First Book

First Book Friday: Laura Anne Gilman

Welcome to First Book Friday!

Laura Anne Gilman (suricattus on LJ) has been an editor, a writer, a writer by another name, and is also an editor again.  Basically, when she talks about the writing biz, people listen.  Her latest series is the Vineart War Trilogy, which uses a wine-based magic system.

In her free time, she fights crime as one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Meerkats.

She notes that for her First Book Friday post, she chose to wrote about the “first original solo venture that I kept the copyright to, not a media tie-in.”

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First, I wrote 100,000 words. Then it was rejected by every single major publishing house.

No, wait, let me back up a bit.

First, way back when I was still a full-time editor and mostly writing short fiction, I got involved with a real-time, net-enabled role-playing game, combining magic and spies and science and whathaveyou. And then the game fizzled out, and I was left with this character who had developed a very real voice in my head.

No, it wasn’t Wren Valere, the heroine of my book (and eventual series) but Sergei Didier. Yeah, Sergei started out as a hard-as-nails spymaster. If you look close, he still has that core…

So I figured, okay, should do something with him. He needs a foil … and so Wren appeared.

But the addition of Wren into the story changed Sergei, and by the time I had finished creating their world and adventures around them, it had become something entirely new, that I was utterly in love with. And that was Staying Dead [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon].

My agent and I took it, and the proposal for two more novels in the series, to the various publishing houses, except, for obvious reasons, the one I worked for.

And every single one of them rejected it. Some with a flat no, some with a “could you…” revisions request. (At one point I had rewritten the first three chapters to make it work as a YA title. No go). At the time — the early 2000’s — urban fantasy without a sexy vampire was just not getting editors’ attention.

I was still an editor myself, then, and I knew what the odds were after that, but wasn’t going to give up … okay, maybe I was a little disheartened and wailing into my booze. But in the meanwhile I had put together another more traditional fantasy proposal, and it was out on submission as well, including to a new imprint starting up, that had been looking for romantic fantasy.

The editor and I were friends, and had lunch on occasion, griping about our industry. And during that lunch I mentioned the proposal she STILL had on her desk after many many months, and mentioned the other one that was currently not making the rounds.

“Really?” she said, when I described it. “Send it to me.”

“But you were only looking for traditional, historical fantasy,” I said.

“Send it to me.”

And so we did. And Luna bought it. And two more. And then another three. And then a spin-off series. By the end of 2012, there will be twelve books in the Cosa Nostradamus, plus a short story collection.

Not bad for a first book that couldn’t find a home…

First Book Friday: Chris Dolley

Welcome to First Book Friday!

Chris Dolley (chrisdolley on LJ) is a fascinating guy.  Just check out the “Who is Chris” section of his site.  It reads like an adventure novel, with identity theft and crimefighting and the Cornwall Revolution of 1974.  And also kittens.

But before you do, stick around and read how he made his first novel sale to Baen Books.  (A novel which is now available as a free download.)

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I sold my first book because my agent didn’t like it.

He loved my ‘A Year in Provence with Miss Marple’ book, but when I showed him Resonance [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] … he wasn’t interested. ‘Could you re-write it as a medical thriller?’ he asked. ‘Or maybe a political thriller?’

This threw me. If you took the SF out of Resonance, there’d be no story. But what do you do if you feel passionate about a book, and your agent hates it?

For me, Resonance was that book. The special one that writes itself. It came to me in 2000 when three ideas that I’d had kicking around in my head for years suddenly coalesced and I realised they weren’t three separate ideas, but three sides of the same story. From there, the book flowed – I outlined it in a matter of hours and the more I fleshed out the book, the more I realised how perfectly the three ideas meshed. For years I’d had a narrator without a story; a mechanism without a plot; and a plot without a purpose. Now I had a book.

But not one my agent wanted to sell.

So…

I parked the book in Baen’s electronic slushpile. I didn’t want to go through the rounds of finding another agent or dashing off letters to publishers. I just wanted somewhere to put the book so I could feel that I hadn’t given up on it, but, at the same time, didn’t involve me in extra work. In the meantime, I’d concentrate on my other books.

