How to be in the Right Place at the
Right Time: How I Got Published
Copyright © 2005 Katrina Kittle
- All Rights Reserved
Author of The Kindness of
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls
and looks like work.”
Once my first novel was published, I was astounded at the
number of people who asked me for advice. I want to be helpful. Many
people helped me along my way, so I give my advice with all sincerity.
People think I’m being flippant when I say, “Write the
book. That’s my advice.”
But I mean it. That is how I got published.
When I attended the wonderful Antioch Writers’ Workshop
in Yellow Springs, Ohio, for the first time in 1995, Sue Grafton was my
fiction teacher. She advised us to make 5-year plans for our writing
lives, and to list the steps we’d take to achieve our goals. I listened
to classmates read aloud such steps as “Find an agent” and “Attend the
Maui conference to network with editors” and was puzzled. Some of them
didn’t have completed manuscripts yet. I was too sheepish to read aloud
the one and only step I’d written: “Finish my book.”
My writing improved the most after I had finished a full
draft of the whole novel. There’s a great Isaac Asimov quote that says,
“It’s the writing that teaches you.” Once you have a story
actually on paper, you can then begin to edit and revise and learn from
it. As long as you’re talking about a story as an abstract idea, you’ve
I read every book I could find about the craft of writing
fiction. I did the exercises in those books and applied what I learned
to further revisions in my novel. I kept attending writing conferences
Years later, I began the process of carefully researching
agents, and over the course of a year, queried seventeen of them. Three
of the seventeen asked to see the first fifty pages. One of those three
asked to see the entire manuscript.
That agent gave me a professional read and several
suggested revisions. She ultimately passed on the book because she had
recently agreed to represent another novel that dealt with AIDS and she
didn’t feel she could return to the editors with such similar material.
Although each rejection of course came with a natural
sting, I was not unduly discouraged yet. I knew I was just beginning
this process and many more rejections would likely follow.
Buoyed by this “good rejection,” I attended the Antioch
Writers’ Workshop again, for the fourth time and as a workfellow. I
received tuition in exchange for doing several hours of work for the
conference. One of my jobs was driving guests back and forth to the
airport. One of the guests that year was an editor from Warner Books.
I attended her talk. She was vivacious and bubbly, a
lovely person clearly passionate about what she did. But, she explained
that she mainly acquired nonfiction and stressed that Warner did not
look at unagented material. Although I learned a great deal from her
talk, I didn’t think she was a person I should approach about my novel.
That same day, I was selected from my class to read my
first chapter to the entire conference. The editor attended the reading.
I saw her in the back row.
I was assigned to drive the editor to the airport the
next morning. I needed to pick her up at 5:30 AM. That night we
experienced one of the violent summer thunderstorms for which this part
of Ohio is infamous. Power was knocked out in my dorm. I awoke to my
alarm clock flashing “12:00. 12:00. 12:00.” I grabbed my watch. It was
5:20 AM. Fortunately, I had time to brush my teeth, but that was about
it. I put on a ballcap and left in the t-shirt and awful tie-dyed shorts
I had slept in.
The editor was waiting outside her bed-and-breakfast when
I pulled up. Even at that ungodly hour, she was cheerful and friendly.
Her first words upon getting into my car were, “I really liked what you
read last night. Is that book finished?”
The book was finished.
The storms had left a thick, clinging fog hovering over
the corn and soybean fields. As I slowly drove, squinting through the
murk, the editor asked me several probing questions about the book. I
thought she was just being polite, making conversation.
The fog delayed her flight. We spent three hours together
at the airport. We ate breakfast -- me still in my awful shorts and
ballcap -- and by the time she flew away, she’d invited me to send her
the entire manuscript.
I did, of course. The very next day.
Four months later, she called to say she loved it and
Warner wanted to buy it.
Magical words. I did a little dance in my kitchen and
frightened my cat.
I could then call an agent and say, “Warner wants to buy
it. Will you represent me?”
My editor and I often joked about that inauspicious foggy
morning -- and my bizarre attire.
Many people tell me I’m lucky. I am, I know. Publishing
is a tough, capricious business and I know many wonderful writers who
have trouble finding their work a home. But sometimes people say I’m
lucky in a dismissive, almost offended way, as if my publication plopped
down into my lap from the heavens. My editor herself corrected someone
once. A person, upon hearing this story, said to me, “Boy, were you at
the right place at the right time.” My editor smiled and said, “She was
at the right place at the right time with a finished manuscript.”
That made all the difference. What good would it have
done me to drive that editor to the airport otherwise?
Write your book. Revise your book. Polish your book. And
then put yourself in the right place.
I’ve never forgotten that my editor’s first question was,
“Is that book finished?”
If the answer is yes, it might just be the right time.
is the author of The Kindness of Strangers (William
Morrow; February 2006;
$24.95US/$32.95CAN; 0-06-056474-1), Traveling Light and Two
Truths and a Lie. She helped found the All Children’s Theatre in
Washington Township, OH,
and teaches theater and English to middle schoolers at the
in Dayton, OH,
where she lives.
information, please visit