Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.
Laura Resnick is the only author I’ve met whose series spans two two different publishers. Her Esther Diamond series started with Disappearing Nightly at Luna, but she switched over to DAW with Doppelgangster, Unsympathetic Magic, and the upcoming Vamparazzi. She’s written both fantasy and romance, hit several Year’s Best lists, and picked up a Campbell award to boot.
Her bio states that, growing up, she swore the one thing she would never pursue was the “godawful lifestyle” of the writer. You can see how well that worked out…
In 1987, I was 24 years old and living in Sicily without a telephone or television; my early exposure to email was still about five years away, and it would be nearly a decade before I saw a web page for the first time. That year, I read a book called How To Write A Romance And Get It Published by Kathryn Falk, the publisher of Romantic Times Magazine; and I decided to try it.
I wrote my fiction by hand in notebooks, then I typed the final version on a manual typewriter. I could only bang out about ten pages at a time on that thing before my fingers hurt too much to continue. So as far as I was concerned, once something was typed, it was set in stone. Consequently, I did all my rewriting, revising, honing, polishing, and proofreading by hand; and then I typed v-e-r-y carefully.
Having grown up in a writer’s house (my dad is science fiction writer Mike Resnick), I knew that the single most common difference between professional writers and never-published aspirants is certainly not luck, and it’s not even talent; it’s perseverance. So I decided that I would complete six novels before I considered quitting, and I hoped that I’d get enough constructive feedback in the rejections on my first three books to help me make my next three novels more marketable.
After I completed two books, the next phase of my plan in that pre-internet era required me to go to Rome, more than 600 miles away. The nearest copy of Writers Market was at an English-language library there. After photocopying the pages I needed from that book, I went back to Palermo (well, okay, after some sight-seeing and revelry in the Eternal City), where I started sending queries to agents and proposals to publishers via trans-Atlantic mail.
The dozen literary agents whom I queried all rejected me. However, a newly-hired editorial assistant at Silhouette Books (a division of Harlequin Enterprises, the biggest romance publisher in the world) wanted to get promoted up to assistant editor. And the best way to do that was to find something in the slushpile of 6,000 unsolicited submissions that year which Silhouette could buy and publish. She found my proposal for a book called One Sultry Summer, thought it was just the ticket, and requested the full MS from me. I sent it (which cost a fortune from Sicily), and she started the long process of passing it up through the hierarchy of people whose approval is needed before a house acquires a new author.
During the 11 months that this was going on, I completed my third MS and started work on my fourth. I also moved back to the US, where I got a phone—but not an answering machine. One day, to my surprise, I received a Federal Express letter from Silhouette Books. They’d been trying to reach me by phone without success. They hoped this letter would find me—and if it did, I should call them immediately, because they wanted to make an offer on One Sultry Summer [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] , and they wanted to see any other MSs I had that might be suitable for Silhouette.
The editorial assistant who had discovered me did indeed get promoted. However, Silhouette didn’t want to assign a first-time writer to a first-time editor, so I was assigned to someone more experienced. (And within six months, I would already be on my third editor there… but that’s a story about staying in the business, rather than breaking into it.)
I learned a lot about my craft while writing books for Silhouette; and I sold a few romances to other houses, too. But I eventually left romance and switched to writing fantasy—where my then-agent and then-editor insisted on referring to me as a “new” and “first-time” author, though I had previously sold fourteen (romance) novels. So I guess switching genres is one way to keep the bloom forever fresh on your damask cheek.