Two years passed. I parted ways with my agent after we discovered that the expat memoir boom had just burst and all the UK publishers were cutting back. I experimented with Mystery, writing a quirky detective novel which I entered into Warner’s First Mystery Novel contest. It became a finalist.

Then, just as I was convinced that Mystery was the way to go, I received an email from Jim Baen.

Many authors have exciting tales about the moment they received ‘The Call.’ That email or phone call that contains the magic words – ‘we want your book.’

I didn’t so much receive ‘The Call’ as eavesdrop on a conversation about it.

I woke up one morning to find a forwarded email from Jim Baen in my in-tray. It began with a mention of a previous email he’d sent and could I get in touch. Ten other emails (6 days of back and forth within Baen) were appended to the bottom, chronicling the attempts to find me, the offer of publication, and fears I may have signed elsewhere.

I had to read it several times. I was 95% sure it was legit – getting up every now and then to execute the Snoopy happy dance and hug the cat – but why the trouble finding me? I’d given them my address, email, and telephone number.

It’s worth mentioning here that when I was seventeen I received a hoax letter from Penguin saying that a writing scout had recommended me to them. I believed every word of it. If football clubs could have scouts roaming the playing fields of Britain looking for talent, why couldn’t publishers? And recently I’d had my identity stolen* and life savings appropriated, so I was a tad warier than most when it came to unexpected emails.

Then I noticed another email in my in-tray. It was from a Baen employee telling me that Baen wanted to publish my book, but couldn’t find me. I found messages on my website too. A web-wide search was on for the missing author. Where was he? Is he out there?

I was amazed. And wondering if there was time to email Baen an acceptance before I was officially declared dead.

Being in France, I then had to wait a further eight hours for daylight to reach America before Jim Baen could reply. It was worth the wait.

So, that’s my story. Resonance was the first book to make it out of Baen’s electronic slushpile. It was picked up by SFBC and has enjoyed, if I say so myself, some pretty spectacular reviews. You can even read the book for free here.


*This became part of French Fried, my ‘A Year in Provence with Miss Marple’ memoir – recounting our first eight months in France. And how, after being abandoned by the police forces of four countries, I had to track down the identity thief myself and bring him to justice.

First Book Friday: David Anthony Durham

Welcome to First Book Friday.  I missed last week on account of World Fantasy Con, and because my Journalpress plugin has been giving me grief.

But we’re back!  Today we have the ever-awesome David Anthony Durham, another genre-jumping author who didn’t start out writing fantasy.  He’s the winner of the 2009 Campbell Award, has been praised by everyone from the NY Times to the LA Times, has sold movie options for at least three of his books, and is pretty much kicking ass and taking names.

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First, the romantic part…

I wrote my first published novel, Gabriel’s Story [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], while living in an attic apartment in a small city near the French Alps. I’d been married for about a year. My wife had secured work for a ski company based in France. While she went to work, I got to stay at home and work on writing my novel. Kinda cool, yeah?

Now some other details…

My wife was pregnant. She was supporting me, but only for eight to nine months. After that, I had to get a frickin job. I probably should have had one already, as her income barely paid our bills. Each day I turned off the heat when she went out to work. Through the winter, I wrote with fingerless gloves on, watching the computer screen through plumes of my own breath. I’d already written two novels that had been roundly rejected by more publishers than I care to remember. I was intent on writing a publishable novel, but it seemed a very real possibility that life was about to demand other things of me. The fact that I was writing a 19th century African-American literary Western didn’t help much either.

“A what?” you might ask. Let me explain.

In addition to always wanting to be a writer, I had always loved studying history. I was fascinated by the settlement of the American West, and surprised to discover how much a part of it black people were. Former slaves didn’t just head north after the Civil War. They went west too, for the same reasons as white settlers. As an African-American that had just come from a long season of raft guiding in the West, this stuff greatly interested me. (Yeah, back then we got around a lot.)

I combined that historical information with a story I’d been working on in a contemporary setting. One of those first two novels was a coming of age tale of a trouble African-American kid, a boy going into adolescence with major chips on his shoulders. It was literary, character-driven, heavy on family issues and unrelentingly sad. It’s no surprise I couldn’t get the thing published.

