Sep 20 2010
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. Stephanie Draven writes Silhouette Nocturnes and has historical fiction, a series of forthcoming novels from Berkley Books featuring Cleopatra's daughter under the name Stephanie Dray. You can visit Stephanie at her website: http://www.stephaniedraven.com.
When I was an aspiring author, I had a vivid dream of how my first book would come to be published. After all my years of researching and polishing my manuscript about Cleopatra’s Daughter, an editor would clutch my beloved manuscript to her heart and sigh with joy. Then I would get the call, in which I would learn that my magnificent work was a rare gem in the literary world, and everything would be fairies and rainbows and unicorns…
Yeah. So that’s not what happened at all.
Being an idiotic neophyte, I'd always assumed that my book was a work of epic fantasy. Nevermind that it was historical. Nevermind that it was a journey more suitable to women’s fiction. I figured that since it had magic in it, it had to be fantasy, and pitched to a few spec fic editors who were excited to see the full manuscript, but ultimately decided that I was barking up the wrong genre tree.
At that point, it struck me that if I wasn’t even sure what genre I was writing in, I obviously needed some help. So, I set about getting an agent. Only a few days after I started my search, I received a call from Jennifer Schober of Spencerhill Associates. She excitedly asked to see the full manuscript of what I was then calling Cleopatra’s Daughter.
Now, this was a miracle. But because by all rights, she shouldn't have called at all. Not only had the email I provided to Jennifer bounced, but I had also managed to send her a manuscript in which all my comments were right there in the margins where she could read them. (Did I mention already that I’m an idiot?)
In spite of all this, she wanted to read the full manuscript and called to tell me that she “love love loved” it and wanted to offer me representation. There was no question that I was going to say yes. Jennifer wasn’t just my dream agent, she was also passionate about my work. Even so, I took the time to read over the contract before enthusiastically accepting.
Now, literary agents all know what happened next, right? As soon as you sign a new client, out comes every old manuscript from the trunk. And I had a few. I didn’t want her to think I was a one trick pony, after all. Sure, I wrote historical fiction. But I also wrote fantasy and romance and a few other things besides. I particularly love mythology and I’d just completed a little novella about a gorgon in love. Yes, that’s right. A gorgon.
Jennifer patiently read my stuff and adored the gorgon story which she assured me was perfect for Harlequin’s Nocturne line. I told her that I had an idea for an accompanying novella about a modern day hydra and she loved that idea too. I was really excited to work on something as creative as updating Greek monster mythology for modern readers, and things were looking great! I was on cloud nine.
Of course, I had no idea the emotional roller-coaster I was about to take.
You see, an editor who shall remain nameless at a major publishing house, fell in love my big historical about Cleopatra’s Daughter. What’s more, she was taking it to the acquisitions board. My agent was super excited. I was super excited. It was happening! Just as I had hoped, an editor had clutched my manuscript to her heart and sighed with joy…
But then everything came to a screeching halt. There was a problem. You see, another book entitled CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER was just about to hit bookshelves. And it had been penned by none other than best-selling author Michelle Moran.
Now, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate my state of shock as my first major sale unravelled. In thirty years, no one had written a book about Cleopatra Selene. But now, somehow, the enormously talented and personable Michelle Moran had done it! I was plunged into despair at the thought that my manuscript was no rare gem. I'd seem like a copy cat! All my publishing hopes and dreams were in smoldering ruins. Ruins, I tell you.
I couldn't be comforted. It was like the worst break-up I’d ever had. I brooded and listened to maudlin music. I stayed up late watching Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on DVD. I ate an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. And I don’t even like Chunky Monkey.
Then, as if in penance for that ice cream, I came down with the worst case of stomach flu I’d had in my life. I spent the next few days in the bed or worshipping the porcelain goddess so that when my agent called, I struggled not to groan into the phone. I was utterly confused when she told me that we had an offer.
I was dehydrated, curled up in a shivering heap at the end of my couch in a pair of fuzzy slippers, and so I assumed I was delirious when she said that Nocturne editor Tara Gavin had loved my gorgon novella, and loved my outline for the modern day hydra even more. So much so that she wanted me to turn it into a book.
I may have said something very eloquent like, “Wait, what?”
“It’s official,” Jenn told me. “A two book contract for Nocturne. Your first book!”
I sat there in my delirium contemplating this. After years and years of honing my craft and polishing my manuscripts, I had somehow sold my first book–sight-unseen–based on an outline? Later, of course, I would realize that it wasn’t just based on an outline. Tara had purchased my gorgon story, which would go on to be MIDNIGHT MEDUSA. She understood the arc of my planned MYTHICA series and based on all my other work, she had faith that I could deliver an exciting, gritty story of dark sensuality.
“So this is really happening?” I asked. “It’s safe to shriek?”
My agent laughed and said yes. But I didn’t really scream. Instead, I may have murmured something like, “I think I have to throw up.”
I called my mom. Then I crawled back into bed. When my husband came home, we celebrated with shots of Pepto Bismol. I tell you, Pink Bismoth has never tasted so fine…
In the next few months, I was on my way to becoming a Harlequin author. My debut novel, POISONED KISSES, turned out to be a story that moved me. It's one that explored fears of abandonment and the disguises that we all wear, even with those we loved. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of daddy issues a daughter of Ares might have, this is the book for you. And I couldn’t be prouder for it to be my first book sale and part of a longer series that I’m writing for Nocturne.
But there’s also a cherry on my chunky monkey sundae. You see, a few months later, Cindy Hwang of Berkley books read my historical. I don’t know if she clutched it to her breast and sighed with joy, contemplating dreamily about what a literary gem she had found. But she did make an enthusiastic offer, and now LILY OF THE NILE: A NOVEL OF CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER will hit bookshelves in January 2011.