Monday, December 8, 2014

My First Time: Valerie Joan Connors

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Valerie Joan Connors, the author of the novels Shadow of a Smile, In Her Keeping and Give Me Liberty.  She is the current President of the Atlanta Writers Club, an organization with more than 600 active members and a 100-year history in the Atlanta area.  Valerie has a B.S. in Business from Portland State University.  During business hours, she’s the CFO of an architecture, engineering and interior design firm.  Valerie lives in Atlanta with her husband and two dogs.  Click here to visit her website.

My First Publishing Contract

I will never forget the day I received my first traditional publishing contract.  In 2010, I self-published my first novel, Give Me Liberty, which was inspired by my mother who courageously divorced her abusive first husband in the late 1940s and moved to New York with her three-year-old son.  Although it was a fictionalized account of her story, that first book felt much too personal to be shopped around and rejected by people who didn’t know me, much less my mother.  But with my second novel, In Her Keeping, a story about a tiger sanctuary, I really wanted to go the traditional publishing route.  I felt that I had a good story that was based on my real life experiences as well as a whole lot of research.  I started working on my query letter, which is some of the most difficult writing I’ve ever done.  Trying to condense 80,000 words into a three-paragraph document that represents both the essence of the story and my writing biography was challenging.  As the rejections started to come in, I continued to edit my query letter and found that although the rejections kept coming, they became less abrupt, so I knew that my query letter was improving.  It was a whole lot nicer to hear something like, “your story sounds very interesting, but doesn’t fit our needs at this time” rather than simply, “thanks but no thanks.”

After submitting to twelve agents and one editor, I decided to try a smaller publishing house.  Their submission guidelines said they wanted a full manuscript, a synopsis and a query letter, and they accepted un-agented work.  I put together the materials, sent them off electronically, and promptly forgot all about it.

Two months later, while checking my email, I saw a message from Bell Bridge Books.  I remembered having submitted to them, and I assumed it was another rejection.  While rejection was obviously not my goal, I figured that I would likely experience a good bit more of it before getting that first “yes.”  But to my amazement, the letter said that they were very interested in my story, if I would consider making one small change at the very beginning.

I made the requested change and began the story in a slightly different place.  A week later I signed my first traditional publishing contract. I had struggled for months with the right beginning for the story, and my editor, Deborah Smith, found it immediately.  Not only was Deborah an amazing editor, she also mentored me through the entire publishing process, and patiently answered all my questions.  I told her that in spite of having spent thirty-five years in the business world, with publishing I felt like a kid on the first day of school, not knowing where the bathroom is.  In Her Keeping, will always hold a special place in my heart, not only because of the little tiger cub that inspired the story, but because it was the first time that I felt comfortable saying, without hesitation, that I was a writer.

Author photo by Patrick Connors

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