My First Sale by C.W. Gortner, If At First, You Don't Succeed
We rarely post letters from male authors on the blog but mostly because we read female authors but when I learned of this C.W. Gortner’s quest for publication, I thought it was particularly inspirational. After all, rejection knows no gender. While The Last Queen is Gortner’s debut novel to most the world, he actually first self published after thirteen years of snubbing from New York.
Gortner has an M.F.A. in writing from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance. The Last Queen tells the story of Juana La Loca who many people believed was insane. Gortner’s story, however, told through Juana’s eyes, suggests that insanity was the pretense by which she held power and saved her country. P.S. Jayne, I asked for a review copy for you. It’s on the way.
In May, 2007, I received a phone call from my new agent, the fabulous Jennifer Weltz at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. She told me my historical novel, THE LAST QUEEN, had gone into auction. A few days later, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, won the auction in a six-figure, 2-book deal. "You’re finally on your way," Jennifer laughed as I stood there, literally speechless.
She’d said a mouthful! I’d spent the last thirteen years trying to get published. I’d had three agents before her and finished four manuscripts. I never thought it would happen. After so many years, submissions in New York had become a purgatorial merry-go-round during which I stood aside and waited as my manuscripts went out into the ether and returned, invariably, with praise attached to an often bewildering rejection. I’d watched my agents lose confidence. I’d heard time and time again that it was nearly impossible to sell fiction. I even heard historical fiction was a dead genre. I’d begun to think I was cursed.
I finally gave up. After leaving my last agent, I stopped. All of it. I’d been writing for most of my life but the pleasure had vanished. I couldn’t deal with the pyramid of rejections I’d accumulated, the seemingly random nature of the business. I stopped writing for a full six months and was miserable. I realized that I loved to write and deep down inside, I believed my work had merit. So, after months of investigation I happened upon a start-up print-on-demand press and published my fourth-written book: an historical mystery, taut and short-‘the perfect test subject. If I fail, I told myself, at least I tried. A few of my NY-published friends frowned; I plunged in. I learned about cover design, marketing, getting reviews-‘ in short, everything I needed to give my book an edge. In the next three years it sold 7,000 copies, most of them online. I was surprised and delighted. I’d worked my butt off and I had something to show for it. I decided to release another book, the original version of THE LAST QUEEN. Writing had become fun again; more importantly, publishing was fun. I didn’t even consider New York as an option.
Within a month of my second book’s release, 1,000 copies had sold and my new agent called. She wanted sales figures; she’d been watching my progress. I’d previously been represented by the agency through a different agent, so she knew my work. She wanted to do a round in NY and see if there was interest. We liked each other instantly over the phone and her enthusiasm was infectious. I figured, why not? What did I have to lose? It didn’t seem nearly as important anymore whether or not I was accepted in New York. I was happy with where I was.
As it turned out, the timing was perfect. The genre was hot; I had a unique subject that hadn’t been covered; and a sales history, albeit modest. Of course, it still took months. At one point, my agent even said that if the book didn’t sell, she still would represent my subsequent works. That was in December, 2006. By the spring of the following year, my dream came true.
There’s a saying that if you want something bad enough, never give up. I’d add that if you want something bad enough and you find every door closed, make one of your own.