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My First Sale by Joanna Bourne

I remember Joanna Bourne first was mentioned to me last summer at the RWA convention in Dallas. I was told that this is an author to watch. Unfortunately the books weren’t going to be released until January so in googling, I found that Bourne had written a book, Her Ladyship’s Companion, a gothic romance in the early 80s. I ordered it and at the time, it only cost me a few dollars. They are now selling for $49.50 and up at Amazon. I think it says something about Bourne’s writing that her first book is now suddenly a collectible. She’s a writer to watch, someone whose work, even on her worst day, makes the historical genre better. Her third release, My Lord and Spymaster, is in stores now.


Oh man. This takes me back. The first book.

It was a sweet Regency with gothic elements … and doesn’t that tell you this was not just precisely recent?

This was the first fiction I’d written.

I pounded it out on a selectric typewriter. There was something called carbon paper … No. I won’t go there. Suffice it to say this was a long time ago and the woods were full of the cries of mating pterodactyls.

Having painfully tapped out the story, (I swear, it would have been faster to crochet the bloody manuscript.) I set out to sell it.

book review It is difficult to convey the depths of my ignorance. Grand Canyons of naïveté.. Mariana Trenches of nescience. I had never heard of RWA. I was, in the most vague and distant way, aware that writers could have agents, but didn’t have the least idea how to find one.

I had heard, somewhere, that you were supposed to send three chapters. I picked my three favorite chapters. (Just a note — Do not do this. You’re supposed to send in the first three chapters.) Time has mercifully hidden the details. Let us not lift that particular veil.

Synopsis? I had NEVER HEARD of a synopsis.

Do editorial offices sit around at lunch, snickering at the submissions they get? Do they, like, snigger and say, ‘You will not believe what I got in the mail this morning,’ and giggle over the bagels?

The generous folks at Avon did not point out my small errors. They asked to see the whole. Do not tell me there are no kind hearts in the storied bastions of New York publishing. Certainly they took pity on me.

So I sends the whole manuscript off. I took out a calendar and calculated how long it would take the manuscript to get to New York. Then I figured they’d have two or three manuscripts sitting on their desk they had to read first. Maybe — I stretched my imagination — maybe they’d have five or ten in the queue in front of them. I should hear back in about three weeks. Right? Maybe a month.

Long month for me. Many trips into town to the post office. Much interrogation of patient postal clerks. At the end of the second month I was perfectly certain something had happened to my manuscript. Sea monsters, ravaging New York. Mothra. Train robbers, making off with the mail. Pod people.

“I’ll call,” says I to myself, “and ask.” Grabbing destiny by both ears and the tail, I marched off and called Avon. I asked to speak to the Editorial Assistant. This would be, I knew, a woman of power and competence.

“Hi,” says I. “I’m Joanna Bourne and I sent you in a manuscript …” I consult my notes. They are in a spiral bound notebook. I was — really, things do not change all that much, do they? — clueless, but organized. “Seven weeks ago. It’s –”

“Wait a minute. I’ll … ” Puzzlement in the voice. There was a brief silence.

Then a new pickup clicked on the phone. “I was just about to call you,” the editor says. “Right this minute. We want to buy your book.”

So I never actually got the call. I made it.

I do remember being unable to string together a coherent sentence. Are editors used to filling in the pauses in the author’s, “oh my. Oh my. Wow. Gee. Oh wow …” with small talk? Do editors just take it on faith they don’t have a fumble-minded nitwit on the other end of the line? Certainly I must have sounded like one.

They were willing to pay me money for my writing. Folks would read about the world I’d created and bring my characters alive.

I was flabbergasted and scared and didn’t really believe any of this was real. That hasn’t changed yet, but at least now I’m coherent on the telephone.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Ana
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 05:38:55

    What a great story Joanna!

    At the end of the second month I was perfectly certain something had happened to my manuscript. Sea monsters, ravaging New York. Mothra. Train robbers, making off with the mail. Pod people.

    LOL. The tricks our imagination plays!

  2. Lynne
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 05:59:03

    This story made me smile, and I’ve not even had my coffee yet. Thanks for sharing with us, Joanna! :-)

  3. Shari Anton
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 09:11:16

    Great story, Joanna. Just wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying your Spymasters.

  4. Carolyn Jewel
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 09:39:47

    Oh my gosh! What a great story. That really must be a first, the author making the call.

