by Grace Topping
Ever since Judy Penz Sheluk came out with her first book many years ago, I’ve followed her career with great interest. I’ve read the books in her Glass Dolphin and Marketville series, listened to them in audio, and followed her ups and downs in the publishing world, which included starting her own publishing imprint, Superior Shores Press. So when she wrote and published Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide, I knew it would contain a wealth of information.
I’ve read a number of books developed to help writers get their books published, but Judy’s book tops them all. This is definitely a book every writer needs to have on their reference shelf. It’s up to date with what’s happening in the publishing world. It’s also different in that Judy wrote it in first person, and it’s very conversational. Almost like she has a group of friends sitting around a campfire and she’s sharing everything she’s learned about publishing. By including her own personal experiences, the book goes beyond a simple “how-to” guide. It was a pleasure talking to Judy about her career and her terrific new book.
Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide
The road to publishing is paved with good intentions…and horror stories of authors who had to learn the hard way.
For the emerging author, the publishing world can be overwhelming. You’ve written the book, and you’re ready to share it with the world, but don’t know where to start. Traditional, independent press, hybrid, self-publishing, and online social platforms—all are valid publishing paths. The question is, which one is right for you?
Finding Your Path to Publication is an introduction to an industry that remains a mystery to those on the outside. Learn how each publishing option works, what to expect from the process start to finish, how to identify red flags, and avoid common pitfalls. With statistics, examples, and helpful resources compiled by an industry insider who’s been down a few of these paths, this is your roadmap to decide which path you’d like to explore, and where to begin your author journey.
Welcome back, Judy, to Writers Who Kill.
After years of writing mysteries and short stories, and publishing anthologies, you took the wealth of experience you gained along the way and published Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide.” What prompted you to produce this guide?
The germ of the idea started in November 2021, after I’d done a NaNoWriMo debriefing for my then local library— Failing (and Succeeding!) with NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an annual event with the challenge of writing 50,000 words during the month of November. When it came to the Q&A portion of the program, it became clear that most of the attendees were more interested in how to get published than chatting about whether they’d reached the 50,000-word mark. That led to the library requesting a workshop on publishing, and following that, one on self-publishing. Based on the number of attendees, and their thirst for knowledge, I knew there was an interest and a need, but I couldn’t find any single book that covered all the different paths to publication. I’m a complete pantser when it comes to writing fiction, but with this book, my library presentation—Finding Your Path to Publication—worked as an outline, and I liked the idea of going back to my roots as a journalist.
You spent a career writing and editing non-fiction. Why the move to writing fiction—specifically mysteries?
I’d been a journalist since 2003 and added magazine editor to my repertoire in 2005. I loved the work, especially my ten years as Senior Editor at New England Antiques Journal (2008-2018). But I’d wanted to write a novel since I was a kid. In 2012, I went to a mystery conference in Toronto (the now defunct Bloody Words) and meeting other authors, listening to them speak on panels, I thought, “I think I’m ready to try that now.”
I read the occasional historical fiction or autobiography, but my go-to has always been mystery and suspense. There’s something satisfying about trying to unravel clues and guess the ending. It seemed like a natural progression to try to write a mystery of my own. I never have an outline and am often surprised by whodunit (or why they done it!). Mostly though, writing is fun for me. It never feels like a job.
From writing mysteries and short stories, you took a major step setting up your own publishing venture, Superior Shores Press, which had to be a huge challenge. Please tell us about that.
That was 2018. My first book was published in 2015. By 2018, I’d been “orphaned” twice. One publisher closed and the other culled her author list down until she now only publishes her own titles. I decided I would try to start my own imprint and it’s proved to be the right decision for me.
I cover getting orphaned in Finding Your Path to Publication. It’s not as uncommon as some might think, and when it happens, those authors are often left struggling with what to do next. Self-publishing is one option, though there are others.
Do you plan to publish more anthologies?
I do. I published one in June of 2019, 2020 and 2021, then took a much-needed break. But I’m hoping to publish a new collection in Spring 2024. Interested authors should sign up for my newsletter, where I’ll announce the Call for Submissions first. http://eepurl.com/b4cQvP
Each new step in the publishing world is exciting and satisfying, such as having audio versions of your books produced. But having your books translated into German, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages, has to be beyond imagination. Please tell us how the translations came about?
