Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I'm a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who's spent more than half my life in school. Plus I have a typical New England obsessive and guilty work ethic.

So when I'm presented with a seemingly insurmountable challenge and getting published surely fits that bill, I turn to my most finely-honed skill: research.

In 1998, I hatched the idea of writing a mystery about a woman caddie on the men's golf tour and her pal, a sports psychologist. With Tiger Woods mania incinerating the PGA Tour, I was sure the story idea would be a natural.

Besides, this was fun! Any time I spent on the golf course or attending tournaments or even reading golf magazines was, you guessed it, research.

After an agonizing two years of writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more, I felt I was ready to look for an agent. I knew there was no magic formula for this subject, and I had absolutely no contacts in the publishing business. So again I turned to the process I knew best--research.

I studied Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents. And I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and Sheree Bykofsky's Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published, and Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages.

I made huge charts of agents who had interests like mine (mystery, sports, psychology), or who had some feature in their personal background that made me think we might connect, or who had sold books with some similarity to mine. I attended mystery conventions (Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and Left Coast Crime) and talked with people there about the publishing process.

I attended the International Women's Writers Guild Meet the Agents forum in New York City (http://www.iwwg.com/) . I groveled in front of everyone I knew even remotely connected with the publishing business. And I suffered through multiple rejections and shouldered gamely forward, my skin toughening by the hour. Finally, I hired an independent editor to give me fairly inexpensive but useful feedback on my manuscript. When I'd finished my rewrites, she
directed me to several agents.

Around the same time, I dragged myself into New York City for a second round of the IWWG's Meet the Agents hysteria. One hundred and fifty wannabe writers crowded the hall to hear nine agents speak about their areas of interest. Then, as Hannelore Hahn, president of IWWG, put it, we rushed like wolves to the front of the room, and lined up to give our two minute pitches to the agent we felt most closely matched our interests. The agent I chose asked for a three-week exclusive look at my manuscript. I sent it off, working to keep my expectations low. Two weeks later she called with the news that a second agent had seen the manuscript on her desk, read it,
and wanted to represent me. Hurray!
Next came the agony of my agent passing the manuscript around to various editors and receiving polite rejections. After about six months of this, an editor at the Berkley Prime Crime imprint of Penguin Putnam expressed interest in my idea and my character with a caveat. They wanted my character to start out as a golfer, not a caddie. At home, I kicked and screamed
and said "no way!" On the phone, I argued politely and persuasively. But the editorial board felt that a series featuring a prime time player would sell better than if the character was in a supporting role; it was their way or no way. So, like Kenny Rogers, I knew when to fold'em, and Cassie Burdette went to the LPGA qualifying school in my first mystery, Six Strokes Under.

That was almost six years ago and my seventh book has just hit the bookstores: PREACHING TO THE CORPSE, second in the advice column mystery series (Berkley.) These are the only "secrets" I know: hone your craft, polish your work, toughen your hide, network, network, network. And repeat.
Good luck!
PREACHING TO THE CORPSE, Berkley Prime Crime, in stores now!

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  1. Hi, Roberta. Hope the tour is going well! Your interview was awesome. I guess we all have our "agony of getting published" stories!

  2. What a great story. Your research has served you well, and I can't wait to read this new one and its prequel.

    Best of luck!