First Book

First Book Friday: Michael R. Underwood

This summer, all of the cool kids are writing *mancy books! Michael R. Underwood (Twitter, Facebook) just celebrated the release of his first novel, in which magic flows from genre tropes, and Ree Reyes (barista-and-comicshop-employee) finds herself drawn into the supernatural side of town, investigating a string of suicides. Geek-powered magic. It’s all the rage. You can check out the first two chapters at Tor.com.

A while back, I blogged and chatted a bit about Book Country, an online community of readers and writers launched by Penguin. I was delighted when Michael offered to share his experience with Book Country, an experience that led to a two-book deal for Geekomancy and its sequel.

Previous First Book Friday entries in the series are indexed here. The submission guidelines are over there.

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There’s a certain way things are done in publishing. Most authors write a manuscript, revise it, revise it again, then revise it some more. They get an agent, then they get a deal, then a year to a year and a half later, the book comes out in paperback or hardcover, etc. This is the way that things are done. And for many people, it works fabulously.

But there are always exceptions. Happily, my story with Geekomancy [Amazon | B&N] is one of those exceptions. At the beginning of 2012, I had just completed the first draft of an urban fantasy called Geekomancy and decided to try an experiment. Like many experiments, the results were unexpected.

I’d put a previous novel up for critique on Book Country, a community for genre fiction authors, and decided that it’d be a good exercise to show my new novel’s whole revision process on Book Country – it’d be a way to have accountability, get feedback as I went, and make a Thing of it.

As it turns out, it was not just a Thing, it was The Thing That Would Get Me Published. A few weeks after I put up an excerpt, Adam Wilson emailed me, introducing himself as an editor for Pocket/Gallery. He’d read what I posted and liked it, and saw that I had a complete draft, and could he read it?

And, because I am a good geek, and I know my Ghostbusters, I had the appropriate quote in my head: “If someone asks you if you’re a God, you say YES.”

And thus, I created my authorial corollary to the phrase: “If an editor asks if they can read your manuscript, you say YES.”

I said YES, and off it went. In the meantime, a Penguin editor also asked to read the full, taking me from ‘Wow, this is cool’ to ‘There could be editorial Thunderdome in store.’ It didn’t get quite that crazy, but in a little over a week, I had an offer. Adam was acquiring for a re-launch of Pocket Star as an eBook original imprint, and wanted to buy Geekomancy and 1-2 sequels as part of the re-launch.

Initially, I was sad to not have a print edition, since I have lots of bookstore connections and I didn’t dream of one day publishing an eBook when I was a kid. But with some reflection, I saw the advantages: as an eOriginal, it’d be faster to market, and it’d be easier to target directly to the demographic sweet spot (geeks and gamers), many of whom are eBook readers already.

I asked for a bit of time to consider the offer, and in that time, I went on a Lightning Round Agent Search, talking to several different agents and signing with the fabulous Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency. With an awesome agent on board, we sealed the deal.

Story’s over, right? Pack up, go home? Not quite!

A few weeks after the deal was done, Adam came back and asked if I’d be interested in turning the book in a couple of weeks earlier so they could release the book at Comic-Con?

Again, I responded in the enthusiastic affirmative. Comic-Con? A chance to get the book in front of 100,000 members of its prime demographic? Done.

And that’s how I sold, edited, and had my first novel published within six months of signing the deal. Geekomancy is now out in the world, its story a happy exception to the norms of publishing and helping trailblaze one of many new paths in the field.

First Book Friday: Tansy Rayner Roberts

It’s been six months since the last First Book Friday post, where authors talk about how they wrote and/or sold their first novel. Previous entries in the series are indexed here, and the submission guidelines are over there.

Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twitter, LJ) is, in her words,  a writer, a mum, a doll merchant, and in her spare time (ha!) likes to cut up fabric and sew it back together in an amusing fashion. She’s also one of the three voices of the Galactic Suburbia podcast (which is currently on the Hugo list for Best Podcast!)

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I had only just turned twenty when my first novel, Splashdance Silver, was published.  It sounds like a dream come true, but while there are some amazing benefits to being published so young, there are also some fairly grim realities.  When asked to give advice to new authors, I almost always say “A debut is a terrible thing to waste.”  And I am well aware that it’s often those authors who debut later in their lives who manage to turn that first lightning moment of luck-and-timing-and-good-book into a solid career.

But I hope I also stand as an example of how a less-than-stellar debut can be overcome.  Eventually.

