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My First Sale by Cody McFadyen

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. Except this is Wednesday, you say. Well, yes, I double booked which means bonus for Dear Author readers. Cody McFadyen’s second book, The Darker Side, is out on the bookshelves now.


My first sale came after a long and what I like to think of (with writer’s melodrama) as bloody series of events. Events that involved violence, soul searching and screaming at the moon. Events that tested friendships and nearly broke a marriage only to truly break it later.

What events?

Why, money-troubles of course. I’m flip about it as I write this now- but maybe not really. There’s still a kind of haunting-uncomfortable-sickly feeling that comes over me when I really remember what that was like.

We’d had our own business, my wife and I, and it had been successful for some time. Unfortunately, we hadn’t read the winds of change very well. Less and less people were in need of, or demanding, our services. We started to hemorrhage money and what began as bailing out the boat with a pail turned into bailing out the boat with a shot-glass. The long slide started leading to harder and harder decisions. We had to sell our home for one, which decimated us emotionally.

book review We bootstrapped it, though. Neither of us had grown up in the money, so we figured we could roll with the punches. We took a deep breath and moved into a rental house, which allowed our two large and destructive dogs (thank god!) and our roommate. We were in a three bedroom home with three adults, a teenager, 2 labs, and a cat. Everybody fit. Things could be worse.

The problem was, we still hadn’t solved our financial quandaries. We were working eight to ten hours a day to keep that business going (it still produced our primary income, what there was of it) and another three or four starting a new business. We’d looked into other avenues – of course we had – but neither of us had gone the college route. We could temp or bag groceries or sell cars. We decided to keep that as the "in case of/break glass’ option.

I remember one of the worst moments for me in all of this. I had my office set up out in the garage. Not like it gets cold in California the way it does in, say, New York, but on this day it was cold enough to put some ice on the sidewalks. I could see my breath in the air as I worked. I had a space heater under the desk, and I would type on the computer until my fingers went numb. When I couldn’t feel them enough to type, I’d stick them in front of the space heater to thaw out!

None of it did much for self-esteem. It’s all well and good and even a little exciting to fight the "keep the electricity on’ war when you’re twenty. When you’re in your mid-thirties, you just feel like a loser. You’re the "path less travelled’ guy who proved the establishment right. ("Should have gotten that college degree, young man, now you’ll learn the truth of things!") Throw being a parent into this mix and "loser’ takes on whole new meaning. My best friend and I used to joke with each other about it, singing the refrain from the Beck song: "I’m a loser, baby- so why don’t you kill me." Gallows humor at its finest.

I grew up poor till I was about ten, but I was well out of practice. Besides, I wasn’t a father and a husband then. Being a screwup when you’re single is much easier on the soul.

About a year and half before that moment in the garage, or almost two years, I had written a book called Shadow Man. Someone had been showing it around to agents on my behalf. We’d been through about five agents, I believe. Most had given me good comments, and one had even given me three major critiques, and was willing to look at the manuscript again three separate times before finally rejecting me (not "it’, "me’. That’s how we writers think, whatever else we say). I’d been hopeful, but everything had started crashing down not long after. A few more rejections had driven me into a semi-apathy about the book. I’d decided I was never going to get published, and that putting my attention and effort on that was just more irresponsible dreaming. The responsible thing to do would be to buckle down and figure a way out of this mess. I could get back to the fairy-tales later. It was a very grown-up moment for me. I was very proud of myself, and explained away the empty feeling inside as the last gasp of immaturity.

In December of 2004, the long fight had gotten to a point where we were considering either the temp/bag groceries/sell cars option or packing things up and moving in with my parents while we went back to college. My parents happen to be incredible, long suffering people who would have backed this play, so I had pretty much decided to slink on home with my family and dogs in tow unless something miraculous happened.

Since I was back in the dreaming business, and hoping for a miracle, I did two things: I bought a lottery ticket, and I emailed the person who had been submitting the manuscript to agents for me. I asked if she’d give it another try. She said she would. She sent the manuscript to Liza Dawson. Lottery day rolled by with no winning numbers, but that was okay. It was more a symbolic gesture than anything else.

And then- I got a phone call from Liza. She said she really enjoyed the book and that it needed to be fixed up a little. I kind of sighed inside, having been down that road before. I was appreciative, of course, and planned to take her notes to heart. But that last hail Mary had come up short. Then she said "and I’ll send you an agreement, too, nothing major." "An agreement?" I asked her. "Yes, between us. I’m going to be your agent." I was momentarily speechless. I recovered and said something suave like: "You are?"

She was very nice about it all. I imagine she’d been down that road before. We hung up. I was sitting in the garage and it was freezing. I didn’t notice. No winning numbers yet, but I was willing to be hopeful. I hoped we could sell the book. I hope we could maybe sell it for enough to finance the move to my parents and maybe pay for community college. No, I thought, warming my fingers in front of the space heater. That’s jinx-talk. Knock on wood. Where’s the salt shaker? I sent her the following email, carefully phrased so as not to anger the luck-gods.


I just wanted to drop you a quick note. The concept of someone liking my work enough to want to represent it is akin to winning the lottery on the scale of things for me. It was a bit overwhelming, and I hope I didn’t lack enthusiasm in our phone call.

I am an optimist in all things except my own dreams. There, I tend to be a pessimistic realist. Better not to hope, etc. So I am approaching excitement about this with a lot of care.

