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My First Sale by Deidre Knight

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.

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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.

1028In 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.

book review 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.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

23 Comments

  1. rebyj
    May 04, 2009 @ 10:52:16

    I think that’s awesome. You wrote it and the perfect publisher for the book didn’t exsist just yet. Your idea was ahead of it’s time is all! That should give a lot of authors some hope.

    Once I figure out how to use my ipod Touch to read ebooks I’ll be getting Butterfly Tattoo. I was going to wait till the paper copy release because I simply cannot read ebooks on desktop but now with this Touch I’m ready to dive in and read ebooks on it’s lil screen. I think.

  2. Alex
    May 04, 2009 @ 11:07:23

    Butterfly Tattoo is one of the best stories I read in a long, long time. I first saw the review here at Dear Author and I spend the next day waiting for the ebook to be available. I read it right away, I just couldn’t wait. When I finished the last page, I had a huge smile on my face and my eyes were red and puffy after crying so hard. I’m happy that some people take chances and are willing to persevere and manage to publish such beautiful and wonderful stories. Thank you so much Deidre Knight and Angela James!

  3. SonomaLass
    May 04, 2009 @ 11:09:48

    Hey, rebyj, let us know how that works out! I have an inkling that there’s a Touch in my future, too; reading on the laptop is okay, but not as portable or convenient as an iPod would be. Because I’m dying to read this book!

    Thanks, Ms. Knight, for the inspiring story. It’s nice to hear from an industry insider that belief in your book, patience and persistence do pay off. Congratulations on what I hope will be the runaway success of this book!

  4. Louisa Edwards
    May 04, 2009 @ 11:25:42

    Okay, the part of the story you left out was how freaking much I WANTED to buy Butterfly when it came across my desk! Love love love that book. But I truly believe that things worked out exactly as they were meant to, and now Butterfly Tattoo stands as a perfect example of the future of e-publishing: edgy, exciting, sexy, and serious, going where traditional publishers are afraid to tread.

  5. Jeanne Devlin
    May 04, 2009 @ 11:35:12

    Timing does seem to play a roll. How the U.S. has changed in five short years. And how smart of you to not stash the book so far in the attic, you never submitted it again!

    But, I’m with Louisa, from the first page of this book, you know you’re reading something special.

    And aren’t books supposed to take us places we wouldn’t get to go otherwise?

    I was also struck by how gracefully you juggled his/her point of view in Butterfly Tattoo — both rang so very true.

  6. Yvette Davis
    May 04, 2009 @ 11:36:17

    Yay.

    There’s hope for me yet.

    I don’t seem to want to write

    1) “tough” women with guns stories
    2) CIA/FBI agent stories
    3) demon or shape shifter love stories
    4) Dan Brown type thrillers
    5) very literary Ishiguro type stuff

    What I DO want to write is a little more off the beaten path. Odd imperfect characters dealing with an equally imperfect world.

    Glad to know others got lonely on the journey to being pubb’d too. But that there remains hope.

    Thanks!

  7. kimber an
    May 04, 2009 @ 12:03:31

    I’m curious to know if this has changed you as an agent?

  8. Kate Pearce
    May 04, 2009 @ 12:08:51

    I love this story for so many reasons. Because she is also a writer, Deidre gets the fact that her clients (and herself) have to write the book they are meant to write, have to be true to themselves, have to be honest.
    Very inspiring :)

  9. Kristen
    May 04, 2009 @ 12:31:47

    What a great, inspiring story. Thanks for sharing with us, Deidre! And thanks to Angie, for having the guts to publish this awesome book!

  10. JT Banks
    May 04, 2009 @ 12:55:59

    Deidre’s story is so similar to my journey it’s scary. I’m so glad you forged on–you go girl!! Not as fearless as you, I rewrote my first person alternating chapters and found a publisher (to soon to announce). I look forward to reading BUTTERFLY TATTOO.

  11. Pamela Turner
    May 04, 2009 @ 13:17:20

    Thanks for the uplifting words! (I really needed to hear that today.) :-)
    I’m looking forward to reading Butterfly Tattoo and am glad that you didn’t give up even when those around you did.

  12. LaurieF
    May 04, 2009 @ 13:25:44

    Butterfly Tattoo has been on my list of ebooks to buy since I
    first read the review here at Dear Author.
    It has now gone to the top of the list as my next
    ebook purchase based on the other reviews I’ve read and the
    fabulous word of mouth. Congrats on your success!
    So glad you didn’t give up on this book.

