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My First Sale by Douglas Carlton Abrams, A Dream Come True,...

Welcome to the My First Sale series. Each Friday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Douglas Carlton Abrams writes historical fiction for Atria. His debut book, The Lost Diary of Don Juan, is in stores now.

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I have been writing fiction and actively pursuing the dream of being a novelist since I was eleven, so from that perspective, my first sale was a long time coming.

From a publishing viewpoint, I expected that it would take a while. I actually went to work in publishing because I loved books, and I wanted to understand what it was like from the inside. Perhaps you could say I was a spy for authors in the world of publishing. But as I worked, I saw the incredible obstacles that editors face publishing quiet books in the noisy world of today’s media. I experienced the excruciating pain of writing rejection letters and putting books out of print.

book review Later, as a writer, I received rejection letters for some of my non-fiction books (I wrote kinder ones as an editor). I even had one of my non-fiction books dropped by a publisher when the editor left. Inevitably, these decisions are as much about the editor or the publisher as the merits of the book, if not more so. Much as we may wish, there is no objective truth in the land of aesthetics.

In short, I was not naive when I entered the submission fray. I knew I would have only one chance to submit my fiction to my agent, and that she would have only one chance to submit it to publishers. So I held on to it, revising and polishing obsessively over twenty-three drafts before I shared it with my agent. I knew there was nothing harder than writing fiction, and I needed to convince her (and myself) that I could write a story that breathed and sweated and sang with life. I also knew enough to hire a number of editors and professional advisors to tell me when it didn’t.

Finally, when it was ready to go out to publishers, I was the one who was sweating. It is hard to convey the night-waking, body-trembling experience of putting a creation of one’s soul out into the world for acceptance and rejection. But the day finally came when I was able to pry it out of my Muse’s clawed and nervous hands.

As my agent prepared to send out the manuscript, she heard from a Brazilian scout who had gotten ahold of the manuscript early and already had an offer from a Brazilian publisher. Wow. I was amazed. I had lived in Brazil, loved Brazil and its people, knew no one in the publishing world there, but now loved Brazil even more for their early embrace of my Muse. I guess it is fitting, since The Lost Diary of Don Juan is about love, romance, and passion, and my caged North American heart had been broken open in Brazil (that’s another story!).

We went into the American auction with a sense of excitement and Brazilian ginga (sway). I was fortunate that the best offer came from a brilliant editor named Emily Bestler at Atria Books, a very skillful and commercially savvy arm of Simon & Schuster. To my amazement, Emily wanted a two-book deal, The Lost Diary of Don Juan and an untitled next book. Outer-body-experiences are hard to describe, since all we really know are our five senses. Suffice it to say that there was a tingling sensation and a sense of the laws of gravity loosening their grip on my body, much like being an astronaut floating above the surface of my house.

And then remarkably, the book started to sell in other countries around the world, from Brazil to Bulgaria and Taiwan to Turkey. As the Dutch publisher later confided in me during a tour of Seville with journalists from around the world (another unimaginable dream come true), “I had to have it and your agent knew it.”

What would Don Juan do? We had to celebrate. So we got period costumes (the novel takes place in Golden Age Spain, about the time of Shakespeare-’by the way, men were not meant to wear tights), hired a sword-fighting instructor and a Spanish dance teacher (I had taken lessons in both while I was writing the novel), made a big vat of sangria, and reenacted scenes from the novel. Unimaginable fun.

Perhaps the most truly unimaginable experience, however, was going to the Frankfurt Book Fair to meet what ultimately became thirty publishers from around the world. I was asked to address the gathered crowd. I held my glass of rioja and could hardly speak. I had been a dyslexic boy, who took a long time to read, and to this day I still break out in a sweat every time I enter a bookstore. My English teacher had told me I would never be a writer (why did teachers used to say stuff like that?), but I persevered and pursued the dream of being a novelist.

And then there I was, looking out at a room full of publishers from around the world, all expressing their gratitude for the book that I had given them and their readers. I could not believe that I was awake. But it was not a dream.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

13 Comments

  1. Jayne
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 07:17:57

    And then there I was, looking out at a room full of publishers from around the world, all expressing their gratitude for the book that I had given them and their readers. I could not believe that I was awake. But it was not a dream.

    Wow, that must have been a kick-ass experience.

  2. Kathryn Smith
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 08:36:38

    Wow, your first sale story is much cooler than mine! lol. What a fabulous ride for you! Congrats on having your hard work and love of writing pay off in such a huge way.

  3. Gennita Low
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 08:57:42

    Thank you for sharing your great story. Our journeys are the same, yet so different, and I’m so inspired by your experience. Congrats on all the success!

  4. Patty H.
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 09:01:21

    You’ve brought tears to my eyes twice. First, because I’m unpublished with hopes of being otherwise and second, because I have a seven year old daughter with dyslexia. She loves storytelling and writing (with my help), but reading for her is torture.

    Congratulations on your success. You give us hope.

  5. Jessica
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 09:19:43

    You may want to fix the name (typo) in the header to Abrams.

  6. Jane
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 09:37:33

    Done! Thanks, Jessica.

  7. Maya
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 10:19:17

    How I love this story! Especially the part about ‘What would Don Juan do?’ I feel pretty safe in specualting that fencing in tights will never again be a response to The Call. Congrats.

  8. Jessa Slade
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 11:10:38

    men were not meant to wear tights

    An excellent lesson on what it takes to finally get published: Gird your loins and do whatEVER it takes! Thanks for the wonderful story.

  9. Janine
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 12:17:16

    Beautiful story! Thanks so much!

  10. SonomaLass
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 13:50:12

    Wow, a moving story. And from how well you write this, I know I’m going to want to move Don Juan up higher on my TBR list!

    On behalf of English teachers everywhere, I’m sorry that anyone in our line of work EVER said such a discouraging thing to you. Thanks for saying “used to say stuff like that.” No one I respect in the profession today is every anything but thrilled to hear that a student actually aspires to write.

  11. Lucinda Betts
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 13:51:27

    Am I the only one not hating the idea of seeing that man in tights?

  12. Annie Solomon
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 17:01:16

    Great story. Especially acting out scenes from the novel. Would LOVE to find some willing folks to do that with my stuff. Anyone want to play a dead body?

  13. EC Sheedy
    Sep 20, 2008 @ 00:49:25

    Loved this first-sale story–almost as much as I love the title of your book. Lost Diaries . . . oh, this is a buy for me!

    May you sell gazillions.

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