Guest Post: My Publishing Journey by Author Erika Robuck

We’ve discussed many times how women’s fiction is a broad umbrella.  For me, there’s a lot of historical fiction that fits nicely underneath — and that I love to read.  So, no, not all historical fiction fits the bill — but when it does — I love it (note to self: time to find more historical fiction authors for WFW). 

Erika Robuck has a great online presence and that’s how I found her. I knew that Erika, and her upcoming book, Hemingway’s Girl, were perfect for Women’s Fiction Writers.  I’m also hoping Erika will come back once HG hits bookstores and libraries in 2012!

Please welcome Erika to Women’s Fiction Writers!

My Publishing Journey

by Erika Robuck

My love of writing began when I was seven. I composed a terrible play about a king who falsely accused a jester of stealing his crown. It was just one page but very poignant, I thought. Then I moved onto poetry and song writing. After two awful novels—one in middle school and one in high school—college brought a lot of angst-filled short fiction and essays.

About ten years ago when my first son was born, the novel again surfaced, demanding my attention. My son’s naptimes allowed me regular blocks of time to devote to writing, and I completed my first novel about a haunted, Caribbean sugar plantation, called RECEIVE ME FALLING. After several years of revisions and rewrites, I started to query agents. My query letter had almost no relevant biography. I had no publishing experience or web presence of any kind. I received some requests for partial and full reads of the manuscript, but I kept getting rejections that had to do more with me and my lack of platform and experience than the novel itself. I also heard from more than one agent that novels set in two time periods by first time writers were very difficult to sell, but to please consider submitting in the future if I wrote another manuscript.

In the meantime, some friends of mine in book clubs asked to read the book. My husband encouraged me to self-publish. At first I dismissed the suggestion. There was, at the time, a heavy stigma against writers who self-published and I didn’t want to make any mistakes in my writing career. My goal was always to get a traditional publisher. I started to think more seriously about it, however, when I read an article about a woman who self-published with great success, and went on to get a contract with a traditional publisher. My book club friends continued to ask for the book. Finally I decided that I’d self-publish, see how many sales and reviews I could get, and hopefully, find my way to a traditional publisher.

I’m very happy with my decision. RECEIVE ME FALLING sold well and I got many good reviews. I also started blogging, guest blogging, reviewing books, and attending more conferences. I wrote a new novel set entirely in 1935, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, and worked with both a writing partner and critique group throughout the process. I received a scholarship to the Breakout Novel Intensive based on the first fifty pages of the book, and at the conference, received the feedback of a panel of editors that helped propel my manuscript to a new place.

My beloved book clubs started asking for the new novel, but I felt strongly that a traditional publisher would take it. I decided to try to pitch agents. If the response was strong I’d try the traditional route. If the response was lukewarm I’d consider rewriting it and self-publishing again. With HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, 95% of the agents I queried requested a partial within a week of receiving the letter. 50% of them asked for a full read. One of them asked for an excusive read, which I very politely refused. Ultimately, I chose Kevan Lyon for her quick response time, our rapport on the phone, her vision for the book, her love of historical fiction, and her enthusiasm.

We spent a couple of weeks putting the final polish on the manuscript and then Kevan started querying. I again received a very positive response from the publishers, with many requests for full reads. In the end, we accepted NAL’s offer for a two-book deal, and HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is due out in September of 2012.

There were many times along the journey when I wanted to quit, when my skin wasn’t thick enough, when it felt like I was spending too much time and money on a hobby that was making me frustrated and difficult to be around when it wasn’t going well. The odds often seemed impossible.

The support of my family and friends, tribe building through social media, and plain stubbornness finally helped me reach my goal. I am thankful every day for all of the support of the writers, bloggers, reviewers, book clubs, friends, and family who encouraged me.

And now, in the wise words of one of my Breakout Novel editors, the work begins.

* * *

HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is the story of a young woman in Key West who takes a job as a housekeeper for Ernest Hemingway to support her widowed mother and save for a charter boat business. She finds herself caught between an unexpected flirtation with the writer and a relationship with a WWI vet and boxer working on the overseas highway. Storms brewing in her relationships come to crisis as a hurricane threatens to destroy the Keys and all those she holds dear. From the bars and boxing rings of Key West to the Bahamian island of Bimini, Hemingway’s Girl explores the worth of the individual, the gulf between the classes, and the boundaries of human hunger.

Erika Robuck was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. Inspired by the cobblestones, old churches, Georgian homes, and mingling of past and present from the Eastern Shore, to the Annapolis City Dock, to the Baltimore Harbor, her passion for history is constantly nourished. Her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, is a best books awards finalist in historical fiction from USA Book News, and her second novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, will be published by NAL/Penguin in September of 2012.

Erika is a contributor to popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, has guest blogged on Jane Friedman’s There Are No Rules, and maintains her own blog called Muse. She is a member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, The Hemingway Society, and The Historical Novel Society. She spends her time on the East Coast with her husband and three sons.

www.erikarobuck.com


33 thoughts on “Guest Post: My Publishing Journey by Author Erika Robuck

  1. I love your new book’s premise — fascinating; looking forward to reading it. And it’s so interesting and inspirational to read the path different writers take. Thank you for sharing & thanks for another great interview, Amy!

