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. Deidre Knight is the author the Gods of Midnight series from Berkley (a paranormal romance series) and the fabulous contemporary Butterfly Tattoo. I was intrigued by Knight’s story of publication because Butterfly Tattoo was released by small press publisher, Samhain, which specializes in digital publishing. Butterfly Tattoo is the perfect example of how digital publishing can bring genre bending content to the readership, taking risks where print publishers cannot.
It’s a thrill to be blogging here on Dear Author today. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Deidre Knight, author of the Gods of Midnight series (RED FIRE, RED KISS). Before writing about immortal Spartans, I penned books about star-crossed alien/human lovers with my PARALLEL series. Most recently, my first contemporary romance, BUTTERFLY TATTOO, released from Samhain two weeks ago.
I’m also founder of The Knight Agency which represents such powerhouse authors as Gena Showalter, Nalini Singh, Robin Owens, Pamela Britton, Marjorie M. Liu, and Shannon Butcher. The agency grew out of my love of books in general, and my passion for writing in particular, and it’s nearly impossible for me to separate one part of my creative and professional self from the other.
In short, when I first set out to write for publication, I knew what to expect. To quote Kevin Costner, "I’d been to the show. Given that fact, you’d naturally assume that my debut attempt would be so commercial, so "of the market" that publishers would be trampling one another in a rush to acquire it. Well, for those of you familiar (or not) with BUTTERFLY TATTOO, let’s ponder all the barriers I stacked against myself with that "first" novel: bisexual hero, rotating first person POV, present tense.
But, you see, if I was going to make the leap from writing essentially for myself, I wanted to tell the story that was burning inside of me. Even if BUTTERFLY TATTOO wasn’t predictable or middle-ground, I believed that being true to my writer’s self would lead to being a published novelist. I still believe that’s true advice, applicable to any author’s career, despite the fact that some of my fellow agents disagree with me. The downside is that following your creative impulse can slow things down for a while if the publishing world isn’t quite ready for your book of the heart.
The first inkling I had that BUTTERFLY would have a tough go of it with New York publishers came in 2004. I was in a meeting with a "super editor", someone who had discovered some incredible women’s fiction. I’ll never forget how heartsick I felt after leaving her office.
"That book will never sell," she told me after I described BUTTERFLY. "Readers just aren’t ready for that kind of thing." I left the building, climbed in a cab, and as we wove our way through Central Park, collapsed against the seat. I was writing the unpublishable book. I was supposed to know better. I was supposed to spend sixteen months writing something marketable.
And then, after arriving back home, I decided maybe she just wasn’t the right editor for the project. Others would get it; they had to. Soon, my agent sent BUTTERFLY out to a carefully chosen list of editors, and we submitted it under a pseudonym so that nobody would know it was by me. I wanted to see what my peers really thought, not what they might want me to hear.
It was an incredible ride! I came close to selling repeatedly-’was considered for hard cover at several big houses-’but each time the book proved to be just a click too edgy. I believe we sent to some thirty imprints, all of which passed. I was heartbroken, literally sick in the soul, a feeling that culminated when a hurricane came through my inland town and managed to total both of our cars. I remember finally breaking then, and sobbed as realization hit that my beloved book would not find a home.
And then, after a few days, I did what I tell so many fellow writers and clients: picked myself up, started something new, and got back in the game. Since my more literary romance/women’s fiction had been a bomb, I chose to write my other passion, paranormal romance. We targeted some of the more enthusiastic editors from our first submission, and what do you know? Louisa Edwards at Berkley loved PARALLEL ATTRACTION. She read it overnight, and within a week, I had a three-book deal. I went on to write five PARALLEL stories, including a novella, PARALLEL FIRE, which first introduced me to my editor at Samhain, Angela James.
Guess what else? When we first shopped BUTTERFLY TATTOO in 2004, Samhain didn’t even exist, and in the end, they proved to be the perfect publisher for it. They have the ability to reach a readership that is open to gay and bisexually-themed stories, and are more open to novels that truly push the envelope. And those are exactly the kinds of stories I need and crave to tell as an author-’the ones that challenge readers. I want to create characters who are real and flawed and maybe a little threatening to all of us because that’s when the reading experience becomes a true journey. We discover, we rage, we break, we heal.
Unlike the bigger New York houses that couldn’t publish BUTTERFLY TATTOO, my fantastic and truly "super editor" at Samhain, Angela James, understood exactly what I was doing. She got me, she got the novel itself. Samhain was perfect because they publish books for readers who are willing to take bigger chances-’and they can afford to take chances themselves because unlike New York houses they don’t have to lay out a big advance, and it doesn’t cost them as much to publish the book.
The key was a simple one: I never gave up on that novel and the hope that it would be published-’and by the right people. Really, that’s the biggest element of being an author, period. You must always retain the same hunger, fortitude and drive for every book, every series. Not only is it what makes the journey magical, it’s what brings the novels to life.