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My First Sale by Lois McMaster Bujold, She Got By with...

When Lois McMaster Bujold agreed to write a first sale letter for the blog, I almost fainted with delight. I started reading Ms. Bujold at the beginning of her Sharing Knife series despite hearing about how fantastic her Miles Vorkosigan/Naismith series. I was intimidated by the size of that backlist even though I found Bujold to be a sensitive and gifted writer.

I finally broke down and bought Cordelia’s Honor after the wonderful guest review by Elizabeth and was converted. When Ned came nosing around for something to read, I gave him the book and he was converted. He’s reading his way through the series (currently at Brothers in Arms) and says that he is really into it. I keep asking him if we can buy the Lego Space series set and shoot a little Miles V video.

Bujold’s latest release is the Sharing Knife: Passage and will be on bookstore shelves on April 22, 2008.


Well, my first sale ever was a short story to Twilight Zone Magazine, towards the end of 1984. The news arrived as a typed postcard fallen down to the bottom of my mailbox, and the excitement and validation helped power me through writing my third novel (which was Ethan of Athos) in 1985. But the first big sale came that October, just about a year later.

I’d begun the book that was to become Shards of Honor back in late 1982, inspired by the example and with a lot of help from my friends Lillian Stewart Carl and Patricia Wrede. Just six weeks after I finished it in the fall of ’83, I started its sequel, The Warrior’s Apprentice. I was living the isolated life of a stay-at-home mom with two pre-school children in a small rustbelt town in Ohio, but was able to send carbon copies of my laboriously typed drafts to Dallas and Minneapolis, respectively, and get chapters to critique in return. These friendships were lifelines in every sense. As each manuscript came off the boards it started on the painfully slow process of submission to mysterious, scary New York.

When The Warrior’s Apprentice came back from its third rejection, Lillian suggested I try it on Betsy Mitchell at Baen Books, because Lillian had met this editor at a convention and thought she would at least give it a helpful read. I’d never before heard of Baen — the company was in fact only two years old at that point — but I composed a cover letter mentioning the other two books, trying not to sound as desperate as I was, and sent it off.

And one afternoon in October of ’85 Jim Baen called me and offered on all three books. I was in my kitchen in the midst of I-don’t-remember-what, and was thrown into a loop by this call. I’d been expecting a letter, if anything. (Later, I learned that good news in publishing often comes by phone, for what are upon reflection obvious psychological reasons. This was in the days before e-mail, mind.) I hadn’t even known there was a Jim Baen — the only name I’d heard was Betsy’s. The mental picture I immediately built up of him had not much to do with reality, I’m afraid. I didn’t even exactly know what a publisher was or did, although I vaguely understood the functions of an editor. I had yet to learn that a publishing company could consist of as little as half a dozen people, a rented office, a phone and fax line, and a bottle of Maalox, and was more inclined to picture poor Jim as something like Sauron in the tower of Barad-dur. The conversation that followed may well have been nearly as confusing to Jim as it was to me, but we got through it somehow, after which I lay down on my yellow linoleum and hyperventilated a bit.

I had actually temporized during the call, unable to believe this wasn’t some sort of faerie gold that would vanish in the morning, and full of paranoias about publishers and publishing garnered from the usual gossip inflicted upon newbie writers. I followed it up with a flurry of phone calls to the few people I knew who knew anything about publishing, or Baen. Fortunately, the upshot of it all was for me to accept the acceptance — that must have been a phone call too, but not one I now remember. I do remember I had to write and pull the manuscript of Ethan from the slush pile in which it was then languishing; I think Shards was free at that point.

I didn’t tell my parents or my extended family about it till Thanksgiving, when the contract had finally arrived to make it all seem more real. I had scripted in my head a sort of Hah! Now see! announcement for dinner, but my daughter let the cat out of the bag prematurely. The advantage of fictional people is that one can actually use the dialogue one makes up. This never seems to work with real ones.

I didn’t get an agent till several books later, but the delay did me no harm. The agent I finally shook hands with at Nebula Weekend in New York in the spring of ’89, Eleanor Wood, was one of the best, and I’d learned enough about the business by then to have at least some dim appreciation of the fact. Nineteen years later (yeesh, has it been that long already?) we’re still together.

For another great interview and review with Lois, you can visit fantasy book critic.

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. Marianne McA
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 06:41:58

    I’ve pre-ordered Passage, but don’t even have it as having been published yet – they’re quoting a delivery date in June.
    Not good at waiting paitiently.

  2. Keishon
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 07:01:49

    Well, I bought the ebook for the third book in the Sharing Knife series. I plan to start the trilogy sometime this summer. I’ve heard nothing but GREAT things about this author, therefore, I must find and read Cordelia’s Honor.

    Hey J, who is reviewing The Passage?

  3. dre-chan
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 07:24:14

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! I had never read an interview or anythign about Ms.Bujold. It was great to read this about her first time getting published.
    I went through my high school years reading the Vorkosigan Series–To this day if I feel the urge I will pick up Cordelia’s Honor and read it. I fully support the Miles V series as mini legos (but how will you get the mini lego to play Miles?)
    Thank you, I’ll definitely consider picking up the Sharing Knife series.

