May 10 2010
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. Pam Rosenthal writes lush historicals and her RITA nominated title, The Slightest Provocation, is being reissued in mass market this month.
It wasn't difficult to find an agent to sell my first romance novel. And I'd already been published in erotica: my comic BDSM novel, Carrie's Story (w/a Molly Weatherfield) had gone through four printings (and is now in its fourteenth). While as for book reviews and features, I'd published a few of them too, in quite okay venues like Salon.com and the San Francisco Chronicle.
So how hard could it be, I thought, to sell a romance?
Live and learn. The rejection letters piled up.
Perhaps it was simply the state of the market almost a decade ago, when no romance publisher wanted to see a historical (The Bookseller's Daughter) set in pre-Revolutionary France. Or my writer's voice, which, now that I'm published, is sometimes called literary, but then only sounded unfamiliar. Not to speak of the explicit sex I was writing in that "literary" voice, during the early days of erotic romance, when no one was quite sure how far to take this heady new freedom.
Whatever the reasons, the publishers seemed pretty much agreed about my book. Rejections ranged from no to say what? And back to no.
Each of which I managed to take as possible, making myself nuts while my husband tried to talk sense to me and my agent remained cool and confident.
Still, I did do one thing right. And as it turned out, what I did was the most important thing I could have done. I kept writing. Not because I was smart or savvy or believed it would amount to anything. I started a new romance novel because writing a romance novel was the most fun I knew how to have.
Just for fun, I decided to change historical periods – from the French Revolution to the English Regency. I always like to write about sex and power, so I imagined a tall, cruel, polished English dandy of a villain. Or perhaps a hero.
Except that I didn't really know much about dandies. But there was a long-unread book on my shelves. The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm is a brilliant study that (unaccountably, to me) never makes it to the short list of Regency writer must-reads, but was perfect for my purposes. As I read about Brummell's triumphs of wit and style, I felt a thrill of discovery. And the deeper I got into the story of an outsider become consummate insider, the more I identified with him.
And when I thought again about my idea for a new romance novel and its tall, polished dandy hero, I began to wonder if perhaps the dandy couldn't be the heroineof the novel. A woman from far outside the circles of power who dons a disguise to become not quite a- no, Almost a Gentleman.
So I wrote it for fun (quite as I'd written the Molly Weatherfield BDSM books) and forgot about selling.
Rejections still trickled in for The Bookseller's Daughter. But as the months wore on, the rejections became kinder. Some editors seemed to like the sound of my voice. It was time, my agent said, to hit them with something new.
Well, I did have something, I said. Though I added quickly that since Almost A Gentleman played games with gender and homoeroticism, it might be a little bit outside what even the erotic romance genre could bear. Still, why not send it around? Whatever anyone might think, I was too busy having fun to get too upset.
Which was about two months before the late, great Kate Duffy at Kensington bought Almost a Gentleman, The Bookseller's Daughter, and the novella that became "A House East of Regent Street."
I got the call from my agent in my cubicle at work. So I couldn't whoop or halloo. But I could beam and clutch myself and call my husband, who'd had to put up with all my qvetching all those months, but knew better than to say "I told you so." And who immediately made reservations to celebrate at a classy, wonderful little French restaurant. If you're in San Francisco it's called Anjou, and I recommend it.
And with the advance – well, I wish I could say that I ran out and bought everything but the kitchen sink. But what in fact I bought was the kitchen sink, a big beautiful one instead of the cheapie I was going to settle for. Because we were in the midst of a kitchen renovation at the time, though we hadn't quite figured out how we were going to pay for it.
The kitchen came out great, by the way, and it turns out that a sink is a perfect publication present, because I spend time at it practically every day, reminded each time that I do better on the margins of a genre – as when I wrote what's probably my most intense book, the 2007 RITA ®-nominated The Slightest Provocation, which has just been reissued in a mass-market edition.
And that I do best of all when I'm having fun.