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The Naked Page

Author Jamie Sobrato's Diary

12.10.2005

The 5-Year Overnight Success

It's true--I am an astounding overnight success. After five years of writing, and more rejection letters than I care to mention, I found myself with the opportunity to start at the bottom and work my way up to the dazzling mediocrity I have acheived today.

It has been brought to my attention that some people might actually enjoy hearing me ramble incessantly about this kind of thing. Melissa asked, specifically:

"I was kind of curious to hear some stories from you... like how did you react when you got the call and how did you celebrate? :-) And how different are your published novels that the rest of us read from the first version of the manuscript?"

Ah, The Call. That moment every writer dreams of, when their years of rejection and fruitless labor will finally be rewarded by hearing an editor say they want to buy your first book. My "The Call" story is pretty unconventional and anti-climactic (it wasn't even a phone call), actually, so I don't tell it often.

But here it is. I already had signed with my first agent a year earlier, and I'd gotten two extensive revision letters from an editor on two complete books I'd submitted to Harlequin. I revised the books but wasn't happy with the results and was sure I was going to get rejected ultimately. I figured that after 5 years of trying and failing, I didn't have a future with Harlequin and had moved on to working on an idea for a book that would suit some other publisher better.

I was living in Germany and had been emailing back and forth with my agent about my story idea, and then I get a reply from her one morning, seemingly about the story idea, since the message header was something like "Re: re: re: Story Idea."

I opened the message, fearful that this would be where my agent finally decided to be honest with me and tell me my idea sucked the big one. Instead, what I read was something along the lines of "I'm thrilled to tell you that Harlequin would like to buy your book, Catching Lucy! You've just made your first sale! More details to follow."

I was stunned. I didn't scream, didn't even react. I just sat there, closed the message, and looked at the other messages in my inbox. I even opened a few and read them. I let the news sink in. I even replied to a couple of messages (I did at least mention that I'd just sold my first book when replying). Then I opened the agent message again and re-read it a few times to make sure I wasn't mistaken.

Then I got up, went downstairs, and calmly told my grandmother (who was visiting at the time), that I'd just sold my first book. She squealed and got all excited. I remained kind of numb.

I didn't really celebrate my first sale right away. I don't know why. Life was just too busy, I guess, since I had a two-year-old I was about to throw a big party for, had my grandmother visiting from the US, and so on. I took her and my son to visit a castle that day, in some remote part of Germany.

I remember that day well, walking around the castle thinking, "I just sold my first book. Wow, I just sold my first book. I wonder why they didn't buy Pleasure for Pleasure too. Maybe they hated it. Maybe they didn't want to ruin my first sale news with a rejection at the same time. Maybe they're going to reject it tomorrow. Maybe I'll never make a second sale." And so on.

I also remember doing the dishes later that night and thinking, wow, I just sold my first book, and I still have to do the dishes today. This kind of sucks.

Of course, Pleasure for Pleasure did eventually sell a month or so later. My editor just hadn't read it yet. All my obsessing was for nothing.

Oh, but a few weeks after I learned that my book sold, some friends of mine threw a surprise "book signing" party for me, complete with a cake that looked like a book and silly mock-book-signing decorations. It was one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me, and I burst into tears when I walked into the restaurant and realized what was going on. That's when the sale started to feel real to me.

Since Melissa also asked about how different the final versions of my books are from the ones I turn in, I have to say, it depends! I've had a few books (like those first two) that were pretty extensively revised. But for me, that usually means adding depth, maybe adding a scene here and there. I'm a very short writer (not that you could tell from this post)--I usually leave things out rather than needing to cut things. So my revisions are usually about adding layers to the scenes and characters, strengthening motivation, adding a scene to show something that I'd only told in the first version. So they are still recognizably the same book in the end; they're just more fleshed out. That's how it is for me, anyway.

Oh, and the final versions have a lot fewer typos! Thank God for editors and copy editors.

38 Comments:

At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Theresa said...

Thanks Jamie! I enjoyed reading reading about the first book you sold. It's funny, I'm barely started on finally writing a story I've had in my head forever (and I have you to thank for it) and yet I feel as if I am finally doing something I need to do. It helps to talk to other people who have actually had some success, then it doesn't all seem completely unobtainable.

