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My First Sale by Jessica Andersen

jessica_photoWelcome to the My First Sale series. Each Friday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Jessica Andersen is medical doctor specializing in genetics who happens to write romantic suspense for Harlequin and a paranormal romance series for Signet (imprint of Penguin) based on the Mayan calendar. Her book, Dawn Keepers (excerpt) is in stores right now.

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As I tried to figure out where to start this post, I realized I sort of have two first sale stories- my first sale to Intrigue in ’02, and the sale of Nightkeepers to NAL in early ’07. More, I realized that both stories have the same fortune cookie message at the end. So here goes. . .

My first Intrigue, Dr. Bodyguard, arose from a spotlight at RWA national (in Dallas, maybe?), where the senior Intrigue editor talked about wanting cutting-edge stories. She said, "Give me high-tech, give me DNA, give me something I can sink my teeth into!" I sat up and thought, I can do DNA. So I went home and started writing a story set in a gene-mapping lab very like the one where I did my doctoral work (remember, write what you know!). I was so excited about the story that I fired off a query letter when the book was about a third of the way done. And got a rejection letter when it was two-thirds done. Le sigh.

But I kept going and finished the book, sure that this was the story that was finally going to sell. I was finaling in good contests and knew that I was close, but just needed that right timing/right editor/good karma moment. So even though Intrigue had already rejected the story, I went to a local conference and pitched it to the attending editor from Harlequin. She got a gleam in her eye as I pitched, and when I was done she told me to send the full, immediately. I later learned that the decision had just been made to open Intrigue from four to six books per month, and they had slots to fill (see above re: right timing). Within two weeks of that conference, that editor called to buy the book. (And for those of you who think Harlequin doesn’t keep track of whether they’ve rejected stuff before- trust me, they do! They knew they’d already rejected the project on query.)

Now- let’s fast-forward four years. Those were good years in that I was able to write three to four Intrigues a year, honing my craft. But they were frustrating, too, because I wanted to let rip with the complex plots and overarching storylines that I love. My closest writing friend had captured that elusive lightning in a bottle- a fabulous new series at exactly the right time- and hit the big time. I didn’t (don’t) begrudge her that for an instant, but I wanted it to be my turn, too! I wrote single title proposals that got shopped around by first one and then another agent, and were rejected as near-misses. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the writing chops (imho) so much that I hadn’t yet found the story. I was writing medical suspense proposals because that was my platform, but I wasn’t really jonesing to write a big medical suspense- I was forcing it, and it showed.

Then, while doing research for a proposal involving snake cults, I stumbled on an Aztec snake ritual and thought, I like Mesoamerica. (I spent some time in the Yucatan as a child, and crawled around inside a lot of Maya ruins. That’s always stuck with me.) So I followed that info trail, and stumbled over a reference to the end of the Maya Long Count Calendar on December 21, 2012, and how several different lines of evidence suggest that something big and nasty (and potentially apocalyptic) is going to happen on that day. And I thought, Hello. . .? The more I looked into the 2012 doomsday, the more I thought, I want to write about this. Add in the blood sacrifice and the power of lovemaking in the ancient rituals, and I started channeling a sexy, action-packed paranormal series about the men and woman destined to save mankind in the last four years before the 2012 end-date. And I was going to be the one to write it!

I spent the next year researching, writing, rewriting and lining up quotes from bestselling authors (thanks, guys!) for the proposal. Totally jazzed about the stories, I sent it to my then-agents. The response was. . . lukewarm at best. They encouraged me to try another direction. I did. Away from them.

Thus, armed with a proposal that I believed in with every fiber of my being, for a series I was dying to write, I sent out queries to my top five agent picks. Within two weeks, I had offers from three of them. Within a few weeks after that, my fabulous new agent asked me who my dream editor/house would be, and she gave them a forty-eight hour exclusive. Forty-seven hours later, we had an offer. I cried like a baby (though I’ll deny it if anyone asks). That three-book contract became Nightkeepers (6/08), Dawnkeepers (1/09) and Skykeepers (8/09), with another four to six books planned before 12/21/2012 (fingers crossed).

So. . . the fortune cookie take-home? Don’t give up on the story you really, really want to tell. You may have to try some alternatives, or wait for your writing to catch up with your concept. . . or heck, for the market to change in a direction that will accept the book you’re dying to write. But don’t give up on it. You may find your chance sooner than you think.

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

24 Comments

  1. Jayne
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 07:36:35

    Jessica, in that picture, you look ready to kick some ass. And is the world really going to end in 2012, cause if it is, I want to know now so I can ditch the diet and eat chocolate like…well, like it’s the end of the world!

