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My First Sale by Lisa Kleypas, Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Book CoverI had the opportunity to meet Lisa Kleypas this summer at RWA due the kindness of herself and Sybil of The Good, The Bad, and the Unread. Sybil had arranged for myself and Kristie J to have lunch with Lisa. Lisa took us to the Adolphus Hotel where she had gotten married. During the luncheon and then throughout the conference, I had an opportunity to observe one of the most genuinely kind and un-assuming individuals I have ever had the good fortune to meet. Probably one of the most amazing things about Kleypas is that she really doesn’t realize the magic she has in her head that translates into her books. Her latest release, Mine Till Midnight, features a Rom hero in Regency England. There’s never been a hero quite like Cam.

* * *

Dear Friends,

The occasion of my first sale was a huge relief, because I discovered early in my life that I was good for nothing except writing. Here are the signs that you are probably destined to become an author:

  1. You are absent-minded because you live in a fantasy world most of the time.
  2. You have eye strain from chain-reading (going from book to book the way a chain-smoker goes through cigarettes.)
  3. When you don't like the way someone else's story has turned out, you rewrite it in your head, i.e. Rhett and Scarlett make up, Laurie marries Jo instead of Amy, and Nancy Drew and Ned Nickerson go on a date that ends with a hot make-out scene.
  4. Exercise? What is that word?
  5. You are always hunting for tiny pieces of paper to write down ideas that occur to you at the most inconvenient times and places.
  6. Weird? Me? Not at all. Well, maybe. Just a little. Okay, yes. Probably. All right, definitely. Here's my freak flag, it's flying.

So I always loved writing and reading, wrote my first full-length novel at camp when I was 16, and from then on I wrote a book every summer instead of going for jobs or internships. By the time I was ready to graduate from college, I had no job experience whatsoever, and five unpublished novels under the bed. And I knew if I didn't get a book sold right then, I would have to find a normal nine-to-five job, which would have been okay except I didn't want to do anything except write.

One last shot. Okay. I put my heart and soul into a big, detailed, flowery novel, doing my best imitation of Kathleen Woodiwiss, and sent it to an agent in New York. (I had my parents take my picture with the fedex delivery lady before she put the manuscript in her truck.)

The agent called me three days later and said not only would he represent me, but he could place it at a major publisher for a little less than four thousand dollars.

I was jumping up and down. I was thrilled. Except . . . four thousand dollars for six months of work . . . and that was before the agent's commission. I realized that even if I wrote three books a year, I couldn't afford to get an apartment or health insurance or . . . well, food . . .

I actually turned down the offer and asked the agent to shop the book around for more money. I was dying. I wanted so badly to be published, but I had to make enough to support myself. And then through some miracle, my agent found a publisher who was willing to give me a two-book contract for ten thousand a book.

My career started with "Where Passion Leads," and I wrote three more books for NAL before I finally went to Avon. The main thing I remember about those two years of writing for NAL was the almost feverish sense of joy I felt nearly all the time. I couldn't believe I was getting to do the thing I loved. And gradually I gained the confidence and experience to find my own voice, rather than imitating someone else's. It's been over twenty years, and you know what? . . . I still don't take it for granted. I still have so much to learn. And there are days it still feels like a miracle, being an author.

Love
Lisa Kleypas

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. Kerry Allen
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 05:14:34

    “Get me more money” took guts. I would have lived in the ‘rents’ basement and ate a lot of ramen. You can buy a lifetime supply of ramen for 4 grand.

    Again, love the first sale stories.

  2. Sarah McCarty
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 06:01:34

    Great story and great advice!

  3. Writers Blog » Blog Archive » Two great thoughts for today
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 06:03:19

    [...] The main thing I remember about those two years of writing for NAL was the almost feverish sense of joy I felt nearly all the time. I couldn't believe I was getting to do the thing I loved. – Lisa Kleypas [...]

  4. The Good, The Bad and The Unread » Guest Author: Lisa Kleypas **TODAY**
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 06:47:33

    [...] what we would work it out. And she didn’t mean a quick bite. Lisa Kleypas and Spain treated Jane, KristieJ, and I to a wonderful meal at the hotel she was married at and the girl can pick good [...]

  5. Robin
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 06:59:28

    And gradually I gained the confidence and experience to find my own voice, rather than imitating someone else's. It's been over twenty years, and you know what? . . . I still don't take it for granted.

    All of this is so obvious in reading Kleypas’s books. She is one of those authors, IMO, who has worked at strengthening her craft through almost every book. And as an ambassador of the genre, is there anyone more gracious, tolerant, and kind in her public persona? Not that it matters in terms of the quality of her books, but I’m still glad to know that she’s every bit of that and more in person. I really see her as a tremendous credit to the genre — both its prose and its community.

  6. Kristie(J)
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 08:31:33

    I agree with Jane 100%. Lisa is truly one of the nicest people I’ve met. And considering the fact that she is one of the best authors out there, she really does still strive to write the best that she can.
    I’m fortunate to own some of her earliest work for NAL and even though they may not be the best books going, still there is something even back then about her writing that you can tell is special.
    And to turn down that first offer and even then realize you’re own worth – that’s amazing.
    And Robin – you’re right. She truly is a credit to the world of romance, both as herself and her writing.

  7. Maria Lokken
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 09:37:08

    The passion Lisa has for writing – comes through in all her books. I was first introduced to her writing via the Wallflower Series. I became hooked and have now read them all.

    Lisa – your story about rejecting the first publishing offer is an inspiration and a reminder to me to hold on to what you’re worth.