The media surrounding Splashdance Silver used my age as a hook for readers, which I think caused as much backlash as it did awareness.  The book was the inaugural winner of The George Turner Prize, a contest designed to select and publish a new manuscript of science fiction or fantasy.  The prize ran for three years (with a female winner every year, my successors being hard science fiction writers Maxine McArthur and Michelle Marquardt) before quietly disappearing into the sunset with a swag on its back and a sad song in its heart.

As the first prize winner, receiving an advance for a whopping $10,000, which would still be considered an exceptional novel advance for a first time author in Australia today, I was under a lot of scrutiny, and there were rumblings in the SF community about the fact that a prize named after George Turner, an eminent Australian writer of serious science fiction, had been won by some girl’s funny fantasy novel, featuring more girls, and frocks, and exploding pirates, and that sort of thing.

Then there was the award ceremony itself, badly handled, where I discovered on the night that while *I* had known for months of secrecy that I was the winner, and had been busily editing the book for its imminent publication, none of the other shortlisted authors had been told that the race was long over.  They did figure it out, I suspect, when I was seated at the table with the guests of honour, well before the official announcement.  I cringe now to think about it – and am terribly grateful that many of them were not only forgiving, but have become very good friends since.

I had some lovely, supportive readers, and still hear from fans (mostly young women, who discovered Splashdance then or now as a teenager) but in 1998 the Young Adult fantasy boom had yet to take off, and my little book struggled to live up to the substantial advance, which turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing.  A sequel, Liquid Gold, was put out the following year, when Australia was hosting the Worldcon, but the third book never made it to the shelves.

I’ve been working to overcome my first false start for many years now, making friends and allies in the SF community, teaching, studying, having babies, reviewing and learning to craft short stories, podcasting at Galactic Suburbia, and writing, writing, writing.

My debut might have been less than stellar, but our industry can (occasionally) be more forgiving than we give it credit for.  In 2010 I was relaunched as a writer of dark fantasy at HarperCollins Voyager with The Creature Court trilogy. This time I have been widely reviewed, receiving a great deal more critical attention and support.  With community goodwill behind me, I hope this time to be able to launch a career that will stick to the wall, and keep climbing.

So, here we go again!

First Book Friday: Kari Sperring

It’s been a while, but First Book Friday is back, at least for today! Previous entries in the series are indexed here, and the submission guidelines are over there.

Kari Sperring (LJ, Twitter, Facebook), aka Kari Maund, has written many books, though she’s relatively new as a fantasy novelist. She joins us to talk about selling her first books (both nonfiction and fiction), and the importance of being very specific when making wishes…

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You probably don’t want to know about my first book. I realised a few weeks ago that it’s twenty years old this year. I can see it from where I’m sitting writing this, its dark-brown cover a little battered with use, though the silver embossed writing proclaiming author and title is as sharp as ever. I’m still proud of it, after all this time, even though back on the day of its publication – summer 1991, I think, though the exact date is gone from my memory – I greeted it with mixed feelings. I’d wanted to be a published writer since I was six or seven, but I’d failed to be specific in my wording. One must be careful what one wishes for: there it was, my first book, the product of four years of research and study and writing: Ireland, Wales and England in the eleventh century: some paradigms for political interaction.

It’s still out there, in libraries, on shelves, in second-hand bookshops, though it’s been out of print now for a decade or more. Four years of my life between two neat brown covers: the clean final version of my PhD dissertation, published by an academic press, without fanfare or advance, though it earned me about £2000 over the next seven or eight years. I still like that book, I like its carefulness and orderliness, its sharp clear arguments and twenty years on I still stand by my conclusions. It’s been a good friend and a good ally and in the end it may be what I’m remembered for, if I’m remembered at all. It sits there over my desk in a short row with my other five non-fiction books, and the jumble of my articles, my first career in a foot or less.

I’d forgotten, you see, as a young child, to make my wish specific. Perhaps, at six or seven it hadn’t really occurred to me that non-fiction was written, just as much as fiction. I’d wished and won and my wish was not what I’d expected. I wrote my second book – and that one was a novel – while Ireland, Wales and England was in the press, and sent to off to a handful of British publishers, and failed to sell it (though the rejection letters were very nice). I wrote the third, too, and sent it out while I was working on my next research project (which is extant in various articles) and my second academic book (which is the one you really, really don’t want to read, as it’s a reference book of the most specific kind – A Handlist of the Acts of Native Welsh Rulers, 1132-1283). That book – third novel, equal third book – was Living With Ghosts [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy].

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First Book Friday: Karin Lowachee

Welcome back to First Book Friday, where product freshness is guaranteed! Previous entries in the series are indexed here, and the submission guidelines are there.

Karin Lowachee has been creating stories since kindergarten. Maybe earlier. Her most recent book is The Gaslight Dogs [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], inspired in part by her time working with and living among the Inuit in northern Canada. You can find her on Twitter and Goodreads.

