Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

What to do about the First Sale day?

For the past few years, nearly every Monday we have featured a First Sale letter from different authors.   These blog posts told the stories of authors “first sale”, generally to a big six traditional publisher.   As we came to a close last year, I began to think about this space, the authors who are featured, and what it is really offering to the readers.

Even though each author told a different story, I began to feel a certain sameness about the series and wondered if it wasn’t getting stale.   In November, I stopped accepting new blog posts (I still have a few in the hopper for upcoming releases).   What I did like about this space was that it was for authors to talk about themselves and their books on a blog that usually doesn’t have that type of feature.   It was promotional, of course, but it wasn’t too in your face and for the most part, it didn’t sound promotional.

Probably the biggest drawback is that it unfairly featured big six traditional publishing even though the blog has always been a supporter of alternative forms of publishing.   With the rise of self publishing, coop publishing, digital publishing, and everything in between, it seems outmoded to continue to support a feature that leaves out a great portion of our community.

Now statistically speaking, there has been no visible decline of visitors on Mondays (maybe you all skip Monday morning and come back in the afternoon or maybe you love First Sale stories and are going to tell me so in the comments).   This blog is about delivering good content to readers and sometimes that means things need to be changed.

I’ve enjoyed the occassional author essay like the one Julia Spencer Fleming wrote a couple of weeks ago.   I wouldn’t mind more essays by authors about concepts, tropes, ideas in their books.   Another thought is something like John Scalzi’s Big Idea.   I really can’t do interviews on Monday morning UNLESS it is a templated interview and by that we have a set of six questions or so about the book that each author follows.   The reason is that I feel an interview is no good unless the interviewer has read the book. Alyson H’s interviews are awesome for just that reason – she reads the book and has insightful and knowledgeable questions.

I’ve not come up with anything awesome so I put the question to you all.   What would you like to see here Monday mornings? Maybe you don’t want to hear from authors at all.   Maybe you love the First Sale.   Maybe you want something totally different. I’m totally open. Inundate me with suggestions.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

54 Comments

  1. Tez Miller
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 04:30:06

    I generally open the First Sales for a skim-read, but read them properly when I actually know and read the authors books. Which is rarely.

    To be more honest, I’d be more interested in hearing about the Agent Call, rather than the First Sale.

    Reading via GoogleReader doesn’t count as a web visit, does it? I only go to the website if I comment, which I don’t often do.

  2. RebeccaJ
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 06:14:43

    As an aspiring best selling novelist, I enjoy the First Sales stories because they give me inspiration and hope to continue trying.

  3. Louise
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 07:09:48

    I generally skim them. They feel a bit samey to me, and I’m more interested in reading about the books themselves than the details of authors’ lives. That’s just me, though – I’m sure they still feel fresh to a lot of other people.

  4. FiaQ
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 07:20:19

    I usually skim or ignore First Sale posts. I’m more interested in readers (including authors as readers) discussing books, such as their favourite books, tropes they enjoy, covers they like/dislike, etc.

    That said, I do enjoy posts by authors who explain the origins of their stories or universe/world-building. What inspired those stories, editorial decisions authors made – such as coming up with certain plots, names, characters (no mention of actors/models/celebrities, please!) or they chose certain settings – and some other trivia relating to a story or a series.

    Almost like Director’s Commentary on DVD. I’m a lot more interested in this than the business or technical side of a writing life.

  5. cead
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 07:47:23

    @FiaQ:

    That said, I do enjoy posts by authors who explain the origins of their stories or universe/world-building. What inspired those stories, editorial decisions authors made – such as coming up with certain plots, names, characters (no mention of actors/models/celebrities, please!) or they chose certain settings – and some other trivia relating to a story or a series.

    I’m the same. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of the First Sale posts in their entirety, but if the content were the story behind an author’s creative process, I’d eat it up.

  6. Berinn
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 07:57:42

    I love the idea @FiaQ mentioned: having a director’s cut. If Monday morphed into an Author’s Cut, i.e. having an author explain certain aspects of their story, it would give us insight into what some of our favorite (and new to us) authors were thinking when they wrote a story/series.

  7. Mireya
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 07:57:43

    I read this blog via the RSS feed first (directed to Google Reader). I skip the First sale as well as some of the other weekly/monthly features. That is me, one visitor. I don’t write nor intend to, so anything that does involve promo or critique I outright skip. I read some of the reviews, not all as I don’t fancy all the genres reviewed. I read the news updates you post. I read other readers comments,usually seeking reader recommends. Again, this is just one among the thousands of visitors you likely get here on a monthly basis.

