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My First Sale by Julianne Lee

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. Julianne Lee’s Her Mother’s Daughter: A Novel of Queen Mary Tudor reveals a more emotionally connected Mary, as she hopes to fall in love and live her life with a prince who would rule beside her. The book is in stores now.


Yes, there’s a story there.

Like most authors, I’ve written pretty much all my life. But I thought of it as a hobby until I was over thirty. Then I decided to make a career of it, and began studying both the craft and the business. With no connections, and mostly clueless, I ignored the odds against me and plunged into the fray. Each year I wrote a novel-length manuscript, attended workshops, and shopped around that year’s manuscript to agents and publishers. I learned over the years the ins and outs of submitting, the formatting preferences of editors, and how to approach editors and agents in a professional manner. I got a day job writing for the local newspaper, and meanwhile kept writing novel-length fiction.

About three years into the process, after receiving nothing but form rejections and offers from vanity publishers and scam agents, I received a letter from an editor at Ace Books, Ginjer Buchanan. It was a rejection, but it suggested changes in the manuscript. Changes? To my manuscript? I was overjoyed! She’d not only read the proposal, but she had taken enough interest in it to comment on it!

By the time I received this letter, I’d already moved on to the next project and no longer had much interest in revising the previous manuscript. But I had another one ready to go, and so I sent an outline and chapters in hopes of interesting this editor.

No go for that one, either, but I received another letter of encouragement. I was off to complete another manuscript.

Another two or three manuscripts later, I’d still not made a sale, but she was recommending me to other editors she thought might be able to use my work. I just hadn’t sent the right story at the right moment.

I kept writing, and kept submitting. Now she was getting first perusal on everything I wrote.

Then, after six years and six encouraging rejections, I met Ginjer in person at a fan convention. Complete coincidence, but we were both fans of The X-Files, and there was this very small convention in New Jersey. I’d interviewed David Duchovny for Starlog Magazine, and was attending as a guest panelist. Of course I didn’t thrust a manuscript in Ginjer’s face; I didn’t need to. I introduced myself, and spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the convention. There was plenty of time later to send more proposals. At the time, Ginjer was editing the Quantum Leap novels, and since I was a fan I had a lot of ideas.

Now I was writing proposals for uncompleted manuscripts. Still no sale, but I felt like I had discovered a niche. And one time when Ginjer had a slot to suddenly fill, she called me and asked what I had in my notebook for Sam Beckett. It happened I had six ideas (how did she know that?), and I pitched three of them to her. She chose one, and I worked it into a proposal.

No sale, but I didn’t stop writing and continued to submit. I completed a manuscript for the Highlander series I submitted to another editor. No sale, but no rejection, either.

So finally, after a dozen years of writing and shopping around a manuscript a year, plus eight proposals for uncompleted manuscripts, I finally began to lose hope. I’d been submitting to Ginjer for nine years, and though she’d been encouraging, there was still no sale. I’d run out of angles to try. I emailed her and asked, "What do you think about action/adventure?"

She dismissed it as not a good idea for me, and said, "Why do you ask?"

I told her I was pretty much at the end of my rope and didn’t know what to try next. She replied with the suggestion of time travel to historical Scotland.

Hm…sort of Highlander meets Quantum Leap. Hm…

The idea tweaked me. She sent me some books to read. I bought some research books to study. I went to work, and a couple of months later I sent an outline and three chapters about a twentieth century guy who grabs an enchanted sword and gets sent to the Jacobite Rebellions of the early eighteenth century.

Then I waited.

Three months later, I mentioned to Ginjer that in three months I was going to a writing workshop and would be presenting the proposal to other editors. She had exclusive perusal until March 12.

I waited.

Friday, March 12, 1999. I was due to leave on Sunday for the workshop. I spent the day deeply depressed because I had to face the fact that Ginjer wasn’t going to buy my book. Again. Once again I was at a loss as to how to proceed from there. At four in the afternoon my time-‘nearly clock-out time in New York-‘I was bemoaning this fact to my husband when I got a call waiting beep on the phone.

It was Ginjer, ready to make an offer for Son of the Sword.

There aren’t really words to explain how my life changed that day. That moment. After twelve years, twelve completed manuscripts and eight proposals, after rejection after rejection after rejection, I was finally a real author.

"Her Mother’s Daughter" is my tenth publication with Ginjer. We’ve done two historical fantasy series for Ace Books and three books about women of the Tudor era for Jove and Berkley. There is absolutely no denying that I’m a better writer than I would have been without her guidance.

And…oh, yeah, I did work my ass off.

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. Juliana Stone
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 06:33:30

    Julianne, what an amazing story of perserverance and grit. Wow. I love your story. What a true inspiration! thank you for sharing!

  2. Meanne
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 06:37:24

    I don’t know why this story made me almost cry but it did…12 years!! I would have thrown in the towel long before then. Thank you for sharing your story.. What a reminder to NEVER GIVE UP on your dream…Kudos!

  3. Carolyn Jewel
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 09:01:53

    Thanks for sharing your story. Very inspiring!

  4. DS
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 15:28:06

    J. Ardian Lee? I have Son of the Sword in my TBR pile.

    I’m not so sure about Mary Tudor– I’m more an Elizabeth I fan, but I may give it a try. I haven’t read anything fictional about her since Hilda Lewis’ trilogy– I read it in the early 70’s when I was fascinated by all things Tudor.

  5. SonomaLass
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 13:37:25

    Oh man, I want to read your Mary Tudor book RIGHT NOW. Glad you stuck with it!

    I’m going to point a couple of my students towards this post — that “worked my ass off” piece is the bit they seem not to notice when reading about how authors become successful.

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