My First Sale by Meg Cabot
I can’t remember when I first started reading Meg Cabot, but it was before she started publishing her Princess Diary series. I met her once at a book signing. She wasn’t quite as famous, but she was just as endearing then as she is now. Her effervescent personality, which shines through even a photograph, is only part of the reason why she is so successful. Most of her success can be attributed to her determination and refusal to just not quit. She’s been blogging since 2003; writing dozens of books; attending movie premiers with Julie Andrews; and giving author tips on how to behave in public. If you haven’t read a Meg Cabot yet, you should. It will put a smile on your face. Queen of Babble in the Big City is in stores on May 29.
It wasn't until my dad died suddenly fourteen years ago (I was twenty-six) that my husband pointed out that life is short: Maybe I should try to get some of the books I was always writing for fun (but never showed to anyone–including him) published.
I realized he was right. What did I have to lose anyway? The worst they could say was no.
My first rejection letter came the following week. It was followed by two years of rejection letters from agents almost daily (not on Sundays or major holidays, when there was no mail delivery). I kept all my rejection letters in a US postal mail bag under my bed. I vowed when I got published I would a) sneer at everyone who'd rejected me, and b) show the bag to school kids and tell them never to give up on their dreams.
I don't know why I didn't quit. Especially when I got such widely divergent rejection letters, everything from the word NO! scrawled across my own query letter and mailed back to me in my SASE, to offers from agents who wanted to help rewrite my book(s–"I wasn't sending out query letters about just one book. I had letters out for several completed mystery series and four different historical romances) for a mere $500.
Then one day the phone rang. An agent (whose agency had rejected me three times before, but this particular agent was brand new–"in fact, I would later find out it was her practically first day) liked the partial for one of my medievals. She asked to see more.
I had been down this road before. I figured she was going to ask for $500. But I sent the remaining half of my book anyway.
The next week, that agent called to say she would represent me. FOR FREE.
I really consider that my first sale, because for me getting an agent has been the hardest part of the publishing process. Forty-five novels later, Laura Langlie (currently an independent agent based in Brooklyn) is still my agent–"the only living person who has read everything I have ever written (that I have actually shown to anyone), including many, many manuscripts that to this day have still never been published.
Laura never actually managed to sell that medieval. She did, however, manage to sell my first published book, a Victorian romance I wrote under the pen name Patricia Cabot (Where Roses Grow Wild) for $5,000 to Jennifer Weiss at St. Martin's Press, who liked the medieval but felt that time period wasn't doing well.
But, you know, seriously? That first sale was totally anti-climatic compared to getting an agent. Until what happened next.
Fast forward another couple of years: I was thirty, a published author, but still working my day job. I started writing a book about a girl whose mom was dating her teacher (because mine was). To disguise it so no one would think I was writing about myself, I made the girl 14 years old, and a princess. I gave the book to Laura.
She said, "I think this would be a great movie.–? I laughed. "Good one!–?
She co-agented the film rights with a film agent, Bill Contardi (still my film agent today), who sent the manuscript out to Hollywood. Laura started peddling the publishing rights in Manhattan, everyone seemed to hate The Princess Diaries. I collected huge amounts of rejection letters to add to my postal bag.
Until one day the phone rang. Abigail McAden, a twenty-five year old assistant editor at HarperCollins Children's Books, called to say she loved the book. She bought it (her first hardcover sale ever) for $8,000 (Abby–"now Editorial Director of Point, Scholastic's new teen imprint, for whom I'll be writing three new series–is still my editor today).
Then a few weeks later the phone rang AGAIN. It was Laura to say that Bill Contardi had called. Whitney Houston wanted to produce The Princess Diaries as a film. Eventually Disney came on board as the studio, and Garry Marshall signed on to direct. Someone conned Julie Andrews into starring. I thought it was all a load of hogwash until a check with a lot more zeroes than I had ever seen before showed up in the mail with my name on it.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Oh, except, for my US postal bag with all my rejections in it! I should mention that this bag, which I still have, turns out to be way too heavy to carry, so I have never actually taken it to any schools to show kids how they should never give up on their dreams. Although I do go to schools and tell them that. I just don't bring the bag as a visual aid. The truth is, I can't even lift it.
And I've never sneered at any of the people who rejected me. Because sneering isn't very princessy.