  13. Jen
    May 04, 2009 @ 13:46:46

    I wasn’t sure about Butterfly Tattoo at first, not because of the bisexual hero, but the rotating first person POV. I ususally don’t like that. However, it got good reviews here and at Ms Giggles so I had to give it a try. I’m so glad I did. It’s a beautiful story and I loved it. I’m so glad I gave it a chance.

  14. Bonnie Dee
    May 04, 2009 @ 13:53:09

    And rah, rah for Samhain for taking chances on less marketable material. My first book with them was the same kind of thing. Underage male prostitute? I don’t think so. But Finding Home found a home at Samhain.

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring story.

  15. Jory Strong
    May 04, 2009 @ 14:44:12

    Wonderful post and a great validation of e-publishing.

  16. Janine
    May 04, 2009 @ 14:50:02

    Thanks so much for this first sale story. They are always inspiring but this one was especially so.

    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.

    That was a brave thing to do. I can’t wait to read Butterfly Tattoo.

  17. Maria Geraci
    May 04, 2009 @ 15:58:45

    What an incredible story, Deidre! It just proves that you have to write what you love. In the end, that’s what really matters. And I love that you quoted KC from Bull Durham!!

  18. Deidre Knight
    May 05, 2009 @ 08:52:06

    Oh, how I love these comments! Gang, you’ve made my week! (Month?? YEAR?) :) Seriously, the reaction and feedback that BUTTERFLY TATTOO is receiving is pretty much every author’s dream come true. And now that you’ve read about the book’s labored road to publication (or labored “delivery”, so to speak!), you can imagine how much I treasure your comments.

    Kimber, you asked how this changed me as an agent, great question–and then how interesting that one of my clients, Kate Pearce, posted right after you!

    I was always an agent who took chances on “unusual” books. When I first shopped Karen Marie Moning (who I discovered and repped for a decade), paranormal was dead. That’s what I was told and repeatedly. THis was 1997. One editor said to me, “You’ll never sell that. Nobody wants to read time travel.” (Sound familiar? Sort of like the “super editor” talking to me about BUTTERFLY??) I went on to sell Karen and Karen went on to be a blockbuster NYT bestseller–paving the way for me to sell another author, Gena Showalter, and to grow another author, Robin Owens, etc and so on. The point? I’m just not a believer in letting market guide my ship, not as an agent OR as an author. If I love it, I champion it–period.

    I can give another example in nonfiction. I shopped a book called 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN back a few years ago. I was told repeatedly that nobody wanted memoirs. One publisher bought it, and now five million copies later, I think we can see that the public does, indeed, want memoirs!! LOL!

    Anyway, so I’m rambling. But my point is that I was always a risk-taker as an agent, but your question is so wonderful, b/c this journey HAS changed me as an agent. I think it’s made me far more empathetic to my authors, to how bad rejection can sting (I was always empathetic b/c my hubby is a multipublished author, but this experience made me more so.) I think being an author, period, has given me a greater understanding of all the phases that my authors go through. For instance, I really *get* how a copy editor can be frustrating if he/she isn’t the right one for the book. Just one little example. :)

    Thanks a million, guys. Thank you for taking a chance on my “little book that could.” Hugs, Deidre

  19. JJ
    May 05, 2009 @ 09:22:20

    Great post, Deidre. I can’t figure out why the book was turned down initiaily. I have read it and loved the journey!!! You have a beautiful gift of communication and you’re a natural story teller. You heal hearts. :D

    Hugs, JJ

  20. BookstoreDeb
    May 05, 2009 @ 10:50:35

    Deidre, thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story with us. I’ve been following you since before your first book hit the shelves and I’ve totally enjoyed each and every book you have written. You are high on my list of recommended reads!

    Thank you for the many hours of pure enjoyment!

  21. Sandra Sookoo
    May 05, 2009 @ 17:20:56

    Thanks for the story. It gives hope to me and many other new authors out there. I keep submitting and the publishers and agents keep rejecting and I keep writing. I have some things out there with e-presses but the hope is still alive for that all important call from someone in NY.

    Thanks!

  22. Zippy
    May 06, 2009 @ 11:53:20

    Ms Knight – I loved Butterfly Tatoo! I have never read your other books but I do like contemporaries, altho I usually avoid any M/M romance. I got choked up so many times reading it I finally kept an old tshirt handy for dabbing my eyes. I would have liked a bit more hotness in the bedroom scenes but overall it was a very, very fine read and a heart warming story of healing and hope. Thank you and I’m glad you perservered in getting it published!

  23. Натан
    Jan 05, 2010 @ 20:16:42

    Ну а теперь, как говорится, хотелось бы заслушать начальника транспортного цеха ;)

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