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How to be in the Right
Place at the Right Time:
How I Got Published
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 Im being flippant when I say,
Write the book. Thats 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 wed 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
didnt have completed manuscripts yet. I was too
sheepish to read aloud the one and only step Id
written: Finish my book.
My writing improved the most after I had finished a full
draft of the whole novel. Theres a great Isaac
Asimov quote that says, Its 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 youre talking about a story as
an abstract idea, youve got nothing.
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 and workshops.
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
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 didnt 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
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
didnt 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
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,
shed 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 Im 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 Im 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
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.
Ive never forgotten that my editors first
question was, Is that book finished?
If the answer is yes, it might just be the right time.
© 2005 Katrina Kittle
About the Author:
Katrina Kittle 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 Childrens Theatre in
Washington Township, OH, and teaches theater and English
to middle schoolers at the Miami Valley School in Dayton,
OH, where she lives.
For more information, please visit www.katrinakittle.com
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