I took some aspects of the coming of age story and I blended them with my interest in the American West. I transported key characters from 1980’s Baltimore to 1870’s Kansas, and a funny thing happened. The novel took off. Suddenly, it had a plot that included murder and cattle rustling, desert chases and shootouts and a finale that tied everything together in one suspenseful moment. It was a very different book than I’d been taught to write during my MFA program. It was better.

I sent it to an editor at Doubleday that had been a fan of one of my earlier novels. She liked it, and Doubleday made an offer not long after. Good thing, too, as that job in France had concluded. We were living in Scotland, our daughter had just been born, and I was working in a music shop, selling Brit-pop. The day after I got the book offer I quit. And a few days after that I got an agent!

That’s the short story of my first novel. It wasn’t until a few more books that I turned to writing about warrior princesses and banished sorcerers, mutated monsters and warfare in a made up world. But that’s another story.

First Book Friday: Martha Wells

Welcome to First Book Friday. You know the drill…

Today we have Martha Wells (marthawells on LJ), who has the coolest writing routine ever.  From a 2009 interview, “I write full time now, so I pretty much just get up in the morning, surf a little bit, and then start writing.”  All that’s left is to combine the two activities … which would make an awesome author photo!

She’s written both original work and Stargate tie-ins, but today she shares the story of her very first novel.  As a special bonus, Martha has posted that first book online for free at her web site.

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I wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. Even back in grade school, while writing and illustrating stories about the Godzilla movies on Saturday afternoon TV and drawing elaborate maps of Monster Island, I wanted to do this thing, before I really understood what this thing was.

I started to write and submit short stories in college.  My parents never knew, but I chose Texas A&M University solely because it was listed in a directory of active SF/F fan groups in Starlog Magazine, and it had a student-run convention.  I took a writing workshop class taught by Steven Gould through the university’s Free U, which offered classes in everything from conversational Japanese to bowling.  Over the next eight years, I went to more workshops, including Turkey City, where Bruce Sterling gave me some of the best advice on what worked and what didn’t work that I’ve ever heard anybody give.  I got even more into fandom, I went to SF cons and helped run them, I wrote fanfiction for fun.  Eventually I was in a writers group with Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, and Rory Harper that met regularly.  I continued to write and submit short stories to magazines, and did not sell one single one.

Somewhere along the way, I’d had my imagination captured and held by Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers movies and the dirty, gritty, vividly alive image of 17th century Paris.  I read Alexandre Dumas, watched the PBS/BBC series By the Sword Divided.  I started to write a fantasy novel, The Element of Fire [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], and I based my world on 17th century France, but with magic and with fairy as a real every day threat.  Nobody in my writers group, possibly in the world, thought I’d finish it, but I’d been working up to this book for years.  It wrote it slowly, during breaks at my first full-time job in computer support.  In the evening and on weekends, I edited print-outs and hand wrote new material, because I didn’t have a home computer.

About midway through the process, I got very lucky.  Steve Gould had been contacted by a relatively new agent actively seeking clients, and he gave the agent my number.  I talked to him on the phone, with very little idea of what I was supposed to ask or how things were going to work.  I sent him the first half of the book, and he agreed to represent it when it was finished.  It was kind of a shock.  (If that sounds easy, I made up for it sixteen years later when I left him and went looking for a new agent.  That’s a long, fraught story for another time.)

Finally I finished the book, and my agent submitted it to a publisher who originally showed some interest, but then turned it down.  Then he submitted it to Tor, and incredibly, amazingly, they bought it for $3000, more money than I had made in my life at any one time.  It took two more years of contract wrangling and two revisions before the book was actually published in hardcover in 1993.

Since then I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I’m doing this thing I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s the best thing ever.

First Book Friday: Seanan McGuire

Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.

Seanan McGuire, a.k.a. Mira Grant, is this year’s winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.  She’s also a skilled musician.  Plus she draws awesome comics 🙂  Basically, Seanan is who you’d get if SF/F were a superpower.

