Written by A Guest Author November 4th, 2021

Case Study: How Claudette on the Keys Got Published

By Joanne Culley 

The story I’d been working on had gone through multiple evolutions, from a strictly factual account, to a blend of fact and fiction, until it had reached the point where I was calling it a novel. The story was loosely based on the lives of my grandparents, a two-piano four-hands team who performed onstage and on radio during the 1930s. While daydreaming, my mind would occasionally wander ahead to what I would do if I ever finished it? How would I go about getting it out into the world? My mind was vague on that point, so I put it out of my head and continued writing.

I had been on the Authors Publish email list for a while, and always enjoyed their articles and tips about submitting to literary journals. When I learned they were offering a Manuscript Publishing for Novelists course in the fall of 2019, I signed up.

I appreciated the convenience of working on the course at home (little did I realize how prevalent that would become) and how Emily Harstone took us step by step through the stages of getting a manuscript ready for publication. The course covered polishing the first twenty pages, writing a hook and a query letter, researching agents and publishers, and more, with weekly homework. She stressed the need to follow the agents’ and publishers’ guidelines exactly so as not to be disqualified right off the bat. I liked that we could read and comment on fellow students’ work as that helped me look at my own writing with new eyes.

Once I finished the course, I put the notes in a binder on my shelf for future reference, and continued revising my manuscript.

In February 2020, I travelled to London, England to explore the city so that I could add veracity to my characters’ movements, along with doing research at the British Library. I’d write up my notes in the evenings back at the hotel while listening to the BBC news.  COVID cases were increasing by the day and I was worried that by the end of the week the airports might close. I did get home safely, but two weeks later the province declared a state of emergency. When my work writing for magazines declined due to the drop in advertising revenue, and I faced free time at home, I decided to buckle down and finally finish the book, which I did, a few months later.

In June 2020 I pulled out my notes from the Manuscript Publishing course and got busy. I set a goal for myself of querying three to five agents and/or publishers per week. Each submission took at least an hour, sometimes more. Some asked for a synopsis, some just a paragraph description of the book, while others wanted the whole manuscript. Some requested that the material be sent by email as attachments, others wanted hard copies to be mailed. As per Emily’s advice, I followed each requirement to the letter. Then the rejections started flowing in. I was impressed with the eloquent, encouraging words I received and the suggestions to go elsewhere. I tried not to dwell on them, but the one that said I didn’t write like Michael Ondaatje seemed to sting the most, even though I had no delusions that I wrote like him at all.

Eight months later, at the end of February 2021, I tallied up the numbers – I’d submitted to 47 Canadian, American and British agents along with 16 publishers that didn’t require an agent, for a total of 63 submissions. I’d received 26 rejections, and the remainder said it could take up to six months for them to respond, or if I hadn’t heard from them within a certain period, to assume rejection. I was losing my motivation and my submissions dwindled down to one a week. I wondered if I should give up altogether.

Then on March 10, 2021, Tina Crossfield of Crossfield Publishing in St. Mary’s, Ontario, sent me an email saying that she was very drawn to my story and writing style, and that she was prepared to offer me a contract, as she believed in the importance of the book! I re-read the email several times, then started to cry. All that work had finally paid off.

Claudette on the Keys was launched on September 24, 2021 to much media attention in newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. I am still pinching myself and thankful that the email about the Manuscript Publishing for Novelists course landed in my inbox two years ago.

Bio: Joanne Culley’s novel Claudette on the Keys is available from Chapters-Indigo and www.crossfieldpublishing.com. For more information, please visit www.joanneculley.com, or like her book page at facebook.com/ClaudetteOnTheKeysNOVEL.

Editor’s Note: This article mentions the course Manuscript Publishing for Novelists, however it is important to note that a lot of the content in that course is also available for free, minus personal feedback, in eBook form here. Also if you identify as BIPOC, Emily Harstone offers scholarships which you can apply for here.


This is the first in a planned series about how authors published their debut books. If you want to participate, please send us an email with a pitch to submissions@authorspublish.com.


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