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My First Sale by Jessa Slade

JessaSladeWelcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. This week, however, we are posting a number of First Sale letters.   Because I don’t know how to run my own calendar.   But these are great stories, no?   Today’s story is from Jessa Slade. Seduced by Shadows is her first urban fantasy.


Sometimes I think I took the world’s most boring route to getting The Call. No late night runs across the border. No emergency tracheotomies. No trumpet fanfare.

Instead, it was like a Ken Burns epic: Slow pans across the scene, endless talking heads, a pretty picture, and then a few more slow pans for good measure. Maybe some bagpipes. I’m not complaining, mind you, just sorely tempted to rewrite with more Bruckheimer-style, multi-stage explosions.

Almost a hundred rejections over more than ten years on nearly a million final draft words. The math isn’t exact; I’m rounding to the nearest heartache. On the plus side, my plodding journey did hit most of the cliché mileposts on the path to publication.
1. The first book which must remain forever chained under the bed.

My first attempt at a romance featured leather jerkins, steam locomotives and rubber bands… and it wasn’t steampunk. Who knew you had to pick a time period when you write a book? Needless to say, I began amassing my rejections with that story.

2. Casting about for a "voice."

SBS_cover Once I learned you had to pick a genre, I accidentally wrote one of each of them. From my initial unfortunate mashup, I traipsed-‘with rather more enthusiasm than focus-‘through a couple Regencies, a rom-com and a chick lit, a medieval, a paranormal romance and then a futuristic romantic suspense, and finally an urban fantasy romance. Triangulation isn’t the quickest way to your dream, but you get to explore a lot of ground along the way.

3. Ooh, you’re thisclose.

Eventually, I began to get "good" rejections. Any rejection that didn’t look like a Mad Lib ("Choose an adjective: Desperate. Delusional. Dismayed.") counted as a good rejection. The letters progressed from specifics about what didn’t work, to permission to send the next project, to requests that I revise and resubmit. These sorts of letters are akin to dangling a raw chicken carcass lower and lower over a crocodile tank. It’s all good fun until someone loses an arm.
4. Playing the contest slut.

In 2007, I entered my local Romance Writers of America chapter writing contest as I did most years, only this time, I won! The grand prize was an American Beauty rose dipped in 24-carat gold. Shiny! Best of all, the final-round judging editor asked to see the complete manuscript. I quickly finished it and sent it off. But I’d long ago learned not to wait on pins and needles. I started another story. Only this time, the editor got back to me and asked if I was willing to do revisions. Was I ever!

With an editor circling the hook, I knew this was a good time to query agents. I’d been rejected by most over the years, so I didn’t get my hopes up. Only this time (I’m sure you’re seeing the pattern now) an agent was willing to read the complete.

I’d spent so long lining up my dominoes – nearly a million of the little suckers – by the time they started to fall down, it smacked of a certain cumulative inevitability.

The editor liked the revisions. The agent believed in the story and wanted to represent it. The editor and agent talked about me behind my back (in a good way) and one morning there was an email in my inbox giving me the details of the contract and letting me know we needed to do a few more revisions.

Bemused, I realized I’d hit yet another cliché of the publishing world:
5. Get back to work.

My editor did call me a couple of emailed revisions later to say, Hey, we never did The Call. And, yeah, this time I squealed.
In celebration of my long-awaited-by-me-and-my-grandmother debut, I’d like to give away signed copies of SEDUCED BY SHADOWS, Book 1 of The Marked Souls, to three random commenters.

FTC Advisory Warning: Jessa Slade’s book was provided to the blog by either the author or publisher. No payment was made for this blog post. By posting this first sale letter, we are not endorsing the book or the author of the post.

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. ms bookjunkie
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 12:22:58

    Ooh, yummy cover! *wipes away drool*

    Sounds like a well-rounded education in the school of doing it the hard way… but I’m sure the lessons will stick. Congrats on making it to publication, with a series no less! (At least I’m assuming book 1 means that other books will follow… *eyeroll*)

  2. Terri W.
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 12:50:09

    Congrats on your new book release, Jessa!

    Great post and I love the cover (quite yummy)!

