Finding your publication path with Judy Penz Sheluk

By Liz, happy to welcome Judy Penz Sheluk to the blog! It was so fun to interview Judy about her new non-fiction book, Finding your Path to Publication. This is a great resource for all writers hoping to break into the publishing world, with its real-life advice and strategies for how to pick the best path for you. Enjoy the interview and make sure you pick up the book!

Liz: You mentioned that your experience with NaNoWriMo led to the idea of writing “Finding Your Path to Publication.” Tell us about that!

Judy: My local library had invited me to talk to their NaNoWriMo group about succeeding or failing at NaNoWriMo in 2019. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it takes place every November. The idea is to write 55,000 (1,666 words/day). As it turned out, no one there really cared or succeeded or failed. All they wanted to know was “What’s next? How do I get published?” That led to a second workshop, which I called Finding Your Path to Publication, and it served as an outline for the book.

Liz: Let’s talk about the second workshop — what were some of the common misconceptions or questions that people had about the publishing process?

Judy: I think the biggest misconception is that there’s big money to be made, and while it’s certainly true that some authors do very, very well, the reality is, most don’t. In the latest Sisters in Crime Business of Books Survey Report (2022), which I quote (with permission) in Path: “At the high end, 5% of all authors reported an income of more than $100,000, with an equal number of traditional and indie authors represented in that category. At the low end, 4% of all authors (3% traditional, 1% indie, 0% hybrid) earned nothing, with 22% of traditional and 41% of indie authors reporting an income of less than $1,000.” Those are sobering statistics, and while I’d never discourage anyone from writing, I think it’s important to manage expectations.

Liz: How did your background as a freelance journalist influence your decision to write a book about the publishing process? In what ways did your previous experience shape your approach to the topic?

I loved my 15 years as a journalist and magazine editor (2003-2018). During that time, I learned how to research, interview experts, vet sources, manage freelance budgets (my own and the magazines I worked for as a managing editor) and meet deadlines. Each of those skills have come in very handy with my fiction writing pursuits, but they were beyond helpful when writing Path.

Liz: Your book emphasizes that there is no one-size-fits-all path to publication. Could you elaborate on this idea and explain why it’s important for aspiring authors to understand and consider different publishing options?

Judy: The dream for most is landing a NYC agent and a big 5 contract, but unless you’re a celebrity that takes time, patience, a unique take or twist on a genre or sub-genre, a pitch-perfect pitch, and a certain amount of luck. If you’re the impatient sort, or someone who gets discouraged easily by rejection, that isn’t a path for you. Independent publishers often accept manuscripts directly, though depending on the size of the press, the quality of the services provided (editing, cover art, etc.) can vary widely. Due diligence! Self-publishing requires capital investment (editing, cover art, etc.) and there’s a definite learning curve. Additionally, there is still a stigma in some circles when it comes to self-published books. Hybrid publishers will do all the self-publishing heavy lifting, but there’s a cost, usually starting at $4,000 and going up from there. And you do have to be wary of vanity presses. More due diligence! Finally, there is social publishing, such as Wattpad, where you are merely looking to hone your craft or develop a following, rather than earn a living. The bottom line is that what works for one author doesn’t mean it will work for another. It also means that what may have been right for you five years ago (small press, for example) is no longer working. It’s okay to look at other options. Publishing isn’t like spandex. One size doesn’t fit all. 

Liz: Can you share some practical tips or strategies that aspiring authors can use to navigate the publishing process more effectively? Are there any common pitfalls or mistakes that you suggest avoiding?

Judy: I think the biggest mistake aspiring authors make is sending their book out into the world before it’s truly ready. I made the same mistake when I was starting out. If you can afford it, hire a professional editor. Yes, a traditional publisher will edit your work, but they get thousands of submissions. If your book looks like it needs editing (vs. a light touch), you won’t stand a chance. At the very least, get a few beta readers (not friends, family members or writing group colleagues) to honestly critique your work and be prepared to revise, revise, revise.

