First Book

First Book Friday: Marie Brennan

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

Marie Brennan‘s fifth book, A Star Shall Fall, came out earlier this week.  She’s scheduled to be a Guest of Honor at the Sirens Conference next month.  Also, she recently invented the iPlatypus.  (2 of these 3 facts are true.)

She turned 30 on Wednesday. Once you finish reading about her six-year journey from writing Doppelganger to seeing it on the bookstore shelves, go wish her a happy birthday.


The first book I sold was the second book I wrote. It was pure chance that I didn’t write it first; the ideas for both came to me around the same time, in my senior year of high school. I could tell, even then, that both were different from the ideas I’d had before; they were richer, more substantial — worth finishing. Yeah, “finish what you started” wasn’t a skill I was terribly good at in those days; I had lots of fragments of novels lying around, but nothing that amounted to more than scattered scenes. Not until these two ideas happened along.

Doppelganger [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] (later republished as Warrior) was mostly written in the summer of 2000, parts of it while on an archaeological dig in southern Wales. (I recall writing a few scenes with my laptop balanced on an air mattress while the wind tried to blow my tent down around me.) Finished in August, cleaned it up, started shopping it around.

For those who have never tried it: this is a slow process. I queried at least fifteen agents, maybe more, but the really slow part was publishers; there were still some back then who would consider unagented manuscripts, but I could only submit to them one at a time. My closest call was with Roc; the editor read my query and asked for a partial, read the partial and asked for the full manuscript, read the full manuscript . . . and passed. Altogether, that took about nine months. (I wrote a whole other novel in that time, one I hope to dust off and sell someday.) But I wasn’t as aggressive about querying agents as I should have been, and after a few years I’d run out of publishers who would look at my book without one.

In the interim, I’d done something smart: I’d written other books. Three, in fact, not counting the one before Doppelganger. So I kept querying and submitting with new material. But in autumn of 2004, after letting this book gather dust for a year and a half while I debated what to do with it, I decided to try a long shot. I’d heard that sometimes you could send a query letter — no sample, just a letter — to publishers that didn’t take unsolicited submissions; if an editor followed up, then you could sneak in the back door, so to speak. I mailed off three, to Bantam Spectra, Del Rey, and Warner Aspect. Spectra never replied; Del Rey wrote back to say they meant it about not taking unsolicited submissions; Warner Aspect asked for the manuscript.

Precisely four weeks later, I got a phone call from the editor. She said she’d shown the book to her boss, and her boss had reminded her that they didn’t buy unagented books. So I should go get myself an agent.

With an offer pending, it’s a lot easier to get attention from agents. I contacted two immediately, and hit it off with one, Rachel Vater; I’m still with her today. December 8th, 2004, she called to say she’d hammered out the details of the offer from Warner, and I gave her the go-ahead to accept it. April 2006, it was on the shelves, and it’s been going strong ever since: two editions, enough printings that I’ve stopped counting, three foreign language sales, and it earned out its advance within the first few months. I think of it as the Little Book That Could.

(If you’d like to know what happens after you sell your first novel, I’ve got a multi-part essay on my site that follows Doppelganger through the process.)

First Book Friday: Lynn Flewelling

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

Lynn Flewelling started writing “just for the fun of it.”  Today she’s the author of eight published fantasy novels, as well as a highly popular LiveJournal.  She talks about the decade-long journey of writing her first book(s), and some of the potholes along the way.  If you’d like to meet Flewelling in person, check out Writing on the Waves, where she’ll be teaching a writing workshop during a  week-long cruise.  (Let’s see Clarion top that!)

Oh, and she’s also a were-otter…


I spent nearly ten years writing what ultimately became my first two fantasy novels, Luck in the Shadows [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] and Stalking Darkness [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon].

The proto-manuscript began as an idea in a notebook on a Maine beach, something just for fun, and just for me. I wasn’t seriously considering becoming a fantasy author. It was my little private project, something I showed only to my husband, who liked it. Then I showed it to a friend, who liked it. And more friends, who also liked it. So I says to myself, “Self, maybe we should try to finish this Thing—just for fun.”

I took that path, but it gradually bled into the idea that I was putting an awful lot of effort into the Thing and maybe I should have higher aspirations.  Somewhere along the way I took a week-long writing workshop with an author whose work I really admired, and she liked my proto-manuscript very much. She wasn’t a fantasy author, and didn’t have the right connections to sell it, but her faith in my work made a huge difference.