Read on to learn how she sold the first of her many books, and the whirlwind that began with that first sale…

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In digging through my (relatively epic) email archives, the earliest fragments I can find involving a character named Toby Daye are dated early 1998.  Twelve, going on thirteen, years ago.  I was twenty years old.  The rules of urban fantasy as we currently know it were still sort of sticky and half-baked, and no one really knew what they could or couldn’t get away with.  I thought my decision to write in the first person was unique and would really stand out.  You know.  Crazy things like that.

After a few years of figuring out what the hell I was doing, I had a finished novel: Rosemary and Rue [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], which, in its original form, didn’t look very much like it did when it finally got published.  I wrote a sequel.  I learned a lot from writing the sequel.  I re-wrote the first book.  I wrote a third book.  I learned a lot from writing the third book.  I re-wrote the first book.  I wrote…you get the picture.  By 2007, I had what I considered to be an awesome book, and absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with it.  I was like the underwear gnomes.  “Step one, write; step three, PROFIT.”  Only I had no idea how to proceed.

I had started talking to the woman who would eventually become my agent, Diana Fox, in early 2007.  We’d been discussing the possibility of her representing me, and the fact that clearly, I still needed to do some work on Rosemary and Rue.  In December of that same year, I had one of those Legally Blonde “whoa” moments, and suddenly realized that I needed to completely re-write the book.  Diana asked to see the first sixty pages.  Then she asked for the whole book.  Then we spent about eight hours on the phone, ending with a formal offer of representation.  Whee!

I asked a friend of mine who was also an author if she would be willing to read Rosemary and Rue and give us a “shop quote” — something that we could use to pique the interest of editors.  She agreed, with that sort of cautious “um, maybe…” that is really the best defense of the published author being approached by their unpublished friend.  She wound up enjoying the book enough that she strongly recommended we try approaching DAW, as they would be the best fit for my work.  We approached DAW.  Thirteen days later (not that I was counting or anything), Diana called me at my day job and asked whether I had a minute.  I always have a minute for Diana.  I said sure.

She said “We got DAW.”

…the screaming eventually stopped.  And the real work began.

Everything about actually publishing a book was strange and new to me.  I had to meet my editor, learn how she worked, learn how to work with her, and learn the names of everyone’s cats (not entirely joking).  I had to come to terms, fast, with the fact that a) there were now a lot of things I didn’t control, and b) everyone in the world assumed that I did control them, resulting in my spending a lot of time explaining publishing cycles to my friends.  And most of all, c) the whole world was about to have the chance to meet my imaginary friend, and not everyone was going to like her.

A year ago, I had no books in bookstores.  As I write this, I have four, with at least four more coming.  It’s incredibly weird.  Sometimes, I still expect to wake up back in December of 2007.  But weird as it all is…wow, has it been worth it.

First Book Friday: Alyx Dellamonica

Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.

Alyx Dellamonica‘s debut novel came out just about one year ago, but that’s not the cool part.

Alyx’s book just won the Sunburst award!  Her first novel beat out books by Charles de Lint, Cory Doctorow, Karl Schroeder, and Robert Charles Wilson.  How freaking cool is that?!?!

So here’s Alyx, to tell you how she wrote and sold her award-winning first novel.

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I finished writing Indigo Springs [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] in 2003, in the summertime, and my wonderful agent, Linn Prentis, went to Tor Books with it right away.

This happened at practically the same nanosecond that marriage equality was breaking out across Canada. My partner and I had an August weekend picked out, but legalizing our marriage on the chosen day hinged on the law changing by July. If not, we’d need a Plan B… and, all along, we knew there were no guarantees. It would be wrong to say I never gave my novel any thought during that period, but it turns out that waiting to find out if your civil rights situation is going to change for the better can be somewhat all-consuming.

Then, when gay marriage did become legal in British Columbia in July of 2003, I went straight from second-guessing the Supreme Court into wedding plans.

