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My First Sale by Sabrina Jeffries

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. In the last 10 years, New Orleans-born, Thailand-reared, Sabrina Jeffries‘ has penned 14 Regency romances and four novellas-‘becoming a regular on both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists in the process. A lifelong Jane Austen fan, Jeffries earned a doctorate in English from Tulane. She writes what she enjoys reading: "lighter, sexier historical romances, with more dialogue and more sensuality." Her latest story can be found in the Christmas Anthology, Snowy Night With a Stranger.   (I know alot of Dear Author readers like Christmas Anthologies).   


Some of you probably know I started my writing career as Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas. Since that was nearly 18 years ago, I can barely remember my first call. So I’m going to talk about my first call as Sabrina Jeffries, because that was the one that really launched my career. And when it came, my life was in the toilet.

First, a little background-‘in 1996, my career was in flux. Those were the crazy days when no one knew what to do with paranormal romances or suspense, and as Deborah Nicholas, I wrote both. I might as well have put a scarlet "U" on my forehead for "Unpublishable." These days it’s hard to believe no one saw the potential, but back then publishers had no clue how to market them. My publisher dropped me before even publishing the second book in my two-book contract (it actually returned the book to me-‘one of these days I may clean it up and try to sell it again). The reason: "We aren’t having any success with contemporary romantic suspense." I was dropped at the same time as another romantic suspense author who now regularly hits the New York Times bestseller’s list. She and I share a laugh about it often.

Meanwhile, things were horrible at my historical publisher as well. The historical market was shrinking, and I was placing my stories in Restoration England and Creole New Orleans. I also hadn’t really found my voice. So my historical publisher dropped me a few months after the first, just in time for Thanksgiving (happy holidays to you, too).

My husband was working for peanuts as a library assistant at the time. My autistic son was headed into puberty and a host of new needs. My agent was sending my books everywhere, and they were being rejected everywhere. One of my former editors who said she would love to work with me again wouldn’t even look at my six-chapter historical proposal for Pirate Lord.

"We aren’t having any success with historicals," she said.

The rejection was coming in stereo.

As I headed into Christmas, I had no publishers, and we had no money. Five publishers had rejected Pirate Lord. I had pinned all my hopes on it because of the high concept: a band of pirates eager to retire kidnaps a shipload of convict women to make them their brides, ala Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I felt the book was different from my previous books. I’d finally embraced my inner Georgette Heyer and was writing the sort of books I’d always enjoyed reading: witty Regency-set historicals with plenty of sexual tension.

Until then, I’d avoided the Regency era for fear I’d screw up the research, but I couldn’t deny that my keeper shelf held primarily Regency-set novels (and I’d cut my teeth on Barbara Cartland as a teen). So I had taken the plunge and started the "book of my heart." Now nobody wanted it! We were waiting on one last publisher, but I wasn’t optimistic. My numbers were horrible, and historicals weren’t selling well. I was depressed.

Shortly before Christmas, I broke down and went to my old employer, the contractor to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. They hired me as a temp, promising it would turn into something permanent eventually. As a tech writer, I knew I’d be making good money even as a temp, so I jumped at the job.

Two weeks after I started, Micki Nuding at Avon called. They wanted Pirate Lord.

There are no words for how I felt. I’d already started resigning myself to being washed up after 11 published books. When her call came, it was as if the heavens opened up.

They wanted to change my name.

"Sure!" I said.

They wanted the book in six months.

"Absolutely!" I said.

We were trying to sell our house and move to North Carolina for better benefits for our son, I was working nearly full-time, and I had no caregiver for my son when I wasn’t working, but I didn’t care. Someone had given me another shot at the brass ring, and by God, I was going to take it!

To this day, I worship Micki Nuding. She gave me a chance when everyone else looked at my numbers and said, "No way." She saw the potential and, brilliant editor that she is, knew how to hone it. I learned more about good writing from Micki than I’d learned in my entire career, which is why she’s my editor to this day.

So if you’re still waiting for the call or your present writing career is in the toilet, take heart. It isn’t over till the fat lady sings. And this fat lady is singing loud and happy these days

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. STP
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:07:25

    This is the best story I’ve heard in a long time! Congratulations to you!

  2. Michelle Willingham
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:21:51

    Deb–it’s great to hear your story! :)

  3. Megan
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:32:04

    I love Sabrina, and reading her story comes at the perfect time. Thanks!

  4. Kasey Mackenzie
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:40:20

    Oh, what a fabulous “first sale” story! Good on you for sticking through the hard times and writing the book of your heart. And congratulations on all the well-earned success! =)

  5. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:43:20

    I LOVE your books. They’re delightful. Every time I get one, it’s like opening a box of chocolates or cuddling up with a cozy blanket. Just read Let Sleeping Rogues Lie and *sigh*. So good.

    Thank you.

  6. Rose Pressey
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 15:24:18

    What a wonderful story!

