"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Rocky Road to Publishing (And I’m not talking ice cream! However, if you’re treating....)

Thirty-two years ago my sister, Kathie, and I took a creative writing course from a very gifted author and wonderful teacher, Patti Sherlock. This was where we met Karen Finnigan and the other ladies who eventually made up our first critique group. More about that later.

In the first class, Patti, let us book-selling-wannabes in on the difficulty of getting published. Sobering news. Then she gave us our first assignment. I can’t remember the topic, but that coming week we put our whole hearts and souls into our stories. We handed in the work we sweated over, eager for her comments. Finally, we arrived at the next class, anticipating her remarks.

What did she think? Were we on target? Did we capture her attention? How about talent? Was it there somewhere hidden among our carefully structured prose? We could hardly wait for the results.

Patti passed out our papers along with a typed, crisp, impersonal...rejection letter! Our hearts sank; our disappointment great.

This was our first taste of the real world of publishing. And it tasted sour.

Patti taught us many things, but the one gem I’ve passed on is while going for that book contract, try the smaller markets for publishing credits. Magazines need vignettes and fillers to fill a page. Taking that to heart, I wrote a whimsical poem lamenting a problem I have–spelling– and I sent it to Writers Digest Magazine. I can’t remember it all (undoubtedly a good thing), but the last line was, “I would buy, I would sell, if through my life, I could spell.”

As anyone can guess, they didn’t print it. However, Lawrence Block, the editor at the time sent me a personal note that said, “You can always hire someone to check your spelling, but you can’t hire anyone to come up with ideas.”

His advice sticks with me especially when I have to, once again, look up a word to make sure it’s spelled right. Yeah, I still have problems with spelling. You could call it a mental block.

Yes, I can have someone go over my manuscripts. I can’t hire anyone to give me talent.

One Sunday on Mother’s Day I gave a talk in church called, "What Makes a Mother." I later sold it to a parenting magazine. My first Publishing credit! They didn’t pay very much, but a credit’s a credit.

When the course finished, Patti suggested we form a critique group. Several of us met that first night at her house. We were the only class she’d taught to take her up on her offer and stay with it. Eventually, we decided to write a round robin. Our name? Tucker Sage. We named ourselves after a grizzled figurine prospector. We picked a general western, plotted it out, and decided each person would write three chapters then pass it on to the next in line.

One evening we met at JB’s restaurant to discuss our endeavors. Someone had written in a baby. A couple of ladies didn’t want to deal with said baby in a western. What ensued was a lively discussion about what we should do.

“Kill the baby!”

“No! Don’t kill the baby.”

Imagine, there we were, women ranging from young mothers to senior citizens, in a popular restaurant, arguing about whether or not to kill a baby and laughing at the audacity of it. I’ve often wondered what those other patrons must have thought! (For the record, Karen and I voted to keep the baby.)

Later I had written a one-act Christmas play for my church, "A Rented Christmas Family." It was for our annual adult dinner/dance evening we all look forward to each year. The booked talent program had cancelled, and I was asked to help. I wrote the script in a day. We had two weeks to practice. As it turned out, we were a smash hit! I sold the play for a flat rate to Eldridge Play Company earning another credit. One year I was told a corporate office in New York paid “big bucks” to have it shipped overnight so they could put it on for their company.

I read that Eldridge paid three hundred and fifty dollars for three-act plays or 35% royalties for exceptional scripts. Needing the cash, I submitted my first melodrama. To my disappointment, the editors liked my play so much they bought it on a royalty basis. Altogether, I’ve sold four plays, and, after twenty-plus years, I’m still receiving royalty checks for two of them.

So if anyone asks me for any advice on writing, I tell them what Patti told us so long ago: While chasing that elusive book contract, submit to smaller venues for publishing credits. They look great on a query!

--Sherry Roseberry

Sherry Roseberry won Idaho Writer of the Year with her first novel. Besides her historicals, she's the author of four plays, short stories, and articles. A dedicated thespian, she's given workshops on using acting techniques in writing at local, regional, and national conferences of Romance Writers of America. Her lifelong dream came true when she had the opportunity to appear in the movie, HANDCART. The experience was glorious even though the winter scenes were filmed in (average) 20-degree weather. Writing is in her blood, but her greatest treasures are her five children and nineteen grandchildren.


  1. Thanks for the post, Sherry. It brings back memories!

    --Linda Sandifer

  2. Thanks for the walk dowm memory lane, Sherry. That was a great post. I wasn't there when you went to Patti's class, but I remember the day I went to my first Idaho Writer's Guild meeting and met you and Karen. You two announced that a new writer's group was being organized and anyone who wanted to be included in it was to meet at the library. I went that Saturday and it was the beginning of some wonderful memories for me and the opportunity to meet some talented, genuine people. I'm so glad things worked out the way they did.

  3. Love the post Sherry. Can I say it that way? I mean, may I say it that way? I mean, may I type it that way? Let me try again...

    I love the post. Wait, "I" is so overused. Right? Better to say: Your post was awesome! May I use a colon there?

    Arghhh! Sherry, You're post was funny and I learned a lot! -Ben

    Or should that be...

    --Ben Page (I notice everyone does two little dashes before signing off. Interesting. Over and out - for now.)

  4. Hi Sherry:

    Good post. I've been there done that also (going after the smaller markets, I mean). I've sold nearly forty pieces to IDAHO magazine. They weren't able pay as much as the larger publications, but this connection led me to a first place in state competition for my "Buddy" book, and a second place award in national competition for the same book.

    I wrote a weekly column for nearly five years for a local daily newspaper. It didn't pay much either, but again, I received a second and first place award from Associated Press two consecutive years. So it does pay to go for the smaller markets. It helps build one's resume'.

  5. Hi Sherry,
    I was just thinking of our Tucker Sage group today. And especially of Ruby, who was in the class too. I was thinking of her book and the good times we had sharing each other's stories. Time has a way of passing while we've been busy writing stories. I think the times we've spent with our friends eventually become some of the best stories of all. Thanks.