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.
My first sale story should probably be a primer called How Not to Get Published. My first book happened purely by accident. Back in 2002 I was on a message board with other romance readers complaining about interracial romances. I think I read my first one in 1999, and being in an interracial marriage, I really liked them. However, they were few and far between, and many of them were quite tentative when it came to the more erotic aspects. I had just finished one that had no sex at all, and I was beyond annoyed by it.
So, my friends challenged me to write a love scene of the type I’d like to see in a romance. I’ve always been a writer, primarily of technical and instructional copy, but I’d never written fiction in my life. I had a lot of experience reading romances, however, and knew exactly what I wanted to read. I wrote about a rock star because the lead singer of one of my favorite bands had recently died and with him in mind, I wrote a romance scene from what eventually became my book, Rock Star. My friends loved it and demanded the rest of the story. The rest of the story? Fortunately, they wouldn’t leave me alone about it. I must have more of a pleaser personality than I had initially thought because with them harassing me daily, sometimes hourly, I wrote and posted the book on the message board, chapter by chapter. (By the way, I don’t recommend writing a book this way. It was excruciating.) Once it was written, I made the book available as a free download. I kept getting emails asking when it would be published. Everyone who read it insisted that it was good enough for publication.
Of course, I knew nothing about that process, but I’d been reading romances since I was nine years old and had plenty of them lying around. I pulled some of those books off the shelves, saw who published them and began searching their websites for submission guidelines. Synopsis? Partial? It didn’t take long for me to realize that given my life circumstances at the time, the submission guidelines were far too arduous. So I shoved the manuscript under my bed and more or less forgot about it. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that I decided that I was ready to deal with actually submitting it. So I did what they requested; I put together partials, made dozens of copies and shipped them off to agents and publishers all over the country. The response? Nothing. I do literally mean nothing. Now I know that at ten plus pages my synopsis was probably too long. I also discovered that there were "rules" against romances about rock stars. (Too bad I found that out after the book was written.) Of course, I have no way of knowing whether any of that was germane. Bottom line is, nobody even asked to see a full manuscript. In some cases I got my cover letter back with No Thanks scrawled on the bottom. That was far more welcome than the chirping crickets I got in return from most publishers and agents, even with a SASE. The manuscript went back under the bed and I forgot about it again.
Then, as so often happens, life intervened. After struggling for years with infertility I was finally pregnant. It was a high-risk pregnancy and my doctor placed me on bed rest for the last three months. That was all well and good except that my favorite author, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, was coming to town. Or rather, she was coming to Birmingham, which was close enough at only an hour and a half away. Of course, my husband was horrified at the notion of me with my hugely pregnant belly schlepping down to Birmingham alone. He even threatened to rat me out to my doctor. Despite all of this I was determined that nothing short of actual childbirth would keep me away. With assistance from several girlfriends and machinations that would do Mission Impossible proud, I sneaked out of town to attend that book signing.
To this day, I’m convinced that the publishing fairies were looking out for me, because that encounter with Susan changed my life forever. For one thing, she was unbelievably gracious and kind. Though like all published authors, she has to deal with aspiring writers constantly harassing her, she took the time to talk to me and answer all my questions about getting published. She told me I had to be more aggressive and stop being so nice. At her recommendation, I started doing multiple submissions. She also said that if I hadn’t heard back from a publisher in a reasonable amount of time (at this point over a year), I should assume it was lost in the mail and submit again. I did exactly that, and lo and behold less than six weeks later I had offers from two publishers on the same day! Apparently someone wants to read romances about rock stars; that book is still one of my publisher’s best sellers.