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. In The Accidental Bestseller, Wendy explores the depth of women’s friendships and the emotional bonds that tie people to their families, their friends and their work.
The writing itself proved somewhat cathartic for Wendy, mostly because, like her protagonist, she at one time contended with the emotions and stress involved with switching publishers. She also ended up sharing other attributes with her character. Each lives in the Atlanta area, has written numerous novels, maintains strong friendships with other women novelists, is married, has two children, and enjoys spending time in the mountains of northern Georgia.
I was one of those lucky people who sold the first book she wrote. This was, of course, the result of complete and total ignorance. If I had known how unlikely this was I might never have begun. And I have to tell you that what followed was neither fast nor painless!
I started writing that first manuscript while at home with a two-year-old and a newborn. I chalk this up to sleep deprivation and post pregnancy hormones. There was not a lot of rational thinking going on at the time!
It took me two years to write it and another year after that to work my way through that year’s Guide to Literary Agents to find someone, make that the ONLY someone, willing to represent me. Then I waited another year after she submitted it for an answer. (Publishing is the only business I know where waiting a year to find out whether or not you got the "job’ takes place.) When I finally spoke to my agent, who never seemed to remember my name or what I’d written, we discovered that if the publishing house had ever actually RECEIVED the manuscript they no longer had it. Three weeks after she resubmitted it sold. A year after that, in 1997, LOVE TALK, came out as part of Kensington’s Precious Gem line. My second Precious Gem, which I completed in a much speedier two year time frame (my youngest didn’t sleep all night until he was 41/2) came out in 1999.
It was after that, when I realized that I probably wasn’t prolific enough for category and wanted to write longer books that allowed for more subplot and character development, that the truly painful period began. It took me almost two years to find my voice and write what turned out to be a romantic comedy, because to be honest, I still didn’t really know what I was doing, which is the downside to selling that first manuscript. Then I had to find another agent, which, if you’re attempting to get published you know is the hardest part of all. Then I revised and waited for her to sell the book.
Two publishing houses made offers and it was a very exciting time. But the excitement I felt when that sale happened was tempered with relief, because by then I knew just how subjective and fluky the publishing business is and how little of it is in our control. 7 DAYS AND 7 NIGHTS came out in 2003.
After four books I left that publisher and once again had to look for a new agent and a new home. This took another couple of years of amazing ups and downs. The result is THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER, just released as a Berkley Trade Paperback. It’s a story about four writers who meet at a writer’s conference, support each other through the joy and pain of getting-‘and staying-‘published, and ten years later end up taking on the publishing industry to save one of their own. It’s as true an account of what it is to be a writer today as I could write without having to label it non-fiction. (Something the writers in the story have a bit of a problem with!)
In looking over this letter, I’m struck by how serious it sounds coming from someone who writes humor. But then, I think the humor in my books has always been the sugar that helps the emotional underpinnings of the story go down. One of the 45 writing related quotes that I used as epigraphs in THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER is by Tapani Bagge who said, "Everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And later you can use it in some story." Although I’ve joked that "the names have been changed to protect the innocent’ and I did, of course, take all kinds of liberties with my characters’ lives and careers, that’s exactly what I did.
THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER is dedicated to "every writer-‘aspiring and otherwise-‘who has a story to tell, a love of the written word, and a burning desire to see the fruit of their labor on a bookstore shelf. In a prime position. Cover out. With full publisher support behind it.
I know when I was starting out I wanted to believe that getting that first call would change everything, and in a way it does. But what I discovered afterward is that "the call’ is not the end of the journey as I’d expected, but the beginning. Getting and staying published is not a sprint it’s a marathon. And it’s not for sissies! Remember that when the rejections come as they inevitably will. To succeed you just have to "train harder’ and stay in the race!