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My first novel, Warchild [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], was published in an unorthodox way. I workshopped about two-thirds of it on the then-Del Rey Online Writing Workshop (which has since become the Online Writing Workshop), first as an experiment to see if anyone actually took to it, and then as a motivational tool to make me complete it. I received very helpful critiques, as well as a lot of interest, so that was an indication to me that perhaps this book might appeal to a general SF readership (and hopefully some editors).

Towards the end of my writing the novel, my friend CC Finlay forwarded me the information about a contest run by Warner Books for first novelists — the grand prize was a full-fledged publishing contract, and even more cool, it was being judged by Tim Powers (and Betsy Mitchell was the editor-in-chief at the time). I made a goal to finish Warchild for this contest and send it off — first a cover letter and the first 50 pages, just as you would to any agent or publisher. Weeks later they asked for the full novel, so I sent that off too. I’d made the first cut.

Over the course of a few months I heard through the grapevine that it was ‘moving up the ranks.’ Then when I was working up in the Arctic, my sister called to tell me that I had received a letter from Warner Books — I had won. It was a surreal moment, I remember exactly standing in front of the couch and she was ecstatic on the other end of the line. My reactions to things tend to be more internal; I was jumping around on the inside, but outside I was just smiling like an idiot. Then I sat down on the couch. I probably said “YEAH!” once or twice, but that was it. I was just internalizing it all, letting the reality sink in … it took awhile. I don’t think I quite believed it until I actually talked to Betsy Mitchell on the phone, and then when I had a contract in hand. I kept assuming someone was going to say they’d reconsidered and it was going to someone else. But luckily I was wrong. (I still feel this way every time a book of mine is published; the disbelief doesn’t go away, frankly.) Warner Aspect was going to publish Warchild and Tim Powers was going to blurb it. I received all of my editorial comments and contacts while living up North, and it remains one of the best, most stressful, and interesting periods of my life. I will forever associate Warchild with the Arctic.

The real work began long after the book contract, and it hasn’t stopped. The contest afforded me an opportunity to get my foot in the door, but as any writer will tell you, it’s a fight to produce work that will keep you in the room. Still, I’ll ever be grateful to Betsy Mitchell and Tim Powers for seeing something in my book, and for all the readers who responded to it in such a positive way.

First Book Friday: Bradley Beaulieu

Today’s episode of First Book Friday is brought to you by the letter ñ. Previous entries in the series are indexed here, and the submission guidelines are over there.

Bradley Beaulieu is a fellow Writers of the Future winner, the author of a number of published short stories. His website is named “quillings” in honor of Tolkien and his literary discussion group, the Inklings. That has nothing to do with first books, but I found it interesting.

Read on to learn about the inspiration behind Beaulieu’s debut fantasy novel, and his sale to Night Shade Books. When you’re done, you can check out the book or find Beaulieu on LiveJournal and Twitter.

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First of all, thank to Jim for letting me stop by on First Book Friday. I’ll have to admit that The Winds of Khalakovo [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] didn’t have a terribly exciting path to publication. It was pretty straightforward, actually. It’s the stuff that led up to it that’s interesting.

So I think in this post I’ll talk about the creative path I followed and then the actual nuts and bolts of the sale.

After my agent finished reading the ms, he mentioned that he pictured one of my main characters, Rehada, as Rima Fakih. Remember her? She won Miss USA last year and there was a kerfuffle because she was (gasp) a Muslim-American. I replied that yes, Rehada was similar to her, but it was an interesting segue because I already had a picture of Rehada—at least one that I began with when I started to envision the characters.

Rehada—and just about every other main character in the book—was created from some artwork I saw in Edinburgh in 2004. My wife, Joanne, and I were on a whirlwind trip through the UK, and we stopped in Edinburgh for a few days. We visited the National Gallery of Scotland, and I was so struck by some of the portraits there that I decided I would take the ones that struck me the most and write a story from them. I still have the postcards near my computer desk. They aren’t exactly like I picture them anymore (now that the first book is written) but they’re still quite close.

It’s an interesting technique, and one I’ll use again, that of taking individual portraits and using them for inspiration. I’ve already repeated the technique for a new book I’ve started (but not yet finished) and once again it helped to crystallize my thoughts. The characters as I envision them in the book end up deviating from the art, but it’s nice to have something to go back to, to find the grounding and original inspiration you had when you started the work. It’s so easy to get off track; having something like these helped me to stay true to what I was shooting for when I launched into the novel.

