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My First Sale by Darynda Jones

Darynda JonesWelcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Darynda Jones sold her debut book, a Golden Heart winning entry, at auction to St. Martin’s Press.   First Grave on the Right is on shelves starting tomorrow.


An interesting thing happened on the road to publication. Life.

While I'd been conjuring tales since before I could actually write, I didn't really know I wanted to be a writer-for-reals until I was in middle school. But by that time, I knew three things about myself that made a writing career seem impossible: I was a horrid speller; I had the attention span of a gnat; I was nowhere near smart enough to pull off a novel, much less (gasp) two!

But with the encouragement of my best friend who also loved to write, I started my first manuscript in high school. We'd sit in a corner booth at the local Tastee Freeze for hours at a time, each writing our respective stories. Mine was post-apocalyptic about a group of teens who bore a remarkable resemblance to the members of Van Halen and were trying to escape the tunnels of a huge government fallout facility decades after World War III had destroyed the surface of the earth. It was a science fiction version of the cult classic The Warriors and destined to be a bestseller.

But after graduation, the real world came crashing through. Marriage, kids, college, career. These things took over my life. Still, the desire to write needled it's way back to the surface. Unable to squelch it any longer, in 2002 I started writing seriously again with one goal in mind: A publishing contract. Unfortunately, I sucked. Thank goodness practice makes perfect and three complete manuscripts and seven years later, I won an RWA Golden Heart, landed an amazing agent and sold to St. Martin's Press in a three-book deal.

Easy-peasy, right?

Well, maybe not. For me, that Golden Heart final changed everything. Admittedly, I'd been entering the Golden Heart for several years, and while I received some pretty good scores (and some not-so-good ones), every year I really thought I had a chance to final. Until 2009. I signed up to enter First Grave on the Right for one reason, and one reason only. I wanted to force myself to finish it. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt it would not final. No way. No how. And then I was mad that I'd wasted the entry fee. That money could have been used for something worthwhile, like a workshop! But I grudgingly sent it in and forgot about it completely. No, really. I dismissed it from my mind entirely.

So March 25th rolls around and while I was at work my husband texted me. There was a message on the machine saying I'd finaled in a contest. I texted him back, "What? I haven't entered any contests." "IDK, something about a golden something or other." I froze. Actually, I had to freeze. I was in the middle of state testing with a client and I couldn't make a peep, not a sound, nothing that would distract the student from the test. So, I texted, "Did it say the Golden Heart?" "Yes." I freaked out. On the inside. And texted OMG to my husband over and over. Fortunately, my client was just finishing up the test. She closed the test booklet and I burst into tears, jumped up and hugged her. It was ridiculous. She got upset that I was crying.

Sadly, the manuscript needed tons of work, so after the final, I polished it for about two months before querying. Then I spent about a week doing research and writing my query. When I was satisfied, I queried about twenty agents over a three-day period. Within a week I had an offer of representation. I wrote the agents who'd asked for either a partial or a full, told them about the offer and gave them a few days to get back to me. Before the week was out, I had eight offers of representation from some of the most amazing agents in the business.

I know that sounds wonderful, but it was actually one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I never expected that kind of response and was very torn. I spoke to each of them, many more than once. I emailed them, asked questions, researched some more. After a week that I never want to repeat as long as I live, I accepted an offer of representation from Alexandra Machinist at the Linda Chester Literary Agency. And let me just say, having her in my corner is like having Mike Tyson as a personal bodyguard. I am beyond grateful.

First Grave on the RightThe GH win garnered a lot of interest, so Alexandra began shopping First Grave that August. About a week later, I was in the middle of district meetings and noticed Alexandra had called. We played phone tag for a bit, and when we finally connected, she asked if I was sitting down. Jennifer Enderlin from St. Martin's Press had made an offer for a three-book deal. Yes, THE Jennifer Enderlin. The offer was so much more than either of us had expected the waterworks started all over again.

We had a couple more offers over the next 24 hours and then right before Alexandra sent it to the floor for auction, Jennifer swept in with a pre-empt we simply couldn't refuse.

Whew! And now, book one in the Charley Davidson series, First Grave on the Right, is coming out in hardcover. February 1st, to be exact.

Thank you so much, Jane, for having me! And I would love to give one commenter his or her choice of either the hardback or the audiobook read by the fabulous Lorelei King.

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. Tez Miller
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 04:28:22

    If it weren’t for that GH win, I may not have chased you down ;-) Really, I saw your name on the list, and investigated you. I’m glad I did :-)

  2. Merrian
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 04:46:14

    What a wonderful story about believing in yourself and your creativity

  3. Jeannie Lin
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 05:16:38

    Hearing that story makes my heart thump all over again. It’s amazing how the Golden Heart or one little event can be the tipping point and cause everything to snowball. Congratulations and I can’t wait to pick up First Grave on the Right tomorrow.

  4. Tweets that mention My First Sale by Darynda Jones | Dear Author --
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 05:46:58

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeannie Lin, dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: My First Sale by Darynda Jones […]

  5. Abbe
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 06:55:18

    Thanks for sharing your story! I’m looking forward to your book!

