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!


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.