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My First Sale by Karen White

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.   

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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.

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

17 Comments

  1. Pam Chamapgne
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 05:59:50

    Your story, Karen, is an inspiration. Congratulations. No doubt an author has to be as tenacious as a pitbull. Best of luck in the future.

    ReplyReply

  2. Leeann Burke
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 07:43:38

    Your story Karen is inspirational and motivating. Thanks for sharing it.

    ReplyReply

  3. ME
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 08:38:43

    I love hearing stories like this…..well done and obviously well deserved!

    ReplyReply

  4. JulieLeto
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 09:04:18

    I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Karen on the plane home from San Francisco this summer. She was so friendly and warm! I had no idea of her struggle! Karen, thanks for sharing your story!

    ReplyReply

  5. Jana J. Hanson
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 09:08:41

    I cannot WAIT to read this book! Thanks so much for sharing your story, Ms. White.

    ReplyReply

  6. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 09:23:06

    This was a great first sale story, but man, I REALLY loved this part.

    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.

    :)

    ReplyReply

  7. Pump Up Your Book Promotion’s November Authors on Tour - Day 15 « Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 09:44:13

    [...] of the southern women’s fiction novel, THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET, will be stopping off at Dear Author, The Library at the End of the Universe, The Book Girl! Practical-minded Charleston realtor Melanie [...]

  8. Gennita Low
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 09:45:16

    Thank you. Your story means a lot. And I absolutely understand the affinity with St. Jude. He’s my companion too :-P.

    ReplyReply

  9. Dana
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 11:34:40

    Karen, thank you so much for sharing your story – this is the kind of thing all writers, whether aspiring or successful, need to read and remember. I’m so glad it worked out for you and you didn’t have to resort to those voodoo dolls!

    ReplyReply

  10. Margay
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 11:44:48

    What a great post. I especially like your advice to new authors. We should all keep this in mind.

    ReplyReply

  11. Jessa Slade
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 16:45:34

    voodoo dolls couldn't hurt, either.

    Hey, whatever it takes :) Thanks for the reminder that tough times come and go, and faith is forever.

    ReplyReply

  12. Karen White
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 21:42:21

    Thanks, everyone–I’m glad my story touched a chord. It’s one of the things that helped me get through that rough patch: the knowledge that a) I could get through it and b) I could help others get through it, too, once I knew that survival was possible.

    And hi, Julie! Julie was a lifesaver on the flight back from San Francisco and lent me her laptop so I could work on my manuscript with the encroaching deadline. Thanks again, Julie!

    Writers truly are generous people. I’ve even offered to make voodoo dolls for a few of my writing friends…

    ReplyReply

  13. Susan G
    Nov 22, 2008 @ 13:01:35

    Karen White is one of my favorite authors. I have enjoyed so many of her books over the years and just finished “The House on Tradd Street”. I highly recommend it!! Charleston, SC, is one of my favorite places to visit and I always imagine myself living in one of those grand old houses.

    My only complaint? I didn’t realize this new book was the first one in a series until the last chapter so now I am stuck until NOVEMBER 2009 for more of this great story.

    Is it too soon to start begging for an ARC? Please?

    ReplyReply

  14. orannia
    Nov 23, 2008 @ 16:56:10

    That is an amazing (and very inspirational) story. Oh and congratulations!

    ReplyReply

  15. Karen White
    Nov 23, 2008 @ 20:07:53

    Hi, Susan–

    LOL! Gee, I don’t think I can get you an ARC before I’ve actually written the book!! Yes, with all this traveling I’ve been doing, my writing has taken a back seat. I’m on Ch. 12 and I really love it so far (I think it might even be better than TRADD STREET–the characters are just more familiar, I think). My deadline’s Feb. 1st so please keep your fingers crossed for me that my family will leave me alone long enough to write! Oh, yeah, and I hear there’s Christmas coming, too….

    The title of the sequel, btw, is THE GIRL ON LEGARE STREET.

    Happy reading everyone!

    ReplyReply

  16. GL
    Nov 24, 2008 @ 15:45:44

    Dang, Karen, if you don’t remind me of Celine Dion (and that’s a compliment btw).

    ReplyReply

  17. Karen White
    Nov 24, 2008 @ 22:45:47

    LOL!! I actually get that a lot–and that I look like Roz on FRAZIER, too.

    I do sing, but I bet I write better than Celine does and we’ll let her keep to her singing. (smile)

    ReplyReply

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