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.)