Meanwhile, Jim Frenkel at Tor had accepted my book, pending some changes. A long back and forth began. It took awhile to finalize everything–I had 15,000 words to cut, for one thing, and there were elements of my bizarre magical world that needed more explanation. And again, life intruded–some major life challenges cropped up on my end in 2006… and 2007… and 2008. At times, the novel deal seemed unreal and far away. But contracts got signed, and money came, and my father e-mailed me every other week to ask when he could buy INDIGO SPRINGS in a Chapters. These signs of steady progress toward officially Being a Novelist gave me something to hold onto. (Now my father is in China, demanding to know when the book will be out in Mandarin.)

One of the coolest things about my first-novel journey was that Irene Gallo had spotted this amazing Julie Bell painting and liked it so much she went looking to see if any of their editors might want it for a particular project. Jim pounced on it immediately. He sent an electronic copy to me the week we finalized the deal, with a note that said something like, “If you don’t like it, we’ll get something else.” But I loved it! It is not only a beautiful painting, it’s very appropriate.

So, unlike most writers, I knew coming out of the gate that I was going to have amazing cover art. What’s more, because I did still have to tweak the novel, I had time to sync some of the details in the art with my narrative. Tiny things: my heroine, Astrid, is dolled up in the final third of the book, so it was easy to match the dress she wears with the one on the cover. There’s also a golden bowl in the painting, and by chance INDIGO SPRINGS has a ritual that features a bowl… voilà, suddenly that bowl was golden.

Writers hear cover art horror stories all the time: “They took my protagonist and made her Swedish, and also gave her an extra head!” Knowing all along that I had a stunner of an image was reassuring in its own right.  Then the design team got in on the process, and Oh My! Seeing what the painting became later, when cover proofs started reaching me, was like a huge, beautiful gift from the universe.

People talk about how slow publishing is, and it’s not unusual to finish a book and then wait years to see it in bookstores. The waiting can try your patience, there’s no doubt about it. But as it happened INDIGO SPRINGS came out at a time when I was entirely ready to enjoy the launch party, the good reviews, and the book’s overall success. Prior to that time, there’d been a lot going on in my life–tough, distracting, challenging stuff!–and in retrospect it feels as though everything has unfolded at just the right pace.

First Book Friday: John Levitt

Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.

Today we have John Levitt, whose lifestyle incorporates both the high-flying luxury of the author and the nonstop partying of the rocker, for approximately 400% more awesomeness.  (Check out his band’s page on MySpace.)  In a world full of cat-loving authors and readers, John dares to write urban fantasy with a dog on the cover.  Because that’s just the kind of guy he is.  He’s also on LiveJournal as johnlevitt.

Um… okay, so both kids have been sick this week, and my intro-writing skills are a bit overtired.  Anyway, here’s John!

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I’m one of the few people who has not one, but two first book stories. Not really, of course — there can only be one first book, but for all practical purposes I have two.

My first novel was published back in 1989. I’d spent some years previous to that as a police officer, and I used to tell my friends various “war stories,” which seemed to entertain them. So I decided I’d write a book about my police experiences.

Back in those ancient days, it was a lot easier for a first time writer to get published. Most publishers still took unagented submissions, and getting an agent wasn’t the holy grail it’s become today. Besides, I knew someone who knew someone, and a casual word was all it took for an agent to take a look at the ms.

He liked it, and tried to sell it for me on a handshake agreement. No contract, no forms, just a simple verbal agreement – fraught with danger now, but back then was a simpler time.

He couldn’t sell the book – everyone liked it, but didn’t think it would sell, because it was about police work in Salt Lake City, not L.A. or Miami. But the editor at Doubleday passed reluctantly, and mentioned that if I ever wrote a novel, he’d love to see it.

How hard can that be, I thought? Ah, the arrogance of the clueless. But I wrote one, a thriller titled Carnivores, and it sold to St. Martin’s Press. I was happy, but not overwhelmed. I assumed getting a novel published was honestly no big thing. A year later, I sold a sequel. As I said, a simpler time.

Then, for various reasons, I quit writing. Fast forward to 15 years later. I’d always been a reader of fantasy  and had in mind a desire to write a modern fantasy, a book combining magic and mayhem, P.I. noir with odd creatures and black magicians. I started it on a whim, not knowing if there was any market for it, and then discovered that not only was there a market, but a complete sub genre called urban fantasy.

