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The Writer's Edge Interview With Author Jenny Milchman : A Lesson in Tenacity and Smarts

Jenny Milchman
I wish I’d known just how polished and perfected a work has to be to get published traditionally. I was lucky enough to get kernels from industry pros that allowed me to go back and hone my craft...

How long did it take you to get published? 

Here are my stats: 11 years, 8 novels, 3 agents, 15 almost-offers from editors. An almost-offer happens when an editor wishes to acquire a book, but gets turned down by her editorial board, or by people in the marketing or publicity departments, or even (as happened to me with my seventh novel) the publisher herself. My first published novel was the eighth one I wrote. And of course, there’s “long” in the non-numeric sense, too. It took an age, an epoch, forever. I thought I would never break through. 

Why did you hang in so long versus, for instance, self-publishing?

When I started out, self-publishing as we now know it wasn’t an option. There was so-called vanity publishing, and it cost a chunk of change, and carried with it a stigma of failure. This was in the day of snail mailed query letters, which had to include an SASE. An SASE, for those not familiar with the term, is a self-addressed stamped envelope in which your rejection comes back. I gave a publishing talk at a college recently, and asked the audience if they knew what an SASE was. When I got blank stares, I asked if they knew what an envelope was.

But I digress. When I began things were different. The very first agent who offered to represent me asked if I had email. If! Then Amazon came along and changed the face of self-publishing. However, it wasn’t the greatest option for me. When emerging writers ask how to identify their publishing path, I tell them to close their eyes and picture a few dream moments. The ones that make them want to try and put their stories out there for the world to see versus just scribbling away in a garrett somewhere. For me those moments meant seeing my book on shelves. Bookstores and libraries have always been extremely important in my life. I wanted the support of booksellers and librarians as I became a published author, and one day I hope that my books will lend them support in return. For all that Amazon does, it can’t reproduce the experience of a face-to-face encounter or a bricks and mortar.

So for me traditional publishing was going to turn out to be the best path. The right path. But that won’t be true for everybody. I have always believed that how you publish is a highly individual decision.

Jenny Milchman's First Novel
What one thing did you do as an "emerging author" that really made a difference and helped in getting published? 

I can’t whittle it down to just one thing, but I think I can manage 3 bullet points. Hope these are helpful!

  • Attend as many author events as you can. Support both the author and the bookstore—I used to buy a book to read, and a second to give as a gift. The bookseller will come to know you long before you have a galley you hope she or he will read, and the author might give you a friendly smile, some advice, an agent referral, or even a blurb.
  • Do things that connect writers and readers. Start a blog or a book club, depending on whether you prefer virtual or face-to-face. 
  • Follow agents on Twitter and Tweet their advice. 
  • Hold a literary series at your local library. 
  • Frequent Facebook groups and post interesting resources and helpful tidbits for members. You will be making a place for yourself in a world that is big enough to include your own work one day.

I basically believe that monies should flow toward the author, not away, but attending a conference became a pivotal piece of my own publishing journey. Determine whether you want to focus on craft or business in making your decision. If it’s the latter, look for conferences that include agent panels, pitch sessions, or talks by editors. Among others, I heartily recommend Algonkian events in New York and elsewhere.

What one thing did you do that worked against your getting published? 

I thought my work was ready long before it really was. Rather than seek out sources of feedback and additional reads—writers groups, workshops, classes, retreats, even a freelance editor—I kept squandering chances with agents. I wish I’d known just how polished and perfected a work has to be to get published traditionally. I was lucky enough to get kernels from industry pros that allowed me to go back and hone my craft, but I think I could’ve sped up the whole process—it didn’t have to take eleven years—if I hadn’t been handcuffed by the slow waiting time when you’re querying and submitting.

Now on your third novel, if you had it to do all over again, would you still keep trying for so long? In other words, is it all you hoped it would be?

I would try for twenty-two years. It’s all I hoped it’d be and more.

Jenny Milchman’s third novel, As Night Falls, is an Indie Next Pick and a summer release. Her first two books won awards, inclusions on Best Of lists, and critical acclaim. Find Jenny on the road, thanking all those people who helped her along the way, by checking out what Shelf Awareness calls the world’s longest book tour


  1. Thanks so much for having me to your blog, Michael! That long ago Algonkian workshop you hosted was an important part of my journey...

    1. Both an honor and a pleasure. Your will to publish cannot be surpassed. I have to learn from it myself...


  2. Very interesting post, Jenny. I can relate to much of what you wrote, although I ended up taking the self-publishing path after working with two publishers. I like being my own boss, although I don't always make the right decisions. I'm glad you stuck with your writing and that things turned out so well for you!
    Marja McGraw

  3. Love her! She's an inspiration and a great friend! I continue to wish her love and great success!


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