  8. DS
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 08:00:08

    I’m a First Sale skimmer also– if I even read it, which has happened less and less recently. Or I may only take a look after being lured by some other post I’m more interested in reading.

    Essays might be entertaining as long as they don’t devolve into promotion. I don’t think potted interviews work– I’m in awe of good interviewers but that takes time and effort. I can’t offer any thing more imaginative I’m afraid.

  9. JenD
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 08:30:22

    @FiaQ:

    What FiaQ said sounds fascinating to me. “Why did I go with a virgin bride who juggles flaming swords and peanuts” would have me reading.

    I like having a space for authors to speak. I like hearing about the business side of things as well. Hearing rants and raves turns me off though.

    I agree that having a scripted interview would be boring to read, and possibly to do; even though the questions might be wonderful, the result would definitely feel samey-samey.

  10. Estara
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:01:36

    It sounds as if a Big Idea consensus is developing here, even though various commentators call it by various names ^^ – I’m for that as well.

  11. Annabel
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:06:42

    Another vote for hosting authors who are willing to share a “peek” into their creative process. I would find that amazingly fascinating.

    Or maybe even just an author sharing the story of a particular book in their backlist…how they got the idea for it, how the process of writing it went, if the final result surprised, pleased, or disappointed them. With the focus on just one book, the guest author wouldn’t be tempted (hopefully) to spin off into too much self promotion. For the reader, it would offer them more insight into a book they perhaps already read and loved, or conversely, the opportunity to discover a new author if they haven’t read it. Maybe you could change up the niche/genre every week so there’s variety and it doesn’t feel samey.

  12. Jane
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:09:07

    I am definitely liking the Author’s Cut idea. (TM FiaQ). It also sounds like I am not the only one whom was suffering First Sale fatigue.

    @Estara: I admittedly don’t read the Big Idea over at John Scalzi’s blog often but maybe I should so I don’t replicate it.

  13. Rachel Randall
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:13:26

    Would be cool to have more publishing industry professionals guesting rather than just authors. I love your giveaways from the major publishers not so much for the free books but for the reps talking about what excites them in their catalogues…

    I think a rotating spot for the agents, cover designers & artists & typesetters, editors, marketing professionals, librarians, booksellers, etc. to discuss what’s exciting/interesting in their parts of the publishing world would be quite cool.

    There are so many venues for authors to talk about sales and craft out there — even AS an author I’m feeling a bit over-saturated (even as I greatly appreciate those venues…)!

    If you’re starting fresh with the spot, as a reader I’d like to hear more from the other people in the publishing industry because if there’s one thing that Dear Author does so well it’s show readers that there’s more to a book than what’s simply on the page.

  14. DM
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:17:45

    I usually skip the First Sale, unless the book sounds interesting to me. I am a professional writer, but I find that most of these stories sound the same. I suspect that this is just the nature of the business. There are a few well-trod paths to publication. Most writers take them.

    I am always interested in hearing writers talk about the genre and their craft. It’s surprising how few venues there are for this. For some reason most romance author interviews are surprisingly “soft,” are really just promotional devices, often come out before anyone has read the book, and then just ask gushing questions. I’d love to read author essays on subjects readers get passionate about. Baby epilogues, virgin heroines, fated mates. These are all things readers have strong opinions on, but it would be great to have authors weigh in on how they feel about these tropes, why they do or don’t use them, and how.

  15. Tweets that mention What to do about the First Sale day? | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:27:45

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  16. Brian
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:31:19

    FiaQ’s “Behind the Book” commentary idea sounds great if done right.

    Rachel’s “Behind the Business” idea is equally interesting. One week you could have an editor the next a cover artist, etc.

    Maybe a combo of the two?

  17. Lori
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:31:34

    I don’t read the First Sale at all anymore. Unless it’s an author I know or a hot looking gentleman, I skip over it.

    It might be interesting to have an introduction of smaller presses. We all know Random House but what about Sapphire Blue or Red Rose?

  18. Jane
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:33:53

    @Brian: Strangely I find editors reticent. Maybe I could throw the idea out there, though, and see who picks up.

    @Lori: I’m reluctant to feature small press publishers because I don’t want it to be an endorsement of the house. Look at the fiasco that happened with Red Rose Publishing about their treatment of authors and then the subsequent C&D letter/threat I received from their attorney.

  19. Irma
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:36:11

    Evidently, I’m in the minority. I do read the first sale stories in their entirety. But I often found them frustrating because so many authors neglected to tell about the journey leading up to that first sale. That’s what I want to know about–the struggle and years of work, the learning process. So I guess I’m more interested in the journey than the actual sale.