If you are offered a publishing contract, read it carefully and make sure you understand the fine print. What’s the exit strategy if you’re unhappy or the publisher goes under? Who owns your characters? You or the publisher? Don’t be afraid to ask for 10 days to review the contract (this is common courtesy), and request revisions if there’s something that really doesn’t sit right. For example, why offer the foreign language rights to your book if they’ve never once brokered a foreign language deal? I cover contracts in Path in more detail, but you get the idea.

Liz: What advice do you have for authors in terms of establishing connections and finding support within the writing community?

Judy: I am a huge believer in authors helping authors. This blog, for example, is one such example where the Wickeds are helping me, a fellow author. But I am always willing to reciprocate on my own blog and have done so in the past. It can’t be a one-way street. Get active on social media. Comment on posts and share them. Pick a writing conference (yes, I cover those off in Path too!) and meet and mingle. Read books and review them on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Join a writing association or two and get involved in a positive way. Lurking isn’t going to get you noticed.

Liz: What do you hope readers will take away from the book? Is there a particular message or lesson that you want aspiring authors to understand when it comes to choosing their path to publication?

The publishing world can be a cruel one, but it is less so when authors help each other. It is my hope that Path guides other writers on their personal journey, and perhaps gives them the push to finally take that first step, or the next step. 

Thanks so much for joining me, Judy, and for writing such an informative book. Readers – what do you think? Any comments or questions for Judy? Leave them below!

About the Book: 

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. 

About the author:

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries. (Gibbs, pictured here, is her co-author.) Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited. Judy is a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. She lives in Northern Ontario. Find her at

19 Thoughts

  1. Excellent advice, Judy. For the writer who needs a nudge to research the pros and cons of publishing your work, embrace this truism: no one will care as much about your book as you.

    1. Thanks so much Edith — you and I started on the same path and I’m so impressed with how far you’ve come — and well deserved!

  2. Congratulations on the release of ” Finding your Path to Publication”. Sounds like some wonderful advice/instructions for those wishing to publish.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Thank you Kay! Early reviews have been great so hopefully it is helping others.

  3. Congratulations, Judy! Yes, so many people who want to write a book just don’t understand that publishing is a long game and can be a tough row to hoe. I once thought, “Oh, I’ll make enough to work part time.” Yeah, not.

    1. Hi Liz, and yes, everyone thinks they’ll make Stephen King money! Some do (like Stephen). Most don’t.

  4. Thank you Liz for the great questions and thanks to the Wickeds for the warm welcome. I love this blog and it’s one of the few I read every day.

  5. I write for fun and still have the dream of publishing someday, a lot of what you mentioned in this post is what’s holding me back.

    1. Hi Crystal, it’s not really that scary! Check out the book and find out for yourself. If you’re a Nook reader, enter BNPPATH50 at checkout to save 50% (until the end of the month). Here’s the opening paragraph after my introduction (sounds like you might be in the second camp!):

      One of the most common mistakes new authors make is sending their book “out there” before it’s truly ready. Of course, the reverse is also true. I’ve heard of writers who have been editing and revising the same manuscript for years, never quite able to let it go. The question is, when is the time right, and how will you know when that time has arrived? 

  6. Hi Judy! Great book for authors at any stage of the game. We are always looking for better or different ways. Are there many differences between Canadian and US publishing? Besides those free ISBN numbers in Canada!

    1. Hi Kait, North American publishers basically all follow the same path — this book really focuses on N.A. as I couldn’t go into UK, Australia etc — it would just be too much. And we do like our free ISBNs! And yes, authors at any stage can benefit from the book — we change and grow over time.

  7. Welcome to the blog, Judy! It’s great to see someone using those SinC statistics, so laboriously collected. I think most authors I know nowadays have been published/are publishing in multiple ways.

    1. Thanks Barbara. SinC was so kind — they even shared their latest info before it was published so I could finish the book with the latest info. I’ve been a member for about 10 years I think.

Comments are closed.