That reservation has nothing to do with you, so if it came across – that’s the genus of it. :)

I know it’s a long road ahead, and one that doesn’t necessarily end with a book deal. But – I am very thankful for how fast you got through the book, and your very kind words. They won’t go to my head, trust me. I’ll get to work on your great critique, and we’ll see where it goes from there."

I fixed the manuscript as she’d asked, and got it back to her. She acknowledged receipt of it 28 January 2005. The first sale was to my wonderful publishers in Holland. They were there in New York and snatched it up. Liza called me with the news. Hallelujah! I thought. It’s enough for the move to my parents AND community college! Then she told me we were just getting started. By the end of the month my life had changed completely.

I know this is supposed to be about my first sale, and technically that’s a single thing. But for me, it was a lump thing. In a space of about ten days, the book sold to various publishers around the world. I cried. My wife cried. Hell, my parents cried. The dogs watched it all, mystified. Poverty had never touched their kibbles.

About five days into that ten day span, when I knew it was all real, and all really going to happen, I took a drive over to the house we’d had to sell. It was during the day, and no one was home. I stood on the sidewalk and looked at it, and I took a minute to curse myself up and down.

You see, I had decided to be a mature human being, and to put aside the dream of writing so I could save that house. If I’d hung onto the dreamer in me, and had persisted in finding that next agent, we would have been fine, and the house would still have been ours. I promised myself never to make the same mistake again.

I write almost every day now. I am thankful for it every time I sit down with my laptop and easy chair. If a day comes when no one wants to pay me to write, and I have to consider the temp/bag groceries/sell cars option again, I’ll be much more at peace with it. I got one dream to come true. Why not another? It’s not that the universe is stacked against you, see? It’s just waiting for you to get it right.

That’s what my first sale taught me, after all: dreams are always willing to come true as long as you’re willing to keep chasing them.

Cody McFadyen
The Darker Side

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. Sarah Parr
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 06:41:54

    A great story. Thank you for sharing it! :)

  2. Nicole
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 07:53:31

    Yes, great story. I might have to pick up one of these books.

  3. Juliana Stone
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 08:10:12

    Sheesh, cody…I’m gonna pick up your book so you can keep writing! What a gut wrenching honest story! I wish you well in your career!

  4. Tee
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 08:13:59

    I thoroughly enjoyed your first book “Shadow Man.” Trying to be in the mind of a lead female character as a male author, you got all that right (feelings, thoughts, etc), as far as I’m concerned! I’m on hold for “The Darker Side” and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  5. Gennita Low
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 08:30:02

    You’re scaring me, Jane. Is it Friday? Did the Presidential Debate put me in a trance for two days? =8-O

    Edited. Oh, sorry. Read your intro. You don’t know how well Dear Author has trained me with your day-to-day menu ;-).

  6. Jane
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 08:33:29

    @Gennita Low: Nope. It’s bonus First Sale.

  7. Gennita Low
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 08:41:36

    Thank you for sharing your first sale story. What a touching story, and so inspirational.

  8. vanessa jaye
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 10:38:12

    What a great First Sale story. If nothing else it’s inspired me to check out Shadow Man.

  9. Bookwormom
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 10:55:22

    “It's not that the universe is stacked against you, see? It's just waiting for you to get it right.”

    That’s a great thought. Food for thought for the day. Thanks for sharing your story. Best wishes for future sales.

  10. Maya M.
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 10:59:37

    Cody: “screaming at the moon” – I hear you. I’m still in the tough decision phase. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Jane: nice to see some male authors in these pages.

  11. Jane
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:02:18

    @MayaM – me too. If you’ve got recommendations of stories you’d like to hear, let me know and I’ll try to track them down.

  12. Patty L.
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 13:47:52

    This is the best and most honest story I have read in a while. With the economy the way it is now and the prospect of getting a second job this really hits home.

    I normally write in the evenings when the kids and hubbie go to bed, but with both of us working extra hours to keep our current lifestyle and not have anything effect our kids I forget that I can still dream. Thank you for this inspiring story. I want to go home and write and I haven’t wanted to do that in sometime. THANK YOU!!!!!

  13. EC Sheedy
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 18:36:03

    Cody, what a great first-sale–and ongoing sales–story. You are an inspiration. We always hear about the never-give-up-your-dream advice, but never has it been proven so wonderfully right! May your success continue!

    EC (off to buy Shadow Man.)

  14. SonomaLass
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 22:38:47

    Cody, as Patty L. says, your story is particularly poignant consider the current economy. I’ve got two 20-somethings who are both dreamers, and I’m doing my best to subsidize their dreams when their hard work alone can’t seem to do the trick. I was feeling the strain a bit this week, to be honest, and your story was exactly what I needed.

    Tell your parents for me that they are fabulous people.

    I’m sorry for your suffering, but glad to know that you’ve come out the other side still writing. Thanks for sharing your tale.

  15. Cody Mcfayden
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 23:40:01

    Hi everyone,

    I’m sorry I didn’t post a reply sooner… I was in the air today, flying to Baltimore for Bouchercon. I’m sitting here in a hotel, was about to head for bed, and saw this and all of your wonderful comments.

    Thanks for the very kind words. I’m glad the story was enjoyed,and that it could provide comfort/inspiration for some. We do indeed live in difficult times right now. I have friends who just lost their house and moved into an apartment. I have another friend who is moving out of state for work. I’m currently re-reading Walden by Thoreau for perspective.

    Anyway, thanks again. Now off to bed. Gotta rest up for the next 4 days!


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