The Chinese language rights came about as a result of being Chair of the Crime Writers of Canada Board of Directors. Crime Writers of Taiwan was starting and one of the CWC members, who I met at Left Coast Crime Vancouver, was on the Board of CWT. He interviewed me for their inaugural magazine and that led to interest in publishing Skeletons in the Attic. It released in the Asian marketplace (excluding mainland China) in March of this year.
The German translations are published by Superior Shores Press, my imprint. The translator, Petra Schmelzeisen, is native German but has lived in Canada for many years, and the proofreader, Mary, lives in Germany. We talked about possibilities and worked out terms. Right now, the first two Marketville books are live, and book three is almost ready. I feel very lucky to have Petra and Mary in my life.
I’ve also had some translations done through Babelcube, Inc., which is basically a publisher that brokers contracts between authors and translators for a share of the royalties. Nothing against the translators I worked with on the published books (they were great), but I’ve been extremely disappointed in Babelcube’s customer service and their lack of transparency when it comes to sales reporting and royalty payments. There are few decisions in life that I regret, but going with Babelcube is definitely one of them. I no longer accept translation requests through them.
You describe the books in your Glass Dolphin series as “cozy mysteries without the cats, crafts, or cookie recipes.” Why the distinction?
Marketing (laughs). Actually, there’s some truth in that. I was in one of those author “speed dating” rounds at Left Coast Crime Vancouver (2019), and they partnered me with Vicki Delany, who is seriously one of the most beloved and prolific cozy writers on the planet. And I thought…how am I going to distinguish myself and my books from Vicki? One of my book reviewers had mentioned that my books were clever cozies without the need for cats, crafts, or cookie recipes. I tried it out as we made the rounds and could tell it worked as a slogan. I’ve used it ever since.
Hopefully, we’ll see more books in your Glass Dolphin and Marketville series. Any plans for more books in these series or for a new series?
I’ve started a standalone suspense, but it’s been sidelined while I finish the Step-by-Step Guides (in addition to Path, I have one coming out this fall on Self-publishing). The Glass Dolphin series ended at three, and I’m happy at where the main characters landed in their lives.
That said, a couple of the characters from Glass have made guest appearances in the Marketville series. Because of that, I’ve toyed with the concept of a Glass Dolphin / Marketville mashup. I have a couple of ideas on how to do that, but I expect it will be 2024 before I get working on it with any sense of urgency.
Now that you’ve written two successful series, produced in audio and translated into multiple languages, set up your own press and published anthologies, and written a self-help book on becoming published, what challenges do you hope to take on next?
I’ve already mentioned the self-publishing guide coming this fall, another anthology, the possible mashup, plus the standalone suspense, which will be a new genre for me to write. I think that’s about all I can deal with right now (laughs).
Book promotion seems to be the bane of most writers. How do you balance writing, publishing, and promoting your books?
I accept that some days will be devoted to one of the three. I used to try to do a bit of each, every day, but that started to feel too much like work. There are some benefits to being your own boss.
Which one do you find the most challenging?
Promotion. Social media, especially. If I ever earn Stephen King money, I’ll hire someone to take care of all of that for me. If I wasn’t an author, I’d have no social media presence, but these days, it’s part of the deal.
Leaving big city life for a home along the shores of Lake Superior sounds like a dream come true for you and your husband. And from the photos of your dog, Gibbs, paddling in the lake, he’s also happy with the move. Has the change had an effect on your writing—caused you to be more creative?
Well, to be fair, I haven’t lived in a big city since I left Toronto at 23. I do best in small towns and have lived in a few of them. But living on the lake is quite spectacular, and it does boost the creative spirit to wake up next to the water. And Gibbs is definitely loving it here!
Since you started writing fiction, what is the most valuable thing you’ve learned along the way?
That the best place to get story ideas is from life. There’s an endless supply, as long as you’re willing to pay attention.
Thank you, Judy.
To learn more about Judy Penz Sheluk and her books, visit her at judypenzsheluk.com.
To obtain a copy of Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide:
Universal Buy Link: https://books2read.com/FindingYourPathtoPublication
Grace Topping is the author of the Laura Bishop Mystery Series.