  4. (Jān)
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 08:12:44

    One of my all-time favorite SF authors! Thank God for Jim Baen bringing her books to us. Though I’m sure someone else would have come to their senses sooner or later.

    Keishon, you’d love the Vorkosigan series, thought not all books are of equal strength.

  5. jmc
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 08:21:34

    Thank you for the lovely first-sale tale. Love the idea of Lego Miles.

    My copy of Passage arrived on Wednesday, and I am impatiently waiting for the weekend and a large enough block of time to sit down and read it cover to cover.

  6. GrowlyCub
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 08:47:08

    Passage is great. I loved seeing Dag and Fawn again.
    I read Legacy first, then Passage and then finally Beguilement. Great stuff. The love scene at the beginning of Legacy is one of the best (and funniest in a very tender way) I have ever read.

    I cannot believe we have to wait another year for Horizon! Want, now!

    Oh, Marianne. Fictionwise has the e-version with a 100% microrebate right now, which means you can buy it now and they credit the same amount to your account in micropay with which you can then buy other e-books, making it essentially free and no wait till June!

  7. lisabea
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 08:49:40

    I have this one comment to make: I absolutely loved Paladin of Souls and The Curse of Chalion. Gush. More Gush.

  8. Amanda
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 09:22:27

    I’m so glad to see Lois McMaster Bujold’s first sale letter. I love her writing and humor, and I’ve been devouring her backlist ever since I first read Beguilement. My copy of Passage arrived yesterday, and I stayed up late last night to finish it. It just confirmed her place on my auto-buy list.

  9. Throwmearope
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 09:28:02

    My first Bujold book was Spirit Ring. Then I gobbled up the Vorkosigan Saga whole. And I have been at my local BN on the out date for every single book since! She is my hubby’s favorite writer, too. But instead of galloping through the latest Beguilement, I have decided to savor it. This annoys my husband because he didn’t get his hands on it first. Snooze, lose.

  10. Sunita
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 10:59:13

    Thanks, Jane, what a treat! I went through the whole Miles series years ago and then hooked my husband. Lucky man, he still has half of them to go. Then HE hooked me on Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. He’s reading the Beguilement series and I’m saving them for the summer. I don’t understand why Ms. Bujold isn’t a huge household name. Oh, I know she’s highly respected in the SFF and a section of the romance communities, but I think *everyone* should be reading her. I don’t want to say that her books transcend genre, because that’s denigrating genre, but they locate themselves within genre categories while adding nuance, complexity, and wonderful unexpected surprises.

  11. Janine
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 11:44:53

    I really enjoyed Shards of Honor, which Jan turned me on to years ago, so it’s a treat to hear the story behind the sale of this book.

  12. Jules Jones
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 12:24:00

    Good to hear the “first sale” story behind one of my favourite series. :-)

    [Is trying very hard not to be squeeing fangirl…]

  13. Radish
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:07:41

    Ditto what Jules said!!

    And I so relate to this line from Ms. Bujold:

    The advantage of fictional people is that one can actually use the dialogue one makes up. This never seems to work with real ones.

    Thanks for the fantastic interview. 8)

  14. Li
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:19:30

    Lego Miles V video??!! LOL – I would probably pay to see that one.

    I finished “Passages” yesterday, staying up until 2am to do so – and yes, I had to be at work by 9am the next day. Like GrowlyCub, I want “Horizon” *now*.

  15. GrowlyCub
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:27:35

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one feeling like a squeeing fangirl. I always censor myself trying not to gush too much… silly me! Squee, gush. I really can’t believe we have to wait a year for Horizon.

    Bujold’s books are fabulous. My absolute favorite line comes from the chronology. ‘Miles hits 30, 30 hits back.’

    I stand in awe of Sunita for expressing what I could never have put into words.

    but they locate themselves within genre categories while adding nuance, complexity, and wonderful unexpected surprises.

    That’s exactly it! Thanks for writing that, Sunita!

  16. Jorrie Spencer
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:46:57

    Loved the interview!

    After reading the first book Sharing Knife book, I decided I should wait until all books are out and read them together. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to stick to this strategy…

  17. SonomaLass
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:47:06

    Yes, me = squeeing fangirl, too. And echoing lisabea about Paladin of Souls and The Curse of Chalion. Thanks for scoring this account; I love these first sale stories.

  18. Sunita
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 14:00:45

    Awww, thanks, Growly Cub! And back at ya. You frequently write what I want to say and leave me to lurk, just nodding my head in agreement.

    And rereading my comment, I definitely didn’t want to suggest that genre writing can’t contain nuance, etc. It certainly can, and authors like Ms. Bujold remind us how memorable the reading experience is when it does.

  19. Cordelia’s Honor (Part 1: Shards of Honor) by Lois McMaster Bujold « Janicu’s Book Blog
    Dec 19, 2009 @ 14:04:42

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