  20. Sayoko
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:40:51

    I actually liked reading about First Sales, but I would also like to know more about other people in the romance industry.

    For instance, what about editors? What is their role in the making of a romance novel?
    I ask this question because I know a lot about editors working with comic artists in Japan (I know, totally unrelated with romance), and they have a surprising important role in the making of the story.
    Since then, I have been wondering, what is the extent of the influence of an editor? How does the whole process works?
    I think it would be interesting to explore that :D

  21. Joanne
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:41:07

    The First Sale posts always seem more encouragement for new authors than info that I need as a reader to decide about purchases.

    I don’t think I’d be too interested in what an author was thinking when they wrote a story. Dunno – though I’d read the first few posts and see – but I’m more interested in the actual creations than the process.

    What I LOVE is that the monthly Author Promo feature has more authors offering excerpts to their new books. That really works for me and it often leads to finding new to me authors.

  22. Brian
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:53:08

    What about if, instead of axing “First Sale” altogether it got combined into the whole “Behind the Book” concept along with (possibly) editors, cover artists, agents, etc. Maybe that would help with some of the ‘sameness’ if they weren’t so frequent.

  23. Elyssa Papa
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 09:54:56

    I think you have to do what is right for DA and its readers. But . . . I really like the First Sale stories. Of course, I’m coming from a different angle–agented writer but unsold so I enjoy reading how the authors sold. Despite the risk of sounding corny, those stories have always inspired me in a way. I’ve often gone back and reread certain ones (I’m looking at you, Lisa Kleypas). And when I think I really, really suck and that I’m a huge failure, I find some sort of comfort that other multi-published or newly debuted authors have maybe faced the same hardships. It gives me hope that if I keep doing what I’m doing that I’ll have a first sale. Fingers crossed.

    But I totally understand doing away with this story since the landscape of publishing is changing so much. I’ll miss the feature, but I’m sure whatever you and the rest of DA come up with will be good.

  24. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 10:14:59

    I love the idea of including subjects beyond the first sale, and guests beyond authors. Cover art is always interesting. I like to hear from editors and agents.

    I’m also interested in an author’s influences/favorites. As a romance reader from way back (I got hooked on Silhouette Intimate Moments and Sandra Brown’s Loveswepts) I love learning about which books or lines inspired other authors. When did the author fall in love with romance? Why did they start writing it? etc. HelenKay Dimon has a great story about being a divorce lawyer in disputed custody cases and needing to read a book with a happy ending. I met Julie James once and thought she had a really interesting journey to becoming a romance writer.

  25. Maria Zannini
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 10:33:34

    I have to agree that I tend to speed-read through First Sales. It’s all very nice and warm-fuzzy, but the stories are pretty much the same.

    I would love to read articles on creative process, business mistakes, and learned lessons. It would tell me more about an author than her fist sale.

  26. Jane
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 10:34:32

    Would love to have an increased editor/agent voice here about the back end of publishing but have had difficulty getting them to come on. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained and it has been a few years since I tried.

  27. Angie
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 10:58:49

    I don’t read the First Sale posts, but having writers talking about worldbuilding or character creation or where that cool plot twist came from would definitely be interesting.

    Angie

  28. Ridley
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 11:43:14

    I almost never read the First Sale posts. They were generally kind of boring and samey and I don’t really want to know too much about authors to begin with. Their books are what interests me, not them personally.

    For replacement ideas I like the “director’s cut” or the rotating column on some aspect of the industry, or even having Monday feature a scholarly take on romance – maybe a journal article review, maybe an essay, maybe something else.

  29. Karenmc
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 11:45:51

    I skim First Sale and only read it thoroughly if something catches my interest. I think a variety of postings from authors (all of the already mentioned ideas sound good) would be great, something on the order of a Monday Scramble: you know that something from an author will be posted, but the actual topic will be a surprise.

  30. MaryK
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 12:01:36

    I admit First Sale posts are low on my reading priority list. But I have gotten good recs from some. And some of them have been very inspiring for me even as a non-writer.

    How about something like The Book Smugglers “Inspiration and Influences” posts? That would be similar as far as an author talking about her work but not restricted to “first sale.” Reading author posts does help me decide whether I want to read their books. I think I bought Rose Learner’s debut book based mostly on her post there.

    I like some of the other suggestions about mixing in other “pros” as well.

  31. Suze
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 12:20:28

    I almost never read First Sale, and I am an aspiring author. They all pretty much say what I already know.

    The posts I always look for and always read are the link roundups, and news tidbits about the publishing industry. I always learn something new, or have something new to chew on and maybe change my mind about.

