Saratoga Trunk, or Cid Ricketts Sumner's more serious Pinky. At any rate, I think it has the potential to be seriously reviewed. And I want those reviews, because my next novel, Color of Safety, is going to fit squarely into the literary but accessible category, and self-publishing, at least for now, is not a real option.
And so, years after my agent handed the novel back, I have begun a quest to get this lovely book published. That's my current journey--to sell The One And Holy Skillet. Over the next weeks, I hope to write more about the joys and tribulations of connecting with small publishers.