Feb 13 2009
Welcome to the My First Sale series. Each Friday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Carolyn Jewel writes historicals for Berkley and paranormals for Warner. Her latest, Scandal, is in stores now.
Way back in the dark ages, I decided to write a novel after spending too much time thinking about writing and no time actually writing. So, single and with no children, I wrote what I loved to read: a historical romance. Somehow I was clever enough to get a hold of a Writer’s Market from which I learned how to go about selling a novel. I decided I could only stand two rejections at once. Therefore, I prepared two queries and mailed them off. A bit of literary foreshadowing here: I am slightly dyslexic (I have siblings who are far more severely affected) and as it happens, I transposed some digits on one of the query packages. About six months later, that one came back to me as undeliverable. Yeah. One query made it to its destination.
About two weeks (I am not kidding about the two weeks) after I mailed off my queries I came home from work to find the following message on my answering machine: "Hi, there, I think we have an offer on your book. Can you call me to discuss?" There was more, but my brain kind of froze up. I had to go walk around the block until I was able to think coherently and listen to the voice mail again.
Long story short, an author had failed to timely deliver a book to St. Martin’s Press, and they desperately needed a book for that slot. The line was called "Americans Abroad" so would I mind very much changing my French heroine to an American one? Not at all I said. And could I do that in six weeks? Sure, I said. Which I did. This was February, I believe, and my historical romance, Passion’s Song, was in bookstores in November. Yes, I realize it’s not supposed to happen that way except in the minds of those massive idiots who think this business is easy; all you do is write a book and sell it two weeks later!
I wrote a second book pretty much the same way I wrote the first one, secured an agent and sold that book, too. My next book, I told myself, would be written deliberately. I would plan and mold and sculpt my story until it glittered like gold. Well, let me tell you, this approach was a monumental disaster. That book did not sell. It was beautifully written (everybody said so) and boring as all get out. I wrote another book, trying to plot and plan and logic my way to what I had done pretty much on instinct before and produced another epic failure. I also had a child so there are some fuzzy sleep-deprived years in there. But I wrote when I could.
Basically, I spent the next several years writing and rewriting and gathering blurry photocopied rejections. One publisher rejected me and, about six months later, rejected me again even though I hadn’t re-queried. At least the second one was on their stamp. I can just hear the intern saying, "I hated that query from Carolyn Jewel so much, I think I need to reject her again, just to make sure!" I started another book and it showed every sign of being just as bad as the other two clunkers. By then, however, there was the World Wide Web and I was a member of RWA and I could inflict my beautifully written yet incredibly boring stories on people who were obliged to tell me what they thought. I also studied what I was doing and what other writers were doing; I deconstructed every bit of knowledge to come into my head, and I made sure I owned it and took responsibility for what worked and what didn’t. I discovered I am a seat of the pants writer and that anything much beyond bare bones planning is fatal to my process-’I have the doorstops to prove it.
I ended up with a book that wasn’t boring and I queried about with it, gathering rejections (and doing more revisions) along the way. I eventually I got an agent who called me one day after two or three months and told me we had an offer. I was at work when that call came so I couldn’t jump up and pump my fist in the air or anything. But when I got off the phone, I did go out and take a walk around the building to privately reflect on a success I’d begun to think might never come again.
As far as I’m concerned, I had two first sales. Both taught me some Very Important Lessons. I won’t bore you with all of them, but feel free to suggest lessons learned in the comments, I’m always looking to learn. I’ll end with one that’s pretty obvious; Talent is required, but good timing sure helps.