No Cinderella Story Here, More Like the Swamp Thing’s Journey Toward Publication

swamp_thing I’m here to tell you that if I can get published, so can you …

OK, honesty required: I had no clue what to write for this post. Lisa the Martyr read her fellow debutantes’ posts about their so-called hardships when it came to finding agents or selling their books — pleeeease! I’m the novelist swamp thing who dragged myself out of the publishing trenches and lived to tell the tale over a decade later. <pity party here>

Talk about needing to get a grip. Comparing my journey to my fellow debutantes’ journeys — and, worse still, finding myself the loser — was ridiculous. We all have different life circumstances. The truth is, I persisted despite two major bouts of depression, three literary-agent sob stories, and dire financial repercussions from the danged economic downturn. I know plenty of writers who have quit for less.

I’m the friggin’ poster child for persistence!!! (I just stole some of Lori’s exclamation points. See Monday’s post.)

And the truth of the matter is that it didn’t actually take me that long to find each of my agents. Each time, within a year. One time, within weeks. So what happened? Do I have phenomenally bad luck? Maybe so. Luck is a fickle mistress. We can never know which way she will go, which is another reason not to compare our journeys against anyone else’s.

I’ll tell you the story about how I lost my first agent, who worked at a New York City Prestigious Boutique Agency (PBA). The reason I relate this particular anecdote out of the oodles of possibilities is because our topic this week relates to “the call.” This was a call all right, but the anti-call, the sucking maw of a call that left me going, “Huh? What just happened?”

I was the caller, calling my PBA agent because I hadn’t heard from her in awhile and I had a question. I got the switchboard as usual. Press 1 for A, press 2 for B … Press 10 for J … Wait a second. Her name was no longer listed on the switchboard, so … Nah, this had to be some kind of oversight, that was all.

I dialed zero and spoke to one of the other agents. My agent had apparently flown the coop never to be seen again in the land of publishing. To be a stay-at-home mom. I’m all for stay-at-home moms, but that pissed me off. Really? And you couldn’t have given me a heads up?

Worse still, come to find out that the agent I was talking to had inherited me, and he wasn’t too thrilled about it either. You can see where that relationship went. Nowhere.

My first sob story occurred toward the end of 2008, just in time for my writing grant money to run out and the economic downturn to peak. This was one of the many times I almost quit fiction. In fact, I did quit KILMOON for awhile. While in my prolonged funkitude, I wrote a novel that will never see the light of day. The dreaded “autobiograpical” novel, which was perfect for my state of mind and kept me writing and was probably the best thing for me at the time. I used to discuss it during my therapy sessions.

That all seems like a bumpy lifetime ago, and I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m proud of myself. I really am. I’m here to tell you that if I can get published, so can you. After all, even the swamp thing got his Adrienne Barbeau in the end.

So, readers, tell me about a time you felt like a swamp thing but prevailed anyhow.

Author: Lisa Alber

Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (March 2014). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging at Lisa Alber's Words at Play round out her distractions. Visit her at

15 Replies to “No Cinderella Story Here, More Like the Swamp Thing’s Journey Toward Publication”

  1. Great post Lisa. It’s amazing how often persistence, even when there’s no obvious reason to persists, pays off as it has for you. I hope you’ll also share how you got the agent that has worked so well for you in a future post.

    1. You know our stories are a little similar, Lisa. I was a Maui Writer’s golden girl that Liz, Terry and a few others fully believed in and how I appreciated their encouragement! Liz was the first person to publish my work (short story) and several more after that. I owe so much to her. I even won some awards and got that coveted NY agent at a Pacific NW Writer’s Conference. But then he fizzled out on me for reasons that were budget and economy related like so many of us caught in that tighten the hatches terrible time when only the tried and true were taken a chance on. I didn’t write a memoir at that point. I just put the manuscripts in a file and forgot about them until I got laid off from my job 4 years later and there they were staring at me. I decided to go with a small publisher that was a perfect match for me and loved my work. No regrets! It’s a fairy tale ending… except for the constant angst of marketing and promoting…. (;

    2. Thanks, Stephen! Being persistent was one of the best pieces of advice I got early on — and from the fabulous Elizabeth George, no less! She said that we’re always where we need to be. Of course, this isn’t such a great consolation when things suck, but I remembered her advice.

  2. OK, now that you’ve survived it, you can see it’s hilarious, right? That your agent stopped being an agent and didn’t think to mention it? You can have some of my exclamation points. Here: !!!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your !!!!!s…I needed them to write this post. It does make for a great anecdote. It’s the oddest way I’ve heard to find out you no longer have any agent…Hah!

  3. Lisa, I’m so glad you persisted … and prevailed! I have a nine-year march to publication myself, and I know how hard the journey can be at times, so I’m really glad to hear that you overcame – because now I get to read KILMOON!! (Well, soon anyway!)

    1. Thanks for visiting, Susan! I remember reading tidbits about your journey when you were a deb, and thinking, Wow, she worked hard and kept putting it out there. My friends think all this fiction-writing stuff’s gotta be fun, that it’s nothing like trying to get a “real” career going! HAH! Fiction is the most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted to do. But also the most worthwhile.

  4. I needed to read this. Being a doctoral student (political science) and attempting to maintain my creative non-fiction writing life seems like the most absurd form of masochism ever. But, as other writers understand, I cannot NOT write. And I need the balance, otherwise I’ll burn out on either end. I feel as though I’m a rat navigating a maze and every bump against a wall takes me to the right or the left, but never forward. Slowly, though, I’m starting to see that I am getting somewhere. I just have to constantly evaluate whether that “somewhere” is where I want to be.

    Thanks again for such a humorous, honest post about the not-so-ideal aspects of the pursuit of publishing. Cheers!

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