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.