My First Sale by Diana Rowland
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. Diana Rowland’s debut book, Mark of the Demon, is in stores now. You can read more about the book, including an excerpt, at Diana’s website.
Fifteen years ago (or thereabouts) I wrote a big, horking, 150,000-word fantasy novel. It was sweeping! It was epic! It was full of every possible fantasy stereotype! Upon finishing, without a care (or a clue), I eagerly bought a copy of Writers Digest to find a publisher to sell it to. But before I could send the first copy out, I had a stroke of luck! A good friend of mine had become engaged to a senior editor at a fairly prominent publishing house, and she agreed to take a look at my manuscript. Several months later I received word that she’d liked it enough to pass it along to her superior. I waited in eager anticipation, certain that in a matter of days, or perhaps weeks, my brilliance would be recognized and I would soon be a Real Live Published Author!
And I waited.
And waited. A year passed. I sent a polite letter to the senior editor asking about the status of my manuscript. A few weeks later I received a package containing an ARC of a book that was coming out soon from that publisher and an apologetic letter from the editor telling me that my manuscript had somehow been misplaced and could I send another copy? (This was before the days of ubiquitous email and attached files.) I dutifully sent another, and then became involved in life things such as a divorce and a change of career. By the time things settled out another year had passed. Once again I sent a polite letter, and a few weeks later received a photocopied form rejection letter.
Three years of waiting, and I got a form rejection.
Oddly, I was more relieved than upset. During those three years I’d realized that, while I had a lot to be proud of about that first novel, it really wasn’t- good, and I could accept that the editor had been more than kind to give it as much of a chance as she had.
I took a bit of a break from writing for a few years, but eventually started writing again. I worked on some short fiction, had a few false starts on novels, but finally everything fell into place and I finished Mark of the Demon. I set it aside, came back to it after a few months, realized it didn’t completely suck, and revised it until I felt it was ready to go out into the world. Fortunately, thanks to the marvels of the internet, this time around I was far more educated about how the process worked!
I became a research junkie and an organized fiend. I made a list of agents who handled science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and mystery, then created a spreadsheet that listed the agency, the agent, the submission requirements, and their expected turn-around time on queries (if known.) I sent queries out five to ten at a time, starting with my "dream" agents, and sending out new batches of queries about once a week. I made additional columns in my spreadsheet to keep track of who I’d sent queries to, what response I received and when, and if additional materials were requested. By about the two month point in my agent search I’d sent out 33 queries, received 22 rejections, 14 requests for partials, and 2 requests for the full manuscript. (I know, it looks like the numbers don’t add up, but several of the rejections were of requested partials.) Both of the requests for the full manuscript were from agents who’d been in the very first batch of queries I’d sent out, and less than three months after I began sending out queries I received an offer of representation.
I was thrilled. Ecstatic! Unspeakably over the moon with joy! I’d finally received validation that maybe I really did have a chance as a writer. I managed to keep my cool long enough to check with a couple of people I knew who were clients of this agent, and when they responded with glowing recommendations, I accepted his offer and signed with him. He asked for some revisions, which I eagerly completed, and then my book went out on submission to publishers. I waited eagerly for news of a sale.
And I waited.
And waited. However, unlike my experience with my first book, this time I at least knew that something was happening. I’m very much the kind of person who likes to know what’s going on, so I asked my agent to provide me with copies of the rejection letters as they came in, which he did. They were fairly encouraging-‘usually on the order of "I don’t know where this would fit in our catalog" or "We have something similar already." (If there were any that said, "This sucks crap from a dead rat’s balls," my agent did not let me know about those!)
During this time I was also working diligently on the sequel to Mark of the Demon, because that’s what you’re supposed to do-‘you work on the next book. But at about the six month point, with nothing but rejections from publishers, my confidence was beginning to waver pretty badly. However, I was trying very hard to be professional and educated about the whole process, and so I had a talk with my agent. I told him I understood that it was [gulp] very possible that Mark of the Demon wouldn’t sell, and asked him whether it was wise for me to continue working on the sequel to a book that might not sell.
His response was to immediately reassure me that he had the utmost confidence that the book would sell. (I’ve since discovered that he’s quite adept at talking clients off the emotional ledges that we sometimes find ourselves on!) However, he also agreed that-‘for the time being-‘if I had another project I wanted to work on, it might be a good plan to do so. I thanked him for understanding. He told me again that he believed Mark of the Demon would sell. I hung up with him, stopped work on the sequel, and started outlining a new project.
Two weeks later he called me to tell me that Mark of the Demon and a sequel had sold to Bantam. And yes, he did say, "I told you so!"
Needless to say, I didn’t mind one bit. :)