Welcome to the My First Sale series. Each Friday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Karen White‘s latest release, House on Tradd Street, is one part suspense, one part supernatural and you can buy it in stores now.
In mid-December, 2003 I finally received the call from my agent that I’d pretty much given up hope ever getting. She left a message on my answering machine saying that she had a two-book offer on the table from my dream publisher, Penguin Publishing Group.
I stood listening to the message about a dozen times, holding heavy bags of groceries, wanting to believe in her sincerity while the whole time picturing my long-suffering husband standing behind her while she made the phone call with a weapon pointed at her head.
Let’s back up three years to explain how I got to that point. Granted, it wasn’t technically my "first sale’-‘but for me, it was the first sale that counted. Most people who know me know my story-‘how I entered the first book I ever wrote into a contest and it ended up not only winning, but also garnering the attention of a literary agent who offered to represent me. My first sales were to two small publishers. At the time, I would have worked for free (and I just about did!) for the privilege of being published. My advances were small, my print runs and distribution even smaller. Still I was grateful, and pumped out four award-winning books of which I’m still very proud.
I was at least climbing the ladder of success, although my paltry print-runs and publisher non-support kept me firmly planted on the bottom rung. I felt as if I were going to the prom. Sure, my date was the dorky boy with pimples, but at least I was going!
And then even my foothold on that bottom rung was shaken loose and I crashed to the floor. My publisher dropped me, stripping me of confidence and pride. I couldn’t sell a book for 2 ½ years. Even the dorky boy didn’t want to take me to the prom anymore. I was humiliated, devastated and heartbroken. It no longer mattered to me that I’d published four really great books (as friends and family kept reminding me). At the time, all I could do was point out Tom Petty’s song, Even the Losers (Get Lucky Sometimes).
I was inconsolable. St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases, became my close companion and we’d talk every day. I even thought seriously about making voodoo dolls of certain New York publishing personnel and holding them over hot flames.
I gave myself until December 31st of 2003. If I hadn’t sold another book by then, I was hanging up my word processor. I simply couldn’t bang my head against the wall any longer. On the day I received the call from my agent, my husband was on a business trip in New York. Before he’d left, he asked, "Is there anything I can get you while I’m there?" My despondent answer, "A contract."
I supposed it was only natural, then, that when the call came from my agent later that day, I couldn’t help but picture my husband "influencing’ my agent into making an offer. We authors are a pessimistic bunch, after all. It was only after I’d calmed down enough to call her back that I learned the truth: my manuscript had earned the contract on its own merits and the publisher liked it enough to give me a contract for another book that wasn’t yet even a twinkle in my eye.
So, my advice for all of you writers who are waiting for "the call’ or have hit a bump? Have faith. Have faith in a higher authority that things are working out the way they should. Have faith in your abilities as a writer. Then go do. Keep writing. You can’t sell that next book if it’s not written. Read books out of your genre. Take a writing class to hone your skills. Help others. It takes the focus off of yourself for a while and makes you feel better. Hang out with your friends and people who love you. They are a marvelous buffer against the mean people out there.
I know that it’s inevitable that I’ll hit a rough spot in my career again. But I’ve found the survival basics I’ll need to get through it the next time. Remember: have faith. And voodoo dolls couldn’t hurt, either.