  2. Jane
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 07:49:32

    @Jayne you have to read the books to see if the world is going to end. LOL.

  3. Juliana Stone
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 07:59:50

    loved your story Jessica….and it just goes to show the need to listen to your inner author….the one that knows you’ve written something special!

  4. JulieLeto
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 08:15:26

    Jessica, this is an awesome story! I’m so happy for your continued success…even beyond 2012, LOLOL!

  5. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 09:19:37

    Congrats, Jessica. It was great to meet you at RWA San Francisco!

    My husband and I have also traveled around the Yucatan and crawled through our share of ruins, so I love the Maya angle. This series is at the top of my TBR list!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Diana Peterfreund
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 09:50:22

    Amazing story, Jess! You have such a powerful belief in your own work and that’s a truly inspiring message.

  7. Pam Mann
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 10:34:33

    You make the story so believable!…and ya know …ya just never know……My hubby has been asking me a lot of questions about your book and I think he is actually comparing it to more writing on the countdown date of 2012.(He is a 6’3′ pure Mexican, grandparents from the Yucatan) ….He thought it was just another scifi /paranormal book I was reading till I starting reading some rather poignant paragraphs from the book to him…sooooooo now he has picked the book up and is reading it…and this from a man who has never read anything but non-fiction. Well done, and thanks so much for the book…….and hey, thanks for giving my husband and me something else to talk about instead of the weather…LOL

  8. Julie Trevelyan
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 10:37:50

    Very cool story…I like how honest you are about the emotional aspect of the process for you. And it’s always good to get inspired to keep on with my own writing–thanks!

  9. Grasping for the Wind
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 10:50:49

    A Book Reviewers Linkup Meme…

    My list of fantasy and sf book reviewers is woefully out of date. I need your help to fix that. But rather than go through the hassle of having you send me recommendations or sticking them in comments, what you can do is take the following list and sti…

  10. Jessica Andersen
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 11:46:56

    Jayne- thanks for the compliments on the pic (professional help and airbrushing is my friend!), and see Jane’s answer re: the 2012 doomsday. LOL!

    Juliana- I like the ‘inner author’ idea- she gets to outvote the inner critic sometimes :)

    Julie- hey! thanks for the good wishes, and back atcha!

    Jill- hi! great to meet you, too, and I hope you love the books! See you in DC?

    Diana- hey sistah! thanks for stopping by :)

    Pam- yay us for getting your hubby intrigued! you’ll have to tell me how he liked it (maybe at RT again?)

    Julie- I’m happy the story resonated! Writing can be so isolating if we forget to share our frustrations and successes . . .

    Be well and happy writing (or reading. . . or both!)

  11. LindaR
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 12:33:54

    Thank you so much for this! I’m working on a futuristic fantasy right now that I’m enthralled with — but my true love is my first big fat multi-family, multi-generational historical saga set from 1776 to 1851 in which there are secret babies and only a little bit of semi-explicit sex, and the HEA is only from a certain point of view, if you get my meaning.

    In other words, it’s going to take a long time for the market to come around to that!

    Somehow, you’ve made it okay.

    And now I must go buy your series!

  12. Katy Cooper
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 12:36:01

    As someone whose vile, miserable cold might be better if she hadn’t stayed up way too late the last two nights reading Dawnkeepers, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. I’m a major Meljean Brook fan (too), and if you like the Demon books for their complex world-building, I think you’ll like this series too. It’s got that same really big feeling to it.

  13. Janine
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 12:46:59

    Great story, and I love the way you distill it to a message at the end.

    That three-book contract became Nightkeepers (6/08), Dawnkeepers (1/09) and Skykeepers (8/09), with another four to six books planned before 12/21/2012 (fingers crossed).

    I guess you know what your series deadline is, LOL.

  14. Jessa Slade
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 13:10:18

    I think it’s neat the way the different pieces of your life fell together into this intriguing story. Like some mysterious stela :) I have fairly high hopes the warriors will save the world. It’s a romance, after all.

    Dawnkeepers is in my backpack right now.

  15. Lynn Reynolds
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 15:05:22

    Jessica, your Mayan calendar series is such a fantastic concept – it’s one of those “I wish I’d thought of that” ideas. I’m very comforted by your comment that an author might have to wait for her writing to catch up with some of her ideas. I have a couple of very large-scale stories I want to tell, but whenever I try to write one of them – well, it just winds up a big mess and I go back to doing another short, simple contemporary romance. Now I know there’s still hope for those bigger, more complicated story ideas, as long as I’m patient.

