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My First Sale by Phillipa Ashley

Phillipa AshleyWelcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between.   Today’s first sale story is from Phillipa Ashley who studied English Language and Literature at Oxford before becoming a freelance copywriter and journalist.  Dating Mr. December (called  Decent Exposure in the UK) was the basis of last year's Lifetime TV Movie "The 12 Men of Christmas." A frequent guest on BBC national, local and independent radio on all matters romantic, she lives with her husband and daughter in Staffordshire, UK. You can visit, follow her on  Twitter or find her on  Facebook.


When I'm asked about my first sale I always feel a bit of a fraud. I've always been a "writer" but until a few years ago, I'd hardly written a word of fiction.

I devoured books at school but I was never a big one for making up "stories." Don't get me wrong, I adored writing but when it came to school essays and exams, I always took the "descriptive" route. Or I'd make up little magazines about places I'd been on holiday and illustrate them myself.

Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley CoverWith the support of a wonderful English Lit teacher, I got a place at Oxford University where I spent three years studying the classics. If I'd ever dreamed of writing my own novel (and I didn't), reading "the greats" intimidated me completely. Why would I write a novel, I reasoned, if I couldn't be Jane Austen?

After I left university, I turned my factual writing into a career and became a freelance copywriter and journalist.

Then, in 2004 I watched a BBC TV miniseries called North & South and my world changed overnight.

I was so inspired by that series I had the irresistible urge to write a modern version of the story. I shared my "fanfic" with an Internet creative writing group where someone told me that I'd written a romance.

That was it. I set about reading hundreds of romances. Soon, I was completely obsessed with writing. I felt that a whole new dimension of my life, hitherto invisible, had suddenly opened up.

I joined the Romantic Novelists Association and devoted myself to learning as much as I could about romance writing. I found I liked writing sexy, funny, fast-paced stories and I didn't have to be Jane Austen to entertain myself and other people.

I started a novel about a London PR girl who "helps" a mountain rescue team raise funds for their new base by persuading them to do a nude calendar. Not everyone wants to be helped-‘especially a certain Mr. December.

After a year of rewrites and revisions, I'd finished the book and a writer friend persuaded me to send it a London literary agent.

As soon as I'd sent the email, I regretted it. Maybe, I thought, I'll just be ignored, or get a polite rejection or even a few nuggets of encouragement.

A couple of weeks later, the agent wrote back. She'd been "gloriously entertained," she said (that's a London lit agent for you, bless them) and added: "I'd love to see more."

Luckily for me, she liked the full and sent it to Little Black Dress; a sassy new romance/chick lit imprint that she thought would be perfect for my book.

Then one afternoon, I got The Call with a two book offer. I remember saying: "Can I tell my daughter?"

At which point I burst into tears and so did my agent.

Dating Mr. December (titled Decent Exposure in the UK) went on to win the RNA's New Writers Award and was made into the Lifetime TV movie, "The 12 Men of Christmas," in 2009.

Now Sourcebooks has published it in the USA-the first of four of my contemporary romantic novels. Wish You Were Here will be in stores in Spring 2011!

If my friend hadn't made me send it to my agent, it would still be lying on my computer and I wouldn't be here at Dear Author-

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. Rachel
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 04:04:55

    Ah, that’s a lovely story, Phillipa. Good luck with Dating Mr December – it’s a great book!


  2. nell dixon
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 04:16:51

    I love your story, Phillipa and it’s a fab book!

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  5. Kaetrin
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 05:08:36

    Well done! Hope the book sells well.

  6. Liz Hanbury
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 05:19:22

    Fabulous post, Phillipa :0)

    As someone else inspired when the BBC North & South miniseries aired in 2004, I can absolutely relate to your story.

    Very best of luck with Dating Mr. December – it’s a wonderful read!

  7. Rosy Thornton
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 06:16:55

    Great story, Phillipa. And, knowing your books as I do, ‘gloriously entertained’ is no lit-agent hyperbole.

  8. Jane Lovering
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 06:59:04

    It’s nice to hear from someone who took a different route into writing fiction – there’s a lot of ‘I’ve been writing stories all my life’, so it’s great to know that sometimes the bug bites late! Congratulations, Phillipa.

  9. Felicia
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 07:13:15

    Love your story! Congratulations on your success!

  10. Jayne
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 07:26:12

    I haven’t tried the book yet but, good God, I want that back yard! ;)

    Great first sale story, Phillipa.

  11. Christine M.
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 07:42:05

    This is a great first sale story. Now I want to watch North and South all over again. =)

  12. Carolyn Jewel
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 07:50:52

    I love your story! And how wonderful your books are available in the US! The movie sounds great, too. Is that something we can get a hold of in the US?

  13. Phillipa Ashley
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 08:09:00

    Hi there

    Wow! Thanks for all the posts about My First Sale. It’s all true, I’m almost ashamed to admit, I didn’t really read much romance until I found out how obsessed I was with writing it. Thank goodness I saw the light, even if it was relatively late in the day.

    Jayne – that’s our garden in August. Yes, August… looks exactly the same as it does today in November (minus any flowers)i.e. dripping wet so maybe you wouldn’t want an English garden! Of course, I always write my novels sitting in that pose, breathing in hard and wearing full make-up and boots in my own home…

  14. Phillipa Ashley
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 08:13:39

    Carolyn – ’12 Men of Christmas’ is airing again on Lifetime:

    Sun Nov 28 at 7 PM

    Sun Dec 5 at 4 PM

    Wed Dec 8 at 8 PM

    Also you can get the DVD from Amazon or download from iTunes.

    It’s fun spotting the differences between movie and book – they’re pretty different, not the least being my books’ set in Britain and the movie in the US.

  15. lucy
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 12:15:30

    Wow, great story! Is there any difference between between Dating Mr. December and Decent Exposure? Apart from the title and cover.

  16. Phillipa Ashley
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 13:02:40

    Lucy – thanks and the answer is, not really any difference. Dating Mr December is the US edition with only a few teeny tweaks.

  17. Kate Pearce
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 15:01:29

    I had to get over my Jane Austenitis fear too before I could write a decent romance of my own. Can’t wait to read this book. I love grumpy British heroes, being married to one myself LOL

  18. RebeccaJ
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 18:29:05

    While I can’t stand Kristen Chenowith because I think she talks like a little kid, I totally enjoyed that movie last Christmas! Congrats on having the novel made into a movie. That would REALLY be the icing on the cake:)

  19. Janine
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 19:05:42

    Lovely first sale story! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  20. Phillipa Ashley
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 11:48:59

    Kate – yes, I had to silence my inner critic to even start writing.

    Rebecca – she was totally new to me but having met her on the set, I can tell you she is really smart, funny and warm. You’d like her alot, I’m sure.

    Janine – thanks. I’ve been very lukcy, even if it was late in the day for me.

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