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My First Sale by James Hayman, Call It Beginners Luck

James HaymanWelcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Like the hero of The Cutting, James Hayman is a transplanted New Yorker. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Manhattan, he spent more than twenty years writing TV advertising for clients like The U.S. Army, Lincoln-Mercury and Procter & Gamble. He moved to Portland, Maine in 2001. Four years later he decided to scratch a lifelong itch to write fiction and began work on his first suspense thriller featuring homicide detective Mike McCabe. St. Martin’s/Minotaur bought rights to The Cutting and published it in July, 2009. Hayman is currently at work on the second McCabe novel which is due to be published in July, 2010. The tentative title is The Chill of Night.


I took my first crack at writing a novel at an age when my most of my contemporaries were figuring out their Social Security benefits and considering the merits of taking up golf full time.

Not to put too fine point in it, I was more than a little gray. As it turned out I was also more than a little lucky.

The CuttingWhile I’d been a writer all my life, I’d never tried fiction before. Not so much as a single short story.     I’d spent more than twenty-five years as a copywriter and creative director at several of the biggest advertising agencies in the world. I wrote TV and print campaigns for a long list of major clients that included the US Army ("Be All You Can Be"), Lincoln/Mercury ("The Shape You Want To Be In") and Advil ("Advanced Medicine For Pain").   After I left the agency business in the late nineties I put in several years freelancing for clients in the financial services and healthcare industries. I wrote articles, brochures, annual reports, and, for the last couple of years, glossy coffee table histories of major institutions.

At the end of 2005 I finished an assignment writing the history of a major hospital based in Portland, Maine. I had nothing else scheduled.   I’d always thought I’d like to take a crack at writing a thriller and I decided if I was ever going to do it, this seemed like as good a time as any.

So I asked my wife how she would feel if I stopped working for a year, we lived off our savings (this was, of course, before the 2008 market crash) and I wrote my first novel. If I couldn’t sell it, I told her, I could always go back to writing institutional histories.

"Is this something you really want to do?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "I really do."

"Well then," she said, "You’d better get started."

And so I set to work.   I bought a bunch of books on how to write a novel. Write Away by Elizabeth George and Stephen King’s On Writing were probably the most helpful. I joined a writing workshop led by a woman who taught creative writing at a nearby university. And I started developing plot ideas and a lead character for a thriller series based in my hometown of Portland, Maine.

For the next eighteen months I wrote and revised, wrote and revised.   I finished a polished draft of THE CUTTING in June, 2007.

The rest, amazingly, turned out to be easy. And extremely serendipitous.   I mentioned to a neighbor of mine that I’d finished the book and she asked me what I planned to do next. I said I was going to start looking for an agent. She said her sister had gone to elementary school with a woman who was now a literary agent in New York and asked if I like her to contact the woman.   I said sure, not really expecting anything to come of it.

I googled the agent’s name and discovered she was one of the top mystery and thriller agents in the business, representing writers like Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Gardner and Julia Spencer-Fleming. She told my neighbor to have me to send her a cover letter and the first eighty pages of THE CUTTING.   I did.

A week later she emailed me to request the rest of the manuscript. Two weeks after that she offered to represent me. After a couple of months of further revisions she sent the manuscript out to six or seven major publishers. We got two offers including the one we took for a two book deal from St. Martin’s/Minotaur.

Yes, I believe I’m a good writer and that THE CUTTING is a good book. I think it’s fast paced, well-written and exciting to read. Most of the critics and most of my readers seem to agree.   It’s gotten terrific reviews.

Still I know I was extraordinarily lucky to have everything fall in place so quickly.   I’d be a fool to think otherwise.     Maybe the gods simply took a look at all my gray hair and decided if I was ever going to become a novelist they’d better hurry things along a bit.

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. Terry Odell
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 07:00:21

    Great story. I had my AARP card before I submitted my first book, and although I have 4 books published, with a 5th on the way, I haven’t landed that “big” deal yet. Maybe I’ll stop going to the hair salon.

  2. Bonnie Dee
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 07:18:54

    Great “first sale” story. Congratulations on taking that plunge and having the result be so successful.

  3. Carolyn Jewel
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 09:30:03

    Great story! Thanks for sharing it. It takes luck, talent and a level head to succeed in this business. Obviously, you have all three.

  4. Gennita Low
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 11:53:26

    Congratulations! And you’re never too old to start writing!

  5. Kate Pearce
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 12:45:33

    Everyone needs a bit of luck in the journey to publication and its always nice to hear about when all the pieces fall into place! Congratulations!

  6. Janine
    Nov 17, 2009 @ 02:38:43

    I wrote TV and print campaigns for a long list of major clients that included the US Army (“Be All You Can Be”), Lincoln/Mercury (“The Shape You Want To Be In”) and Advil (“Advanced Medicine For Pain”).

    Ah, so we have you to thank for those? Just kidding — the slogans actually make me feel nostalgic for those years of my life.

    I enjoyed your first sale story. You must be a skilled writer as well as a lucky one to have sold so quickly.

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