  5. Janine
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 10:26:12

    I pounded it out on a selectric typewriter. There was something called carbon paper … No. I won't go there. Suffice it to say this was a long time ago and the woods were full of the cries of mating pterodactyls.

    I laughed out loud at this part. What a wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  6. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 10:48:48

    I loved The Spymaster’s Lady. Annique was magnificent! Can’t wait to read the next. Thanks for the call story.

  7. Sherry Thomas
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 11:11:31

    I had to look up nescience but it was worth it!

  8. Ciara
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 11:21:47

    But why did you wait so long to share the brilliance of your creativity with a second work? I adored the Spymasters Lady and cannot wait to read My Lord and Spymaster. I hope you write us many many more books!!!

  9. Bev Stephans
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 11:50:15

    As Ciara asked, “Why did you wait so long to write the second story?”

    I loved the Spymaster’s Lady and am looking forward to My Lord and Spymaster.

    Are you going to write Adrian’s story? His character is just waiting to be filled out.

  10. Maya
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 12:07:22

    “….faster to crochet the manuscript…”
    “…I sent in my favorite three chapters…”

    Ha ha ha!

  11. Roxanne St. Claire
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 12:11:24

    What a wonderful story told in a magnificent voice! Loved every word.

  12. SonomaLass
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 13:21:43

    This amazing writing voice is why we love your books, Joanna. Reading this story made me want to laugh and cry, and put me right there in the moment with you. Thanks for sharing this terrific anecdote, and here’s to MANY MORE books from you!

  13. courtney summers » tunes
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 14:09:34

    […] think Joanna Bourne’s first sale story on Dear Author is my absolute most favourite yet. You should read […]

  14. Sherry Thomas
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 15:32:37

    I think Joanna gives some short answers about her long absence from publishing and when she’s going to write Adrian’s story in this interview at AAR.

    Disclosure: I’m in the interview too but you can skip my part. :-)

  15. Marianne McA
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 18:08:27

    Just read ‘My Lord and Spymaster’ today, and really enjoyed it. And I did buy a copy of ‘Her Ladyship’s Companion’, but at a non-collectible price.

    (I just checked – on, it starts at £58, and goes up to £265. If anyone wants to pay £265 for a copy, I’ll reluctantly part with mine…)

  16. Marianne McA
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 18:27:11

    Just thinking about that – those prices suggest there is a real demand for the book. And, in that there is a connection to the current series, I imagine that there will be many readers who’d like to read it for the sake of completeness.
    Would the rights have reverted to Ms Bourne by now? Would it be possible to make it available again – perhaps as an ebook?

  17. Jane
    Jun 27, 2008 @ 23:41:02

    Marianne – That was my thought too. I would think that even in e-form, she’d be able to sell a few copies.

  18. Keira Soleore
    Jun 29, 2008 @ 13:24:02

    Joanne, too funny! Loved your call story.

  19. Joanna Bourne
    Jul 01, 2008 @ 12:58:18

    Thank you so much for the kind words about the ‘Spymasters’. And (or) I’m glad you liked the ‘First Sale’ story.

    What I really want to hear is the other side — an agent or editor’s story about the ‘First Calls’ they’ve put through.

    I imagine it would include lines like:

    “… found the phone again. It had dropped in the sink …”

    “… yelling ‘It’s the editor! It’s the editor!’ in the background …”

    “… bit her tongue, so it sounded like, ‘thath wunnerthul …”

    “… a minute of absolute silence. Then a gurgling not unlike that of the character she killed off in Chapter Eleven …”

    As to Her Ladyship’s Companion — the long-ago gothic that is, if I may I say so, deservedly Out of Print.
    I have dropped it on my agent’s desk,
    (It’s only a little book.)
    I will let her decide what to do with it.
    Levelling rickety tables comes to mind, or propping open windows, now that summer is upon us.

    Hi Sherry — (waves)
    Yes, the AAR interview is a cool interview, but largely because you were half of it. Is there anyone who hasn’t read Private Arrangements? If so, they should rectify that immediately.

    And the countdown begins on Delicious.

  20. Interview with Joanna Bourne – and giveaway! | Reader, I created him
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 07:06:07

    […] debut novel, Her Ladyship’s Companion, was published by Avon in 1983 (you write beautifully about your first sale on Dear Author) and then you embarked on a career globe-hopping with the federal government. What […]

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