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  • kaysmithblum

Writeon, but first...

Updated: Mar 2

As I launch my blog, on this first day of March, I wanted to reflect upon the journey to a publication contract. As I'm sure many of my fellow writers have discovered, writing the tale is just the beginning. Finding someone, be it a literary agent or a publisher, to champion your story is a long and winding (pardon the cliche!) road. In the hopes of being of service to others about to embark on the soul-sucking query process, I have created a timeline below of the myriad of things - the to-do list, the forward movement, the two steps back, the hopes, the dashed dreams - that make up the path to the ever elusive publication contract.


My tale begins with rejection - of course. (My personal tally for the three manuscripts I have written since 2016 includes 68 rejections) but this particular one resonated. On April 22, 2022, seasoned literary agent, Kevan Lyon, from whom I had "won" a first-pages review via the WFWA auction, advised me in a very kind and empathetic way that my second manuscript should not be my debut (for reasons I will maybe go into one day soon). Within days, I had a dream about a mane of red hair floating on water, but the mass of hair didn't seem wet. I woke and noted it in my dream journal.


A few days later, a news alert appeared on my iPhone. The update on a leaking waste tank at the Hanford Nuclear Plant stated that the first report of the leak had been on my birthday April 30th, in 2021. A google search, just below the CBS News blurb on the leak, revealed a link to the Centers of for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the dangers of releases from 1944 through 1957 - and down the research rabbit hole I went.


The timeline below I hope will be helpful to anyone at any stage in their journey. Feel free to reach out with questions and comments - I hope to use the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month for deeper dives into each aspect of the publication journey, interspersed with the amazing interviews I have had with so many experts throughout 2023 and into 2024 regarding the Hanford Nuclear site and the challenges that surround nuclear energy.


Roll up to Querying:


May 1, 2022 - Research begins - three different word docs created: Hanford specific, Richland specific and Washington, Oregon border, including the Columbia River and adjoining coast-specific

May 3 - 7 - Carmel self-styled writer's retreat, deep dive into research every morning for 4 to 5 hours - lap swims in the afternoon

May 8th - pruning in garden thinking through and imagining plot ideas, joined WFWA (see https://www.womensfictionwriters.org)

May 10th - this week's research focused on the early timeline of building Hanford, attended my first HistFict Zoom meeting of WFWA HistFict group (see https://www.facebook.com/groups/935251923702167), met with regular CommLit Writers' Circle

May 11th - worked on following WFWA members on Twitter

May 15th - submit short piece to Historium Press (note: I continued to work on flash and short fiction to submit to literary journals building my resume as a writer)

May 20th - deep dive into Baker Bay research discovering records of irradiated freshwater clams in the 1960s

May 25th - sent first three chapters of MS out to beta readers

June 1, 2022 - planted trees at my son's home, imaging trees in my story

June 5th - began listening to intermittent podcasts of Andrew Huberman and Lex Fridman (great fodder for characters and scene fodder)

June 12th - submitted edits to Grande Dame Literary on a short piece

June 14th - deep dive into cancers, how they are caused, ties to nuclear waste and pesticides and attended regular meeting of CommLit's Writers Circle (member for over a year at this point) (see https://commuterlit.com)

June 15th - decided to rewrite my first manuscript (for the 7th time) in a dual timeline, began to spend my mornings with 2-3 hours of rewrite and then 2-3 hours of research

June 20th - continued with schedule as above, received acceptance for a flash piece from Yellow Arrow Publishing (see https://www.yellowarrowpublishing.com)

June 21st - took a break from both writing and research and reorganized all of my publication information - updating my list of historical fiction agents, list of traditional small presses, and contest info

June 22nd - reworked a short story, somewhat biographical, that I'd been working on for four years in conjunction with my first MS and signed up for pitch forum at WFWA

June 26th - submitted reviews for several novels I'd been reading on Goodreads, Bookbub and Amazon tagging them with Kay Smith-Blum, Writer @Yellow Arrow Publishing

June 27th - continued regimen of first MS rewrite, and Hanford research each morning

June 28th - participated in YAP zoom reading, worked on social media connections with other authors at YAP

June 29th - updated my website (on WIX platform) with new publications, researched several Hollywood actors who support environmental movements

July 4, 2022 - continued regimen of first MS rewrite, and Hanford research each morning

July 8th - updated acceptance and rejections on all short pieces on my submission spreadsheet

July 9th - updated small press list with more possibilities for traditional publication, reached out to several WFWA authors asking for their experiences with those presses

July 10th - attended virtual seminar on "Getting a book deal"