  3. StephS
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 13:18:13

    Hey Jessa,
    Congratulations on your new book!
    I love this line from your post, “Triangulation isn't the quickest way to your dream, but you get to explore a lot of ground along the way.” HA! :-)

  4. Lisa Marie Wilkinson
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 13:20:19

    Congratulations on your debut novel release, Jessa! I had to laugh at your “First Sale” story because it has so many parallels to my own, including the “Contest Slut” part. It just proves that persistence is key.

  5. Ciara Stewart
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 13:40:54

    Congrats Jessa!!! I’m looking forward to reading your book and to meeting you this weekend at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference.

  6. Michele Staci
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 13:47:07

    Jessa, congratulations on your first sale! Can’t wait to read it.

    I love this: The first book which must remain forever chained under the bed.

    I have one of those too! Mine is a short story though and well it lacks a certain depth and so it will forever remain on the shelf collecting dust!

    Again, congratulations – BTW…love the cover!

  7. Ann Aguirre
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 14:04:18

    Congrats, Jessa! Persistence is key in this biz.

  8. Stacy W
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 14:12:17

    Congrats on your first book release! The cover is hot, hot, hot! Sign me up for your contest, I would like to read it ASAP!

  9. rebyj
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 14:15:08

    Congrats Jessa!
    Nice cover, I wanna blow raspberries all over your hero’s belly. Even if he does kinda look like David Hasselhoff. LOL

  10. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 14:24:41

    Great story. I like the cover too. Not everyone can pull off the shirtless + jacket look, but he does an admirable job. Nice!

  11. AnnB
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 14:26:37

    (I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thought the cover model looks like The Hoff!)

    Great first sale story. Best of luck Jessa and hope to see more of your books in the future.

  12. LauraB
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 14:38:54

    Errr…. I’ll try this again.

    This sounds like a great concept and congrats on getting published. It’s so hard to do.

    BTW, could someone explain the semantic difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy? Is it that the later must be urban in setting and the other doesn’t?

    Oh and I thought he looked like the guy who played Angel on Buffy.

  13. AnotherLori
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 14:58:42

    For those of us still in the morass of murky rejections and genre/voice hopping… it’s always inspiring to know that sometimes rainbows lie ahead. And sometimes those rainbows have hot guys on the cover.

    (For real? The Hoff? Naw, better looking.)

  14. Kate Pearce
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 15:10:39

    I always love first sale stories :) Congrats on your success :)

  15. Lori S.
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 15:28:08

    Congrats! Great first sale story!

  16. Jessa Slade
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 15:31:24

    Bookjunkie, given my druthers, I would’ve preferred to be an overnight success. Oh well. Next time.

    Thanks, Teri. I would totally steal Archer’s jacket. I could take him, I think. If he was distracted or something.

    Steph, I think I come to writing like a black lab finds a dead fish: “Ooh, I know it’s close. Is it here? No. Is it there? No. Oooh, getting closer…”

  17. Jessa Slade
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 15:34:47

    I always hated the platitudes about persistence, Lisa Marie. I think I hated it more when I found out it was true; you just have to stick with it, no guarantees, sometimes not even encouragement. Just you and the page and the dream. Ugh, how annoying!

    EC is gonna rock, Ciara. I’m not sure how they’re going to fit us all at the bar Friday night!

    Michele, short stories under the bed are even more dangerous than novel under the bed. The short stories move quicker and have sharper teeth.

  18. Gail Jansen
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 15:51:24

    Way to go! I too loved the “The first book which must remain forever chained under the bed.” (though in my case it’s in the freezer!).

    Great story – great journey (great cover!).


  19. Kayla
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 16:46:09

    Love the FTC warning. Is it wrong that I actually snickered?

    I’m so excited for this book! Thanks for sharing your story, Jessa! :)

  20. Scott Romanski
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 16:56:22

    Congrats on the first sale. Interesting story.

  21. Janine
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 18:09:41

    I really enjoyed reading this story. And whew, nothing to disclose!

  22. Lorraine
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 18:25:04

    Jessa, congratulations on your first sale! Terrific cover.

  23. Barbara Elness
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 18:29:12

    I enjoyed the first sale story – it’s always interesting to hear about the things an author goes through before getting that first book published. I’d love to win Seduced by Shadows, it sounds like a really great story.