I also wanted to share the sexy (so kidding!) steps of the actual sale. I had been making steady progress throughout the years in short story sales. I had attended a number of workshops, and I think my name had at least some recognition by editors, either from short stories I’d published or personal connections I’d made at conventions. Some people will say that you shouldn’t go and sell yourself at conventions. If an opportunity comes up, they say, and an editor or agent asks you what you’re working on, go ahead and take advantage of it. I don’t doubt that that’s good advice for some. Just not for me. I believe that editors and agents are at cons not just to sell books, but to see who’s coming up in the field. They’ll get to know a certain percentage of the newcomers from their short sales, or even novel sales, but they can’t read everything. They can’t even read a small percentage of the fiction that comes out each year. So, frankly, it’s up to me to make them aware of who I am.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should be pushy. You should be friendly and businesslike. Keep things short and sweet and as casual as you possibly can. And that’s exactly what I tried to do. I approached Jeremy at World Fantasy in San Jose (2009) and told him I had an epic fantasy that he might like. I pitched it as “The Song of Ice and Fire meets Earthsea.” He asked me if I had an agent. I said no. Night Shade doesn’t normally take unagented mss (and I should probably ask Jeremy some day if he gets annoyed that I tell this story), but he said he liked the cool pitch and said to send it his way. Roughly five months later, I got an email from Jeremy, offering to publish the book.

That’s my story. It seems short and sweet if I focus on the sale, but believe me, it was a long time in the making

First Book Friday: Mette Ivie Harrison

First Book Friday is back from vacation, and would like to remind you all that submission guidelines and the index of previous authors are both available on the website.

Today we have Mette Ivie Harrison, who has written (among other things) three princess novels. As we all know, writing princess books makes you AWESOME! She’s also done a novel about the magic mirror from Snow White. (If she starts writing about goblins too, I’ll be spooked.)

Harrison is also an avid triathelete. You can find her on LiveJournal and Twitter.

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By 2000, I had been writing seriously for six years and had completed twenty novels, some for adults, some for children. I persisted in a (perhaps) naive belief that if I wrote a novel good enough, it would be published. If I hadn’t been published yet, it was because I wasn’t good enough. And by good enough, I meant so good an editor couldn’t say no to it, not just as good as other things on the shelf. I also firmly refused to believe that “connections” were the way to sell a first novel. I’d met editors at conferences, and I certainly sent to them first, but I also sent queries to just about any listing in Writer’s Market that fit the genre I was working in.

When I was sending out The Monster in Me [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] in proposal form after many years of revision, the Holiday House listing in Writers Market said to send proposals to “Acquisitions Editor.” I suppose they had given up putting in a name because the people in that position rotate so fast that by the time the book is printed, there is someone else you should send it to. I cringed not to have a name, but I sent it anyway. Then I went back to work on something else, in this case on Mira, Mirror, a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale from the mirror’s point of view. About three months after I sent off the query, I got a reply from Suzanne Reinoehl, a real name! She asked to see the whole manuscript of Monster, which I sent off to her the next day. I was hopeful, but I’d had people request full manuscripts dozens of times before. I knew it didn’t mean anything. Or it might not mean anything.

Three months after that, I got a phone call. Caller ID told me it was from Holiday House and my heart started pounding. Sure enough, it was Suzanne Reinoehl making a modest offer on Monster. I told her that I was very interested, but that I was working on getting an agent and would prefer to have the agent seal the deal. Then I hung up and called a couple of agents who still had not yet rejected me. One of them, Barry Goldblatt, asked me to send the manuscript to him, since the manuscript I had sent to him was actually a different one out of those twenty I had written. He took the weekend to read it and got back to me on Monday, offering representation. Then he went to bat getting me the best deal possible from Holiday House. He called a couple of editors at other houses who had read the manuscript in earlier stages to see if they were sure they didn’t want it, but in the end, I signed with Holiday House.

My second book, Mira, Mirror [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], was actually the manuscript that I had sent to Barry when I first queried him, and which impressed him enough that he had considered offering representation before I had an offer on the table for Monster. He was a new agent at the time and had been recommended to me by a friend who also signed with him that year. Mira, Mirror sold two years later to Viking, and I have since focused mainly on writing fantasy for young adults, sometime fairy tale retellings, character-driven, and a little on the dark side.

When I go to conferences and talk to other writers, I continue to send the message that if that first manuscript doesn’t sell, work on another one. And another. And another. In the last ten years, I have yet to meet anyone who has written more than twenty novels before being published. Not everyone is as persistent or as foolishly optimistic as I was then. Or perhaps they don’t have the energy. I had four children under the age of 7 at the time and woke up at 5 almost every morning to work on my writing before the kids needed me. I was a nap Nazi, making sure that they all slept at the same time in the afternoon so that I could fit in another hour. I’m not sure exactly how I managed to do all that, but it mattered a lot to me. I had wanted to be a writer since I was in Kindergarten, and had lived through a lifetime of questions about when I would get a “real job.” I think that drove me, along with anger over the loss of a university position after years of working to get a PhD.