  7. Sabrina Jeffries
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 15:54:40

    Thanks, y’all! I’ve been out all day, so it’s great to come in and see all the lovely comments! If you’re in the kind of position I’m talking about, take heart! Professional writers are professional writers–they always land somewhere.

  8. Jessa Slade
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 15:55:23

    Yours were some of the first historicals I read after I’d devoured the classics. I’m so glad you kept fighting forward. And yay Micki, for her vision.

  9. Gennita Low
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 15:59:52

    Hi Deb,

    Good to read your story here. Sorry we had so little time in San Fran.

  10. An IDEA Parent
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:13:22

    Ms. Jeffries, I have an autistic son too; it’s one of the reasons I had to switch careers – so I could be closer to home. I completely understand why you moved to another state to get your son a better education. Your perseverence is admirable.

  11. Karin
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:17:04

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  12. Amanda
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:24:04

    Great call story! And it couldn’t have come at a better time:) I love your books–thanks for sticking with it. I’d be missing quite a few keepers if you hadn’t:)

  13. Janine
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:35:47

    Neat story. Thanks from me too!

  14. Leah
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:39:21

    This is a great story–even better, in some ways, than the “very first sale” kind. So happy for you!

  15. Carolyn Jewel
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:41:30

    What an inspiring story! I’m so glad to have read about it. And thank goodness you kept writing.

  16. Sabrina Jeffries
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 20:26:20

    Glad to cheer everyone up! And I’m doubly glad that y’all are pleased I kept writing. :-)

    IDEA Parent, when my first career tanked, I feared I’d have to give up writing. I knew that my son was at the age that I could not work fulltime and take care of him AND write, so I knew it was either write at home and take care of him or give up writing to work fulltime to afford a caregiver. I really, REALLY wanted to go back to writing at home. Being able to write as Sabrina saved my life, I swear. Thank God enough of you enjoyed the books that I was able to keep doing it!

  17. Sabrina Jeffries
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 21:01:25

    Jill, I’m so pleased that you liked Let Sleeping Rogues Lie! And thanks to all of you for the kind words.

  18. catie
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 01:28:02

    This post is going in my bookmark folder under the heading “inspirations.” Thank you so much Sabrina! :)

  19. Pam P
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 06:41:43

    Moving call story, Sabrina, so true, it’s not over until it’s over. I’ve enjoyed so many of your stories since first reading The Pirate Lord.

  20. Leeann Burke
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 09:41:14

    What an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it with us Sabrina.

  21. Rita
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 17:51:20

    Please give you editor a huge hug! I can’t imagine not seeing the name Sabrina Jeffries on the shelves at Borders. I loved your Royal Brotherhood and School for Heiresses series :-)

  22. Sonja Foust
    Nov 09, 2008 @ 14:55:36

    What a great story, and thanks for sharing that with us! I loved Pirate Lord, and now I love it even more, knowing what a meaningful book it was for you, to have given your career another start.

  23. Lynn Reynolds
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 19:48:09

    What a great story, Sabrina. And very encouraging, especially since my son, who’s on the autistic spectrum too, is just hitting puberty. Sometimes I feel very selfish taking time to write fiction, but seeing your success reminds me that even with such a demanding child, I owe it to myself to keep writing. Love the School for Heiresses stories.

  24. ms bookjunkie
    Dec 01, 2008 @ 12:59:47

    I can’t believe you had trouble selling The Pirate Lord! The moment you described it here, I knew I had to read it. Went looking for it but found The Forbidden Lord instead, so got that. And WOW was I impressed! Fantastic writing, great characters and the middle book of a trilogy that can totally stand alone with no feeling of missing information that teased about the setting up of the next book in a way that I had to get that too! So I ordered TPL and The Dangerous Lord, waiting on baited breath and when they arrived, and they totally impressed me also. TPL was everything I had hoped for from the description and TDL was great in every way, but I totally enjoyed the way you brought together the main characters from the trilogy. Next I’m going to read the Swanlea Spinster series – as soon as they all arrive!

    *stopping to breathe now*

    My points are:
    – THAT’s the way historicals should be done!
    – I totally have a new auto-buy keeper!
    – Yay Micki Nuding!

  25. Sabrina Jeffries
    Dec 01, 2008 @ 19:43:43

    Thanks so much, ms. bookjunkie! I’m delighted you liked that trilogy, and I hope you enjoy the other books as well. Yes, Micki Nuding is THE BEST EVER. She totally got my writing, and I will forever be grateful to her for that.

    I should say that Berkley wanted to buy it, too, but because they had just merged with Penguin/Dutton (my previous publisher) who had rejected it, they weren’t allowed to bid on it. The other 3 publishers involved weren’t interested, though (I’d have to check to be sure, but I think it was Bantam, Ballantine, and St Martin’s).

  26. ms bookjunkie
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 05:45:31

    I really shouldn’t go back and read old comments of mine. I know it’s BATED breath, not baited! I guess I’ll just have to chalk it down to excitement…

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