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Countdown to a Book 1: Joining Hands

It was 2001 and I’d been a dance critic for eighteen years, paid for my writing all the while. I had this writing thing in the bag. I just needed an agent to get my recently drafted novel out into the world.

(Experienced authors: I hear you. Quit laughing.)

Today, however, in this new series that will count down to the publication of my traditionally published debut novel late next year, I will not tell you how I got my agent. Because representation is never the beginning of a novelist’s story.

Yet in search of that holy grail I went to my first meeting of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, nearby in southeastern PA, to learn from other seekers.

I got there early. The preceding board meeting hadn’t broken up yet, and the agent/editor chair for the upcoming conference was talking about which agents she’d contacted and whom she might yet approach, tossing names around like she knew these people.
  1. I wondered if any of those agents would think my manuscript was good?
  2. I felt completely overwhelmed by all I had yet to learn about the industry.
  3. I desperately wanted that knowledge.
  4. I had no idea how to get it. 
But that agent chair did, so before that meeting had let out I had joined the organization and volunteered to play a small public relations role in putting on the conference. Working side-by-side with other writers—some much more experienced, others pressing first tentative words to the page—I started to get a sense where I fit in on the road to publication.

The realization came like a slap: I wasn’t nearly as far along as I had originally thought.

That kind of early ego pummeling created fertile ground for my first true step down the road to publication: joining hands with other writers. Because it turns out that becoming an author is not a lone activity.

Writing itself is—only the writer can get the words out of his or her head and onto the page. But publication requires a public. A give and take between writer and reader. And for this GLVWG became my playground.

I once heard an agent say, “Give me a so-so story that is beautifully written and I won’t be able to do a thing with it. Give me a great story that is written so-so and I can make a best-seller out of it.” The all-important feedback I received in my early years of critique groups, workshops, conferences, and even agent rejection told me I was weighing in on the wrong side of that equation. While I was indeed a wordsmith, I was not yet a novelist.

I was deficient in storytelling craft.

Each year, while deepening my commitment to both organization and conference, I met my needs by creating programs that featured the teachers I needed, all the while learning the ins and outs of the ever-changing publishing industry. I ate up everything I could learn about the power of story, improving my novels while unknowingly laying the groundwork for what would become my developmental editing specialty.

Along the way I joined an ever-increasing number of comrades in delivering tough love, cheering one another on, scraping each other off the floor of despair, and holding tender hopes aloft on united fingertips. They helped me hang in there for the long haul. How could I ever turn back, when so many had supported me?

Flash forward ten years, to last fall. Of course I had no way of knowing I'd soon have an agent. Understanding fully the power of writing communities, I probably couldn't have told you how many I benefitted from, including you all at the BRP, but GLVWG and The Write Stuff conference still served as home base in my writing life. With the confidence born of experience, however, I could definitely tell you my perspective had changed.
  1. I knew my current manuscript was in good shape.
  2. I was no longer overwhelmed by the submission process.
  3. I could toss around the names of agents and editors as if I know these people—because many of them I’d met, hired, corresponded with, picked up from the bus station, moderated on panels, or pitched to in person.
  4. For years I'd already been helping newer writers see that agents and editors are not tyrannical gatekeepers determined to bar them from their dreams. They are entrepreneurs who love great stories, just like we do, and when they find a story they love they will not stop until they put it into print.
So the first step isn’t getting an agent, you see.

It’s realizing you need all the help you can get to produce a great story.

If you are on the road to publication, how have you relied on others to support you?

Read Countdown to a Book 2: Pitching

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her article, "The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing," co-written with Janice Gable Bashman, is in the current Nov/Dec issue of Writer's Digest. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," will detail the traditional publication of her debut novel by Sourcebooks in late 2013. Her essay Memoir of a Book Deal tells the larger story while also serving as a primer on story structures. To follow her writing please "Like" her Facebook Author Page. She follows back most writers on Twitter.


  1. WOW! Kathryn, what a great intro to your new countdown series that will be insightful, informative, and captivating -- if this first installment is any indication. I'm now looking forward to the next one, but I have to wait a whole month. :-(

    Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! :-)

  2. Haha!! Thanks Linda, so happy to delight you. As you can see, there will be no self-aggrandizement. ;)

  3. Great post, Kathryn! Will look forward to reading the next installment :)

  4. Terrific post. You are so right about how we need to join hands to help each other. I have learned so much from my writing mentors and the critique groups I used to belong to. Now I continually learn from you and all the other folks who share this blog.