That first phone call with Barry, when he offered representation, I have a clear memory of going into the storage room in the basement of my parents’ house, where we were staying in order to get our finances in order, and holding the unlockable door shut for over an hour while six children (my own four and two others I was babysitting daily for extra money) alternately banged on the door and cried. I was trying to hold an adult conversation that was important to the rest of my life. I think I actually was able to understand most of what Barry said to me to understand his vision of a writer’s career, his tastes in literature, and his view of me as an author. I think I was mostly coherent in return, and not as eager as I was tempted to be. I really hope Barry couldn’t hear the kids crying in the background. When I came out, I got them lunch and went back to my regular life. Everything had changed, and nothing had changed.

First Book Friday: Kat Richardson

Welcome to First Book Friday! Click for submission guidelines and the index of previous authors.

Kat Richardson (LJ, Twitter) have a fair amount in common. We both wrote three books before landing a deal for our fourth. We both ended up represented by Steve Mancino, former junior agent at JABberwocky. We both started writing at least in part because a friend of ours was doing it…  The big difference is that she sells much better than I do 🙂

Read on to learn more about Kat Richardson, urban fantasy author and defender of all ferretkind.

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First, I’d like to thank Jim for letting me ramble around in his virtual space. Thank you, Jim!

OK, so… about this first book. Technically I’d written three prior novel-length manuscripts (and a lot of what I call “junk” short stories) before finally getting published with Greywalker [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], but those other stories were, frankly, so bad even I—proud literary parent that I can be—could tell they just weren’t “ready for prime time.” In fact, if you were to open the Rubbermaid container they’re stored in, the smell of bad prose would form a cloud from Seattle to Miami.

I’d been toying with the idea of a detective who worked for ghosts for quite a while, but the idea never quite gelled into something exciting until my husband and I moved to Seattle in 1994. Here I found an atmosphere and geography that just seemed to pump new life into the idea and connect disparate elements I hadn’t thought of before. Now the story actually had a shape, but I didn’t get it on paper until Fall of 2000. (yeah, we all still printed everything out back then….)

At the time I was unemployed, but my husband was commuting from Seattle to Central California every Monday morning and coming home every Friday night. This went on for more than a year. We were living on our first boat and… it leaked badly when it rained—which it does a lot in Seattle. So I spent a lot of my time alone, fixing the decks and wondering what to do with myself. I played a lot of Thief: the Dark Project and was seriously bored otherwise.

One of the other players I met online through a Thief fan forum was writing an astrology book and he expressed that he was far more likely to finish and sell his book than I was. That, naturally, got my dander up, so I thought, “Oh yeah? I’ll show you!”

So I started writing every night and I outlined, re-outlined, revised again, and cranked out the entire first draft—137,000 words—in about six weeks.

Did I mention I was also an insomniac at the time? Yeah. Due to my lack of anything interesting to do, my sleep schedule had turned into a pile of doo-doo and I slept about four hours a week. It’s really amazing how much you can get done when you have all those extra hours in a day. Though I can’t say it’s the best thing for your health….

Now, I don’t recommend this method, but the challenge of working against someone else—as a personal test—really motivated me to get the darned thing done. And I finished well ahead of my competitor. So far as I know, he’s never published his book, but… we kind of stopped speaking anyhow, so I’m not sure.

Once I was done, naturally, I then took four years off, tinkering with the book and being a lazy twit before I decided that if I was going to call myself a “writer” I really ought to get something published or give up and go back to the corporate grind.

By this time I’d gotten a comfortable contract as a technical editor for Microsoft and I had a long commute on top of long days, but I still managed to put a lot of time and research—and letters—out trying to find an agent and, after about two dozen rejections and a lot of non-responses, false starts, and offers that were too bad to consider, I finally got an agent (and a damned good one, to boot).

It took another year of working on the manuscript with my agent to get it into saleable condition and, once it sold, another eighteen months working with my new editor to get the book revised, copyedited, proofed, into covers and onto the bookstore shelves—which is actually very fast, but what did I know? But there it was and it did pretty well—not New York Times Bestseller well, but good enough to keep me in the business.

So this is the moral of my tale: if you want to be a successful writer, get pissed, work your ass off, don’t sleep, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough. Because getting published is the best revenge.

First Book Friday: Chaz Brenchley

Welcome to First Book Friday! Click for submission guidelines and the index of previous authors.