I can tell though that I have a very different style than you and I will have to cut extensively from my story. I do tend to overdo a bit.

 
At 5:50 PM, Anonymous bethany said...

You are way way too modest with the whole mediocrity tning. I've seen the statistics on how few people complete a book and how few of those get one published, much less, what is it 12?

What you have accomplished is really astounding, and there is much more to come. We're still young (yes that is what I'm telling myself)

 
At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Theresa said...

I'm sure statistically speaking it's pretty rare to get a book published, but obviously it's possible. Never give up, right?

 
At 10:08 PM, Blogger Shannon McKelden said...

Well, Jamie, I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't get "The Call." I also got "The E-Mail" from my agent telling me I had a sale. I, however, did freak out, cry, get nothing done the rest of the day, demand to be taken out to dinner, etc. :-) My first contact with my editor wasn't until about a week later and was also by e-mail. It's kinda hard to explain that to people who always think writers get "The Call." I feel kinda cheated in that way. Okay, not really. I still have a sale. Not complaining!
Shannon

 
At 12:03 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

LOL, Shannon, I know what you mean. No one dreams of getting The Email...though I guess that could be changing. The only upside I can think of is at least The Email can be printed out and saved for posterity, unlike a phone call. :-)

 
At 12:06 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Regarding the numbers... All I can say is, never live your life by statistics! What you'll get if you do is lumped in with the average.

Or something like that. I shouldn't be trying to combine math and philosophy. I'm bad at one and rusty at the others.

 
At 7:41 AM, Anonymous bethany said...

of course you shouldn't live life by the statistics, I was just pointing out that you've gone way beyond average or mediocrity. You tend to downplay your success. You should brag a little. Practice being arrogant. We'll go to our 15 year reunion in a few years and rub everybody's face in your success. I'll make subway size posters of all your bookcovers. you can read one of your steamiest scenes out loud to the fat and complacent crowd. . .

 
At 7:45 AM, Anonymous statistics girl said...

Well there is a 90% chance we won't get a reunion together. And a 50% chance that no-one will think anyone is successful who does not work at Ford. An 80% chance that our classmates will be too drunk to appreiciate anything but their own loutishness. Shall I go on?

 
At 7:56 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

LOL, I know you are not a live-your-life-by-the-stats kind of girl, Bethany! And thank you for trying to convince me I should be a big-headed asshole, LOL. I will try. I will practice daily.

 
At 7:59 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Do we really have a 15-year reunion coming up? No, don't answer that. I don't want to know.

Funny thing is, I think I've actually been banned from the fucking alumni roster! My mom has tried diligently (without consulting me) to get me notified of reunions and such, but they still won't send me anything.

I am trying to take that as a compliment, that after all these years, I'm still being rejected by the dorks I couldn't stand in high school. I bet you're still being "rejected" too.

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Oh, and regarding my nearly incohorent math and "philosophy" post, that's what I get for trying to sound wise when it's late and i'm exhausted. Just ignore that post. And that last word of it was supposed to be "other," not "others."

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

I love that image of "the fat and complacent" crowd.

I know the reactions I'd get anyway. There is a certain blank-eyed stare that comes when I tell some people I'm a romance author. I believe it's a combination of "I don't believe you" mixed with "I don't know what to say to that," with a little, "If you really are a purveyor of that soft porn in flowery packaging, you're GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL!" thrown in for good measure.

Don't forget UPS. The UPS workers also command respect.

I guess I'm cool with being disrespected and reviled by that whole crowd. What the hell would I do if they accepted me? Go over to their houses for casseroles that have potato chips crumbled on top?

 
At 8:21 AM, Anonymous bethany said...

At the time of the last reunion (8 years for the sake of creativity) I was on the cannot be found list. Despite the fact that I teach in the same county we went to school, and did not change my name. I have changed it now by the way, despite Lee's protests at my turning conventional. Despite the fact that my mom still worked at the travel agency, despite my name in the phone book. Guess nobody wanted to find me

 
At 8:22 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

And yet, our mere discussion of attending a high school reunion suggests some low-level desire to be accepted by the very people we claim not to want to be accepted by!

It's funny this is a theme in plenty of movies and books too.

