Jul 26 2010
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. Author Darci Hannah is here to share about the pain and perseverance involved in making that first sale.
Breaking into the publishing industry is difficult. Nobody has learned that lesson more thoroughly than me. So when I finally got the news in April of 2009 that I was going to be a published author-’news I could hardly believe myself-’I was, to say the least, ecstatic. I remember it vividly. My kids were on Spring Break; it was snowing outside; we had a houseful of rambunctious teenage boys, and there was a slate-blue peregrine falcon outside my window, sitting placidly on a snow-covered pine bow eating a mouse. It was magical and surreal, just like the phone call from my agent. And then, after savoring the long-awaited victory a moment myself, I started sharing the news. To my astonishment I kept hearing the phrase: "Oh my God! You're so lucky!"
Lucky? Sure, if you call fifteen years of researching and writing, umpteen reams of paper, hundreds of ink cartridges, sleepless nights, soaring hopes, endless reading, two novels, one hundred and fifty-one query letters, and one hundred and fifty rejections from agents lucky- then, ok, I'm lucky. But I like to think my perseverance, utter dedication, and patience had a little something to do with it too. It did, but to the world I was (in the words of Napoleon Dynamite) LUCKY!
The truth is, I was lucky. I never consciously wanted to be a writer and, lucky for me, one day I realized perhaps that's what I was born be. It had never occurred to me until long after my youthful adventures and college, when I found myself married, with two babies, a mortgage and a full-time job in the evenings to make ends meet. I was getting five hours of sleep a night, and what do I do? Why, I picked up a pen and started writing. The floodgates, as they say, were opened, and the stories building inside my imagination since childhood came rushing forth in buckets.
When I say buckets I'm not kidding. My first novel, which encompassed over two reams of paper, took eight years to complete-’eight years because I now had three little boys. But I was on a roll. I realized I had just taught myself how to write a novel and I was so thrilled that I started right in with another-’while naively shopping the "white elephant' (as I lovingly refer to it) around. Two years and one hundred rejection letters later, I finally got the hint that nobody wanted to read a novel they could barely lift. That was when my husband kindly suggested I write a novel people might actually want to read.
It was, admittedly, sound advice. In fact, I had already entertained the idea myself but was too involved with my current project to make the switch. I stopped, and that's when Sara Stevenson popped into my head. Truthfully, she was always there, waiting in a lighthouse on the edge of the world for her true love to come rescue her. I had just finished a summer-long obsession with Robert Louis Stevenson and was watching a particularly enchanting episode of Antiques Roadshow when I knew what I had to do. The two came together and The Exile of Sara Stevenson was born, tumbling onto my paper nearly faster than I could write. By the spring of 2007 I had what I knew to be a very special novel.
Knowing you have a truly great novel and convincing someone of it are, of course, two separate beasts. This time I was smarter about my approach to agents and did meticulous research. To my astonishment, by the end of the year I had fifty new rejections. And then something crazy happened. I found an agent I had never submitted to before, simply because she was "by referral only'. I sent a query anyhow, knowing I had nothing to lose.
That was the day everything changed. The agent responded quickly, asking for the first one hundred pages of the novel. Two weeks later I got a call asking for the rest. From there things happened remarkably fast.
"Are you sitting down?" my agent said, shortly after signing me. I sat, my heart quickening, my eyes transfixed on the hungry falcon out my window. "The Exile of Sara Stevenson has just sold to Ballantine/Random House!!" I screamed. It was a dream: a miracle: a victory. And to this day I'm still joyfully embracing my extraordinarily good Luck!