Welcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Cathy Maxwell is the NY Times bestselling author of a host of fun historical romances. Her latest, The Marriage Ring, is in stores on February 23, 2010.
I was sitting at my desk on the sales floor when the phone rang. It was my agent. She told me I sold my book–
BORING. It's what happened but what a snooze.
The real story, the important one with life lessons and pot banging, is not about the sale, but of an agent calling and offering to rep my book.
I had been taking the two prong approach to selling my manuscript. If I couldn't get an editor, I tried to get an agent and vice versa. Back then, if an editor or agent came within a hundred miles of me, I threw on makeup and a skirt and drove to meet her.
It wasn't easy. I worked full time. My husband traveled. We had three kids. I volunteered And I was writing from 4 – 7 a.m. in the morning.
The agent on the phone wasn't one I'd met in person. I'd heard her discussed at a writers' conference, liked what I heard, and I figured she'd be a good agent for a first time writer. I was right.
She called me on a Monday. She said she liked my writing and thought she could sell this manuscript. I thanked her, I think coherently, hung up the phone, and said in disbelief to my husband, "I have an agent . . . I'm going to sell my book."
Kevin was as stunned as I was. He'd given lip-service to the "Cathy is writing a book" endeavor, but he hadn't believed. Other people write books–not someone you sleep with.
Look, I don't blame him for his doubts. I was the one who had the vision. It wasn't that people expected me to fail . . . they just couldn't wrap their brains around the notion of my succeeding.
But Kevin believed that day –because after we celebrated around the kitchen, after we pulled out pots and pans and banged them and shimmied and shaked with a gusto to make a Lebanese street festival proud, he said, "I get it. It's little steps."
"What's little steps?" I asked, wooden spoon poised mid-bang.
"What you did. This selling your book. Getting an agent. You didn't do it all at once. You took little steps."
I had never looked at it that way, but it was true. First step, sit down and write; second step, start connecting with other writers; third, attend workshops; fourth, network and so on and so forth.
Little steps. Persistent ones and always in the direction of my dream.
Kevin had a dream too. He'd wanted to be a stand-up comedian. He'd tried an open mike night when he was in his twenties but I don't think it went well. As far as I knew he hadn't tried it again.
But whether he believed I'd sell or not, he'd been watching me pursue my goal. He'd noticed that, in spite of rejection letters and tough critiques, I'd created room in a life chock full of things I loved to write.
The next week, he signed up for an acting class. A semester later he took another and then later one on improv. His next step was to try out for an improv troupe. He was asked to join.
Did he head for stand-up stardom?
After meeting guys working the circuit, he realized the road life wasn't for him. He enjoyed the troupe, auditioned for commercials and the like, and had a couple of gigs at sales conventions–all great fun and very fulfilling.
As for me, a year later my agent sold my book to an editor who came within my one hundred mile radius. I met the editor at a writers' conference, introduced myself, and told her the book was on her desk. She thanked me. The following week, I received the call.
Now for the kicker–I was lucky the agent took me on that day so long ago that brought about changes to our lives. I later learned that if my manuscript had arrived on her desk on Friday, she would have sent it back because she'd decided she was repping too many authors. She didn't need more. She'd ordered her secretary to return all unread manuscripts cluttering her office with polite rejections.
However, over the weekend, she'd attended a writers' conference, gossiped with other agents, and had decided she wasn't repping enough authors. She needed more! Where are the manuscripts? She had to have manuscripts! Give her something to read!
And that, my friends, is when my manuscript was placed in her hands. I came so close to being passed over.
Would I have sold eventually?
You bet . . . because I would have continued those small, persistent steps in the direction of my dream.