So after a decade or so of just-for-fun-turned-obsession, I found myself with a gigantic novel to sell. The next step was to teach myself to market. That took months. I did my homework and sent out carefully crafted query packets to dozens of carefully researched agents. The rejections began to roll in, most of them generic postcards. But one agent did tell me that the Thing was too long, and that I should split it in two and add a plot arc to be resolved in the first book. If I did that, she’d look at it again. I took her advice, spent months rewriting, and she still rejected the book.

But her advice was sound. Not long after that a very good agent took me on and sold the book to a major publisher in a matter of months. 

Looking back, I can see lots of things I wish I’d known or done differently, but there’s also a thread of tenacious effort even in the face of my own doubts that continues to surprise me.

There is a side story, though. While I was looking for an agent, a writer friend sold her SF book directly to a major publisher. She urged me to submit my book to him, which I did. He didn’t like it and I found out from my new agent that now she couldn’t submit my book to any other editors at that house, due to professional etiquette. Newbie blunder of major proportions. But as I said, she quickly sold my book to another major house, so it all ended happily.

Another by product of the journey was an article I wrote for Speculations called “The Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters,” which has since been reprinted Moira Allen’s The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals. It can also be found at the SFWA website.

Author photo by Bernard Landgraf.

First Book Friday: Tobias Buckell

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

Carribean-born Tobias Buckell is a busy guy.  In addition to his four published novels, including the New York Times bestselling Halo: The Cole Protocol, Buckell is the founder of SF Novelists, a full-time freelancer, and the father of one-year-old twins.  He and I share an agent, and it was through Toby that I connected with the folks at JABberwocky.  He took time to share the five-year roller coaster ride that led to the publication of his first book, Crystal Rain.


Back in 2001 I met my agent, Joshua Bilmes (of JABberwocky Literary Agency). We were introduced by another author, and we chatted politely in the hallway. I’d only sold a few short stories by then, and written a novel proposal, but not continued work on the novel. It was a bizarre mix of Caribbean expats and a reborn Aztec nation, created by strange aliens, all set on another planet that had lost contact with Earth. I called it a Caribbean steampunk lost colony world sort of novel.

Now, I knew that agents usually didn’t snag authors based on partial manuscripts, so when Joshua gave me his card and told me to send the partial manuscript along, I’d pocketed the card and done nothing. 9/11 soon had our attention, and there were short stories I had not yet finished.

But some time later in the fall or early winter, my phone rang and Joshua’s voice came through the other end. He wanted to know why I hadn’t sent that proposal along. “Oh,” I said. “You weren’t just being polite!”

Just before Christmas, he called back to say that if the whole book was as good as the first three chapters, he’d represent it, and that I should write the book.

I spent a good chunk of 2002 writing the first draft of the first novel I’d ever attempted: Crystal Rain [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon]. Airships, cyborgs with dreadlocks, battles at sea, funky aliens…  I had a total blast writing the thing, and I tried to imbue it with all the energy I could. But showing it around to various people I trusted revealed flaws, and throughout a chunk of 2003 I workshopped it. Joshua had some rewrites for me as well. We sold it to Tor in 2004, and there were edits and rewrites my editor wanted. I remember sitting in the basement of our newly purchased house sweating over the novel line by bloody line.

It came out in February 2006.

Having your first book launched is supposed to be the most magical, exciting thing. And I had a small taste of that. But two days before my launch I was informed I was going to be laid off, and my attention turned quickly toward trying to assemble a life as a full time writer/freelancer years before I had planned to try that.

It worked out, and now I get a lot more time to write. But it was a hell of a roller coaster ride, having a new book out while trying to basically invent a new job!

First Book Friday: Lisa Shearin

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

Today’s story comes from bestselling author Lisa Shearin (whose latest book Bewitched & Betrayed had a cameo in the new music video from The Guild — and yes, I’m jealous!)  Lisa talks about the excitement of getting The Call … both Calls, actually.  Lisa is also an active blogger, providing 23 metric tons of useful publishing and writing-related information each month at


My first sale was Magic Lost, Trouble Found [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], the first book in my Raine Benares fantasy adventure series.  Over more years than I care to remember, I wrote two books that were the warm-ups for Magic Lost, Trouble Found.  Once I found my voice, and a plot solid enough to hang a story on, MLTF took me about 3-5 years to write.  (That’s a big difference from the nine months or less that I now take to write my books.)