This week we welcome Chaz Brenchley. Also known as Daniel Fox. Also known as Ben Macallan. Also known as Carol Trent. Also known as are-you-serious-I-can-barely-manage-one-career-and-you’re-juggling-four??? Rumor has it he’s assisted by an infinite number of typing monkeys, but this has not yet been confirmed.

Find him on LiveJournal, Facebook, and Twitter, or check out some of his books at Book View Cafe.

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Famously, the first question non-writers ask is “Where do you get your ideas?” After that, when you’ve been around a while, a popular twosome is “How many books have you written now?” and “Which one is your first?”

In answer to either of those, I tend to say “It kind of depends how you count.”

At which point people look at me a little oddly, and murmur “One, two, three…” under their breath, and I have to elaborate.

So, elaborately: there are three books out there that I fondly refer to as my first, depending on the company I’m keeping and just how elaborate I want to be.

Way back in the early eighties, when I was a baby writer living off teenage romance for magazines, I heard through the grapevine that a London publisher was launching a new series of romantic thrillers; they would provide the storyline, and all the author had to do was turn a 5K synopsis into a 50K novel. At this point, I’d never actually finished a novel. But I was young, I was confident; I thought, “Cool, here’s an easy way into where I want to be.” So I wrote to the publisher, asking if they wanted new writers for this exciting new series of theirs, because if so here I was and this was my track record.

They passed the letter on to a literary agent, whose idea the whole series had been. She wrote back to me to say yes, they were very much looking for new writers, and please would I write them some sample chapters? So I did that; and she liked them and so did the publisher, and so I was offered a commission. They gave me a choice of three storylines, I picked the least-silly and wrote it in three weeks. It was published the following year as Time Again by Carol Trent, and technically I guess that’s my first novel. Except. It didn’t have my name on the cover, but that’s nothing; more importantly, it wasn’t my idea, wasn’t my plot, wasn’t mine in any way beyond the actual succession of words on the page. So sometimes I do count it, and sometimes I don’t. Depending.

The series bombed, but the agent invited me down to talk about other work, real books I might write. She’d recently represented Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon in the UK, and suggested I look at that; so I read it on the train home, came over all excited, and spent the next few weeks putting together an idea for a serial-killer thriller. Once it started giving me nightmares I figured it was ripe, so I wrote a synopsis with samples and sent that down. She liked it, a couple of publishers were interested but not prepared to commit; she told me to write the book and then she’d sell it.

This one took me four years. She was right, though, she did sell it once it was finally done. We signed the contract in ’87, and the book came out the following year. The Samaritan, by Chaz Brenchley. All my own work, my own name on the cover: by many standards, you could call that my true first.

Except that the main reason why it took four years was because I had to earn a living, so I was busily writing other stuff as well. Amongst which was a children’s fantasy, The Thunder Sings. I wrote it on spec, we touted it around all the major publishers, various people were interested but no one would commit; I’d more or less given up hope even before we sold The Samaritan. And then I was an adult thriller writer, working on my second novel while I waited for the first to come out – and then a package came to my door, and that was the proofs of The Thunder Sings. Which a small educational publisher had received, and liked, and was taking to press without thus far troubling to tell either me or my agent.

So we negotiated a retrospective contract, and The Thunder Sings was actually published a few months ahead of The Samaritan – but only to schools, as part of a reading programme. It wasn’t available in bookshops. So sometimes that too is my first book, and sometimes not.

And then there’s Daniel Fox’s first book, Dragon in Chains, which came out just a few years ago, and Ben Macallan’s first book, Desdaemona, which is just out now. And then there’s that whole “How many books have you written?” – which is a whole nother question, and even more complicated an answer, and yup. It just depends how you count.

First Book Friday: Stephen Leigh

Welcome to First Day Friday! For anyone new to this feature, I’ve posted submission guidelines and an index of previous authors.

Stephen Leigh (also known as Matthew and S. L. Farrell) is one of the nicest authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, which left me in a bit of a dilemma. I could write him a straightforward, flattering introduction, talking about how he’s both an experienced author and skilled filker, and has written a ton of books and stories under his various pseudonyms. Or I could make him feel old by pointing out that he started selling his work when I was still in diapers…

Anyway, please welcome Stephen Leigh. When you’re done reading, check him out on LiveJournal or Facebook.

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Let’s get rid of the obvious right away. I’m not anywhere close to being one of the New Hot Kids. I had my first professional sale back in the antediluvian days of the mid-1970s, and sold my first novel in 1980. This is a story not of How Things Are Done Now, but How Things Were Done Then.

