Welcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Louisa Edwards’ debut book, Can’t Stand the Heat, is on shelves tomorrow. (It’s probably in the stores in right now, but it’s official release date is tomorrow. Go forth read, buy & get the urge to cook or eat). You can read an excerpt here. Comment to win a copy of the book & a Can’t Stand the Heat apron.
Back when I worked in editorial at a major publishing house, all the assistants used to get together and discuss the elements of a surefire bestseller. For instance, I thought a vampire Navy SEAL romance couldn’t help but do well. Two hot trends for the price of one! It was a joke at the time, but when I got married and moved to Ohio, leaving the world of publishing behind, the idea stuck with me. I laboriously wrote, rewrote, and polished a paranormal romance that, while not purely vamps and SEALs, definitely had its roots in that joke.
The manuscript got me my wonderful agent, Deidre Knight, who promptly told me it wasn’t strong enough to be published. She gave me two options-‘I could go back and work on the stuff I’d always glossed over, like, oh hey, the worldbuilding; or I could set this book aside and write something different.
I knew she was right; if the elements that made my story a paranormal felt forced and unnatural, I probably wasn’t meant to write paranormals, no matter how much I love to read them. And no matter how well they sell.
I floundered. I moped. I read a lot-and as I finished my fifth memoir of a famous chef, I decided to take Deidre’s advice and write something I truly loved and felt connected to: a culinary romance.
Sure, as a subgenre, it’s essentially nonexistent. But I’d already done all this research without even realizing it, just because I enjoyed reading about food, chefs, recipes, and restaurants! And I had a sneaking suspicion I’d like writing about them just as much.
I was right. My chef hero and restaurant critic heroine poured out, snapping at each other and eating fabulous food and having hot sex in the kitchen-‘and the whole time I was thinking: No one but me is ever going to want to read this thing.
It was liberating. I stopped worrying about the market; I ignored the bestseller lists. I added a romantic subplot I knew would be controversial, but it didn’t matter, because I loved it.
And when I finally confessed what I was up to, Deidre sucked in a breath and said, “I know an editor who’s been looking for a chef-based romance for years.”
We packaged the first hundred pages of Can’t Stand the Heat into a proposal and sent it out, first to the publisher I’d once worked for, who didn’t like it, and then to the editor Deidre had mentioned.
She asked for an exclusive until after the editorial meeting the following Monday, and Deidre agreed. That Friday, Deidre called me while I was at the office of the nonprofit where I volunteer. I studiously ignored the proposal because I knew it was too early to have heard anything. We chatted for about ten minutes before she said, with this air of repressed glee, “Oh, by the way. I got an offer from St. Martin’s.”
I screamed. Shrieked, in fact, like a teakettle boiling over. The other women in the office looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I ran outside to avoid scaring the rest of the building into thinking there was a fire or a serial killer on the loose, and paced around trying not to hyperventilate while Deidre filled me in.
Offer. Pre-empt. Multi-book contract. So many pretty, pretty words buzzing in my ears, but all I could think was, "I can’t believe they loved the book I actually loved writing."
I hate the phrase "the book of my heart"-‘it sounds so schmaltzy, like the author didn’t even write the book, just sat at her desk and felt it. Writing is hard work, we all know it. But that phrase, wispy as it is, gets at something true.
A common thread through a lot of the posts in this series is that the Big Break comes when you stop writing to a trend or a market, and start writing for yourself. I’m not saying it’s the only way to get published, but it worked for me. I ditched the conventional wisdom about what editors wanted. And as soon as I stopped worrying about writing something that would sell, I sold.
And I lived happily ever after! (See, I told you there’d be clichés-)
Because Can’t Stand the Heat hits shelves on September 1st, I’m giving away my very last advance reading copy and a Can’t Stand the Heat apron. Comment below for a chance to win.