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First Sale

First Sale:  Taste Me by Tamara Hogan

First Sale: Taste Me by Tamara Hogan

This is one of our last first sale letters for a while here at Dear Author.   We’ve decided to take a hiatus from these posts and do an author/editor/agent (maybe) post about a behind the scenes look at the making of a particular book including, but not limited to, discussion on tropes, themes, and plot devices.   Thanks to Tamara Hogan for closing out our series with her first sale story.   Taste Me, Tamara’s latest book, is in stores now.

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There once was an English major who developed a crippling case of performance anxiety, certain she couldn't meet people's expectations. For years, she wrote only checks, documentation and source code, content to read other peoples' stories. "Someday," she promised herself. "Someday, you'll write that novel."

"Someday' came twenty years later, when she-’okay, I-’was busy dodging elbows in the pit at a rock show. The drummer's behavior was positively debauched and-yeah, absolutely riveting. "The guy must be half incubus," I marveled.

**ping**

The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed two hours before work, went to my hometown coffee shop, and started writing. After writing about two hours per day, six or seven days a week, for about two years-’some days with Deb Dixon's "Goal, Motivation and Conflict" open in one hand and clutching a pen in the other-’I finally had a manuscript. And I was scared sh*tless. What if the manuscript sucked? Hard? What if that scared young girl had been right all along?

I talked myself down, and entered a couple of smaller writing contests. To my surprise, some readers thought my opening chapter had promise, and I discovered that receiving strangers' feedback, even negative feedback, wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be. I polished the first three chapters of the manuscript, then called Underbelly, took a deep breath, and entered the Daphne du Maurier and Golden Heart contests. Completely under the radar, right? Nothing to lose.

Nothing but my anonymity as the phone rang twice, informing me that my manuscript had been named a finalist in both contests. The validation was wonderful, really-’but honestly? I was freaked to the gills. All those old feelings of inadequacy, of certain looming failure, came rushing back. I felt like a fraud, and so, so – exposed. I'd finished a solitary manuscript, sweating every step of the way. I didn't know how to write a query letter. My synopsis really did suck. I hadn't researched agents, editors or publishers. I didn't know how to pitch. The back half of my manuscript was still a hot mess, my Crohn's Disease was flaring, and I had a whopping case of day job burnout. The months between the phone calls and 2009 RWA National were frankly a blur. Some days I leaned so heavily on the other 2009 Golden Heart finalists, my Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, that I'm surprised they didn't topple over. Other days, despite their best efforts, I felt quite alone, my confidence in a death spiral, the most clueless Golden Heart finalist there ever was.

Thankfully, by the time 2009 RWA National rolled around, I'd snapped out of it. I vowed to enjoy the Golden Heart experience, and to not to drive myself crazy with self-imposed pressure. Having done some industry research also calmed my nerves, and I'd grown very intrigued by Sourcebooks and its managing editor Deb Werksman. By the end of 2009 RWA National, I'd won a paranormal Daphne (my Ruby Sister Darynda Jones won the Golden Heart) and I'd received several requests for partial and full manuscripts. After the conference, I queried Deb by email, attaching a full manuscript.

Several weeks later, I received a cheery return email from Deb, saying she was just about to read my manuscript. Luckily I wasn't leading the meeting I'd just dialed into, because my thoughts were firmly on the East Coast. In late August, I received another email from Deb saying she loved the book, and wanted a proposed series arc, some alternate title ideas, and insight about my desired career track to take into acquisition meetings. In the midst of this flurry of activity, I accepted representation from agent Cherry Weiner, and in late October, I got The Call (or rather, The Email) from Deb, extending an offer for the first three books of my proposed Underbelly Chronicles series.

Only one of which was actually written.

Was finishing that first book a fluke? Could I write another, only this time on deadline and under contract? Talk about feeling shoved out of the nest too soon! But one of the most talented editors in the biz was offering me a book contract and a chance to make a dream come true-’a dream that I'd been too afraid to pursue for too many years. I also realized that I wasn't that scared college kid anymore. I'd had life experiences that that young girl couldn't have predicted if she tried-’experiences which made any residual artistic performance anxiety seem pretty self-indulgent in comparison.

So I stepped to the edge of the nest, furiously flapped my wings, and jumped.

I recently typed THE END on my second manuscript, Taste Me's follow-up, Chase Me (proving to myself that I could do it again – yay me!), but I'd be lying if I said the fear was completely gone. Some days my butt's in the chair, my hands are on the keyboard, and the ground seems a looooong way down.

But I jumped. I'm flapping. And though some days my wings feel really, really tired, flying feels- freaking fabulous.