  16. Jessica Andersen
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 15:52:03

    Linda- your description sounds very like mine when I was writing the first of these books, Nightkeepers, which I often called “a big fat multi-POV pre-apocalyptic dark sexy paranormal romantic thriller. . . thing.” Later shortened to just “the Thing.” Here’s hoping the market catches up with your concept!

    Katy- FEEL BETTER!

    Janine- LOL! One of my editors suggested that if the series takes off, I could always extend it past 2012. I was like, “Um, either the world ends or it doesn’t. How do I raise the stakes from there??”

    Fwiw, we just accepted an offer for the next three books, so the series will at least make it through the beginning of 2011. Fingers crossed that I make it all the way to the grand finale!

    Jessa- and how hot is that cover? Rwor!

    Lynn- there’s totally hope- your writing *will* catch up with your big ideas, as long as you keep working at it!

    It took me nearly eighteen months from first concept to a workable (sellable) proposal, and a large part of that was me figuring out how to write such a big, complex story after writing twenty-some Intrigues. And you know what the ‘aha’ moment was? When I stopped trying to write with what I perceived as a ‘big book’ voice, and just wrote the story I saw, using *my* voice, which I also use in the Intrigues: lots of action, a bit of vernacular, and everyman characters who exceed their own expectations. I still struggle to figure out where the big books start and end, though, and have a tendency to turn in 200k manuscripts that my wonderful editors and I whittle down to ~150k. Gack.

    Thanks for the comments!

  17. Janine
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 16:19:03

    Fwiw, we just accepted an offer for the next three books, so the series will at least make it through the beginning of 2011.

    Congratulations!

  18. LindaR
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 17:10:57

    Jessica — thanks for your generous comment.

  19. Karin
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 17:43:04

    Wow, Jessica, kudos for sticking to your guns for your Nightkeepers stories. I’m really looking forward to diving into the series because it sounds fabulous. Your sale story definitely has quite a message in it. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Pam Mann
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 17:46:54

    Doc Jess….I would love to go to RT this year but it looks like it won’t be in the cards. Hubby needs some surgery’s and he is my number 1 priortity. But I am hearing rumors that 2010 RT will be in Ohio……yea that would be awesome…could drive it. Plus you will have your 4th maybe 5th book in the series…..done?? The hubby will be hooked by then and you could meet him. We will bring Hometown made chocolate and a few more suprizes for ya..
    So have a ball at RT this year….it is such a blast..untill then I will leave you with some helpful hints that I have learned in the freakin cold winters in Michigan…”If you leave a tortilla out for a week, you’ve got yourself a handy little ice scrapper” and always park your car in the neighbor’s driveway when a snow storm hits, that way in the morning they usually have the windshiedl clear before they realize its not their car..:)

  21. Jessica Andersen
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 19:02:25

    Janine and Linda- thanks and you’re welcome, respectively :)

    Karin- thanks for checking out the books, and for letting me know you enjoyed the post!

    Pam- Yep, the 4th book is currently scheduled for March of 2010, so that’s perfect timing! See you then and there, and ROFLOL on the winter tips. With a foot of snow due here in CT tomorrow evening, I’m considering the neighbor idea. Not so much the tortilla .

  22. CourtneyLee
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 20:14:48

    Great first sale story, Doc Jess. I’m guessing that your closest writing friend is the one who has lots of alpha males in her head talking all the time? :)

    I haven’t gotten the chance to read Dawnkeepers yet because I want to reread Nightkeepers first (well, and I’m broke), but from what I’ve heard it’s awesome and Nate is delicious. I can’t wait until I get tax money and get to go on a book binge–Dawnkeepers is the first one I’m reading!

  23. Aemelia
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 22:31:19

    sooooo happy to hear that more of the series has been picked up!

    I spent TWO nights this week staying up way too late in order to finish both NIGHTKEEPERS and DAWNKEEPERS…I was totally sucked into their world, now I have to wait until AUGUST to read more!!!!!

    I’m am so jonesing for SKYKEEPERS now.

  24. Miranda
    Jan 10, 2009 @ 21:40:58

    You’ve built an entire world in your Final Prophecy books with which most of us are unfamiliar, and made us feel at home there. I’m not surprised the books are long, you haven’t stinted on detail, but for me it makes them all the better. Your story of serendipitous sale is inspiring, I hope someday I’ll have an equally fulfilling story to tell.

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