  6. Joanne
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 07:11:25

    I’ve read an ARC of First Grave On The Right that came from a contest with St Martin’s Press and can I just say: WOWSER! So Good!

    Thank you for sharing your firt sale story and congratulations on a marvelous debut book.

  7. Lori S.
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 07:50:44

    Wow, what a great story. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Kieran
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 07:57:50

    I am SO looking forward to FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT! I pre-ordered it, so I hope I get it on your release day, Darynda! Or maybe today!! Your First Sale story was AWESOME!!! Wow!!!! I’m so happy for you. :>)

  9. Carolyn Jewel
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 08:39:25

    Whew! I got all tense and teary at your story! Thanks so much for sharing it and congratulations on your sale, not to mention kudos for all your hard work!

  10. Suzy K
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 09:30:43

    This sounds quite interesting & I look forward to reading it, whether from DA or the bookstore.

  11. liz talley
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 09:32:54

    Yay! I’m *almost* as excited as you about the release day! I won an ARC, too, and may I say this new series is going to charm the socks off readers worldwide. It will make you laugh and sigh. Is there anything any better? So, yes, go out and buy it. It’s a great book to chase off the winter doldrums.

    Loved reliving the call stories, again and again. You’re such a good person, Darynda, and you deserve all the success you’re going to achieve with your girl Charley :)

  12. LSUReader
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 09:33:37

    Congratulations on your perserverance and publication. What a great story.

  13. Deanne
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 09:33:46

    I love reading My First Sale stories. There is so much there to hang on to. After hearing so many people tell you how hard it is to get published it nice to hear it can actually happen if you work at it and never give up. Thanks for sharing your story and btw, Tastee Freeze was one of my favorite hang outs when I was in school. Memories.

  14. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 10:17:34

    Thank you all so much for stopping by!!! I’m so thrilled to be here and so grateful for all the comments. Good luck to everyone on the giveaway!

  15. Katherine
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 11:01:20

    What an inspiring story! Makes me wonder if I should dust off my long dormant dream…

    Thanks for sharing your story. The book sounds right up my alley too!

  16. liz talley
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 11:32:57

    @LSUReader: You find LSU fans everywhere! I’m a fan too; in fact, I’m working on a new series where one of my heroes is an LSU coach. How fun is that?

    Okay, sorry to yank the thread. When you see another Tiger fan, it’s hard not to say hello.

    Now, back to the fabulous Darynda and her awesome book :) Sorry, D, for highjacking.

  17. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 11:43:33

    Thanks, Katherine! Good luck.

    And LOL, Liz! No problem whatsoever. I’ve been to LSU. Went to a concert there when I was in middle school. Hahaha.

  18. Jeanne
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 11:59:19

    Darynda, that’s a wonderful story–both inspiring and terrifying. You deserve every accolade coming. Hard work and perseverance! We’re all proud of you.

  19. kate Pearce
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 12:18:19

    I love First Sales stories and yours is awesome. Big congrats and I’ll be looking forward to reading the book.

  20. Cecilia Grant
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 12:21:44

    Oh please, please write that book about the postapocalyptic Van Halen teenagers! I would read that tomorrow.

    Congratulations on a powerhouse First Sale story. Can’t wait to read your book.

  21. Leslie Karen Witwer
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 12:31:00

    What a wonderful story! I can’t wait to read this book and the many more you’ll be conjuring. Good for you.

  22. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 13:09:15

    Thanks again, all!!! Cecilia, LOL! I’ll work on it. It’s such a fun story. :)

  23. Tamara Hogan
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 13:15:22

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your First Sale story. I was fortunate enough to win an ARC of FIRST GRAVE, and…what a treat to read. It made me bust a gut laughing. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    Your talent is undeniable and your success is SO well deserved. (And thanks for acknowledging that there are some aspects of this process that are really quite stressful!)

  24. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 13:19:17

    Aw, thanks so much, Tammy! And thanks for stopping by! There are definitley stressful moments, huh? :)

  25. Elisa Beatty
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 13:27:44

    Hurray, Darynda! This is so awesome…and I love hearing your call story, even though I’ve heard it before.

    I also was lucky enough to get an ARC, and loved, loved, loved it! It’s a thrill of a read, and hilarious, and Charley’s a fabulous character….I can’t wait for tomorrow when she’s launched to the world!!

  26. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 13:33:53

    Thank you so much, Elisa!!! I can’t wait to hear your first sale story. Woohoo!

  27. Danniele
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 13:58:26

    Darynda, So very excited about your launch!!!! And that cover — gorgeous. Fabulous shoes for a fabulous heroine. Can’t wait to read it!!!!

  28. Elyssa Papa
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 14:10:37

    This is a fabulous First Sale story. And this is why I love this weekly article so much. As someone who’s trying to get published, I have often reread these stories to give me hope…that despite whatever odds there may be, that others have succeeded. What I really like about Darynda’s story is how she entered the contest, not thinking it would final, and all this fabulousness happened. I’ve heard great things about this book and from my interactions with Darynda on Twitter, she seems like a fabulous person. I cannot wait to read this one!

