Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selling my first novel

Patricia Smiley

Ah, I remember it well. It was July 19, 2002. I was on my sailboat in Isthmus Cove, Santa Catalina Island when I got a call from my agent, telling me that he had hammered out contract details with Mysterious Press to buy my first novel, and I was soon to be a published author. I celebrated with a bottle of 2000 Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay, which nonetheless tasted like Dom Perignon. I pasted the label in a scrapbook that I was sure would make it into the archives of the Smithsonian one day.

If that story seems too warm and fuzzy, let’s flash back a couple of years to when my twisty publishing journey began. When I started searching for an agent, a friend graciously referred me to her agent at William Morris. He flat out refused to even look at my manuscript, but told her he had an assistant who was just building her list of authors and might agree to read it. She did agree and loved it. Easy, right? Hardly. There had been rejections before that, some of them rather hilarious. I know because I saved all the letters (We wrote letters back in the day; no agent accepted email queries.).

My newly minted agent had just started sending the manuscript of FALSE PROFITS to editors when September 11, 2001 happened. Everything in New York shut down and nobody knew when or if the publishing industry would recover. Two weeks later, my agent called to tell me she was leaving New York and agenting. While I understood her decision, it left me to restart the agent search. Eventually, I signed with another agent who sold the book to Mysterious Press/Warner Books. Before the deal was done, I spoke on the phone with my new editor. She was a bit snarky with me, which was not only surprising but mildly disconcerting. It wasn’t until later that I would surmise why she had reacted that way.

The actual contract didn’t arrive until mid-December 2002, five months after we agreed on the contract terms. Meanwhile, I waited for the editorial letter, outlining what changes I’d have to make. September arrived and still I’d heard nothing from my editor. I began to worry. Soon after, my agent discovered quite by happenstance, that my editor was no longer there. She had left without telling me, which suggested she was already on her way out the door when she bought my book. I was assigned editor #2. It was now 2003. I finally received an editorial letter and was working on revisions, when in June 2003 I learned that editor #2 had died. I was assigned editor #3.

FALSE PROFITS was released just before Thanksgiving 2004. I was indeed thankful, but by that time it had been almost two and a half years since Mysterious Press had bought the manuscript and five years since I’d signed with my first agent.

Hello, Smithsonian? It’s Patty. I’m still writing. Can we talk?


  1. Thanks for letting me dish, James O.

  2. Being on the boat was smart. If they'd turned you down, you could have sailed west with the night.

  3. James O. Born3/20/2015 4:01 PM

    Thanks Patty. Just got back from a week with no contact except my phone. I had already read your blog and thought it was great.