The first step for me in getting that first publishing contract was to get an agent.  I’d read where Kristin Nelson (Nelson Literary Agency) was looking for fantasy with a strong female protagonist.  If that didn’t describe Raine, I didn’t know what did.  I sent a query letter.  Kristin requested the first three chapters, then the entire manuscript.  Then came weeks of me jumping every time the phone rang or the e-mail beeped.

“The Call” came during the day while I was at work (at the day job). When Kristin said she loved my book and wanted to represent me, I did a lot of silent squeeing and fumbling to find a pen and paper to take notes. That alone shows how completely befuddled and caught off guard I was — I’m an editor, writer and proofreader at an advertising agency; I’ve got pens and paper all over the place. I had two other agents who were also considering my book, but I really wanted to sign with Kristin. Why? Because she was so excited about my book and seemed to love my characters as much as I did. For me, that was a must-have for an agent.

The frustrating part of getting The Call at the office was that while my co-workers congratulated me, they had no clue how freaking HUGE and MAMMOTH and HUMONGOUS this moment was for me. It’s definitely more fun to squee with people who know why they’re squeeing with you.

As to the e-mail from Kristin saying that we had an offer of a two-book contract from Ace Books — that one came at home. I’d just gotten home from work and had been checking my e-mail like crazy every day. When I saw the subject line “We have an offer” or something to that effect, first I stopped breathing. Second, I let my breath out, took another one, and told myself to keep breathing. Then I opened the e-mail.

And screamed.

Bear in mind that I was at home and so was my husband Derek. Now he understood how huge, mammoth, and humongous this news was, so when I burst into tears, I got the perfectly appropriate response of enthusiastic hugs and kisses.  The dogs were crowded around us and jumping up and down — they had no clue that mom had just scored a two-book deal; they just wanted to share in the excitement.

Lisa and Lucy reenact the celebration of that first sale.

Lisa and Lucy reenact the celebration of that first sale.

First Book Friday: Joshua Palmatier

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

Today’s post comes from fantasy author Joshua Palmatier, a.k.a. Benjamin Tate.  His latest book is Well of Sorrows, his fourth novel for DAW Books.  Joshua also runs the DAW Books Community on LiveJournal.


First of all, thanks to Jim for inviting me to guest blog about my first novel sale! It’s certainly an experience an author never forgets.

My first professional novel sale was The Skewed Throne [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon]. This was the fourth book I’d written and the fourth that I’d seriously attempted to sell. I began writing it in the summer of 2002, while in my third year of graduate school, seeking my PhD in mathematics. At this point, I’d been seriously trying to get published for about seven years, sending out queries to agents and editors for the other three books I’d written. I had a list of agents and editors that had been refined using the multiple rejections from those other books. So I had agents who were interested in my writing but hadn’t seen a book from me that they thought would be a good “first” novel. I also had a few editors, specifically Sheila Gilbert at DAW Books, who had seen all of the previous books and wanted to see whatever I wrote next.

I spent that summer writing the first half of The Skewed Throne, put it on hiatus while I worked on the PhD for the Fall and Spring semesters, then finished the book in the summer of 2003. I immediately started sending it out to my list of agents and editors, including Sheila Gilbert at DAW—agents in batches of 7, and one editor at a time. I got multiple rejections (some of them rather harsh) from the agents right away and began working my way down the list, completely and utterly discouraged. I’d reached a point where I’d literally told my local writing support group, “If this didn’t sell, I was done writing.” I don’t believe I would have—or could have—followed through on this, but that’s how beat down I felt at the time. Thankfully, I had PhD work to cheer me up!

I got interest from one agent. YAY! Except, she wanted me to revise the manuscript so it was more YA and change it from first person to third. I spent a month doing that, and the agent’s response was, “Sorry, no longer interested.” This pissed me off, so I rewrote the entire book again, changed it all back to first person, eliminated the YA elements, and created a new list of agents to send it to, including Amy Stout, a new agent at Lori Perkins Agency. Amy expressed interest immediately, but I was wary at this point. We spent a few hours discussing the book on the phone. After extensive questioning, I felt that I could work with Amy and that she had realistic expectations for the book and for revisions. I agreed to let her represent me and told her the book was already on submission to Sheila at DAW.

