Welcome to the My First Sale series. Each Friday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Miranda Neville writes historical romances for Avon. Her latest book, Never Resist Temptation (excerpt), is in stores now.
One morning my agent called with two rejections. In the afternoon she called again, with an offer from Avon. A mixed day, but on balance a good one. (Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!)
The story starts about five years earlier when I decided to write a novel. A fan since childhood of Georgette Heyer, I discovered they were publishing Regency romances again. Better still, the new ones had sex. It took me about two years and I slaved over every historical detail, certain no one would want to read my book if I didn’t say exactly how many painted roundels graced the ceiling of the drawing room at Syon House. Nothing much happened in the story, but when finished it had lots of frightfully witty dialogue, two and a half sex scenes and one hundred thousand words, which I’d read on some website was the correct length for a single title romance. With all the confidence of extreme ignorance I set out to find a publisher.
A non-fiction writer friend introduced me to his literary agent, who worked for a large and prestigious firm. My manuscript was passed to the agency’s romance specialist. I had no idea then what a big deal it was to have a full manuscript read by a major New York agent. That was my first rejection.
I joined an RWA chapter, attended a couple of conferences, and acquired critique partners. I learned that ten thousand words of back story in the first three chapters was probably not the way to go. My manuscript lost ten percent of body weight and began with the old chapter five in which, coincidentally, the hero and heroine actually met.
With my new sleeker manuscript I entered contests and queried agents. I got a lucky break in the form of a detailed critique from a contest judge, who turned out to be Madeline Hunter; she liked my writing but basically hated the plot and characters. At the same time another writer praised the "traditional Regency" feel of my second half-finished manuscript.
By now I knew those words were a death knell. I spent a weekend taking long walks and brainstorming a plot that had all the things I’d learned about: Action, Motivation, Conflict, Sexual Tension, a Black Moment, and Pastry. (Okay, the last was my own idea.) Six months later I had a finished book.
The query letters went out and the rejections came in. A friend told me any writer worth her salt was supposed to garner enough rejection letters to wallpaper a small bathroom. I cursed the cheapskates who sent postcards. I got to the point where a rejection only depressed me for twenty-four hours. A three-rejection day was actually a good one because it saved me two days of misery. I won a contest. The quality of my rejection letters improved (a statement that can only be understood by the aspiring writer) and a number of agents asked to see the book.
Looking back on it, the day Meredith Bernstein called to offer me representation was perhaps the biggest high. Meredith exuded such confidence in her ability to sell the book that I never doubted her. Hearing she’d sold to Lucia Macro at Avon, the editor for Regencies, was butter cream frosting on a delectable cake.
NEVER RESIST TEMPTATION was published a month ago and I’ve discovered unsuspected neurotic depths. I worry about bad reviews, poor sales and writer’s block. I’m convinced my laptop is going to melt the day before my next deadline and all my back-ups will have mysteriously vanished. Being published brings higher stakes and a whole new set of problems. So would I give it up and go back to being merely aspiring? What do you think?