My First Sale by Patricia Briggs, Still a Little Surprised at Being Published
Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood. Book 2 has a fantastic romance. I was thrilled when Briggs began writing urban fantasy, one of my current favorite sub genres. The Mercy Thompson series has grown better with each successive book. I’m not the only one who feels that way. Her current release, Iron Kissed, was ranked 39 at Amazon the last time I checked.
“So you’ve finished it,” said my husband. “Now you have to send it out.”
I hadn’t really gotten that far in my plans. I was still basking in the rather surprising accomplishment of actually finishing the manuscript. “Send it out?” I squeaked.
“Why else did you write a book?”
The problem was, I’d never so much as met another author. We were living in the backwoods of Montana (anywhere in Montana is the backwoods) and I knew nothing at all about getting published. It was the early 1990’s and the Internet had not yet progressed into the information clearing house it is now. So I went to the bookstore and started looking through books on writing and publishing. Happily for me, the book I picked up was Orson Scott Card’s terrific How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy — which had a chapter on getting published.
Following Mr. Card’s advice, I polished the first three chapters (about a hundred pages), worked up a one page synopsis and wrote a query letter. The letter told my prospective editor that I had finished a fantasy novel of about 80,000 words. I was including a sample and a synopsis and would they like me to submit the whole manuscript? The last bit was the key to the plan. Without that sentence a writer is doomed to submit their manuscript and wait six months to a year while the publisher decides to reject it. Submitting your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time was a definite killer for an author’s career (which I hadn’t known until I’d read Mr. Card’s book). With a query instead, I could send them everywhere at once — and eliminate editors who didn’t like my writing style or weren’t buying the kind of fantasy I’d written.
I printed, I think, seventeen of these packets and sent them off to everyplace that was publishing fantasy. After about four months I received fifteen rejections and a letter from one publisher that said something to the effect of “What is this? Either submit or don’t submit, don’t bother us with such silliness.” Since it was a form letter, I suppose other people were following Mr. Card’s advice too. At least they hadn’t rejected me, right? So I polished and polished, preparing to submit to the one house that hadn’t told me to go away. I was almost ready to send it out when I got a letter from Laura Anne Gilman from Ace, the one house I hadn’t heard from at all. She wanted to see it!
Printing out the manuscript on my old dot-matrix printer took about 12 hours (we had to let the printer cool off every thirty pages or so). Then we had to tear off the tractor feed edges — and separate each page. I didn’t have a box the right size, but I was in a hurry (if I didn’t get it off tomorrow she might forget she’d asked to see it, right?) so I took a shirt box and stuffed the scrap tractor feed around the manuscript so it wouldn’t slide around. I mailed it off, describing the whole process in minute detail to the very kind (and patient) postal worker. I waited a whole three days before I started checking the mail obsessively for Ace’s reply.
After a couple of months I called Ace (with a number I got from directory assistance). The company switchboard transferred me to a nice lady (I blithely assumed she was a secretary, not realizing how terminally understaffed most publishing houses are) and I asked her if she knew if anyone had read my manuscript yet (I told you I knew nothing about publishing, right?). She told me it was still in the to-be-read pile and someone should get to it in a few months. I was impressed at how organized Ace was that the secretary knew which manuscripts had been read and which ones hadn’t until it occurred to me that maybe that was the standard response to hopeful writers who called to check on their manuscripts. (I’m still not sure it wasn’t.)
Time passed. I was almost finished with the second book and had almost entirely quit getting that little adrenaline rush when I opened the mailbox every afternoon. When the letter came I danced all the way back to the apartment. Laura Anne had liked the book but . . . she gave me a list of changes she’d like to see before they considered buying it. I polished and worked feverishly for a week and sent it out again. By this time I’d learned my lesson. I’d expect them to contact me one way or the other sometime in the next decade.
When the phone rang, I remember being a little irritated at the interruption. My son was in kindergarten for another hour, the baby was asleep and I was taking one of a few rare moments of quiet to write.
“This is Laura Anne Gilman from Ace,” said the voice of the nice lady who’d answered the phone when I’d called the publishing house a few months back. Even after all that time I recognized her voice. I was so chagrined to find out that I’d bothered an actual editor that I almost missed her next words, “We’d like to buy your book –”
It’s been almost fifteen years, and I still sometimes wake up and pinch myself to make sure that I’m really get paid to write stories.
All the best,