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My First Sale by C.W. Gortner, If At First, You Don't...

We rarely post letters from male authors on the blog but mostly because we read female authors but when I learned of this C.W. Gortner’s quest for publication, I thought it was particularly inspirational.     After all, rejection knows no gender.   While The Last Queen is Gortner’s debut novel to most the world, he actually first self published after thirteen years of snubbing from New York.

Gortner has an M.F.A. in writing from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance.     The Last Queen tells the story of Juana La Loca who many people believed was insane.   Gortner’s story, however, told through Juana’s eyes, suggests that insanity was the pretense by which she held power and saved her country.   P.S. Jayne, I asked for a review copy for you.   It’s on the way.


In May, 2007, I received a phone call from my new agent, the fabulous Jennifer Weltz at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. She told me my historical novel, THE LAST QUEEN, had gone into auction. A few days later, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, won the auction in a six-figure, 2-book deal. "You’re finally on your way," Jennifer laughed as I stood there, literally speechless.

book review She’d said a mouthful! I’d spent the last thirteen years trying to get published. I’d had three agents before her and finished four manuscripts. I never thought it would happen. After so many years, submissions in New York had become a purgatorial merry-go-round during which I stood aside and waited as my manuscripts went out into the ether and returned, invariably, with praise attached to an often bewildering rejection. I’d watched my agents lose confidence. I’d heard time and time again that it was nearly impossible to sell fiction. I even heard historical fiction was a dead genre. I’d begun to think I was cursed.

I finally gave up. After leaving my last agent, I stopped. All of it. I’d been writing for most of my life but the pleasure had vanished. I couldn’t deal with the pyramid of rejections I’d accumulated, the seemingly random nature of the business. I stopped writing for a full six months and was miserable. I realized that I loved to write and deep down inside, I believed my work had merit. So, after months of investigation I happened upon a start-up print-on-demand press and published my fourth-written book: an historical mystery, taut and short-‘the perfect test subject. If I fail, I told myself, at least I tried. A few of my NY-published friends frowned; I plunged in. I learned about cover design, marketing, getting reviews-‘ in short, everything I needed to give my book an edge. In the next three years it sold 7,000 copies, most of them online. I was surprised and delighted. I’d worked my butt off and I had something to show for it. I decided to release another book, the original version of THE LAST QUEEN. Writing had become fun again; more importantly, publishing was fun. I didn’t even consider New York as an option.

Within a month of my second book’s release, 1,000 copies had sold and my new agent called. She wanted sales figures; she’d been watching my progress. I’d previously been represented by the agency through a different agent, so she knew my work. She wanted to do a round in NY and see if there was interest. We liked each other instantly over the phone and her enthusiasm was infectious. I figured, why not? What did I have to lose? It didn’t seem nearly as important anymore whether or not I was accepted in New York. I was happy with where I was.

As it turned out, the timing was perfect. The genre was hot; I had a unique subject that hadn’t been covered; and a sales history, albeit modest. Of course, it still took months. At one point, my agent even said that if the book didn’t sell, she still would represent my subsequent works. That was in December, 2006. By the spring of the following year, my dream came true.

There’s a saying that if you want something bad enough, never give up. I’d add that if you want something bad enough and you find every door closed, make one of your own.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Natalie Hatch
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 05:36:33

    What a great story, I’m glad that everything has worked out, and now I don’t feel quite as rejected as I did, I’m sure there’s a heck of a lot more rejections to come..
    Congratulations on your book deal.

  2. Kim Lenox
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 07:37:11

    Great publication story!

    And I’ve had my eye on this book — Juana sounds like an intriguing subject. I’m looking forward to reading the novel.

    Congratulations again C. W.

  3. Gennita Low
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 08:37:08

    Wonderful! I love to read how success comes unexpectedly and in unexpected ways. Congratulations!

  4. Sarai
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 09:19:48

    After all that hard work its clear to see how much you enjoy writing. I’m putting this book on the must buy list! I can’t wait to read it.
    Good luck with all your writing and future books!!!!

  5. Jody W.
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 09:34:35

    Scary timeline but shiny, hopeful future. Congratulations!

  6. bam
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 10:23:47

    That’s a wonderful, inspiring story, sir.

    Thank you for sharing!

  7. MS Jones
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 10:37:27

    This reminds me of The Lace Reader – the author and her husband didn’t want to “turn it over to someone else and wait two years” to see it in print, so they developed their own marketing campaign, created some buzz, and wound up getting a $2 million deal from William Morrow. This for a self-published first novel.

    So maybe the moral of these stories is to skip the years of submitting to literary agents and just go for it, like Mr. Gortner.

  8. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 10:45:38

    I realized that I loved to write and deep down inside, I believed my work had merit.

    Something I think all aspiring authors need to keep in mind.

  9. Hilcia
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 10:53:23

    As a reader of Historical Fiction, and someone who loves it, it always amazes me to hear that it’s considered a “dead” genre. That was a wonderful story… and I’ll be looking forward to your book Mr. Gortner.

  10. EC Sheedy
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 11:11:28

    Great story, CW–and best of luck with NY. Your next challenge will be deciphering your royalty statements.

    I’ll be looking for your book,

  11. Jessa Slade
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 11:28:25

    It’s always so inspiring to hear when people buck the stats and the years and the naysayers and just go for it and win! To the tune of six figures! Yay & bravo.

  12. Robin
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 12:01:43

    I love this story, especially the way it shows how Gortner was driven by passion for his work, not just a publishing (NY or otherwise) contract.

    Consider another book sold.

  13. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 12:35:41

    Nice to see something about someone other than the normal gaggle of “bankable” historical figures!!!

  14. Janine
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 12:58:42

    I loved this story. How inspiring. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  15. Keishon
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 17:57:07

    This is an inspiring story. Looking forward to Jayne’s review of your latest release as I am a history buff as well. Also, I was one of the readers who bought one of your self-published books, too.

  16. Bev Stephans
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 23:14:57

    Great story. I’ll be looking for your book as Juana is one of my favorite historical characters.

  17. C.W. Gortner
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 00:29:47

    Thank you to all for your wonderful comments, your encouragement, and your support. I am truly honored and humbled. One of the most inspiring advantages of the route I took was that I quite literally built my readership one reader at a time; I thus have had the chance to meet both in person and via the web wonderful readers like you.

    New York may well have never paid me any notice without the sales I managed to accumulate; and I’d never have gotten those sales without the support of my readers. In this exciting time in my writing career, I owe all readers a huge debt of gratitude.

    I do hope you enjoy The Last Queen as much I enjoyed bringing her to life, and I thank you from the heart.

  18. Pump Up Your Book Promotion’s September Authors on Tour - Day 10 « Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 00:48:16

    […] Gortner, author of the historical ficton novel, THE LAST QUEEN, will be stopping off at Dear Author and Book Bitch! The Last Queen tells the legendary story of Juana la Loca, daughter of Isabel of […]

  19. Virtual Book Tour: Historical Fiction Author C.W. Gortner visits Dear Author & Book Bitch! « Let’s Talk Virtual Book Tours
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 12:50:29

    […] C.W. Gortner, author of the historical fiction novel, THE LAST QUEEN, will be stopping off at Dear Author and Book Bitch on Day Ten of his virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book […]

  20. Booklogged
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 18:56:22

    Love stories with happy endings. I noticed that both Gotner’s books have very good ratings at Keep on writing, Mr. Gotner.

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