So by fall 2004, I had an agent and the book was on submission to DAW. I was also nearing the end of the work on my PhD, looking for jobs while finishing off the dissertation. I focused on that (I had an agent to focus on the book now), and while I was away at a mathematics conference in January 2005, I got a call from Amy saying Sheila was interested in The Skewed Throne and, oh, by the way, if there were sequels they wanted to take a look at those, too.

After the resultant OMG OMG OMG dance, I wrote up synopses for sequels and sent them off.

Within three months of getting Amy as my agent—and just under three years after sitting down to start writing the first book—I had a three-book deal with DAW for the Throne of Amenkor series. Since then, all three “Throne” books have been published in English and translated into German. Oh, and in May 2005, I got my PhD.

2005 was a very good year. *grin*

First Book Friday: Goblin Quest

I’m thinking about making this a regular feature, asking different authors to talk about their first big novel deal.  What do you think?

It was September of 2000.  I had just quit my job in Nevada and moved back to Michigan.  I was living with my parents, sending out resumes, and trying to rebuild a social life.  I was also reading a lot, including one book which should have been awesome.  It was a fantasy novel written from the point of view of the monsters, and it looked to be funny and fun and exactly what I needed.

It wasn’t.  I don’t think it was a bad book, but it wasn’t what I wanted to read.  I tossed it away without finishing because I was so frustrated.  I wanted to know more about the monsters’ society and how they functioned.  I wanted humor that came from the characters.  I wanted to see them fight back with cleverness instead of brute force.  Since this author hadn’t given me that book, I decided to write it myself.

Goblin Quest [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon]  was the fourth novel I finished, telling the story of Jig the goblin, an underdog even among underdogs who gets dragged along by adventurers and forced to face carrion worms, zombies, a dragon, and worse.  Because I had no life and no job, I wrote and revised the book in just six weeks.

Unlike most books I’ve written, I had a clear idea how this one was going to go.  Jig and Smudge were fully formed from day one.  The plot didn’t change much.  A few names were altered — Rana became Riana, the dragon Fraum turned into Straum, Golara the cook got a K in her name — but that’s about it.

The first four query letters went out to agents on January 16, 2001.  I sent another four on the 23rd.  I also submitted the manuscript to publishers, starting with Tor on February 7. Tor’s rejection showed up on February 20.  (If only I had known about their fear of goblins!)

All total, I queried 27 agents and submitted to 10 publishers, including Baen Books in November of 2002.  In November of 2003, I came across Five Star Books, a small library press.  John Helfers was the acquisitions editor.  I knew his name from Turn the Other Chick, which included a story from me.  So I sent him a query.  When he expressed interest, I sent a withdrawal letter to Baen and mailed the manuscript to John.  A month and a half later, I had an offer.  A year after that, GoblinQuest[1. For some reason I decided GoblinQuest was a cooler title than Goblin Quest. I’m not sure what I was thinking. Removing the space was a dumb idea, and led to a number of needless database errors.] was out from Five Star.

Then things got interesting.  In February of 2005 — a year and a half after I had withdrawn the book from Baen, and three months after the Five Star edition came out — I received an e-mail from Jim Baen, offering to buy Goblin Quest.[2. Apparently they never received my withdrawal letter.]

I freaked out.  On the advice of author friends, I called several agents.  Steve Mancino at JABberwocky agreed to take a look.  Five Star only published hardcover and trade paperback, which meant the mass market rights were still available.  Steve read the book, loved it, and offered to represent me.

Without going into details, the Baen offer was withdrawn, and I entered a month-long funk.  While I moped, Steve sold Goblin Quest to a Russian publisher and encouraged me to get to work on the next book.

I ended up writing another goblin book because writing about goblins cheered me up, and I desperately needed cheering.  Steve took the new book, Goblin Hero, and sent it to editors.  The folks at Ace and DAW were interested, so we sent them Goblin Quest to read.  DAW made an offer on both books, and the rest is history.

So there you have it.  Six years from writing the book to seeing the DAW edition appear in 2006.  Today, Goblin Quest is in its fifth printing, and long ago earned out its advance.  It’s been translated into five other languages, and German sales helped put a new roof on my house.

Not bad for a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider.

Jim C. Hines