Few writers are lucky enough to effortlessly land an agent, a book deal, and insane popularity with legions of readers and publishers fawning over their debut novel with gushing five-star reviews and six-figure advances (sounds heavenly though, doesn’t it?).
For most aspiring authors, getting a book published is like hand-to-hand combat: you have to power through an army of mighty and equally crippling rejections and still somehow believe in your talent and story enough not to chuck the manuscript—and your wilting aspirations—in the trash for good.
J.J. Murphy, author of the Algonquin Roundtable Mysteries featuring Dorothy Parker, kindly stopped by to share his experience in trying to get published and how after sixty rejections, he finally nabbed a three-book deal.
Q: If you could go back and give yourself advice when you were first writing the book and trying to get an agent, what would it be?
JJM: Don’t give up. I had almost given up hope just before my agent contacted me to say he’d take me on as a client. I like to say that any idiot can write a novel (and many of them do!)—all it takes is persistence to get published.
Q: You won the coveted prize most authors dream of: getting a three-book deal. Did this come overnight?
JJM: I’m afraid my route to publishing was rather routine. After writing the manuscript, I mailed out dozens of query letters. Fifty or sixty rejections later, one good agent took me on as a client. Within a month, he had snared me a three-book contract.
However, the moment the call came was not so routine. I was home alone with my twin daughters, who were just five years old at the time. I was getting lunch ready for them, and I was also waiting for a worker from the water department to come check the water meter. Everything seemed to happen at once: The phone rang. It was my agent calling, saying he had good news. The doorbell rang. It was the water guy to check on the meter. The oven timer went “ding.” The chicken nuggets were ready for the twins’ lunch. My dog went crazy over the water meter guy, as though they were long-lost friends. My agent tried to tell me the good news, but I had to put the phone down to peel the dog off the water meter guy and show him to the basement. Then I had to get the chicken nuggets out of the oven before they burned. Meanwhile, my agent is telling me he had meetings with several publishers, and two of them showed interest.
I heard laughing up in my daughters’ room, and they came hopping down the stairs. They had decided this would be a perfect day to try out toenail polish for the very first time. I had to put the phone down again to make sure there wasn’t bright red nail polish spilled all over their bedroom floor. Fortunately, there wasn’t. Quickly I got back on the phone with my agent. He said one publishing house decided to say no, but the other publishing house said yes. But the water meter guy had come back up from the basement, and the dog was going crazy again. The girls were laughing. I got the water meter guy safely out the front door, and the dog and the kids settled down—and I finally got the good news from my agent that he had signed me to a three-book deal. Thrilled, I told my daughters the good news.
“Where’s our lunch?” they replied. And that’s how I learned that my first book had sold.
Q: The characters in your novels are beloved figures—Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, William Faulkner, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. How much research went in to capturing the characters and the era?
JJM: A lot. But I hope it doesn’t show. I don’t want readers to feel they’re getting a history lesson when they’re reading the Algonquin Round Table Mysteries. I want to give the reader the experience of being among these witty writers, like a fly on the wall. So I immersed myself in their writings to at least do a serviceable job of speaking in their voices. A lot of people have told me that reading one of my books is like sitting down for lunch and laughs with the real Round Table. That’s all I can hope for.
Q. How did you get the idea for your books? Do you have a favorite of the three?
JJM: It started with the title of the first book, MURDER YOUR DARLINGS. All writers and editors know the advice to “murder your darlings.” It means to delete those words or phrases that you, as a writer, deem exceptional—delete them because they probably stand out like a sore thumb. I knew about Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, and somehow I had the notion that Dorothy had come up with that advice. So, I wanted to write about this fun group who shared the spotlight back in the Roaring 20s. But I needed to give them something to do. I’ve always loved mysteries, so when I combined that with the title, the notion of putting these real-life characters into a murder mystery suddenly sprang to life.
The third book, A FRIENDLY GAME OF MURDER, is my favorite because the whole story takes place within the Algonquin Hotel. The characters are trapped inside on New Year’s Eve due to a blizzard and a quarantine. A dead body is found in a bathtub, so Dorothy Parker and her pals know they’re locked inside with a murderer. But Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, happens to be along to help solve the mystery (reluctantly so). And the game is afoot!
Q: If your Dorothy Parker series were to hit the big screen, what actors (past or present) would you like to play their characters?
JJM: Unfortunately, there’s no movie in the works. But, funny you should ask, because I have a “game” on my website to allow readers to pick which actors they’d choose to play Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. Take a look and vote for yourself: http://www.roundtablemysteries.com/cast_the_movie.html – www.roundtablemysteries.com/cast_the_movie.html