How I got my book published

Now that this piece was rejected for inclusion into the Authors Publish anthology, I’m free to post it here. Hopefully my experience and perseverance and will to get my book published will inspire other authors to keep sending their work out. Please don’t give up. It’s worth it in the long run.

How I Got My Book Published

By Madeline Sharples

Two years and sixty-eight queries later I finally got a book contract with a small press the now defunct, Lucky Press.

I found Lucky Press through the the Publishers Instant Alert Service, and followed the submittal instructions so carefully that in her response, the publisher told me my query letter was perfect. (The instructions said: Send query by email with cover letter, short bio, how you can help with marketing, 300-500 word synopsis, and first chapter, all pasted into the body of the email. No attachments. Write “Manuscript Query” in the subject line.)

With that and her request to send her my manuscript, I thought I had it made.

Lucky Press was interested in books about coping with grief, what I thought was a perfect fit for my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide.


Not so fast. After the publisher read the book, she rejected it in its present form. Two other comments so confused me: it needed more “the why of the book as it relates to the reader,” and “there is something careful in the way you have written the manuscript,” that I didn’t hesitate to email her again and ask her what she meant. And she was kind enough to respond. Essentially she wanted a complete rewrite of the second half of the book to include more about you, your husband, your other son, how one goes on. Her lengthy comments were so helpful that I began a rewrite plan so I could begin querying again.

However, about two weeks later I heard from the Lucky Press publisher again. She had found my blog, read and loved a few of my poems, and requested we keep the lines of communication open. She said if I was open to her editorial suggestions she thought we could work together to publish my book. She suggested we talk in two months.

Was I open? You bet. I immediately contacted a good friend, also a writer. She read my manuscript and together we developed a plan and outline for revising my book.

Here are a few of the points of my plan:

  • Tell my son Paul’s story in the first half of the book, and start the second half just after his funeral
  • Provide the steps I and my husband and our other son took to survive in the second half I gave my husband and son Ben each a list of questions to answer
  • Include descriptions on where we all were in our survival process right after Paul died, a few years later, and at the present time.
  • Finish the book with an Epilogue that shows that we all made it through a description of Ben’s wedding in the garden of our home the house so many people had urged us to get rid of after Paul died.

When the two months came around I emailed the publisher again asking her specifically if she wanted to see the manuscript again she did and if she wanted to see my list of changes that responded to her original comments she did. She also gave me the times she’d be available to talk on the telephone that week. She surprised me in that same email by telling me her thoughts about making a decision to publish my book by the end of the month.

During our telephone conversation, she spoke so positively that I decided to go for it. I asked her if she had decided to publish my memoir, and without skipping a beat, she said yes, and that she wanted to release it on Mother’s Day. That would give us ten months six months for me to revise the book and four months for her to edit, produce, and distribute the document. She said she would also get her public relations person involved to help jumpstart a marketing campaign, though, as she explained, her authors she had over twenty on her list would have to do most of the work themselves heavily using social media.

Because she is also an artist she took it upon herself to restyle my blog, suggest adding photos along with the poetry in my book (she even suggested I add more poems), design my page on her website, and create an advertising flyer and bookmark. I was elated about all of that.

Though Lucky Press didn’t offer an advance, it did pay for the final book edit and all publishing and distribution costs. However, I had to agree to buy two hundred copies I still have forty in my garage. She published my book in a hard copy edition in May 2011, promising to produce a paperback the following year.

That never happened. About a year after my memoir’s release, the Lucky Press publisher surprised all of the authors on her list that she was going out of business. She shut down everything: her website, links, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble accounts. She turned over the rights to my book to me, recommending that I self publish if I wanted to keep selling my book. She signed her last emails to me, Believing in you and your message of strength and life, still.¦

However, I had another idea. I called my mentor (a CEO of another publishing firm) who had helped me with my query letter and book proposal, and asked for his advice. And he gave me the name of another publisher, Mike O’Mary of Dream of Things without hesitation. I contacted Mike via email on May 29, 2012, he responded immediately, we then spoke on the telephone, and by June 10, 2012 I had a contract to sign. Using the Photoshop and QuarkXpress files that I bought from Lucky Press for $250.00 when it went out of business, changing the cover flaps, adding a Reading Group Guide at the back of the book, making minor editorial changes, creating a new title page, and updating my Amazon page, Dream of Things was able to release paperback and eBook editions of Leaving the Hall Light On, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble on August 20, 2012. And we’ve happily stayed together ever since.


Please share your publishing stories in the comments below. Let’s commiserate!


  1. Hello, your blog helped me out a lot because i am also trying to publish a poetry manuscript. I have a publishinghouse that wants to publiah me but they are out of state. Do you have any suggestions?

Speak Your Mind