  32. Christine Rimmer
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 12:24:09

    First Sale stories are…well, I’ve read a whole bunch of them and enough is enough.

    I like the idea of authors talking about what has influenced them. Things like fave book of all time and why.

  33. mischab1
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 12:41:31

    And here I thought I’d be the only one saying they read via RSS and skip the First Sale stories. What you bet that most of the people who love these won’t come out of the woodwork until after the First Sale stories are done away with. :-)

    For myself, I only ever open First Sales stories by accident and normally just delete them right away. The times I read them after opening are either because the cover looked interesting enough that I wanted to find out more about the book, or noticed the author had an interesting research/behind-the-book comment.

    Things like which character the author liked best are generally uninteresting. After all, I haven’t read the book yet & the author is talking about complete strangers.

  34. hapax
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 13:01:18

    Speaking only for myself, although I come here mostly for the reviews, what gets me excited are a) behind-the-book stuff (business news, agent perspectives, how cover art is created, what an editor does, etc.) and b) trope discussions, especially when it gets past the more popular ones (e.g Sekrit Baby, Alphole Bosses, Small Towns) and into some of the lesser used (e.g. virgin heroes, Asian historicals, biracial romances, etc.)

    I’d love a Trope-of-the-Month feature!

  35. bettie
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 13:09:09

    I like the first sale stories, but am enthralled with @FiaQ ‘s Author’s Cut idea. It sounds like fascinating reading, and each entry would be different because each story and process are different.

  36. HollyY
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 13:18:27

    I rarely read that feature. Also, I didn’t really enjoy the fact that is was primarily about first sales to the “big” publishers. “The Call” is just as awesome for a writer whether it’s Harlequin or The Wild Rose Press doing the calling.

    I think a “behind the book” feature would be interesting to read. I’d also enjoy hearing from editors and agents too.

  37. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 13:18:43

    What about following a single book from acceptance to publication?
    You could do it with different books, and different publishers. Different sub genres, too.
    Bigger epublishers like EC, Samhain, Carina, the Big Six and some of the smaller pubs.
    If you got the editors involved, you could have the different viewpoints, too.

  38. Carin
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 14:09:33

    I skip the First Sale posts. I think there are a lot of good ideas in the comments here, though!

    To weigh my vote in, I don’t mind it if the author is doing a little promo along with their interview/column. I *like* hearing the behind the scenes about a book. I do get annoyed, though, when I read behind the scenes about a book that the author is writing right NOW. I won’t see *that* book for another year. Please tell me about a book that I can go buy today, because I have a short attention span and want to have what I want NOW, thank you very much.

    Also, I love the attention you give to books from all different publishers, not just the big ones. So, I’d love it if whatever you do involves some of the smaller publishers, too. I love feeling like I’ve discovered something new that you won’t find walking past the book rack at Walmart or Target.

  39. nell dixon
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 14:14:07

    I enjoy the first sale stories but it would be nice to have more depth in them, eg why that particular book? and what happened next?

  40. Estara
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 14:18:45

    @Jane: I don’t think that would be a problem, as long as you call it something different.

    It’s authors writing about their books under a specific aspect they themselves have chosen – so whether it’s the topic or a character or their personal background which influenced that particular book, etc. From the Big Ideas I’ve read over there, you’ll always find commenters that say “but that’s not a big idea, because…” – so as long as the author is genuine and picks out something they haven’t said elsewhere about exactly that book it’s always entertaining, whether people agree on the headline or not ^^

  41. library addict
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 14:27:27

    I usually at least skimmed the first sale letters. As others have said it the comments, what was frustrating at times was that some authors didn't actually talk about the first sale. However, the feature has introduced me to some new authors I may not have otherwise read, so thanks.

    I like the behind-the-book ideas.

    I haven't read John Scalzi's Big Idea, but Sue Grimshaw does a regular questionnaire at the Borders trueromance blog with a usual set of questions.

  42. Angela James
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 14:35:27

    I read the First Sale stories more than I read the movie reviews (which is never) so if I had to see a feature go, my first choice wouldn’t be First Sale, which feels like it adds more value to the content than the Friday movie reviews does (not that you asked specifically about whether there was a different content we’d choose to see go instead).

    That said, if both features stayed, I’d still visit Dear Author! I’ve been trying to think of a different feature you could do. Maybe you should take my dream idea from this morning :P

  43. jayhjay
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 14:36:23

    I hate to say this but I never read the first sales. I guess since I am not an aspiring writer this doesn’t hold much interest to me. I agree with others than some sort of other type of author insight column would be more interesting (especially if they are able to get involved in the comments and answer questions).

