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Most published writers encounter variations of the same questions and comments:

1. Where do you get your ideas?

2. How does one get published?

3. My life would make a great novel.

My responses:

1. Talk about serendipity! Almost anything can spark a train of “what ifs”—a news item, a “Dear Abby” item, an overheard conversation. What if that happened in Regency England? Under what circumstances could such a thing happen then? To whom? How? A footnote or a side story in research can serve as well. What if thus and such happened to women instead of men? Or persons of a different class or ethnic group? A family legend or crisis can be modified (and disguised) to fit your genre. A friend gave me a sweatshirt bearing the message “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” Well, I admit it: it’s true! So I guess the answer to no. 1 is: You can find a story anywhere—just stay alert to possibilities. And I have to add: I am really, really jealous when I read a great story based on an incident or idea that I overlooked!

2. Getting published? Again: Serendipity. I sent out numerous letters to editors and agents (numerous translates as lots and LOTS. Finally, I stumbled onto a wonderful agent. The story involving an intern in her office is too long to recount here, but take it from me—it was sheer chance! Jane Jordan Browne’s death in 2005 was one of the most devastating events of my adult life. She sold my first book to Kensington and introduced me to John Scognamiglio who is the only “real” editor with whom I’ve worked.

After Jane’s death—and an auto accident—I hit a hiatus in my writing. When I finally got back to writing, I wrote a novel set in WWII instead of the Regency period in which I had always worked previously. I tried over 200 times (!) to get an agent interested in that book. Finally self-published. That was a hassle—and financially—so far—a fiasco, though dozens of people have liked it. So now I am happily back at Kensington with ebooks. How did that happen? By chance, of course.
And how DOES one get an agent or submit a proposal to an editor? Lots and lots of query letters. Buy your stamps in 100-count rolls! And try not to become discouraged by a stream of stock replies, all saying the same thing: “Your work does not fit our needs.” I must add that most book editors and many magazine editors, too, will consider only agented material. “Over the transom” is ancient history—more’s the pity! It is Catch 22. You can’t interest an editor without an agent and most agents want to work with writers already published—and in a specific genre at that.

3. To No. 3 above, one can say nothing other than, “Well, write it then!”