Monday, October 30, 2017

"Don't Sign the Contract. I'll Call Tomorrow..." – Katherine Reay's Road to Publication

Patricia Beal here :) Please welcome author Katherine Reay to the blog once more. Her fifth novel comes out next week, and she's here today sharing her incredible and most unusual journey to publication. Enjoy! 

How did you get your first publishing contract?

That is such a fun story, and a longish one…

When I started querying for Dear Mr. Knightley, I received over thirty rejections – and those were the agents willing to reply at all. Just as I was about to give up, a small publishing house offered to buy the manuscript for an ebook collection. I’d met the publisher a couple years earlier when DMK was still an idea rather than a novel.

As I printed the contract, my inbox beeped with an email from a writers group. I opened it and found my picture, a random galley shot from a conference, staring back at me under the headline “Why You Need An Agent.” Flabbergasted (that word actually works here!), I immediately wrote the head of the group, explained my situation, noted my picture, and asked if I needed an agent. He wrote back that, yes, an agent was necessary and not to sign any contract without one.

But who? So many agents had turned me down. Instead of going back to any of those agents, I went to my bookshelves and pulled down books I admired. In the acknowledgments, one agency’s name turned up in three books out of ten. I looked up the website, saw a man’s picture, and felt in my heart, “That’s your agent.” It was an agent I hadn’t queried because the website said a writer needed to be previously published. It also said the writer was to write a query and patiently wait – six to eight weeks. I didn’t have six to eight weeks. I had a contract with a deadline. I broke all the rules and called.

I was shocked when the agent called me back, and humiliated when I couldn’t answer any of his questions.

Lee: “Give me your elevator pitch.”
Me: “What’s an elevator pitch?”
Lee: “Give me your story in three minutes.”
Me: “It’s complicated. Can I have ten?”

After what I am sure for Lee was a very frustrating half-hour, he closed with, “I’m not taking you on, but I will help you out. Send me the manuscript and the contract and I’ll call back Monday with my best advice.”

Monday came with no word. Tuesday too. I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to pursue other agents so, on Wednesday, I planned to sign the contract. That morning, a one-line email arrived:

Don’t sign the contract. I’ll call tomorrow… Lee

The next day Lee offered to represent me. He sold Dear Mr. Knightley a couple months later to HarperCollins’ Thomas Nelson imprint, along with two subsequent novels.

A career begins: Katherine Reay and Julie Cantrell with their Carol Awards
There you go… My road to publication. And I did most things wrong… But that’s not even the best part. God doubled down on his love when he gave me Lee for an agent. Lee was one of the most Christ-like men I’ve ever known. In the year we worked together, before he died of cancer, Lee taught me not only how to navigate book writing and publishing, he modeled how to be more a gracious and considerate person.

And that’s what makes my journey to publication so extraordinary. On days when I get caught up in my own problems, irritations and little frustrations, I cast back to this time and I remember.

What’s the best thing about being published?

I won’t lie – it’s thrilling to see your book in print and to know readers enjoy it. It’s fun to share with readers when they write to you and to be a part of a wonderful world of books.

The Austen Escape:  After years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards her best future.  

What’s a not so good thing about being published?

While it’s delightful to see your book out in the world, it’s also a very vulnerable position -- not everyone will enjoy it and not every reviewer will be kind. That’s a reality of putting anything out there and fiction is no exception. So each and every day I must remember why I write and let the chaos of publishing, social media chatter, reviews and comparisons fade away and get my job done.

Thanks so much for asking me to be here today. And please find me on social media. I’m always out and about on FB, Twitter, Instagram and on my own website,

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane, The Bronte Plot (an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist), and A Portrait of Emily Price, which released in November 2016 with Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!

The Austen Escape releases November 7, 2017.

All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. She holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. 

After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.


  1. What an interesting road to publication! Thanks for sharing this info with us, Katherine. I've enjoyed all your books, and I look forward to reading The Austen Escape.

    1. Hi Carrie! Great to see you here. I think you'll like the new book. It's truly a feast for Austen fans :)

  2. Great story of your road to publication. Sounds like a "God thing" to me. Love your titles. Looking forward to reading them.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words, Vickie! :)

    2. Thank you! It definitely was a "God Thing." :)

  3. Loved reading about your road to publication! I've found over and over that God can still use me despite all the things I "do wrong" in this business. Congrats on the new release!!!

  4. Great to read your road to publication story, Katherine. It can give all of us non-agented authors great hope that a marvellous author like yourself find it tough to get one.

    I'm sure The Austen Escape will be devoured by your many readers.

    And Patricia, thanks for sharing Katherine with us on ICFW.

  5. Patricia and Katherine, thanks for sharing your interview with us and Katherine's journey to publication. :)

  6. I loved Katherine's story. Thank you for sharing this, Patricia. I also love Katherine's books, and her personality seems so joyous! She's always smiling! Miss you, my friend.

    1. Hi Valeria! So true! Thanks for stopping by. Miss you too :)

  7. Delightful story, Katherine. Are you a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America? If so, maybe we'll meet at one of the AGMs

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Donna :)

    2. I am a member, but I have never been to an AGM. I was signed up to go to one a couple years ago and had to back out at the last minute. I was so disappointed. Maybe someday I'll get there and we can meet. Thank you! :)

  8. As an aspiring author, I found this to be truly inspiring. As a fan, I'm thankful that she reached out to Lee. I am not a big ebook reader, so I may never have read Dear Mr. Knightley if it had never made it to print.

  9. Thanks for this...I sometimes need that reminder that if God wants to open a door - he’ll open it any way he likes