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  2. Pingback: Guest Blogging « Muse

    • Great question, Amy!

      My best advice: it’s all about the next book. In short, keep writing. If you want a traditional publisher, writing shouldn’t be about one book, it should be about a career. When you finish your first book, write another. It will a) distract you from the long and often, unsatisfying query process, b) prove to agents and publishers that you’re in it for the long haul (they all ask what you’re working on now), and c) prove to yourself that your biggest and best ideas are yet to come, and not to put all of your hopes and dreams on one book.

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      • You’re so right, Erika (no surprise)!

        Even if the writing “after” doesn’t end up where you want it, you have to keep going. I have a 2/3 of a manuscript tucked away and it will probably never see daylight again. I have notes and about 10K words of another. I’ve also written short stories and been published. Now my WIP is something that’s sticking to me like this first one did — and I know it’s the one that’s meant to be written. Why? Because it’s completely organic and not really giving me any say in the matter.

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  3. Congratulations, Erika! It’s been so wonderful to see how your journey has unfolded, and I can’t wait to read Hemingway’s Girl! I remember finding your blog a few years ago when you had published Receive Me Falling, and then re-discovering it again when we connected on Twitter. You’ve been an inspiration every step of the way!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your journey–and for your honesty! I found it especially helpful to read about the queries and requests for partial/fulls and that you (very politely) turned down the request for an exclusive. Having just received (and granted – gulp!) an exclusive review request, I was wondering why you didn’t want to accept the exclusive? Was it time? The agent? Just didn’t feel right?
    Also – just wanted to say I’m so excited to see Hemingway’s Girl coming out. I actually remember seeing it come across the Publisher’s Marketplace Deals news blast! (The concept was so unique that I actually remember it among all those others!)

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    • Hi Sara,

      Congratulations on your exclusive request! I did not grant an exclusive because five other agents had asked for the full at that point, and I’d spoken to two of the them on the phone about it. It didn’t make sense to knock all of the others off the table for one agent, but she was very understanding when I explained my situation, and she read it anyway.

      Best of luck to you with your submission!

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      • Thanks so much for your response and well-wishes, Erika! I really appreciate it. This is the first agent I’ve queried, so maybe I should’ve cast my net more broadly (lol), but we’ll see what happens! 🙂

        In the meantime, so excited to get your book (love historical fiction!) and happy to have found you on here and your various social media platforms. BTW your Twitter no-no’s blog post (for those who haven’t seen it yet: http://erikarobuck.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/twitter-no-nos/) was super helpful to a Twitter newbie like me. Especially in view of what you said above about the importance of having a web presence.

        Thanks again and look forward to keeping up with your upcoming adventures. Any book tours in the works? (please?) 🙂

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  5. I love reading about your journey, Erika. So inspiring to hear about your tenacity and to see the successful path of your decisions. I see, Amy, also how historical fiction is also very much a part of the fold of women’s fiction. So happy for you, Erika.

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  6. In reference to your tribe, consider me on the Tribe Head Council. 🙂

    You inspire me daily and just love reading about your road to publishing no matter how many times I have heard it. You are one of the first writers I met when I dipped my big toe into the Wonderful World of Writers (that’s what the www. really stands for, you know) and you’ve always reached out with a helping hand. I am so thrilled to have watched your success unfold and look forward to wading into deeper waters along with you.

    xo,
    Hal

    P.S. Fans of Erika-don’t wait for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL to read her writing. RECEIVE ME FALLING is fantastic.

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  7. Just loving this post. I always enjoy reading your posts Erika, whenever I come across them here and there, and never fail to leave without some golden “writers” nugget. Your experience from book #1 to #2 is so interesting and inspirational and I sincerely thank you for sharing. And absolutely count me as another reader anxious and ready for Hemingway’s girl 🙂

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  8. Thanks, Nina.

    Sara, my publicist said he didn’t think a book tour would be doable, but we’ll decide once we get closer to publication. We did discuss a few targeted signings that might make more sense; namely, Oak Park, IL, where Hemingway was born, and I’ve already gotten the okay from the Hemingway House book store in Key West.

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  9. I love reading about the journeys of other writers and how they got to be published. Your story was inspirational and I loved your tips for “keep on writing that next novel”. Hemingway’s Girl sounds like a great read as well. Thanks for telling us about it.
    Patti

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  10. What a terrific story of perseverance! Thanks for this post, Amy. So encouraging! And thanks, Erika, for sharing the way you pursued your dream, invested yourself in your craft, and found ways to bring your stories to readers.

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  11. Thank you, Erika and Amy for sharing this delightfully uplifting story. Though I’d already heard about Erika’s path to traditional publication, reading this is like hearing it for the first time — full of discoveries and inspiration. Erika, I love that you turned down a request for an exclusive. So many people will do WHATEVER agents ask in the hopes of hooking one. And I’m excited to hear that Hemingway’s Girl is set entirely in 1935 — no alternating present-day story line. I’m often disappointed by those present-day alternations when I read books structured that way. Bring on the past!

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