  24. Jessa Slade
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 18:41:59

    Rebyj & AnnB, it’s obviously the “Knight Rider” stare that has you thinking of the Hoff. LauraB says David Boreanaz, which is captured in the “Oh, I’m so angsty” cant to his left eyebrow.

    Jill, I lobbied for a tshirt. And since the story is set in Chicago and November, I also suggested a scarf and stocking hat. But for some reason, snuggly bundled-up hero covers don’t sell. Who knew?

    Gail, your first book’s in the freezer?! Obviously a story that must never be freed!

  25. Jessa Slade
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 18:45:26

    Re: Paranormal romance, urban fantasy and my bastard stepchild urban fantasy romance.

    My shorthand version is, in PNR, the romance comes first; in UF, the worldbuilding comes first. In UFR — where SEDUCED BY SHADOWS falls, IMO — the romance and worldbuilding are balanced.

    I’m just made that up this second, but I think it captures what I was hoping to accomplish in my story; that is, my favorite parts of both subgenres.

  26. Meljean
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 19:16:36

    @Jessa Slade: Jessa! *waves* I got your book at the Cedar Hills Border’s today — they had a lovely double stack on the new mass market display.

    I totally agree with your PNR/UF/UFR distinctions, too. I’m sure other readers have different labels, but that is what makes the most sense to me.

  27. Diane M.
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 19:48:59

    Congrats on your book!

  28. Anne Calhoun
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 20:04:09

    I must have this book for the cover alone! Loved the story – esp the line about “rounding to the nearest heartache”. Can’t wait to read it!

  29. Linda Poitevin
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 20:14:06

    I am SO looking forward to reading this, Jessa! Congratulations again on your release…regardless of how fast/slow it came about, or how inevitable it seemed when it finally happened, YOU DID IT!!! And really, that is all that matters, no? :)

    Oh, and love the distinctions between PR, UF, and UFR…now if we could just get the entire industry to agree… :)

  30. E
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 20:57:28

    Congrats on your success! Looking forward to reading this title!

  31. Julia Hunter
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 21:33:14

    Hey Jessa,

    Congrats on your debut book, and thanks for sharing your journey to this point. I look forward to meeting you at Emerald City Writers’ Conference!

  32. SonomaLass
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 21:52:10

    Another awesome first sale story. Agreed, that is a hot cover — I thought of the Hoff first, and then Angel on a closer look, so I guess I’m normal.

    I like your definition of UFR, and it sounds good to me. I’m big on fantasy and sci-fi, so thin world-building annoys me as a reader, but as a romance junkie, I want my lovers front and center in the story.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Disclaimer: my younger daughter’s name is Tessa and mine starts with J, so I may be biased in favor of your book because it combines the two.

  33. Donna S
    Oct 06, 2009 @ 22:11:38

    Congrats on your release. It looks great.

    Thanks for sharing your journey!

  34. RKCharron
    Oct 07, 2009 @ 00:01:11

    Hi Jessa :)
    Thank you for the great post.
    I love your style of writing.
    It was inspirational to me and refueled my own perseverance.
    Thanks for sharing.
    And thank you Jane for having her here.
    All the best,

  35. Meghan
    Oct 07, 2009 @ 06:38:30

    I think the best thing about your story, Jessa, is that you prove persistence is the key! It’s nice to read about exciting first sales but it’s also nice to know that if we keep trying and improve, we WILL get published. I’m going to add your book to my wishlist!

  36. Laurie Thompson
    Oct 07, 2009 @ 08:07:40

    Congratulations on your UFR (love that!) release and the story of “The Call” that sort of happened after the fact.

    Can’t wait to meet you at the Emerald City Writers Conference where that’ll be one of your first book signings…right?

  37. Carolyn Jewel
    Oct 07, 2009 @ 09:18:29

    What a great story. I do love hearing first sale stories. Great cover, by the way!

  38. Diane V
    Oct 07, 2009 @ 12:12:24

    Congratulations – can’t wait to read the book (and drool over the cover.)

  39. My First Sale story at Dear Author « Jessa Slade
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 23:39:39

    […] First Sale story at Dear Author So cool to share my “The Call” story on Dear Author since they were one of the first sites to help me get my bearings after The […]

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