Back then, the advice that many established writers gave to new writers was this: “Start with short fiction. Experiment with styles, play with different ways to approach a story, and allow yourself to fail. You’ll get lots of rejection slips. Keep writing until you start to find your voice. When you finally have a nice list of published stories and maybe an award or two, then you can use that as cachet to snag an agent…”

That was decent enough advice at the time (though in my opinion some of it no longer holds true in today’s market); I followed it. I collected the requisite ton of rejection slips as I honed my skills—because most of my stories were spectacularly bad—but a few were accidentally good enough that I also managed to sell a story here and there. I also realized that my stories (most of which were not selling, remember( were gradually becoming more complex, and as a result, longer.

Around 1976 or so, I read an article about the Hashshashin, an early band of assassins, which started me thinking about the concept of “ethical assassins”—murderers who would attempt an assassination, but would always for philosophical reasons allow the victim a small chance of survival. I started putting together a world with these ‘ethical assassins,’ which I was calling the “Hoorka.” I suddenly realized, as I starting planning and writing this tale, that this wasn’t going to be a short story or novelette, but a full-fledged novel.

Characters and sub-plots and complications. Oh, my!

Honestly, I rather rapidly became lost in the book. One thing writing short stories hadn’t prepared me for was how complicated novels are, how long they take to write, how difficult it is to hold the details in your head, and the amount of persistence and dedication required to complete them…

I panicked. Instead of finishing what I’d started, I eviscerated the book. I retained only the basic shell of the story and wrote a novelette called “In Darkness Waiting.” I sent the story (still bleeding from the massive surgery) to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Gardner Dozois, who was the Assistant Editor there at the time, liked it enough to send me revision notes and a promise to look at the story again I made changes and sent it back, and Gardner (or George Scithers, who was editor at the time) bought it. It appeared in the October 1977 issue. (If you’re curious, it’s reprinted in my ebook short story collection A RAIN OF PEBBLES.)

I continued to write and occasionally sell short stories for the next few years, but I was realizing that if I ever wanted to have any shot at actually making writing a substantial part of my income, I had to overcome my trepidations and write novels. Why not start with the novel I’d already begun planning? I’d been smart enough—which is honestly a rarity—not to actually trash the notes I’d made. I began to reconstruct the novel, gluing back onto the skeleton of “In Darkness Waiting” all the material and ideas I’d trimmed away, rewriting the story from the beginning.

Early in 1980 I had a pile of paper that resembled a novel, which I titled SLOW FALL TO DAWN. I also had no idea how to market the thing to agents. Here’s where networking (of the pre-Facebook and LiveJournal variety, using letters and phone calls) came in.

Denise and I had begun attending the regional sf cons as well as the occasional worldcon or big east coast gathering. I’d met quite a few writers—most of them further along in their career than me—and become good friends with some. I contacted a select few, asking if they knew of an agent they’d recommend I contact. George RR Martin suggested a relatively new agent he’d met, Adele Leone, and was kind enough to say he’d send Adele a personal recommendation.

Just as good networking can lead to a “real” job, good networking can also lead to work in your writing career. People do tend to help other people whom they know and like.

I will point out before someone brings out the old cliché that “You see! It’s all just about who you know“ that networking only works to a point. Getting an introduction to someone via a friend might crack open a door you thought locked, but your fiction still has to do the heavy lifting—and that’s far more important. You can sell a novel without networking if it’s well-written and compelling; you can’t sell a poorly-written novel no matter how fantastic a network you have.

Fast-forward a few months… Adele, after reading the novel, had agreed to represent me. At the time, I was running a bi-weekly RPG game—mostly AD&D but with lots of rule changes we’d made on our own. During the middle of one of our games late in 1980, the phone rang and Denise answered. She passed the phone over to me. “It’s Adele,” she said. She gave me an eyebrow-raised look as I took the phone.

“I have good news,” the voice on the other end said. “Bantam’s made an offer on your book…” I don’t remember much of the rest of the night, except that I recall it involved more beer than usual and that I happily allowed the characters in the RPG to get away with far too much mayhem and treasure. Everyone went up a level or two.

SLOW FALL TO DAWN  [Amazon | B&N] was published by Bantam Books in October 1981.

That’s a long time ago, as impossible as that seems to me sometimes. Adele, sadly, is no longer with us. After three books with Bantam, I went on to other publishers with other books. I would start writing fantasy rather than science fiction (and acquire a pseudonym along with that genre). The field—and publishing in general—changed rather radically in the intervening decades. Hey, that first contract didn’t even mention electronic rights. The $3,500 advance I got for SFTD is roughly the equivalent of an $9,500 advance now… but the average first-novel advance offered now by the ‘traditional publishers’ is far less than $9,500. Agents now take 15% of a writer’s income, not 10%. We won’t even talk about ebooks and their impact.