Two randomly selected readers will receive a free copy of TASTE ME courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca! (U.S. and Canada only, please.) Comment before 11:59 p.m. tonight to have a chance to win.

My First Sale by Darynda Jones

My First Sale by Darynda Jones

Darynda JonesWelcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Darynda Jones sold her debut book, a Golden Heart winning entry, at auction to St. Martin’s Press.   First Grave on the Right is on shelves starting tomorrow.

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An interesting thing happened on the road to publication. Life.

While I'd been conjuring tales since before I could actually write, I didn't really know I wanted to be a writer-for-reals until I was in middle school. But by that time, I knew three things about myself that made a writing career seem impossible: I was a horrid speller; I had the attention span of a gnat; I was nowhere near smart enough to pull off a novel, much less (gasp) two!

But with the encouragement of my best friend who also loved to write, I started my first manuscript in high school. We'd sit in a corner booth at the local Tastee Freeze for hours at a time, each writing our respective stories. Mine was post-apocalyptic about a group of teens who bore a remarkable resemblance to the members of Van Halen and were trying to escape the tunnels of a huge government fallout facility decades after World War III had destroyed the surface of the earth. It was a science fiction version of the cult classic The Warriors and destined to be a bestseller.

But after graduation, the real world came crashing through. Marriage, kids, college, career. These things took over my life. Still, the desire to write needled it's way back to the surface. Unable to squelch it any longer, in 2002 I started writing seriously again with one goal in mind: A publishing contract. Unfortunately, I sucked. Thank goodness practice makes perfect and three complete manuscripts and seven years later, I won an RWA Golden Heart, landed an amazing agent and sold to St. Martin's Press in a three-book deal.

Easy-peasy, right?

Well, maybe not. For me, that Golden Heart final changed everything. Admittedly, I'd been entering the Golden Heart for several years, and while I received some pretty good scores (and some not-so-good ones), every year I really thought I had a chance to final. Until 2009. I signed up to enter First Grave on the Right for one reason, and one reason only. I wanted to force myself to finish it. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt it would not final. No way. No how. And then I was mad that I'd wasted the entry fee. That money could have been used for something worthwhile, like a workshop! But I grudgingly sent it in and forgot about it completely. No, really. I dismissed it from my mind entirely.

So March 25th rolls around and while I was at work my husband texted me. There was a message on the machine saying I'd finaled in a contest. I texted him back, "What? I haven't entered any contests." "IDK, something about a golden something or other." I froze. Actually, I had to freeze. I was in the middle of state testing with a client and I couldn't make a peep, not a sound, nothing that would distract the student from the test. So, I texted, "Did it say the Golden Heart?" "Yes." I freaked out. On the inside. And texted OMG to my husband over and over. Fortunately, my client was just finishing up the test. She closed the test booklet and I burst into tears, jumped up and hugged her. It was ridiculous. She got upset that I was crying.

Sadly, the manuscript needed tons of work, so after the final, I polished it for about two months before querying. Then I spent about a week doing research and writing my query. When I was satisfied, I queried about twenty agents over a three-day period. Within a week I had an offer of representation. I wrote the agents who'd asked for either a partial or a full, told them about the offer and gave them a few days to get back to me. Before the week was out, I had eight offers of representation from some of the most amazing agents in the business.

I know that sounds wonderful, but it was actually one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I never expected that kind of response and was very torn. I spoke to each of them, many more than once. I emailed them, asked questions, researched some more. After a week that I never want to repeat as long as I live, I accepted an offer of representation from Alexandra Machinist at the Linda Chester Literary Agency. And let me just say, having her in my corner is like having Mike Tyson as a personal bodyguard. I am beyond grateful.

First Grave on the RightThe GH win garnered a lot of interest, so Alexandra began shopping First Grave that August. About a week later, I was in the middle of district meetings and noticed Alexandra had called. We played phone tag for a bit, and when we finally connected, she asked if I was sitting down. Jennifer Enderlin from St. Martin's Press had made an offer for a three-book deal. Yes, THE Jennifer Enderlin. The offer was so much more than either of us had expected the waterworks started all over again.

We had a couple more offers over the next 24 hours and then right before Alexandra sent it to the floor for auction, Jennifer swept in with a pre-empt we simply couldn't refuse.

Whew! And now, book one in the Charley Davidson series, First Grave on the Right, is coming out in hardcover. February 1st, to be exact.

Thank you so much, Jane, for having me! And I would love to give one commenter his or her choice of either the hardback or the audiobook read by the fabulous Lorelei King.