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My First Sale by Meredith Duran

Meredith Duran’s first sale might be known already. She won the first & Schuster romance writing contest. 500 manuscripts were submitted and Duran’s was the cream that rose to the top. Her winning novel, Duke of Shadows, is in stores now.


meredith_duran.jpgBack in third grade, Mr. Butzen wrote a mysterious word on the chalkboard-‘QWERTY-‘and then asked each of us students to write a one-page story about this word. I decided Qwerty was the name of a donkey who very much wanted to become a horse. Mr. Butzen liked my work; when he handed it back, there was an "E" for "Excellent" written at the top.

After a suspenseful twenty-four hours, Mr. Butzen finally spilled the secret behind QWERTY. I was disgruntled to learn that it referred to something as pedestrian as keyboards; my donkey was far more interesting. I decided to prove this. And so began my extended harassment of poor Mr. Butzen.

Every morning, for several weeks, I would march into the classroom with a new installment in Qwerty’s saga. I filled an entire hot-pink notebook with chapters on that donkey (and his friend, Marina the deer). Mr. Butzen-‘after gently remarking that I was not required to turn in a new Qwerty story every day-‘dutifully continued to read the stories, and to give me Es.

Duke of ShadowsAll this to say, I always thought of myself as a future novelist, and a number of amazing people encouraged me by taking my ambition seriously (even before my head topped their waists). In fact, had you asked me in third grade, I would have gravely described "Qwerty" as my breakout novel. Those Es said it all!

Of course, it took a bit longer to actually sell my work. False starts include: that fantasy novel I wrote in high school. The contemporary I wrote during college. Once in the working world, I managed to land an agent with a novel whose theme-‘a young American obsessed with the fantasyland of popular Indian cinema-‘failed to light fires in publishers’ hearts. The agent shopped it and shopped it, and my hopes-‘which had soared so high on securing representation-‘gradually sank.

Shortly after I realized that the book wasn’t going to sell, it occurred to me that if I were to travel back in time and speak with the third-grader, she would be sorely disappointed in me. She might even give me a "U," for "Unsatisfactory." Here I was, out of college, into grad school, unpublished-‘and now, suddenly, doubting my own writing abilities, wondering if I had what it took to write a book somebody wanted to buy.

Here is where the story takes a fantastic turn.

With my next manuscript, The Duke of Shadows, I queried a short list of agents, none of whom seemed thrilled by the fact that the first half of the book was set in India. Discouraged, I decided to take a break on the whole "selling" part of the business. I tossed the manuscript beneath the proverbial bed and focused strictly on writing. My sister, however, had other plans. Last summer, she dragged the manuscript back into the light, read it, loved it, and urged me to try once more to sell it.

This takes us into August. August in Chicago gets very hot. On a particularly bad night, driven out of bed by sweaty insomnia, I turned on the computer and started surfing the web. It was my usual routine: Dear Author, Smart Bitches, All About Romance. I came across a mention of a romance writing contest sponsored by Pocket Books and The deadline was the next day. Curious, I clicked over to Gather. All you had to do was email an electronic copy of your manuscript to the organizers, and post your first two chapters on line. Hmm. I had a manuscript sitting on my hard drive. Why not? At the least, it would get my sister off my back.

I shrugged and sent off my entry, then promptly forgot that I had entered. A few weeks later, I got a call from Gather telling me that I’d been selected as one of twenty-five semifinalists. I was surprised and pleased. The odds were against me, though, so I didn’t dwell on it too much.

A couple of weeks after that, I got a call from Gather telling me that I was one of the five finalists. Now I was flabbergasted, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not rein in my hope. I had some great workouts in the days that followed-‘chugging away on the elliptical, telling myself, Don’t think about it! Don’t think about it Pedal faster!!

A few days before the official announcement of the winner, it occurred to me that, in keeping with the pattern, the winner probably would be notified in advance. I began to obsessively check my phone for missed calls whenever I returned to my apartment. And so, when I got home from class one day and saw a missed call from New York, I actually felt my heart skip. I set down the phone, then sat myself down on the floor. I thought, Come on, don’t be silly. You have friends in Manhattan. It could be one of them.

My body didn’t seem to accept this explanation. My heart had started to race. My hands were shaking. After all, my friends don’t usually call in the middle of a weekday afternoon.

I said aloud, "This is so stupid." I thought, Don’t do this to yourself. If you do this, you’re going to be heartbroken when they announce the winner.

I picked myself up off the floor, looked at the Caller ID again, and typed the phone number into Google.

The first result: an address located on Avenue of the Americas.

Wasn’t that where the Simon & Schuster offices were located?

Another Google search. Why, yes. Yes, it was.

I sat at my computer, frozen. The silence in my apartment was immense. Out the window, the sun was shining, and people were passing on the sidewalk, kids laughing on their way home from school. But my own universe had shrunk: all I was aware of now was the silence. The phone was not ringing. If it was Pocket Books, wouldn’t they call back?

I sat in that chair for about forty-five minutes. Did small, random things: check emails, pay bills. I thought about calling my mother. I needed to share this agony of suspense! But I couldn’t bear to raise her hopes for nothing. Only-‘I had this immense, weighty feeling in my chest, and my hands wouldn’t stop shaking, and I had never hoped like this in my life.

