|Copyright 2017, Barbara Bentley. All rights reserved. No contents can be used without permission from the author.
My Writing Journey - continued
I used passion, planning, patience,and persistence to continue my writing quest. In 1996, I focused once more on
my memoir and worked with my mentor Gail Provost to get a paragraph outline and three chapters on paper, using
the scene cards that I had so patiently prepared. Then I got sidetracked with getting married and combining two
households. When I decided once more to seek a literary agent, it was 1998. I sent out fifteen query letters to
literary agents on the International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG) list available as part of my membership. I
received fourteen rejection letters and one request to read my work. The prospective literary agent looked
promising, but after several months we never even got to negotiating a contract. Even though I had sent my
materials with return postage, I had a devil of a time getting them back. In January of 2003 Lifetime TV aired a
new hour show hosted by Erin Brockovich called "Final Justice." I thought my story fit their profile. I copied
producers names from the VCR tape my husband had made and wrote a letter. Within a week I received a
telephone call and the following week the film crew was at my home. My segment aired in May 2003. No, I didn't
get to meet Ms. Brockovich. But the experience spurred me to venture out once more for an agent.
By August 2003 I had nine chapters written. The query letter went out to twenty-one literary agents on the IWWG
list for members. Two asked for my full proposal - one passed. My feet hardly touched the floor when the other
agent offered me a contract, which I signed. This agent was very nurturing. She needed to be as I was still very
naive in the requirements for an industry-standard proposal. With her help, I put together a proposal that she
started soliciting to publishers. We were not dead. True crime must have a dead victim to meet the criteria for the
genre. The agent released me from my contract and we parted amicably.
Also in August 2003 I was forced out of my job of 38 1/2 years but I did receive a financial package that helped to
cushion the blow. That fall we traveled to New Zealand and Australia for seven weeks (five in NZ and two in
New South Wales) and my writing fell by the wayside.
Gail, the excellent mentor that she is, allowed me to spread my wings and take on the rest of the manuscript
myself. I didn't get back to the manuscript until April 2004, when I wrote Chapters 10 and 11. To say I was
sporadic in my writing is an understatement. I did Chapter 12 in June. Then starting in September 2004 I became
a hermit in the upstairs office. The creative juices flowed and my husband's support allowed me to hibernate.
Since he had retired in July 2004 he was able to fix breakfast, lunch and dinner and call me when they were ready.
I'd pop downstairs, gobble down my food, and climb back to my "tower" - actually the office on the second floor.
For the next seven months I religiously pounded the computer keys and declared the first draft "done" in March
2005. Whew! It was only 800-some pages. Yikes! I let Gail know and in her gentle manner she let me know
that no publisher would want such a long manuscript for my story.
I let her words percolate and knew I had to cut the manuscript down. But where? One of the problems with being
so close to the story was that it was hard for me to determine which little tidbits of information were important and
which ones are not. I worked on editing during the summer and reduced the manuscript by 150 pages. I think it's
very important for a writer not to be married to his or her words and to be open to deleting words, no matter how
beautiful they sound or how long they worked to get them just right. This lesson would come in handy much later
when working with my literary agent and publishing editor.
By September 2005 I decided I needed to hire an editor. It's one of the best decisions I ever made. I consulted an
ad in the IWWG newsletter and found Lois Winsen, Editor-on-Tap. She read the manuscript for $200 and sent me
back five pages of suggestions to improve my writing and cut out more pages. I worked on her suggestions and the
next month had another 150 pages gone. But I knew it needed to be pared down even more. So I hired her to do a
thorough edit and she deducted the $200 from the total bill. Changing the font to Times New Roman condensed the
text and eliminated a few more pages from the total count. With Lois' final edit, another 30 pages disappeared. By
January 2006 I had a finished polished manuscript.
HOW DID I GET PUBLISHED:
By May I received seven rejection slips, one never responded and four asked to see the complete manuscript. I got
four more rejection slips. Then I got my query letter from Rachel with a handwritten note that she wanted to see
my work. She explained that she normally did electronic queries and liked email, but I had not included a phone
number or email address in my query. Oops! Fortunately she had kept me in her paper pile and followed up. I
mailed the manuscript off to Rachel and patiently waited. She had asked me to email a reminder to her every two
weeks to help keep my submission on the front burner, which I did. In early September I called her to let her know
that my husband and I were leaving on a six week trip to Asia and told her how she could get in touch. She said
she'd try to read it before I left on September 17th.
On September 15th my husband had emergency heart surgery for a quadruple by-pass and our trip was cancelled.
Early Saturday morning I checked my email before leaving for the hospital. To my amazement Rachel had sent me
an email at 12:30 in the morning, NY time. She wanted me! I have always said this book will happen when it's
supposed to. Here I was at the depths of despair only to be lifted to the highest of heights with the news that I now
had an agent. After some minor edits, Rachel sold my manuscript in November 2006, in four days, to Samantha
Mandor at Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin USA.
See the earliest postings of my BLOG for further developments as I travel through the publishing world.
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|Recipient of Foundation for
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|Writer's Retreat Workshop