  8. Jami Alden
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 10:07:51

    I still remember that first book and how much I loved it. I also remember reading a story about Lisa in People Magazine, talking about the beauty queen turned romance novelist, and being so inspired by the fact that she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life and went after it.

  9. Rebecca Goings
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 11:22:17

    Lisa,

    You are an inspiration. I am an avid admirer of your prose. You could write a story about little green men selling flowers in Peru and I would read it. lol

    I think it comes across as excellent because of your firm grasp of deep point of view. Deep POV is something a lot of authors struggle with, heck, I know I do. So when I pick up one of your books, it’s almost like, “Oh yeah, that’s how it should be done.” Like a breath of fresh air.

    That, and you don’t go off on wild tangents when the book should have ended over 100 pages ago. :P Congrats on your career! I’m not ashamed to say I’ve slipped some of my bookmarks into your books on the bookstore shelf… Heheheh

    ~~Becka

  10. Bonnie Dee
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 12:13:57

    Hey, thanks a million, Dear Author for doing the “My First Sale” series. Every post is so heartening and each author you’ve profiled has traveled such a different journey. This really is a great series and could be collected into a book.

  11. Sarah
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 12:38:10

    I’m so glad Ms. Kleypas contributed to your “My First Sale Series” because I love Lisa Kleypas so much, well her books. And this is always just a fun column to read.

  12. Ann Bruce
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 13:18:36

    Great story. I discovered Kleypas with Then Came You, loved her unconventional heroine, and have bought everything with her name on it since.

    A few months ago, I tracked down a woman in the Houston office who’s last name is Kleypas. I wasn’t completely embarrassed because she’s distantly related to Lisa. We ran up the long distance bill talking about our LK favourite books.

  13. Robin
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 15:29:22

    I'm fortunate to own some of her earliest work for NAL and even though they may not be the best books going, still there is something even back then about her writing that you can tell is special.

    Oh, I have a certain fondness for those older books, especially Forever, My Love and Give Me Tonight. I have copies of them all (I may actually have two copies of Love, Come to Me, because I found such a good deal on one, lol). Mireille, from Forever, My Love, is still one of my favorite Kleypas heroines, too.

  14. Lisa Kleypas
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 16:25:57

    Dear Jane and Other Friends,

    I just got back from lunch with my husband Greg, and I’m so pleased and overwhelmed by Jane’s really lovely post, and your kind comments.

    Jane is the most charming, witty and enjoyable lunch companion imaginable. And she is also beautiful.

    And meeting Kristie was one of the high points of the conference for me–she is also witty, and has the most gorgeous eyes and smile, and it was indescribably FUN to be together.

    Robin, thank you so much–I am truly honored, and I’m just sitting here smiling.

  15. Janine
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 17:30:48

    Well, I’m a little late to posting, but I wanted to chime in with the reminiscing about older Kleypas books. Like everyone else I of course love Dreaming of You, but I think my personal favorite might be Only With Your Love, which I adore, forced seduction and all (and I believe it is also a big favorite of Candy from Smart Bitches). Is there any chance this book will someday be reissued? The back cover on my copy accidentally tore a few years back, and I would love to replace the book with a newer copy.

    More recently of course, I really enjoyed The Devil in Winter.

    Great first sale story, Lisa. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  16. sherry thomas
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 18:11:16

    There’s a Kleypas heroine named Mireille? That’s one of my favorite names. French in Action anyone?

  17. Lisa Kleypas
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 18:30:15

    Dear Janine,

    You mean the one with the “swans in love” cover? Heh heh. It is totally up to Avon as to whether it will be reissued. I’m so glad you enjoyed it–I LOVED writing a book set in historical New Orleans. I’m not sure in today’s romance atmosphere if I could write that kind of book and be certain of publication. Not because of the forced sex, mind you, but because of the setting.

  18. Ann Bruce
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 18:51:21

    Janine — Um, I have Only With Your Love in near mint condition. I’m slowly–very, very slowly–thinning my book collection, so if you really want it, I’m willing to part with it because I confess it’s not one of my faves.

  19. Ann Bruce
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 18:56:29

    Actually, I just saw OWYL at Amazon.com.

  20. Robin
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 20:02:11

    There's a Kleypas heroine named Mireille?

    Yup, and she has a grand tragic story of escape from France. She first appears in Where Passion Leads and gets her own story in Forever, My Love. Although I didn’t love WPL (creepy forced seduction scene I never quite got past), it’s pretty strongly connected to FML. One of my favorite things about Mireille is that she’s an herbalist. And she has a ton of pride.

    Actually, I just saw OWYL at Amazon.com.

    It’s also at Fictionwise.

  21. Janine
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 21:05:11

    Oh wow, it is available. What on earth made me think it was out of print? Apologies all around!

  22. Janine
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 21:07:31

    Lisa, I hear you on the New Orleans setting. As much as I love reading books set in England, I miss the days when settings were more diverse.

  23. Kristie(J)
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 21:51:32

    I think one of my greatest Lisa Kleypas finds was Forever My Love, a time-travel, reincarnation Western.

  24. Robin
    Oct 06, 2007 @ 13:52:38

    Kristie, I think you’re talking about Give Me Tonight (one of my faves of Kleypas’s older books). Forever My Love is the follow-up to Where Passion Leads, and both take place in Regency England (FML has an interesting side plot involving Beau Brummell). Then there’s Love, Come to Me, which is set in Boston after the Civil War. Is that it for the Onyx books?

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