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My First Sale by Stephanie Draven

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:


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?)

Poisoned Kisses CoverIn 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.

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. Tweets that mention My First Sale by Stephanie Draven | Dear Author --
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 06:12:25

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeannie Lin, dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: My First Sale by Stephanie Draven […]

  2. Carolyn Jewel
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 09:12:33

    Thanks for sharing your story! Does this mean you now have fond recollections of having the flu?

    Your books sound wonderful, by the way.

  3. Jeannie Lin
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 09:12:52

    Congratulations on both of your sales. Poisoned Kisses is waiting on the top of my TBR pile and Lily of the Nile is already on my radar.

    No wonder your reaction when the agent mistook you for Michelle Moran at RWA. :)
    I’m glad it all shook out in the end. I have read Moran’s book being a bit of an Egypt geek myself (LOVED Taylor & Burton in Cleopatra. I used to watch it every year on TV.) Funny, I actually thought of the last scene in the movie while I was reading your excerpt for Lily of the Nile.I can already see your different take on Selene’s life and can’t wait to read the rest.

  4. lucy
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 09:49:03

    I love mythology, I’ll have to give your books a try. Is Harlequin Nocturne paranormal? I thought it was suspense.

  5. Stephanie Draven
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 09:51:02

    @Carolyn Jewel:

    Thanks Carolyn! I’m not sure I’ll ever have fond memories of the stomach flu, but I do have a much better appreciation of Pepto Bismol. ;)

  6. Stephanie Draven
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 09:52:00

    @lucy: HQN Nocturne is paranormal. The suspense line you might be thinking of is Intrigue!

  7. Stephanie Draven
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 09:53:33

    @Jeannie Lin: Next RWA we should rent it late one night and have a movie screening. :P

  8. Karen Erickson
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 09:56:02

    I love first sale stories and yours is a doozy, Stephanie. Thanks so much for sharing it. I love Greek mythology – I’ll have to check your books out!

  9. Vicky Dreiling
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 10:15:38

    What a wonderful and hilarious story. Congratulations!

  10. Christie Kelley
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 10:45:51

    Great story, Stephanie. I have to go put your book on my kindle app. Fall baseball is in full swing (no pun intended, well, maybe a little) and I need reading material for practices.

  11. Stephanie Draven
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 10:56:42

    @Vicky Dreiling: Thank you! And thank you for overlooking all the typos. I was up late writing this one :)

  12. Sabrina Darby
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 11:36:21

    Very cool first sale story! I can’t wait for Poisoned Kisses!

  13. Jamie Michele
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 12:30:13

    Stephanie, great story. But remember, if editors quit buying books about a particular topic just because one had already been written, there’d be no such thing as “Twilight.”

    I just surfed over to your website, hoping to double-check the date of the lecture you’re giving on ancient love and myth in early October, but I couldn’t find your appearances calendar. Do you have one posted? I hope I’ll be back in town then!

  14. Tweets that mention My First Sale by Stephanie Draven | Dear Author --
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 12:39:45

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jamie Michele, Stephanie Draven. Stephanie Draven said: This one you definitely want to read, if only to mock me: My First Sale, on Dear Author: […]

  15. Stephanie Draven
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 13:03:32

    @Jamie Michele: No event calendar yet, but click the link for details on my Love, Monsters & Mythology talk.

  16. Stephanie Draven
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 13:49:33

    @Christie Kelley: I hope you enjoy it!

  17. Christi Barth
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 15:27:26

    Sadly, I can relate. Why is it that Nora Roberts and now Christie Ridgway both are writing blockbusters about weddings, just as I’m embarking upon a trilogy about the very same thing? I know there are only 7 original story ideas in the world, but this is ridiculous!

  18. Kate Pearce
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 16:31:16

    I loved it all-even the puking parts. lol And as a fellow Classics geek I can’t wait to read all your upcoming books!

  19. Janine
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 16:41:10

    Terrific story! So many highs and lows, but a happy ending in the end. I’m glad you found a home for all three of your manuscripts.

  20. Sharon Buchbinder
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 14:44:27

    Congratulations, Stephanie! You inspire us all.

  21. MaryK
    Sep 27, 2010 @ 11:20:00

    Okay, I have to confess I didn’t read this last week because I’d never heard of you and my feed reader is pretty full. Then I saw some people squeeing over Poisoned Kisses on Twitter and bookmarked the excerpt on I got around to reading it Saturday and bought the book when I was at Walmart Sunday. :)

    I figured I’d come back to this post and mention it. Jeannie Lin says she was hooked by the prologue, but it was the first chapter excerpt that hooked me. :D

  22. Stephanie Draven
    Sep 27, 2010 @ 12:58:02

    @MaryK: Yay! Thank you so much. And wow, so the books are already in Walmart. I think this means I need to take a little trip to the bookstore ;)

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