So I finished it up, and went about finding an agent. I had no doubt about finding one; I assumed it would be easy. I was a published author, I’d gotten a rave review from Publisher’s Weekly and an enthusiastic blurb from Steven King himself for Carnivores. I researched agents, found the one I thought best suited for me, and dashed off a query letter.

I got back a very nice rejection note, saying though my credentials were impressive, the idea just didn’t grab her. I was actually shocked; that’s how naïve I was about how the business had changed. So I reworked the query, and sent it off to my second choice, and got an enthusiastic request for a partial. This was more like it. Except, this agent passed as well – just didn’t grab him. About this time I realized things  might be a bit more difficult than they used to be.

It took me about 8 months and numerous rejections before I landed my agent – but as it turned out, she was the perfect agent for me in every way. She helped me polish Dog Days [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], an urban fantasy, (pointing out where she thought I’d gone astray), and submitted to five houses – three rejects and two offers. And this time, I was properly thrilled. I went with Ace, who offered a two book deal, then another two. And I’ve been writing ever since.

First Book Friday: Laura Resnick

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…

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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.

First Book Friday: Alma Alexander

Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.

Alma Alexander is currently working on an interesting project, publicly rewriting a novel she first wrote when she was 14 years old.  She’s working with a Teen Advisory Council for feedback, and sharing the experience — warts and all — at http://heritageofclan.wordpress.com/  She kindly took time from her other projects to talk about her first book.  The only question being which first book…

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That was back in…

No, there was the thing before that…

Wait, let’s go back to…

This is a tough one. I remember selling a short story to the venerable London Magazine (and THERE’S a tale, all by itself, buy me a drink at a con and I’ll tell you all about it) which ended up in an anniversary anthology published by LM instead of the magazine itself – which got me a chat with a London editor – which got me a referral to my first agent – who got me the sale of my first book, The Dolphin’s Daughter [Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], and other stories, which was a collection of three Oscar Wilde-ian fables or fairy tales published not commercially but by the educational imprint of Longman UK (I thought it was going to be a collection. The agent kept on saying, “No. YOU. YOUR book.”) That little volume saw NINE impressions, and STILL brings me the occasional trickle or royalties.

Then there was my first non-fiction, the autobiographical Houses in Africa [Amazon], which came about because I got this other memoir to review and it was really boring and I thought to myself, “I can do better than that” – so I contacted the publisher of said volume, a small house back in New Zealand, and he said, send me a sample. So I did, and he said, okay, send me the rest. So I sort of had an autobiography published precociously before I was thirty five years old.

And then there was… the fantasy work. The book that eventually became the duology known in the USA as The Hidden Queen [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] and Changer of Days [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] was written on the sly, over a span of probably more than two years, starting from a scene which eventually found its way into the actual novel some two-thirds of the way in. The book was over 250,000 words long, so the publishers screamed, “Split that puppy!” which is how I ended up with two volumes. But thereby hangs a tale, too, buy me another drink at another con and I’ll make like Scheherezade and keep telling you the stories of my early atacks of chutzpah – let me just say that this one involved walking into one of the most venerable and traditional literary agencies in London, England, and basically… handing an agent… all quarter-million words of manuscript…and it (kind of) worked…[1. Jim’s note — don’t try this at home, kids!]

It was THAT agent, the one who was on the receiving end of that mammoth pile of paper, who subsequently introduced me to my current agent. Who took my then-latest offering, the book which became The Secrets of Jin Shei [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], and ran with that – and gave me one of the most exhilarating rollercoaster rides of my life with it, with the book becoming a finalist for both mainstream and genre awards and selling 20,000 copies IN HARDCOVER in Spain in less than three months, graduating to having “bestseller” stamped on the paperback edition, which still spins my brain like a top.

But you know what…? In some ways – they are all so different – EVERY book is a “first book”.

And every time I hold a newly-published one in my hands, it’s like the first time.

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…

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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[1] 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[2], 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.

[1] 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.

[2] Who is just fine, btw.

Jim C. Hines