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My First Sale by Kate Quinn

katequinnWelcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Kate Quinn’s first book, Mistress of Rome, is in stores now.


2008 had not started well. My fiancé and I spent New Year's Day driving through a blizzard on our way back from a mountain vacation, and toppled into bed after midnight after digging his car out of six snowdrifts. I slept through my alarm, was wakened by my phone ringing, assumed it was my irate boss wondering why I wasn't at my desk, and went back to sleep. But it wasn't my boss; it was a literary agent in New York. Who wanted to represent both me and the massive unwieldy novel about ancient Rome that I had been shopping around for the past seven years.

Not that I was searching for an agent that entire time. I'd finished my novel, a historical fiction epic set during the reign of a deeply crazy Emperor, and I'd immediately sent out a round of query letters that came back to me just as fast. The process of finding an agent, an editor, a publisher, in fact any sentient being to take an interest in your work – well, it can be extremely discouraging. And I'd always rather be working on a new book than camped out by the mailbox waiting for rejection letters, so in the seven years following my Roman epic's completion I only intermittently worked on trying to get it published. In 2007 I abandoned the Roman epic and tried my luck on a different book, sending out rounds of queries and getting the usual batch of "No thanks," "Not accepting new clients," "Not for us," and just one "I like your style, but this isn't quite doing it for me." I latched onto the last response and volunteered to send my Roman epic for perusal instead. Off it went, looking distinctly tatty by this point, and I largely forgot about it. Until I got that phone call on the second day of the new year, bone tired from snow-shoveling and very late for work.

Well, 2008 got a whole lot better right away. Even my boss, who was extremely irate by the time I showed up in mid-afternoon, couldn't dim my radiant mood. I had an agent. I practiced nonchalant phrases: "Sorry, my agent is on the other line." "I have lunch today with my agent." We hit it off over the phone at once, though I managed to stun her with the realization that I was only twenty-six. "You're a baby!" she said in astonishment, and I decided not to tell her (yet) that I'd written my novel at the age of nineteen. One shock at a time.

MistressofRomeOf course, an agent is only the beginning. My Roman epic had to be made publishable first, and my agent had a list of improvements. I gulped, reached for a scalpel, and tore into my baby without mercy. Four months later, my fat schlubby pages had been transformed into a taut sleek novel, much like the winning contestant on The Biggest Loser. My agent began shopping it around New York, and I began praying. A few months later, I was tying my sneakers to go on a hike when I got The Call.

I don't remember much of that phone call – something about Berkley Books and a 2010 release. I remember my fiancé hovering at my side, scribbling notes on a pad as I talked with my agent: Well?! Did you get an offer?! Put the phone on speaker!!! I remember burying my face in a pillow afterward and trembling. I remember calling my mother and telling her to sit down before I said another word. And I don't remember much of the rest of that evening, because great quantities of champagne were involved.

2008 turned out to be a pretty good year after all.

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. Carol Storm
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 07:28:21

    Great story, Kate! Thank you for sharing. Patience, flexibility, and a willingness to listen are clearly the key to your amazing success. Very valuable reminders for all of us!

  2. Patrice
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 10:41:43

    What a great story! I chuckled at the idea of practicing casual phrases when you got an agent. I can see that! And I appreciate you sharing you had to polish your story. I can’t relate to those accounts where someone whips off a novel, immediately finds an agent and gets a contract.

    Rome is hot again. I’ll have to check out Mistress of Rome. Your book may inspire me to read historicals again! :)

    Congrats on your success, and wishing you many more!

  3. RebeccaJ
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 13:09:52

    Congratulations, Kate!

  4. Janine
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 14:49:38

    Great story. I love that you didn’t give up. Amazing that you wrote the manuscript when you were nineteen. Not many writers have the skills and maturity at that age to write a manuscript that will sell.

  5. Carolyn Jewel
    Apr 20, 2010 @ 08:15:14

    What a fun story to read! I LOVE stories about Rome, too, so I’m glad to hear about a book to go look for.

  6. Kate Quinn
    Apr 20, 2010 @ 11:11:42

    What nice comments! Thanks everybody – I’m so glad I had a chance to come to “Dear Author.”

  7. Liz Fichera
    Apr 20, 2010 @ 17:34:25

    I love historicals and this one sounds lovely. Can’t wait to read it!

  8. Isabel Berrios-Brown
    May 26, 2010 @ 15:24:24

    Just bought your book! I’ve been working on my own novel set in ancient Rome too and your success story is an encouragement!

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