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