My First Sale by J.L. Miles, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Getting Published
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. J.L. Miles presents her newest project, Divorcing Dwayne, the first in the “Dwayne Series”, a three-book southern series featuring Francine Harper who is under felony assault charges for shooting at her husband Dwayne and his stripper/lover Carla from the Peel ‘n Squeal. Divorcing Dwayne is in stores now with the second in the series releasing on April 2009.
When she first sent it out, we got an immediate response from a major publisher and boy was I excited. They raved about the author voice and the premise. They asked if the author had another book that could be packaged with it. Then they took it to committee, whatever that means, and the next thing you know they were saying things like, "It’s not for our list after all."
Bummer. I felt like dumping my head in the washing machine while it was on the spin cycle. That got me thinking about all the authors out there that now have N.Y. Times bestsellers. Did they ever want to stick their head in the washer? I’d call them up, but I don’t have there numbers. Plus they’d think I was crazy so I’d probably just tell them how much I enjoyed their book and not mention their washing machine.
Maybe placing a project is so frustrating because of the way I first got published. I went to this book conference. At the reception I literally bumped into Ron Pitkin, the president of Cumberland House Publishing. He was kind enough not to notice I spilled his drink and asked what I was working on. When I told him fiction, he promptly replied, "That’s a crap shoot." Definitely not what I wanted to hear. I mean, I’d paid good money to come to this conference and he’s raining on my party, big time. "Well," I said, "that’s too bad, because I have a dynamite opening line." I was prepared to walk away, when he gently took hold of my elbow and said, "So what’s your opening line?"
"The morning I died, it rained." Keep in mind this was long before The Lovely Bones.
"God! I want to see that book," he said, doing an about face.
"Ah, I don’t have a book," I said. "I have a great opening line and a hundred pages."
He asked if I had it with me. "Of course. I’m getting it evaluated in the morning. It costs forty-five dollars."
He told me to give it to him, he wouldn’t charge a thing. I immediately went to my room and brought back the pages. I had a prologue, and the last chapter and the epilogue along with the rest of it. It wasn’t finished, but I knew where it was going.
Mr. Pitkin thanked me and went on his way. Come Sunday morning with the conference over, everyone was checking out. I spotted Mr. Pitkin making his way toward me and thought, oh-oh, this is where he’s going to pull the rug out from under me and tell me to get a real job. To my surprise he handed me the manuscript and said, "I want this and I want it yesterday. Go home and finish it!"
I figured if I took forever to finish it he’d never even remember that he liked it. I stayed up and wrote around the clock for the next five days, took the weekend off, stayed up again and wrote around the clock for the next five days and sent it off to Mr. Pitkin. I marked my calendar for three months, thinking it might take that long for him to get back to me. I started in on my second book. Just like all the books on writing said to do. The following Friday evening my phone rang. I answered. A voice said, "This is Ron Pitkin at Cumberland House and we’re going to bring your book out in hardback." I said, "Ya? And I’m the tooth fairy." And I hung up on him. The reason I did this is that the only person other than my husband who knew I’d sent off the manuscript was a good friend of mine who can mimic any voice he’s ever heard. He’d been going to this conference where I’d met Mr. Pitkin for years and has heard him speak many times. It had to be this friend playing a joke on me. Not a very funny one either. I wasn’t amused.
I went upstairs to comb my hair and put some lipstick on. My husband was starving and wanted to go and get something to eat. Poor thing, he probably was starving. I stopped cooking when the kids left home and I took up writing. No sooner did I get to the bedroom when the phone rang. This one has caller ID, the others don’t. I leaned over and saw CUMBERLAND HOUSE flashing on the screen. I’d hung up on Mr. Pitkin for real!
I picked up the handset, leaned into it and barely whispered "Hello?"
"What’d you hang up on me for?" he said. "Ah, it’s a long story, a very boring story," I said.
"Well, we’re bringing out your book in hard back and bumping back our memoir piece on Dale Earnhardt (he’d been tragically killed), to make Roseflower Creek the lead book. What do you think of that?"
I was hyperventilating and finding it impossible to speak. I did my best. "Didn’t you say fiction was a crap shoot?" I asked
"Yes-‘and it is," he said.
"Then I think your crazy or my protagonist got herself a miracle. What do you think of that?"
Mr. Pitkin laughed and said he’d be seeing me. This is a true story and a pretty amazing way to get published. I should have known there’d be rocky roads ahead. It brings to mind the old adage if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Oh well, maybe after the storms pass, I’ll find a rainbow. One can always hope. In the interim I’ve got everything crossed, including the hair on my husband’s head-‘all three strands.
Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River and the newly released Divorcing Dwayne. Dear Dwayne debuts April 1st, 2009. Visit the website at www.jlmiles.com. Write to Jackie at Jackie@jlmiles.com