Sharon Shinn is one of our favorite authors here at Dear Author. Given the diversity of our tastes, its amazing that we can come to any agreement but the consensus at Dear Author is that there is magic in Shinn’s pen. This month you can sample a young adult book, General Winston’s Daughter, an anthology piece in Elemental Magic and soon, the fourth book in her Twelve Houses series, Reader and Raelnyx. A reader can’t go wrong with a Sharon Shinn book.
I wrote my first book when I was twenty; I sold my first book when I was thirty-six. I had fairly well resigned myself to the notion that I would never be a published author, but I continued to write because there was no other way to get the stories out of my head.
Oh, I made submissions from time to time. One publisher lost a manuscript. Another publisher kept a book for two years before rejecting it. I had the name of the editor there, and every six months or so I would nerve myself to call him and inquire if he’d made a decision. You understand, this was before the days of email or even cell phones, and I worked in an office during the hours New York editors would be at their desks. So any time I wanted to make a long-distance phone call from work, I had to record the date, time, and duration of the call, turn in the paperwork to the office manager, and reimburse the company for the cost.
Eventually I realized my best hope was to find an agent, and I mailed out a whole pile of query letters. A few weeks later I was at work when one of them called me at the office. I remember what I was wearing (a white-on-white dress accessorized with a big museum-reproduction pin of a woman in a blue gown). I was conferring with the art director of the magazine where I worked, discussing a layout, when I got paged. And it was a New York agent on the phone! “Um — I can’t talk right now,” I stammered. “Could you possibly call back in five minutes?” He seemed amused. I had to race down two flights of stairs to be in my own office in time to take his call. This turned out to be the man who eventually became, and still is, my agent.
It still took three years before we sold a book, and when we did, we had two offers at once. The first came on December 10th, the next one a few days later. Same book. Almost the same amount of money. I had known that two different publishing houses were considering the manuscript, but each of them had had it for a couple of months before making a decision. Once the offers came in, I was in agony. How could I choose? What if I made a mistake? Keep in mind, neither offer was for more than a few thousand dollars, so the money wasn’t the real issue. Would I pick the right house? Would I sign with an editor whose style was compatible with mine? Would she like the next book I sent her? Would I ever be able to sell a second book?
I seem to have made the right decision — so far, all my books have been published by the same house, and seventeen years later, I’m still with my original agent. But it took me so long to get this far that I never, ever take the magic for granted. Every new sale is a cause for celebration; every new book on the shelves is a source of delight.