Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Honored to have Holly West swing by today. First, let me remind you that you can get a free gift if you grab Dan O'Shea's lovely Old School collection. I'm offering up Dan's reading of my "Champion" story if you'll grab his shorts. Details here.

Now, on to Diary of Bedlam. I'll admit that I don't read a ton of historical mysteries, but if more of them were like this one, I damn sure would. Folks who like Tasha Alexander's work are going to love this book from Holly West. Her novel really nails the historical and the fiction -- the period work is spot-on and the mystery-telling has great momentum. Diary Of Bedlam is one of my favorites from the last couple of years. I sincerely hope all of you get a chance to read this one soon. I also hope Holly keeps these books going. -- Steve



By Holly West

I started writing my first novel, Diary of Bedlam, in June 2008, the summer I turned 40. I don’t remember thinking “I’m gonna be 40, life is passing me by, I gotta write a novel NOW.” I’d simply reached a point where I was ready. Good thing, too, because if I’d have known then it was going to take me nearly four years to write a novel (and still not be published), I might never have started.

I’ve reached a pivotal stage in the life of Diary of Bedlam--I’m officially querying agents. It’s actually the second round of querying for this novel, but really, whose counting?

When Steve Weddle asked me to write a WHAT I’VE LEARNED guest post for Do Some Damage, I accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. After four years, I must’ve learned something, right?

Here is the itemized list:

1) I am an obscenely talented writer.
2) I’m a no-talent hack.

Depending upon the status of my agent search, one or the other of these realizations will strike without warning, sometimes alternating by the half-hour.

It is maddening.

Like any writer I struggled between these extremes throughout the writing of Diary of Bedlam. It’s kind of a natural part of the process. During the worst times I wanted to quit, but I’d already revealed I was writing Diary of Bedlam on Facebook and Twitter and we all know what’s posted on the Internet stays on the Internet. There was no turning back, so I got used to the self-doubt and forged ahead.

But nothing activates the talent/no talent switch like querying.

My best advice for combating this soul-sucking state is write a few short stories and submit them to various outlets, like Needle magazine or Shotgun Honey. Getting accepted by your peers really helps to bolster your confidence. Keep writing, keep submitting. Hone those skills.

3) Joining Twitter was the best thing I’ve done for my writing career.

About this, I do not joke. Virtually every opportunity I’ve had with regard to writing has come about due to Twitter, or more accurately, people I’ve met on Twitter.

For example, I’ve had four agents contact me via Twitter asking me to submit my manuscript after seeing my profile (which is essentially just a link to my query letter).

At first, my only goal was to learn about the publishing industry and I followed every writer/publisher/agent/editor I could find. I did a lot of listening and a little interacting. It didn’t take long to become a part of the community, but the key here is creating relationships—not just promoting your latest book.

4) Just because an agent asks for more material doesn’t mean they’re about to sign you.

I’ve had a great response to my query letter, with a 35%-40% request rate for fulls or partials. The first time this happened the agent responded to my query within 24 hours and asked to see the full manuscript. With my brilliance thus confirmed, I expected an offer of representation would be forthcoming. She replied a few days later with an email saying she hadn’t connected with my protagonist and was therefore passing on the project.

I’m not gonna lie. I shed a few tears.

Then it happened again and again and I realized that a request for more material doesn’t constitute a marriage proposal. It’s just a request for more material.

5) Hope actually does spring eternal.

It’s tough not to get bogged down by the numbers. Agents report receiving two hundred or more queries per week and only end up signing two or three new clients a year. And honestly, I don’t even know the numbers when it comes to actually getting published. I don’t want to know, the same way I don’t want to know what a hotdog is made of.

The thing is, throughout the writing of Diary of Bedlam, I’ve met a whole lot of aspiring authors just like me who are now published. And let’s not forget that agents are out there actively looking for us—they need us as much as we need them. Yeah, I know it doesn’t always feel that way but it’s true. Just because the numbers err in their favor doesn’t mean they aren’t genuinely interested in finding their next big client.

That just might be me (or you. But hopefully me).

Thanks to Steve Weddle and the rest of the Do Some Damage crew for letting me visit!

Bio: Holly West lives, reads, and writes in Southern California. Her short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir and Shotgun Honey. She recently completed her first novel, Diary of Bedlam, and is currently seeking representation. Find her online at


Thomas Pluck said...

Keep fighting, you got the chops and thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I've stepped in the ring with a UFC fighter, but I get nervous thinking about querying editors and agents.
At some point you have to get cocky, and think "is this editor/agent smart enough to see how good this is (or can be)?"
What? you're not throwing yourself prostrate at their feet begging for approval? Uh, no. If you didn't think your book was good, why the fuck do you want others to read it?

I've done rewrites of stories for editors. If you respect the editor/agent (you have researched the books they've represented and edited, haven't you?) you realize that this isn't the time for butting heads, unless they are tearing the heart out of the story to replace it with their own. They know what they can sell. If you want them to sell it, you will compromise on something you can both live with.
Or you will decide to go with a different agent.
Getting to that point seems like more than half the battle. You're getting positive responses, and while there may be uphill stretches, you've broken away from the pack and are running with the pros now.

Nick said...

Thanks for the information. It's good to know what writers go through. Best of luck with the book.

Ron Dionne said...

Interesting post. I'm surprised at the value you place on Twitter. I may need to rethink my judgment that it's fun but mostly carping and self-promotion (the latter gets very tiresome).
What do you think of Facebook for marketing?

Anonymous said...

Had the same thing happen with three agents. They like you. Then they read what you send and it is not a fit for what they do or they did not like what you did or they found someone else to take your place. I cry, too. I know.

Holly West said...

Ron, Facebook is good, but I've used it differently (although increasingly the way I use Twitter & Facebook are merging). I tend to keep Twitter for mostly writing stuff and Facebook is more personal, perhaps because when I initially joined Twitter I did it for the sole purpose of learning about and connecting w/ the publishing industry.

For me Twitter/Facebook are just jumping off points--I've made an effort to meet many of the people I've connected with there at conferences or at book signings, etc. Not saying you have to do that but for me it's been good.