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My First Sale by Kathryn Shay

Kathryn Shay wrote her first romance at fifteen but it wasn’t until years later that she sold her first book to Harlequin. She has written and published over twenty-nine books since her first sale. When she isn’t writing, Shay spends time doing her other favorite vocation–teaching. Her latest publication, Taking the Heat, is in bookstores now.


Hello, Dear Author readers.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to visit with you today. I was asked to do a blog on my first sale, and I will, but first, let me introduce myself and my new book. I’m Kathryn Shay and I write for Harlequin SuperRomance and The Berkley Publishing Group. BE MY BABIES was a March release from Super and my current novel, TAKING THE HEAT, is out now from Berkley. It’s the third in a series about the O’Neil family, but all reviewers are saying that it stands alone and you don’t have to have read the others first. The four brothers own a pub in Greenwich Village and their sister is married to the vice president of the United States. Liam, the third oldest, lost his wife three years ago to cancer and is ready to date again. He meets Sophie Tyler, rough and tumble female firefighter from New York City, and is attracted to her. But his sons are still suffering over the loss of their mother and Liam feels he can’t risk getting involved with someone in a dangerous profession. Too bad, though, because they can’t help themselves and sparks fly, emotionally, physically and on the line.

The circumstances surrounding my first sale are interesting, I think. I wrote THE FATHER FACTOR when I was working full time as a teacher, had kids nine and twelve, a husband, church commitments and a very busy, but happy, life. I’d always been a writer–short stories, essays, poetry and journals, but I wanted to try my hand at a longer work. So I wrote, IMAGES, a story about a hero who’s undercover and the woman he betrays. I received, oh, at least twenty rejections from publishing houses and agents-‘some of them twice because I rewrote the book several times–and it never did sell. (Thankfully, because it really had a lot of flaws.)

As working writers advise you to do, I began my second novel right away. This one was about a suicidal teenager, her father and the school counselor who’s determined to help them both. I knew a lot more about that subject, as I was a teacher and had my share of dealing with kids in trouble. As I sent out this one, (while I wrote another!) and got more rejections on the second, I began to get discouraged. I thought, "What am I doing? I had a near-perfect life, and now I’m miserable trying to break into publishing." My critique partners encouraged me to hang in there, my husband told me I’d never get published if I didn’t keep at it, and so I persevered.

There was an RWA chapter conference in October of 1994 in Buffalo, close my home town of Rochester, NY, and to Toronto, where Harlequin Enterprises headquarters is located and where my second manuscript was sitting in the slush pile. I almost backed out the night before the conference, saying I was sick of all this and about to give up. Again, my wonderful husband encouraged me to go, and to have fun with my friends, if nothing else. I went.

An editor from Harlequin, Malle Vallik, was attending. She was then the head of a shorter, sexier line, Temptation, and when a group of us got the chance to have a drink with her because one of us had just sold to the line, everyone else was pitching to her. I sat meekly by (not my style) and after a while, she turned to me and asked what I wrote. I told her longer, serious contemporary romance, not the kind she published, but thanks for asking. She wanted to know if I had a current manuscript, and I said yes, and one was now at another line in her house. She handed me a card, told me to put my name and the name of the book on it, and she’d "walk across the hall" to give it to a Super editor. I thanked her, gave her the information, and wondered if she’d ever do it.

A few weeks later, I got a voice mail from Zilla Soriano from SuperRomance, saying Malle had given her the card, she’d pulled my three chapters from the slush pile, and LOVED them. She said she was hoping the manuscript was finished and to call her back. I almost died, having to wait until the next day, as it was six at night. When I called Zilla back, she was very gracious and very enthusiastic about my work. She loved every bit of the partial, was thrilled it was finished, and asked if I had anything else out to other publishers. (You could only give HQ an exclusive on one book, but by then I’d written another.) When I said I did, she asked me to please not accept another offer from anyone else, and she’d get back to me ASAP.

I was floored. Of course, I said I’d wait to hear from her. (Not that anyone was knocking down my door.) Once she received the manuscript, Zilla read the rest of the book, called me back and said she loved it all and was passing it on to her senior editor, but could I please be patient, it might take a week for her to read it. And could I please not sell to anyone else! Then–this is the best part–at two p.m. the NEXT day, Zilla called and offered me a contract. The senior editor, Paula Eykeholf, had read the manuscript all in one night. My reaction? I started to cry. I managed to answer a few questions, Zilla wisely saw I was in no condition to negotiate, and told me to go have a cup of tea and call her the next day. I called my husband instead, and my two best friends.

From there, THE FATHER FACTOR went on to be a huge success. It sold a lot of copies through retail and direct, was used in special promotions and ended up with about a million copies sold. (Yes, you read that right!) It’s been reissued, translated into several languages and remains some people’s favorite book of mine. Since then, I’ve sold Harlequin twenty-four books and am planning a trilogy now with my new editor, Wanda Ottewell, as Zilla has regretfully retired.

The moral of the story? Don’t give up. It’s okay to get discouraged, but stick with what you’re doing. Have faith in your work. Good things do happen to ordinary people. And, best, trust that you’re going to make it in the world of publishing.

I’d be glad to chat about this on the site.
Kathy Shay

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. Robin
    May 16, 2008 @ 12:01:34

    I love these “slush pile” stories, because it just goes to show you that anything can happen. Although I have to say that I am always impressed when aspiring authors keep writing books; I don’t know if I’d have that kind of faith, commitment, whatever.

    I read the story about the firefighter books on Romancing the Blog, and the thing I liked was that it wasn’t a “Romance novelist marries hunky EMT after meeting him for a book” story.

  2. Janine
    May 16, 2008 @ 13:15:18

    What a great story. How gracious of Ms. Vallik to make sure your manuscript was looked at!

  3. Kathryn Shay
    May 16, 2008 @ 14:50:37

    Robin–I can tell you my husband of long standing also liked that the story didn’t end that way .

    Janine–Yes, Malle was very generous to me. At conferneces, we always talk about how she was responsible for my success.
    Kathy Shay

  4. Robin
    May 16, 2008 @ 15:28:51

    I can tell you my husband of long standing also liked that the story didn't end that way.

    Yes, I imagine he did.

    But really, it was so refreshing to read about the relationship you developed with these folks and not have it revolve around how hot the guys were and how great they looked without their shirts on, and how you found your own personal death-defying hero, but instead formed a bond with this community out of mutual earned respect and genuine human affection. And it is a great hook for the books, too, IMO.

  5. Miki
    May 16, 2008 @ 18:23:10

    Kathryn Shay is one of the few contemporary authors I buy without even reading the book blurb. I love the emotional depth in her books!

  6. Patricia
    May 16, 2008 @ 18:57:59

    IA with Miki. Shay is one author for whose work I always know I’ll buy, & enjoy. Her characters are passionate (& not just in bed) & emotionally-satisfying, & I always learn something while I’m being entertained.

  7. Tracy
    May 16, 2008 @ 21:54:48

    Great first sale story!!

    Kathryn, I LOVE your books so it was so fun to read how you got started in the publishing business.

    I received TAKING THE HEAT in my mailbox today!

  8. Kathryn Shay
    May 18, 2008 @ 09:40:10

    Miki and Patricia–This is so cool to hear that I’m an autobuy. Made my day. Tracy, let me know what you think of the book.
    Kathy Shay

  9. Jenyfer Matthews
    May 19, 2008 @ 00:17:22

    It’s stories like these that keep us all going. Thanks for sharing!

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