My First Sale by Janet Mullaney
Janet Mullaney was born in England and her native voice carries through strongly in her regency period romances. She was “persecuted from an early age for reading too long in the bathroom” and has worked as an archaeologist, classical music radio announcer, arts publicist, and for a small press. Her most recent book, The Rules of Gentility, was one of DearAuthor’s August Recommended Reads. Jayne and Janine both reviewed it, giving it a favorable grade each time.
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My first book Dedication had a lot of near misses. The closest I got was with an editor who loved my writing but advised me to take out the codebreaker subplot (which is one of the reasons I made the hero Adam a mathematician). Sadly I had to then take out the scene where the villain meets an unpleasant end being eaten by Adam's pigs, but I don't think that was why the same editor sent me a form rejection–one of those character-forming moments. And although Dedication did pretty well in contests, I was being told too often that it didn't read like a romance, no editor would go for a hero in his forties (a grandfather! even a hot forty-something grandfather), or a sexually experienced, possibly bisexual heroine, and so on and so on. Because when it came down to it, having decided I just couldn't buy into what I found so unsatisfying as a reader, I was writing the sort of book I wanted to read.
Then at the RWA National Conference in Dallas (2004) I found I'd won the Royal Ascot, the contest sponsored by The Beau Monde and the judge Laura Cifelli (NAL) asked for a full. That was in the days before I got smart about multivitamins and I had the most horrendous cold, so most of my meetings with people took place at a distance of six feet apart (and if there's anyone out there who came down with a horrible cold after Nationals that year, I'm sorry, really). All of my follow-up letters to agents and editors afterward began I am the writer with the English accent and the bad cold —
I received a call from another NAL editor on September 1. Although it was early afternoon I was knocking around the house in a nightgown (I was officially unemployed at the time) and about to get ready to leave to meet with my critique group. Something was desperately wrong with my phone, which disconnected three times during the five-minute call. As she identified herself, it slowly dawned on me that editors don't call you to tell you, sorry, no; this call was The Call.
She told me they wanted it for the Signet Regency line–I vaguely remembered covers that all looked the same with women in polyester dresses, and stories about virginal debutantes being pursued by aristos who were slightly too old for them (okay, okay, I know trads aren't really like that. Now put that blunderbuss down). Also, that I'd have to cut 20,000 words from the original 95,000 (I'd written it as a single title).
"I think I can do that,–? I said, and then said what I thought would probably kill the deal. "But the sex has to stay.–?
She didn't miss a beat.
"Okay,–? she said brightly, and went on to tell me about the not particularly huge advance and royalties and stuff that didn't mean a whole lot at the time. (Sure enough, the sex stayed. The copyeditor tried to replace an explicit reference to a man’s sex with "manhood,–? one of my most disliked euphemisms. I wrote "STET–over my dead body–? in large red letters in the margin. It worked.)
I have a theory about getting published–you wait for the Big Bus of Publishing to stop for you. Sometimes it slows and you think you'll get on, but it speeds up and may even ignominiously splash you with puddle water as it passes. Dedication was my first trip on the bus and I've enjoyed the ride.