It’s a brave new world out there now. It’s not the same one that I started out in, and I’m not certain that the path I took is still a viable one.

First Book Friday: Kristen Britain

Welcome to First Day Friday! Click for submission guidelines and an index of previous authors.

Kristen Britain (LJ, Facebook) is a New York Times bestseller. Her latest book Blackveil came out in February of this year. The series even has its own wiki, which is pretty darn nifty. Kristen is another DAW author, meaning I suspect it pained her to keep this post under 1000 words 🙂 (I sometimes think I’m the only DAW author who can write a book in under 100K words.) Kristen is also part-centaur, and lives in Maine, where I’m told they’re more tolerant about that sort of thing.

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I’d like to start by thanking Jim for his informative-funny-passionate blog, which is on my daily reading list, and for inviting me to participate in First Book Friday! Here’s my story…

I was one of those people who had loved reading and writing from a young age and dreamed of being published. In high school I completed my first novel, which I still keep stashed away in a box. Even after college, the dream remained. I tried my hand at writing short stories because back then, the general (though not necessarily correct) wisdom was that if you wanted to sell a novel, you first had to sell short stories. I tried, but short stories were not really my thing, and traditional adventure fantasy did not seem to be most markets’ thing. I consider this period one of training in which I continued to develop my writing skills and learn about the business end of writing.

In the fall of 1992, after too many short story rejections, I decided I might as well put my energy into my true love, long fiction. At the time, I was a seasonal park ranger, moving from one park to another every three to eight months. By then, I’d grown weary of the moving, and even with prospects of a winter season in the sunny south, I decided to settle at Acadia National Park in Maine for the winter, working part time. If I weren’t a frugal person, I couldn’t have managed this. The extra free time was a perfect opportunity to delve into writing a novel.

And I did, exulting in the hours of uninterrupted time, composing on my 80/88 XT computer. By the end of the following summer, I had a beginning, middle, and end to a novel I called Green Rider [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. I embarked on revisions and tried to learn more about publishing from books, magazines, and workshops. In one workshop, literary SF novelist Richard Grant was the first pro to point out that my novel held promise as a publishable entity.

Note that none of my research or feedback took place on the internet since there wasn’t much of an internet in the days of yore, and I certainly didn’t have access to it. My road to publication was the way of the ancients and much of my research took place mostly in libraries. As a shy and introverted person, attending conventions didn’t even seem possible for me, so I did my networking at workshops and … by chance.

After revisions, I sent out the manuscript, unrequested, to SF/F publishers, not an uncommon practice back then. I received a couple form rejections, but others were “nice,” and even encouraging. I even received a phone call and long letter from an editorial assistant at Warner Books (now Grand Central). What, I wondered, is one supposed to think?

Then one of those “by chance” moments happened. On a visit to my post office, the postmistress noted the ad on the back of my Locus Magazine for a fantasy novel by a new author who, she said, just happened to live almost down the road from me. I was second in line at his first local signing. I told him of my situation of “nice rejections.” What, I had asked him, might be his advice? “Get an agent,” he said. Then after a pause he added, “First you have to have a great story.” I told him I thought I did. “Get an agent,” he told me.

I queried agents, including this author’s, Russ Galen. To my astonishment, Russ asked to see the manuscript. I quickly received another nice rejection, this one full of helpful comments. I reread my manuscript and realized he was spot on. I embarked on a new series of revisions and when I became unsure and muddled, I asked the local author if he’d look over the manuscript and tell me if I was on the right track. I was thrilled when he agreed to do so.

My author friend would have made a great editor. Using his comments, I fixed the manuscript, and in 1996, he re-read it. When he finished, he invited me over to his house and when I arrived, he spread his arms wide for an embrace and said, “Congratulations! You’ve written a novel!” He provided an introductory letter which he faxed to Russ Galen, and the next day I received a message from Russ’ associate, Anna Ghosh, requesting the manuscript. She soon became my agent, and a month or two later we sold to DAW Books. Green Rider was first published in hardcover in November of 1998.

I believe that even without my author friend’s help, I would have found my way to publication—it just would have taken longer, and I would have had to learn much more on my own. But I was determined, and I never stopped writing. Each novel since has provided its own writing challenges forcing me to “up my game.” Meanwhile, the 21st century has presented challenges on the biz end. Much has changed since the 1990s: ebooks, self-publishing, hard economic times… It is difficult to keep up with and the learning curve is never-ending, but if there is one constant, it’s my writer friend’s advice: “First you’ve got to have a great story.” After all, even with all the changes and challenges, I am confident there will always be demand for great stories.

Jim C. Hines