July 11th - same regimen split between rewrites of first MS, edits to short pieces that have been rejected, and Hanford research

July 12th - reviewed beta readers' notes on first three chapters of rewrite, met with regular CommLit Writers' Circle

July 15th - spent time soliciting agents for WFWA auction donations

July 18th - same regimen split between rewrites of first MS, edits to short pieces that have been rejected, and Hanford research, resubmitted bio short story to three more lit journals

July 21st -  attended PNWA virtual seminar on pitching

July 23rd - spent two hours following new WFWA members on social media platfroms with personalized note about being a WFWA member, began the WFWA Grabbing the Reader workshop

July 24th - edited first pieces in the GtR seminar group

July 25th - continued morning regimen and spent 1-2 hours on GtR pieces in my group

July 29th - read several craft blogs on how to build up to publication

July 31st - worked on my feedback for my piece in GtR workshop

August 1, 2022 - continued daily regimen of first MS rewrites and Hanford research and set goal of two submissions per week on two separate short pieces

Aug 2nd - prepared my pitch for WFWA forum, reviewed Erika Dreifus newsletter for submission suggestions, WFWA HistFict meeting

Aug 3rd - more pitch forum work, WFWA auction meeting

Aug 4th - first 500 words of MS critique for pitch forum

Aug 5th - last day of prep for pitch forum

Aug 7th - load pitch to forum

Aug 8th - continued daily regimen of first MS rewrites and Hanford research and maintaining two submissions per week on two separate short pieces

Aug 9th - review second round of beta reader notes for MS rewrites, HistFict regular meet

Aug 10th - entered Hooked on a Book contest (see https://aliciadean.com/hooked-on-a-book-competition-update/)

Aug 14th - did an Instagram story on short piece publications in 2022

Aug 15th - continued regimen of first MS rewrites and Hanford research and maintaining two submissions per week on two separate short pieces

Aug 16th - began making list of possible folks to interview about Hanford and nuclear energy, HistFict reg meet

Aug 17th - post entry for agent pitch at WFWA agent forum

Aug 21st - major gardening and imaging afternoon, came home and made copious notes on possible characters for new MS and plot points

Aug 22nd - continued regimen of first MS rewrites and Hanford research and lessened submissions to one per week on short pieces

Aug 23rd - researched participating agents in WFWA forum Aug 24th - met with only local writer in my WFWA forum - great therapy :)

Aug 26th - received pro critique on first MS, began rewrites editing out a subplot

Sept 3rd - no takers on my pitches in WFWA forum

Sept 5th - continued regimen of first MS rewrite with new goals based on pro critique and beta reader feedback and Hanford research and lessened submissions to one per week on short pieces

Sept 6th - submitted bio short piece to Iowa Review (see https://iowareview.org), WFWA HistFict regular meet

Sept 7th - WFWA auction begins, post to social

Sept 8th - no takers on my pitches in WFWA forum

Sept 11th - shopped for more trees for another son's landscape, tree guy interesting character:)

Sept 12th -  continued daily regimen of first MS rewrite with new goals based on pro critique and beta reader feedback and Hanford research and one short piece submission per week, WFWA auction ended

Sept 13th - met with regular CommLit Writers' Circle

Setp 14th - metaphor craft lecture at Authors Publish

Sept 18th - planned for self-styled writer's retreat

Sept 25th - depart for Carmel

Sept 26th - continued daily regimen of first MS rewrite to first-person voice based on pro critique and beta reader feedback and Hanford research but suspended short piece submissions for October

Sept 27th - entered Blue Pencil prize competition (see )https://bluepencilagency.com/bpa-first-novel-award-2023/

Oct 3rd - continued daily regimen of first MS rewrite to first-person voice based on pro critique and beta reader feedback and Hanford research but suspended short piece submission for October

Oct 11th - CommLit Writers Circle virtual meet, began reading a few random scenes to this writer's group and incorporated feedback on possible new MS

Oct 13th - research publicists used by several WFWA writers

Oct 14th - 7-day countdown to finish final draft of old MS

Oct 15th - research Historical Fiction Society contest (see https://historicalnovelsociety.org)

Oct 17th - tweet about 4 days left to finish rewrite, same regimen of time split between rewrite and research

Oct 18th - virtual seminar on Writing Characters of Color, Lisa Montanaro, host (see https://lisamontanaro.com)

Oct 19th - final read thru of rewrite

Oct 21st - depart Carmel, rewrite complete

Oct 23rd - research several new literary journals

Oct 24th - begin new daily morning regimen split time between querying rewritten M and research on Hanford

