How I Made My First Book Sale…

A few days ago a friend asked me what my secret was: how did I make that almost impossible first book sale to one of the largest, finest publishers in the industry?

I used to tell my mom I had a theory: Being in the right place at the right time was simply a byproduct of being in a lot of places at a lot of times. The more places you were in, the greater your odds of something perfectly, wonderfully serendipitous happening. (My mother wisely pointed out that being in the wrong place at the wrong time was a byproduct of precisely the same thing, but hey—no balls no blue chips.)

Operating on my half-assed theory, when I began pursuing my dream of becoming one of those people lucky enough to get to do what I love every day for a living, I sent out to multiple agents and publishers, non-exclusives, submitting tirelessly, accumulating one rejection letter after another. To this day, that fat binder of all the reasons I was doomed to fail sits on a shelf in my office, reminding me to never give up.

Eventually, based on a sheer numbers game, I think, I landed an agent and one would think the story wraps up nicely there: said agent submits manuscript utilizing her excellent resources and connections, publisher offers—presto, success.

It wasn’t that simple. The fact is, I never would have made that first sale if someone hadn’t run out of paperclips.

Years after the incomparable Maggie Crawford made an offer for my first two books, my wonderful first editor, Lisa Stone (whose name I used for the heroine in The Highlander’s Touch) told me the story about how I ‘really’ got discovered.

Late one night as Lisa was getting ready to go home, she picked up the first fifty pages of five manuscripts she had on her desk to take home and read over the weekend.

Mine was NOT one of them. Mine was sitting, abandoned and forgotten, in an empty office down the hall on the desk of an editor who’d recently left Bantam Dell. Editors are deluged by submissions from unknowns and once an editor leaves a publishing house, the teetering pile of submissions on his or her desk usually goes straight to the dreaded slush pile, where it collects dust in a dark closet before being relocated to the trash bin.

As Lisa was packing up to go, she realized she needed paper clips and didn’t have any in her desk. Rather than walk all the way to the supply room, she did what everyone else was doing—went to raid an ex-editor’s empty office, since it was much closer.

When she walked into that office, she sat her five manuscripts on top of a pile of submissions, got some paperclips, picked up her work and went home. Later that night, she read through the five manuscripts but found nothing exciting. She was about to call it a night when she realized at the bottom of her pile was a sixth manuscript addressed to the ex-editor. She’d grabbed it by mistake when she picked hers up. Out of sheer boredom, she began flipping through it.

And loved it. And took it to Maggie Crawford the next day. And Bantam Dell made me an offer.

That was my manuscript—destined for the slush-pile, the dark closet, the trash bin, never to be seen, picked up and read by accident, only because another editor ran out of paperclips and didn’t feel like walking to the supply closet. Freaking paperclips. That’s how I got discovered.

Being in the right place at the right time. Being in a lot of places at a lot of times. Never give up. When you chase a dream the Universe conspires to help you get it. 🙂

2 Responses

  1. I am so glad that she was out of paperclips and picked up your manuscript by accident. I'm sorry to hear it was an accident but extremely overjoyed at the same time. You are a magnificent author and I have read and own everyone of your books. In some cases, two copies. I was able to obtain a signed copy of one of your most recent books "Burned" for myself and the friend that encouraged and loaned me the very first book of yours that I read, "DARKFEVER". I was hooked from that moment on. I had to have every book you had in print. I searched the internet until I found them all and read them all at least two times each, some more. Then once I had one copy, I began my search for the Fever Series in hardcover. I have managed to find them and I treasure them all. Thanks so much for doing what you love and in turn providing me with wonderful, adverturous escape from my boring day to day life in a small town in Georgia; "Dublin, GA" as ironic as it is. I have a stressful job as an Administrative Officer (glorified medical secretary/clerk) at a Veterans Hospital and I'm a single parent to my beautiful, sassy, head strong 12 year old daughter. I believe that is my most stressful job. But you provide a wonderful escape for me when life gets me down or overwhelms me. Again, Thanks so much for your wonderful work! Sorry I was so long winded. With lots of love, one of your devoted fans! Happy Holidays! May God bless you richly as you do your fans with your wonderful works of art, those awesome, hard to put down books that make us all want to be right in the middle of the action/love/lust/heartache/fear... I could go on and on but I won't.
  2. Your story about the way your book was discovered is equally as interesting as mine. It's very interesting how these things happen. My first book (back in the 90's) was a nonfiction cat care book that went through the same river of rejection as your describe. My last hope was a friend who was a highly published pet book author. I sent in on over to her editor, using her name as a reference, and I waited. Months went by and I heard nothing, so I called my friend. "She left the publishing company," was her reply. Same deal; my manuscript sat in an ex-editor's slush pile. So, I took the next step and wrote to the editor at her new publishing house, which also did pet books. She told me she rejected mine and gave me the same line I heard from countless previous editors and agents: "The market is over-saturated." (God, I hate that expression!!). She went on to tell me no one would buy it. I was ready to give up and completely disheartened. However, the very next day I received a letter in the mail (snail mail, this was, after all, the 90's). It was from the editor who had replaced the one that rejected my book proposal. She went through the previous editor's slush pile, and out of 200 manuscripts, she pulled out two, and mine was one of them! She loved it and wanted to publish it. That book is STILL to this day in publication, in a revised edition, and also in foreign translation, and of course e-book. And, to add to this amazing tale (which is 100% true), the old editor came back to the publishing house a year later, and I went to NYC to have lunch with MY editor and met the editor who rejected my book (which was selling like hotcakes). She met me, shrugged and said, "I was wrong!" How many writers get to have an editor who rejected them tell them they were wrong--to their face! And that's how my first book got published. After that, I publishing houses were coming to ME wanting books written, and I got calls from Animal Planet and celebrities. Now, all that unfortunately is far in the past and I am back to square one with my fiction. *sigh* (self publishing a series I chose to self publish because I wanted to see what it was like. Let me be honest, it stinks!!!!) Have a TERRIFIC day and let's hope beyond hope I get as lucky with my fiction and someone wonderful finds it and makes it famous! ;-) Best, Christine Church