First Book Friday: Harry Connolly
Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.
Harry Connolly, also known as burger-eater on LiveJournal, spent last month giving away books every day leading up to the release of his second novel, Game of Cages.
One thing I like about this one is that, like so many published stories, it opens with a great hook…
Jim, thanks for the opportunity to tell my story here in your space.
The first thing to know about selling Child of Fire [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], my first novel, is that it happened after I’d already quit writing.
I’d spent years trying to sell longer works, but had no success; you might say I was a smidge discouraged. The book I’d written just before Child of Fire was very difficult and very personal; I’d literally wept while composing the first draft. What happened when I sent it out? Form rejection after form rejection.
I was angry (with myself, not with the people who’d rejected me–that’s
one of my most important rules). I thought I’d been doing everything I needed to do, but apparently not.
For my next book, I used my anger as fuel. I started with a strange incident that needed to be investigated. I loaded the story with antagonists and conflicting goals. Then I ramped up the pace and kept it going, making even the slower parts, where the characters just talk with each other, quick and full of conflict.
But I was sure I was wasting my time. If my last book hadn’t gone anywhere, why should this one?
Now for some context: I was a stay-at-home parent while writing Child of Fire. I’d be at the local Starbucks when they opened at 5:30, write until 8:30, then go home and make breakfast for my family.
I cooked, cleaned, and spent a lot of time with my son. We lived cheaply and my wife’s job covered the bills–we didn’t have a much money, but we had a lot of time together. It was a good life.
Then it fell apart. My wife was injured and needed surgery. The only health insurance we had was a Mastercard and she had to take leave from her commission-only job. Naturally, I went back to work, doing my best to cover the housework while working long hours. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t keep up with the medical bills. Bankruptcy was starting to look unavoidable.
And I was ashamed.
I’d sacrificed so much to pursue my writing, and what did I have to show for it? A series of joe-jobs, no money, no car, no rainy day fund, nothing. All I had was a box full of rejection letters. After talking things over with my wife, I decided to go back to grad school and get a career. Be sensible. Maybe I’d come back to writing when things were more stable. Maybe.
Of course, I still had Child of Fire on my hard drive. It seemed disrespectful not to query it. I’m naturally a fatalist, but you don’t stop doing the kata just because you flubbed the middle. I mailed queries…
And I started getting requests for sample chapters, then whole manuscripts. Eventually, three agents offered to represent me, and I signed with the one who had the highest, most concrete expectations of me. Back went the GRE study guides to the library.
That was December of 2007. By February of 2008, it looked like Child of Fire was going to auction. Instead, Del Rey jumped in with a six-figure pre-empt bid, which we accepted. Since then, my debut novel has been placed on several best of the year lists, including Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 of 2009.
And… you know how so many writers say they danced for joy at their first deal? Or when they signed with their agent? I didn’t. Both times I collapsed into a chair with a profound sense of relief that I hadn’t wasted my life after all.
 I know it wasn’t a great idea to go without health insurance. I know
we gambled and lost. Please don’t lecture me on the virtues of jobs with
benefits; I already know because I lived it.
 Who is just fine, btw.
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September 10, 2010 @ 10:25 am
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A short, happy story « Twenty Palaces
September 10, 2010 @ 12:35 pm
[…] tale of my very first book sale is up on Jim C. Hine’s blog and LiveJournal. For new readers here, it’s not the usual book sale story: It’s a tale […]
September 10, 2010 @ 9:48 pm
Great motivational story for the rest of us struggling writers! Can’t say I have hit rock bottom or even close to it, but i often feel I’m wasting my time with the wishful writing career.
Gives me hope for the happy ending!
September 14, 2010 @ 1:32 pm
” Both times I collapsed into a chair with a profound sense of relief that I hadn’t wasted my life after all.”
As much as it would fill me with joy to get published… I suspect this reaction is the more likely. I haven’t sacrificed nearly as much as maybe I should for my writing – I’m a coward who started the “sensible career” path pre-emptively – but deep down I have this profound regret for not pursuing my talents and my love of writing to their fullest. If I do eventually get published, I know it’ll be a moment of relief for me…
Jim C. Hines
September 14, 2010 @ 1:44 pm
I don’t think the sensible career path is cowardice. That’s the path I’ve been following for well over a decade. There’s something romantic about saying “Dammitall, I’m going to pursue my passions!” But I also have to find a way to take care of my health issues, support my family, and all of those rather mundane responsibilities.
I’d love to someday write full time, and I do envy those who can. But this was the choice that was right for me and my family, and I don’t think it’s a cowardly choice.
(Without knowing the details of your own situation and choice, I obviously can’t tell you whether or not you’re a coward. But given how long it takes to break in as a writer, and how unpredictable it can be, I don’t see anything wrong with being “sensible” and getting a more stable job lined up first.)
September 19, 2010 @ 11:44 am
What Jim said. I made a lot of mistakes, and one of them was my decision to forgo a sensible career in favor of bad jobs and writing. I should have found something stable and useful that would have helped with my writing, like becoming a librarian or lawyer.
I could have done just as much writing (more, maybe) if I’d had a serious job and given up TV years ago.