Interview with an Author: My First Sale by Kelley Armstrong, the woman who made werewolves sexy
I never was interested in werewolves until I read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. Her evocative tale of a girl lost suffering the worst betrayal at the hands of her lover but ultimately growing strong enough to take back her life and accept the beast within her was seductive and I became part of her web ever since. Armstrong was one of the first authors I remember who gave away free content. Her backstories of Jeremy, Clay, and Elena fed me during the lean months between books. Her latest release, No Humans Involved, is a return to a high point in her writing with the long awaited story of Jamie and Jeremy who tell us that old ghosts have to be laid to rest before one can live in peace and that desirability is ageless; as is the discovery of one’s power as a woman.
I've been writing since childhood, but only started “getting serious–? in my twenties. That's when I began taking courses, joining writing groups, reading books on the craft…and working on pieces longer than novellas. During that time, I wrote a couple of novels. I started far more, but would often get about fifty pages in and realize the story didn't enchant me as much as I thought it would.
The story that caught and held my attention most was one about a female werewolf, but every time I mentioned it to someone, the reaction was…not encouraging. No one buys novels about werewolves, they said. If I had to write “that stuff–?, I should write about vampires. People bought books about vampires.
But I couldn't put that story aside. So I stopped talking about it and wrote it quietly on the side while working on more marketable ideas. When I finished the werewolf novel, I decided to get a professional opinion. I sent the manuscript to a writing instructor and freelance editor. He read it and offered to recommend it to an agent.
A few years earlier, this agent had sold a very successful supernatural-themed novel that I'd loved, so I took this as a good omen. He called and asked her to look at my book. She asked, “What's it about,–? he said “werewolves,–? she said “no thanks.–? She eventually, if reluctantly (she admits) agreed to read it.
Two weeks later, she called. I was at work, in my corporate cubicle, struggling to hear her over surrounding noise. She has a British accent, which didn't help. I knew she'd been less than enthusiastic about reading the manuscript, so when she offered to represent me, I was certain I'd misheard or misunderstood. I called my husband and said “I just heard from that agent, and I think she offered to represent me, but I'm not sure…–? It was a nerve-wracking couple of days until she called again to discuss it, and I could be absolutely certain I'd heard her correctly!
On my agent's advice, I wrote a prologue with my main character as a werewolf–changing and running. She used that as a teaser, circulating it to editors and book scouts. I had no idea what a book scout was…and was too embarrassed by my ignorance to ask! She worked up interest, then took the partial to the Frankfurt book fair, where she hoped to sell UK and some foreign rights, then work on North American after she returned to Canada.
The first UK editor who was interested took the proposal back to the publisher, who looked up sales figures on the last werewolf novel and nixed the offer. That was so frustrating. The novel they looked up had nothing in common with mine except werewolves, which only seemed to support what I'd been hearing all along–that werewolf novels are a very tough sell.
But the disappointment didn't last long. Within a couple of days, she'd sold it to Little, Brown in the UK and secured some foreign sales. Then she came home, sold US rights (Viking), Canadian rights (Random House) and movie rights.
So how did I celebrate? Well, I took my family to brunch to give them the news. Then, with my first advance cheque, I bought the one luxury item I'd always sworn I'd buy if I ever made any money from my writing. I bought…wait for it…a laser printer. And I was happier about that printer than I care to admit. Yes, I'm a total writing geek.
That was 1999. The book, Bitten, came out in 2001. This May I'll see the release of number 7, and there are days when I think I'm still waiting for someone to call and tell me it was all a big misunderstanding!
Want to know more about Kelley Armstrong? You can catch her talking about her books and giving away cool stuff on May 1 at The Good, The Bad, and The Unread.