Oct 25th - regular Tuesday meet of WFWA HistFict group

Oct 26th - attend virtual Indie Author forum hosted by Booklife (see https://booklife.com), Gabi Coatsworths referral (see https://gabicoatsworth.com)

Oct 30th - begin to create podcast lists for book launch

Oct 31st - new morning regimen split time between querying rewritten M and research on Hanford

November 1, 2022 - begin submitting short pieces again

Nov 3rd - social meeting posts about authors who write in bed like me

Nov 7th - begin querying a few small presses on old MS

Nov 8th - finish new edits to WIX website, ComLit Writers Circle

Nov 9th - return beta read favors to multiple authors

Nov 10th - more twitter work on followers

Nov 13th - enter Book Pipeline contest (see https://bookpipeline.com/shop/unpublished-contest)

Nov 15th - post more reviews on what I've read and tag with my "writer" signature, met with regular CommLit Writers' Circle

Nov 21st - morning regimen split time between querying rewritten M, plotting and possible scene work new novel centered on Hanford and further research

Nov 22nd - received word I am being nominated for a Pushcart Prize - woot!! (see http://www.pushcartprize.com)

Nov 28th - daily morning regimen split time between querying rewritten M, plotting and possible scene work new novel centered on Hanford and further research; receive first rejection on rewritten old MS

December 1, 2022 - begin submitting short autobio piece again Dec 2nd - more beta read tradebacks, tally now 8 trades

Dec 5th- daily morning regimen split time between querying rewritten MS, plotting and possible scene work new novel centered on Hanford and further research

Dec 6th - update rejections from agents and lit magazines

Dec 8th - post Pushcart nomination to social media

Dec 9th - enter Black Fox Lit (see https://blackfoxlitmag.com/) short story contest, my auto-bio piece fits their sibling theme

Dec 12th- morning regimen split time between beta reads, querying rewritten MS, and scene work new novel centered on Hanford and further research

Dec 13th - social media post on HistFict group, ComLit Writers Circle (see https://commuterlit.com) meet

Dec 14th - craft lecture Writing Layered Stories

Dec 16th - zoom with Sharon B on mutual beta reads

Dec 17th - meet with a young poet to share resources

Dec 19th - new daily morning regimen split time between scenes for Hanford MS and research, only submit short pieces every other Monday

Dec 26th - continue new morning routine

Dec 27th - more rejections from agents on revised first MS, update spreadsheet

Dec 29th - short piece Daylight Saves accepted by Adelaide Literary Magazine (https://adelaidemagazine.org)


January 1, 2023 - after 13 rejections of my rewritten MS, I decide to sign up for a plotting workshop with John Claude Bemis through Authors Publish (see https://authorspublish.com). I plot the entire novel centered on the Hanford Nuclear Plant, the secrecy by the US Government and create a structure that allows for both a dual narrative and a dual timeline in the late 1940s and early 1960s (Cold War period).

In late February of 2023, I received an invitation from several colleagues in WFWA to join the editorial committee for an anthology of historical women's fictions. I wrote a companion short story to my WIP and it will be included in the Feisty Deeds Anthology, publishing in June 2024.


From January to March, I receive feedback and guidance from JC Bemis (see http://www.johnclaudebemis.com), then I spend the next four months writing the MS. In May, I received notification that I had WON the Black Fox Lit short story contest for 2023! (see https://blackfoxlitmag.com/readissue24/)


In the late summer of 2023, I interviewed four developmental editors and chose Will Allison (see https://www.willallison.com). I received his suggestions in early September, rewrote several sections, and edited many scenes. I reach out to Casey Decker (see https://themeticuloustype.com) for a first five-chapter line edit and then decamp to Carmel for October 2023. I split my days between setting up agent and small press queries but NOT sending. I also continued to tweak the MS. Please note that during this entire 18 months, I continued to meet weekly with my screenplay writing partner, Sylvia Barnard (see https://www.sbarnardauthor.ca) and I'd tell you what we are working on but then, you know...


On October 18th, I clicked "send" on 22 agent queries and 11 small traditional press queries. I immediately received multiple requests for the full MS from 6 small presses and two agents. Both agents rejected me in the end (along with another 12 agents by the end of November). But - I also had multiple offers for publication from small traditional presses by Thanksgiving.


On December 9, 2023, I signed a publication contract with Black Rose Writing (see https://www.blackrosewriting.com), and that red hair - yep - it's in the opening chapter. Keep checking in as my journey to publication continues.


Until then, Write on!

Kay Smith-Blum, Author, Debut novel, Tangles coming November 2024





















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