  44. madeline iva
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 15:01:55

    As an aspiring author, I read First Sale more than anything else on Dear Author. I’d like to hear more about sales to online publishers, Ellora’s Cave, Carina Press, etc, — but not so much about self-published work — unless that author is having huge success.

    What’s important to me is not so much hearing the dream of the sale, but hearing about working smart not just working hard–and about struggles with pride to realize one needs to grow better at craft –and how they got better at craft to raise their writing to the next level.

    How people realized that they needed to improve, how community helped them–learning about all of this is important to me. I have Kresley Cole’s “RULE OF 25″ pinned on my bulletin board.

    So much of the publishing world likes to put a spin on how people made a sale. “I don’t know, I just got lucky” kind of publishing stories drive me mad—and you hear about them all the time in the non-romance publishing world. But I look to you all at Dear Author to reveal the long, hard, tenacious truth behind every success story out there.

  45. Liza Lester
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 19:17:05

    I think a lot of aspiring authors, and readers too, are interested in the invisible underpinnings of the authorial Process. We not only want to see the novel from the stage wings, we want to see the rehearsals, the technical rigging, the stage directions, and the backstage drama. The First Sale space has not often elicited interesting nuggets of that kind from authors, so it has been a series that I tend to skip.

    I do like to see how different authors will answer the same question, however. Perhaps ‘How I felt about my first sale’ is played out, but I’d to read other classics, like–

    Where the story came from
    The making of a romantic encounter
    My feelings on the importance of safe sex in romance
    How I fought my protagonist for control of the story and who won
    How I fought my editor for control of the story and how we both won

  46. Jessica
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 19:26:28

    I rarely read the First Sale posts. My idea is… well, I bet every author has some story about their journey/process/worlds/characters they’ve always wanted to tell but haven’t had the chance.

  47. Jane
    Feb 22, 2011 @ 14:41:40

    I’ve invited some authors to blog about the friends to lovers trope and why they love it in March and I’ve dispatched emails to editors to see if they want to talk about the acquisition to publication process of a book that they are excited about publishing.

  48. MsCP
    Feb 22, 2011 @ 20:55:45

    I skim First Sales but never read Friday Film.

    I would look at what FiaQ called Authors Cut. Alternate with editors and agents and booksellers with some behind the scenes.

  49. MaryK
    Feb 22, 2011 @ 22:49:49

    @Jane: I’ve seen Carina Press staff mention their excitement over a submission (probably on the CP blog) and wished they’d follow up later with a “remember that manuscript I was so excited about” post.

  50. Milena
    Feb 23, 2011 @ 06:33:58

    I’m another First Sale skimmer, and would like to add my vote for the Author’s Cut.
    But I would also like to add that I love the Friday Film Reviews, and would be sad to lose them.

  51. Kristi
    Feb 23, 2011 @ 18:29:13

    First Sale makes me smile! I like to read it. It’s very uplifting.

    Although I have to say I am another google Reader… and only visit when I want to comment. Which is more and more nowadays…

  52. BevQB
    Feb 23, 2011 @ 19:01:33

    I LOVE the idea of the “Author’s Cut” but think it would lose a lot of enjoyment if it was about an author’s upcoming or current book. I mean there’s only so much an author could say without spoilers and it would be frustrating to read if it seemed like a string of teasers. So older works or general series discussions only please!

    Actually, on that same note, I’d also love to hear about older books more often. It seems we as readers consume books as fast as they’re published and we forget that newer/younger romance readers may be missing out on books we longer/older readers remember with great fondness. Or maybe we’ve all missed the chance for some great discussions on books published before the internet era.

    Or maybe combine those two ideas into the same post sometimes by having the authors start a discussion about their older works.

  53. Nadia Lee
    Feb 24, 2011 @ 03:32:35

    @hapax:

    b) trope discussions, especially when it gets past the more popular ones (e.g Sekrit Baby, Alphole Bosses, Small Towns) and into some of the lesser used (e.g. virgin heroes, Asian historicals, biracial romances, etc.)

    Asian historicals…one genre I’ll probably never ever get to write… *feeling somewhat pensive*

  54. Beyond the Book: Friends to Lovers Trope by Maggie Rowe | Dear Author
    Feb 28, 2011 @ 04:01:20

    […] to Lovers Trope by Maggie Rowe February 28, 2011| by Jane | 0 CommentsLast week I floated the idea of discontinuing the First Sale feature and while there are fans of the feature, many others chimed in to say that they had First Sale […]

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