The phone rang. Caller ID flashed: New York call. I picked it up. Lauren McKenna from Pocket Books introduced herself. She asked how my day was going. I said, "I think it’s about to get a whole lot better."

Oh, and it did. It so did.

For the first few minutes of the conversation, my heart just raced faster and faster, and I babbled my disbelief at Lauren while she laughed and (bless her heart!) patiently reiterated that yes, she was serious, I really was the winner. And then, out of nowhere, as I listened to her, an eerie calm fell over me: a case of joy-induced shock. I was preternaturally composed as I made a phone date to discuss revisions, and when I hung up, I walked over to the window and stood in the late autumn sun and stared out at the trees. There were no words in my mind. My interior monologue had vanished. As I recalled later during a chat, I then called my parents, and could barely muster monosyllabic responses to all their excited questions. It actually took several hours to regain my ability to string sentences together.

When I talked to Lauren later that week, she asked me if I’d gone out with friends to celebrate. But The Call really left me in no shape for company. There is something so profoundly intimate about realizing a dream that you’ve nursed since you were a child. I went out into the sunlight and walked to the bookstore; I celebrated winning the contest by buying myself the new Anne Stuart novel. Being in that bookstore, looking at the spines of the novels on the shelves, realizing that one day my own would be among them-‘it was the most incredible moment of my life.

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. Ciar Cullen
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 08:00:47

    Can you send a copy of that day in your life to me so I can slip into it? Wonderful story. Many congrats.

  2. Leah
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 08:27:53

    Wow. I love “My First Sale,” and I do believe this is the best one yet. Congratulations!

  3. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 09:00:15

    The phone rang. Caller ID flashed: New York call. I picked it up. Lauren McKenna from Pocket Books introduced herself. She asked how my day was going. I said, “I think it's about to get a whole lot better.”

    *G* I loved reading this one.

  4. Maya
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 09:13:42

    Loved your story, thanks for sharing. The eloquent description of that moment of arrival/intimacy with a longheld aspiration choked me up. Can’t wait to have a first sale story of my own.

  5. kyahgirl
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 09:38:39

    what a great story Meredith. For some reason it brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad to see someone rewarded for perseverance and commitment. congrats!

  6. Sherry Thomas
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 09:42:40

    LOL. Lots of grad students selling books lately.

    I’m going out to buy this book today. Esp since my beloved Janine cheats on me with this woman. I have to see how good she is. :-)

    Many congratulations, Meredith.

  7. Phyl
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 10:05:55

    I really enjoy these first sale stories; they’re very inspiring. But this is definitely one of the best ones–Meredith you did a great job of bringing us into the moment with you. I hope you still have Qwerty’s book. Maybe someday it’ll be published too!

    Congratulations. I can’t wait to read your book.

  8. Charlene Teglia
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 10:06:49

    Talk about a happy ending! Although here’s to this being just the beginning for you. Congratulations!

  9. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 10:13:39

    That last line made me tear up, too. Sniffles and congrats.

  10. Rebecca Goings
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 10:39:49

    Congratulations, Meredith. I was “there” when you won on Gather, and I must say you truly deserved it. Even this post shows how well you string your words together. I should say you have a long, successful career ahead of you, lady. What a wonderful first sale story. Very inspiring.


  11. Meredith Duran
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 10:48:39

    Oh wow! What an awesome way to start the morning. Thank you for the congratulations! I’m glad y’all enjoyed it.

    This whole week has felt rather unreal, seeing as the publication of the book coincided with the start of my qualifying exams! I’m currently slaving through the final hours (due tomorrow at 5pm – *gulp*), and let me just say — it’s quite a balm to get up, dreading one’s essay revisions, and discover that people are wishing you well!

    As for the potential future publication of Qwerty’s story — I wouldn’t do that to any of you. Promise.

  12. Bethany
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 10:50:07

    Meredith, I was an intern for Pocket a few years ago and looked to Lauren McKenna as a mentor. She used to load me down with books all the time that were essential for any romance writer/editor’s diet. I doubt you will ever find another editor with as much passion for the industry. And her authors win RITAs right and left, so you’re in good hands!


  13. Janine
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 16:03:08

    Great story! I especially loved the part about Mr. Butzen. It reminded me of some of the great teachers I had.

    Esp since my beloved Janine cheats on me with this woman.

    Can’t I be faithful to you both? What’s happened to good old fashioned polyamory, I ask you? (-;

  14. Ann Aguirre
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 20:53:27

    This was a fantastic story and supremely well written. I’m anxious for Amazon to deliver your book so I can glom it! Congrats, Meredith.

  15. REVIEW: Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Apr 02, 2008 @ 16:01:06

    […] path to publication is fairly well known to the readers of Dear Author. We posted updates about the Gather contest, had […]

  16. Aspiring Romance Author Book Club « Ciaralira
    Apr 08, 2008 @ 14:24:44

    […] Edited to add: The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran will be our historical. Interview about her first sale on Dear Author. […]

  17. oliver
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 13:13:30


    Firstly, i must say I remember a quote from an old high school lecturer…he said once, uou dont always remember the words people write, or the things people say to you, however you do remember how they make you feel… I was looking at some greek mythology on google, and found your blog! Well, its a nice layout, and represents your nature well. Its nice! Well done;


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