  5. Hi Kat,
    Thanks for stopping by! When your name popped into my inbox I assumed it was a new comment at your blog, lol! Glad you're part of my writing community. ;)

  6. Thanks Maryann. It amazes me when clients call and say they've been working on their own, sometimes for a number of years, never coming out of their caves. One guy just wrote for an editing estimate about his book—853 pages. Single-spaced. Let's just say if he had gone to one meeting of a reputable writer's group, the more experienced members could have saved him a lot of time. ;)

  7. You mean I should (shudder) leave my basement office and (shudder, shudder) get out in the world ... go places ... meet people ... that sort of thing? I'm doomed.

  8. Kathryn, I actually got goosebumps reading (still there!). What a tale of strength, resilience, and perseverance! Love this: publication requires a public. Indeed. How far you have come. It truly inspires us who are just beginning this road to seek knowledge and to learn. It's really about spreading ourselves open to being a part of something bigger than order to climb that mountain. Thank you!

  9. Kathryn, do you have a blog? Storytelling Craft would be a great name for it. All things considered. ;)

  10. Donna, so glad a GVLWG member stopped in! Considering I work with words all the time, you'd think I'd be better at etymology, but had never thought about "public" and "publication" until writing this. Doh! Always learn something new when writing!

  11. Thanks for the idea, Dani! I do hold a series of "Craftwriting" workshops in my home each spring, so have definitely begun the irresistible wordplay. I'm going to be starting a new blog when I get my author site up, and will take your idea into consideration!

  12. Angel—another GLVWG member, who will no doubt benefit for all the leadership roles you too have played. Thanks so much for stopping in!

  13. Hi, Kathryn, I'm not really anonymous, it's Susan Ricci stopping by with congrats on a beautifully written piece and a thank you for sharing! I can't wait to read your work when it comes out next year!

  14. Hi Susan, thanks for stopping by and thanks for your kind words. Your presence reminds me of yet another way we connect to other writers—through online communities!

  15. While I'm not looking for an agent or traditional publisher, I'm certainly looking to improve my craft.

    In the past, I've told quick stories with perfect words. Good stories. Not great stories.

    Now that I've realized that the story has to be great or it's not worth the words, I've also realized I have a lotta work to do.

  16. Joel:
    That realization, in my case, propelled me on a most fascinating journey. I wish the same for you!

  17. Yes, it's not easy to get somewhere in this business. It takes time, effort and teamwork. What's so great is there are so many in the writing community who bend over backwards to help other writers.

    I'm glad you're on your way up the ladder, Kathryn!

    Morgan Mandel

  18. Morgan: "Up the ladder"? What fun to think about. I'm just thrilled right now that my book will finally get some readers. See? As a published author you are teaching me: live now, plan ahead!

  19. Great post Kathryn. I have so enjoyed the journey (as fellow GLVWGer). The joining of hands has made the hard parts not only easier but a heck of a lot of fun too! You're are not only a great writer, but also a natural teacher. You have a powerful way of demystifying the secrets of great story telling and now you shed light on the path to publication. Thank you for your generous insights.

  20. It will be fun to follow this part of the journey. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Great post, Kathryn! And so FREAKING TRUE!!

  22. Tori:
    What a lovely response—you must be a writer! Thanks for your kind words, and for being one of the many I've joined hands with. May your own recent flash fiction publication be one of many to come!

  23. Susan, from my church community—just goes to show that we sustain ourselves in many ways, not just around other writers! You read such an early version of this novel for me, as a kindness—I hope you'll be happy with the way it evolved.

  24. And Kelly, one of the Liar's Club members who runs the Writers Coffeehouse community—I KNOW you know what I'm talking about! Thanks for stopping in, and for being such a great role model.

  25. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  26. Hello! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, especially since I'm going through the process of being slapped by reality! I was used to rejection in the music business and expected some degree of it in writing. With music, people cry when they hear your songs, tell you you have a great voice, occasionally buy a CD, but try to pitch your work to "people in the business" and you hit walls. Likewise, people have always told me I write well. I thought my first work would be a shoe-in. NOT! Man, is my ego taking a "pummelling"! I can't wait to hear more of what you have to say. I'm learning the hard way that I know less about this industry than I thought!

  27. Marie, thanks so much for sharing your story. I hear you, sister! That's another way we help each other out along the chain of experience: to say, "I was pummeled too, but I healed, and now look were I am." It's a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit that one freshly pummeled can hold as a lifeline.

  28. Oh, and I just want to point out, for the record, that Marie is from Pennwriters, a state-wide writing organization I've benefitted from for the past seven years!

  29. "agents and editors are not tyrannical gatekeepers determined to bar them from their dreams." I love that line. I was glad to read where your journey began, Kathryn. You have done so much to pay your dues. I know this ascension toward your goals has to be satisfying!


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