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. Mary Carter’s fourth novel, My Sister’s Voice, is due in stores at the end of May. I have to say I love the cover and the line “Every love leaves an echo” is quite evocative. I might pick up a copy myself.
My first novel was called, The Saint of Kleptomaniacs, and it sold in 2004 to Kensington Books four months after my agent began shopping it around. The title was eventually changed to, She'll Take It, but I'm afraid my journey with book titles could fill up another blog entirely, so let's get back to the sale. The process began mid-October. I was like a kid perpetually stuck on Christmas Eve, wondering if the morning would ever come. My heart was on the line every time I had an email update from my agent. It was worse than going on a great first date, then waiting by the phone for the guy to call.
Every detail was of monumental importance to me, and only me. I had to restrain myself from asking my agent for a microscopic description of his day. "Okay," I wanted to say. "Start from the beginning. You got up this morning and-" I imagined him at his desk, querying editors, sending out my manuscript, pausing only to take a quick latte break.
When I went the shipping place to mail the ten manuscripts he would be sending out, I wanted to tell the clerk that this was my novel. I restrained myself not only from spilling every detail to the clerk, but from crawling in the box with the manuscripts and shipping myself to New York like I was dying to do.
It's a rollercoaster, but it's also lonely. You go up the hill, throw your hands up, and come screaming down. What a rush! But when you turn to say-‘Wasn't that amazing? Did you see me? I practically flew out of my seat! You realize-‘you're alone in the car. Oh, friends and family are excited to hear about it. At first. But eventually their eyes glaze over, and you realize you have become that totally self-obsessed person who only talks about the pending sale of their novel, and you need to get a hold of yourself. Because everyone else will go about their lives as if it's just another day. I should have been prescribed Valium, or at the least some kind of literary butler whose only job would have been to follow me around, pat me on the back, and say "Don't worry, it will sell. And if it doesn't, you're still a good person, and there's always a next time. Would you like some more peanut butter and chocolate?"
Then came Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and New Years, a dead zone in the publishing world. Everyone goes on break. No sale would be made during this time. What? Are you kidding me? What kind of masochists were these people?
I somehow made it through the break in one piece. It was a new year, a new start. Emails resumed. My agent maintained a positive outlook, and never once suggested I find a high bridge or a good psychoanalyst. And then, come March, we finally had something definite to go on. My agent was expecting two bids. One was from Random House, and the other was Kensington Books. I was giddy at the thought of being published by Random House. But at the last minute they turned it down, and anxiety flooded me. I was living in Seattle at the time, in a houseboat. Looking back, this was the perfect setting to go through this experience, because I had something else to blame for feeling afloat, and down-right sea sick.
At first I was devastated that Random House didn't buy my novel. Then, Kensington Books came through with their offer. I had never heard of Kensington, and the advance was modest. My agent explained that he thought it would turn out for the best for two reasons: One, he knew the editor at Random House and they had a reputation of being difficult to work with. This editor is no longer at Random House, but at the time it was quite a strange coincidence, because my sister had actually temped at one point for this person, years, and years before, and I remember the sobbing phone calls over the treatment she had received. That released me-‘I was now actually happy they turned me down, and I couldn't believe the odds of it being the same person who had treated my sister so poorly. In contrast, the editor at Kensington was not only easy to get along with, but my agent told me that this editor absolutely loved my book. We had something in common already! And, my agent explained, a modest advance is a good thing for an author just starting out.
Publishing is a business. If you get a large advance and don't sell well, chances are you'll never get a chance to publish a second book. I'm about to have my fourth novel, and second novella published by Kensington, and I'm under contract for two more. Everything worked out the way it was supposed to-‘but you see, I knew it the day it sold-‘it was written in the sky.
When my agent called to tell me about the sale with Kensington, it was March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day. (My great grandparents on my mother's side immigrated to America from Ireland, and my middle name is Patricia). I took a walk along the dock on Lake Union, relishing the champagne I would drink, and the calls I would make to my family. It had just rained, but now the sun was out in full force. I looked toward the heavens, and there, dominating the sky, was a double rainbow. At once, my chaotic world came to a rest. For the moment I felt happy and balanced. I didn't know what was to come, but I knew one thing; I no longer felt as if I were all alone.
- MARY CARTER is a freelance writer and novelist. My Sister's Voice is her fourth novel with Kensington. Her other works include: She'll Take It, Accidentally Engaged, Sunnyside Blues, and The Honeymoon House in the best selling anthology Almost Home. She is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology. She has just completed A Very Maui Christmas, a new novella for Kensington that will be included in a Christmas of 2010 anthology. She is currently working on a new novel, The Pub Across the Pond, about an American woman who swears off all Irish men only to learn she's won a pub in Ireland. Readers are welcome to visit her at marycarterbooks.com.