  29. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 14:21:31

    Elyssa, thank you so much and I can’t wait to read your story. I’ve loved getting to know you over the last few months. Good luck with your writing!!!

  30. Jenn Stark
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 14:34:16

    Darynda, I knew your story but hearing it all over again just gives me goosebumps. I expect another signed copy at RWA Nationals… I’ll just add it to the group I’m already buying!

    Congratulations and may 2011 be your most prosperous and joyful year yet!

  31. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 14:38:21

    Absoloutely, Jenn! Thank you so much!!!

  32. Lindsey
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 14:59:41

    What a great first sale story! I mean, they’re all inspiring, but this one is just just speaks to me, for some reason. Congratulations on your debut tomorrow!

  33. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 15:04:58

    Wow, Lindsey, thank you so much!!!

  34. Janine
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 16:12:06

    I just wanted to say I enjoyed this first sale story so much. Like Elyssa, I love that you entered the Golden Heart without expecting to final, and still finaled. Congratulations on your publication!

  35. Brandy
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 16:19:30

    I hope your student tester calmed down and was happy for you! I’m going to be looking for your book the next time I visit the bookstore!

  36. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 16:37:10

    Thank you so much, Janine and Brandy! And, yes, she calmed down, but I really did freak her out. My bad. :)

  37. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 16:38:09

    Oh, and Janine, that does seem to make it all the sweeter, huh? I honestly thought I broke too many rules. Glad I was wrong!

  38. Darynda Jones
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 19:46:25

    @Tez Miller: By the way, Tez, I’m glad you did too! :)

  39. Lynn Raye Harris
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 21:01:29

    I love these kinds of stories! Many congrats to you. I always say that perseverance pays off. You’re yet another example. :)

  40. JenM
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 22:08:19

    I always love reading these stories. It must be so exciting to finally get that call and I can’t even imagine how you must feel when you finally hold the finished product in your hand. I read the synopsis of the book a few months ago and immediately added it to my wishlist. It’s exactly the kind of story I love.

  41. Gwen Hayes
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 22:27:53

    I have heard so many good things about this book! I can’t wait to read it, Darynda.

  42. Marian Pearson Stevens
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 22:34:16

    Darynda–loved your call story–very inspiring! The book sounds amazing! Congrats on the release!

  43. Suzanne Perazzini
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 00:16:50

    I loved your story. I’m glad to hear your words about Alexandra Machinist because I got to the revisions stage with her recently but didn’t quite make it and was wondering what she was like to have as an agent.
    I love your cover so much. It’s clean and intriguing.

  44. Ann G
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 00:16:55

    Darynda–Congratulations on selling your book.

  45. Pam S (pams00)
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 00:29:19

    What an amazing story. Thanks so much for sharing! Congrats on your release it sounds like a fab read!

  46. Darynda Jones
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 01:31:47

    Thanks so much to everyone who stopped by! I love call stories too. So fun and inspiring. I so appreciate the comments and good luck to everyone in the drawing!

  47. February 1st is Darynda Jones Day! « Pamela Cayne
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 06:50:22

    […] so too, because Darynda sold in a 3-book pre-empt auction. (Read the story of how it happened here and I dare you not to squee as much as I did.) […]

  48. Ivy
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 09:21:48

    I love the First Sale stories. Just more proof I’m a reader not a writer. FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT sounds like a great read and I look forward to reading it, one way or another.

  49. Darynda Jones
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 10:54:30

    Thank you so much, Ivy! Hope you like!

  50. Laurie London
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 11:21:52

    Such a great story, Darynda! I’d heard bits and pieces of how you’d sold, but as I’m reading it here, I’m totally tearing up.

    Wishing you the best of luck and I can’t wait to pick up my copy tomorrow.

    Happy Release Day!!

    xxooxo Laurie

  51. Darynda Jones
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 11:30:34

    Thank you so much, Laurie!!! I hope you like it. I just picked up my copy of your latest. Woohoo!!! And can I just say WOW to that cover. NICE!!!

  52. Spav
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 14:22:38

    I can’t wait to read your book, it sounds awesome!

  53. Darynda Jones
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 14:32:16

    Thank you, Spav!!!! Hope you like!

  54. Teresa N
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 17:10:02

    Congratulations on your first book! It’s been on my TBR pile ever since the cover (love the scythe!) pulled me in. Our library bought three copies, and I’m still hold #5! Looking forward to reading.

  55. Darynda Jones
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 17:17:29

    Oh, yay for you and your library, Teresa!!! Thanks so much!

  56. loreen
    Feb 02, 2011 @ 14:28:07

    I already read the debut novel and I look forward to the next. I hope the books come out quickly as the first ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger!

  57. Darynda Jones
    Feb 02, 2011 @ 14:59:49

    Thanks, Loreen!!! I tried not to do a cliff hanger, but just keep the story going, but I’ve had several comments to that effect. So, oops. LOL.

  58. Mariska
    Feb 02, 2011 @ 17:01:53

    Huge congrats on your debut release!

  59. Darynda Jones
    Feb 02, 2011 @ 18:23:29

    Thank you, Mariska!

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