 
At 8:23 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Isn't that such bullshit? To be all political about who you even invite to the reunions?!

 
At 8:24 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Oh, my post just above this one was regarding your comment that they "couldn't find" you.

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

I have to admit, I should have consulted you about your name before dedicating my next book to you! I couldn't remember what you were going by anymore, and my editor needed the dedication all of a sudden to put in the book at the last second, so I didn't really have time to consult you.

So my March 2006 book will be dedicated to you with your name hyphenated. And that's probably not even what you're going by! Sorry!

 
At 8:27 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

It *is* pretty funny that your name is all confusing and no one knows what to call you. That's so Bethany. But for the kids, I think it's a smart thing that you went ahead and changed your name. No need to confuse them too.

 
At 9:35 AM, Anonymous melissa said...

High school is such a crock for most people, I wonder why reunions even exist. Like hubby always says, he's still in touch with anybody that mattered, and like I always say, the rest can go to hell. :-P

People I went to school with would shit a brick if they knew what I was doing for a living. Well, first they would pretend to be offended or amused, then they would wonder what crack I'd started smoking, because I was supposed to be the academic one who ended up wearing thick glasses and mixing chemicals in a lab all day or something. Of course I never wore glasses.. and I hate science.. but they knew everything. LOL

And I'm proud to say I've never even considered making a casserole with potato chips on top. I wouldn't want Jamie to kick me out of the blog.

 
At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Theresa said...

The reunion commitee at my school put me on the "can't find" list too, despite the fact that my parents still live in the same house and have the same number. I wouldn't have known anything about it except I ran into someone who asked me if I was going. Of course I said no, I hated the school I went to.

I went to my husband's reunion with him, and I thought it was pretty ridiculous. People trying to impress people who are still living out their high school glory days. Blech.

If it makes you feel better, my class will be having it's 20 year reunion in less than 2 years. And I don't even have a book published yet.

 
At 11:43 AM, Anonymous bethany said...

Awww, you dedicated your next book to me? Cool!!!

 
At 11:50 AM, Anonymous bethany said...

Okay, the name thing. Well I thought I would change it when I got married, then I was applying to grad school, then I was student teaching, then I was passing out resumes with references that only knew my maiden name, then I was used to teaching using my original name. This year I officially changed my name, but when I got to school nothing was changed yet, but they did change it on the official documents- report cards etc. So now EVERYBODY is confused.

Hyphenated is fine. As long as I can start hyphenating your names!!!

 
At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...

I, too, got "the email," but then I was dealing with an epublishing company and phone calls are rare from epublishers. The whole point is the "e." Jamie, I forgot you didn't get a true "call." When I finally sell to a big house, I WANT a "call." Hmm, I guess this means I need to sell before getting a new agent, don't I?

Re: the high school reunion thingie...I think Bethany was kidding, but do avoid any face-rubbing! A classmate of mine became an actress, and she's actually very humble, but just her presence at the reunion as an "actress" gave her a kind of natural ka-ching. (Plus, she looked way more gorgeous than any of the rest of us--how does that happen?). At one point, an old friend asked her to get her publicity photos from the trunk of her car, where she had them stored for media purposes while she was in town. The friend wanted her to sign a photo for friend's kid. My old-high-school/actress friend complied. Then other people wanted the photos, but those not sitting at the table who didn't realize the actress did NOT just pull out her photos and put on airs to sign them, but was asked as a favour for an old friend, saw the actress as vying for attention in a negative sort of fashion. You'd be amazed at how success that's out of the ordinary can actually be viewed by our former peers with disdain. No doubt because of jealousy.

High school reunions are fun, though. The twentieth is way better than the tenth, Theresa. In my town, at the tenth, it was all about your education, career, if you'd just had a baby. At the twentieth, people didn't really care about your career (unless they thought you were putting on airs, like the above situation), they just wanted to know you were happy.



Cindy

 
At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...

Bethany,

I feel for you on the name thing. I kept my birth name when I married, because of government rules where I live--I couldn't hyphenate upon marriage, just take new name or keep old one. About 18 months later, I legally hyphenated, because we lived in a small town that just couldn't seem to accept that I had a different name from my husband. However, this was back in the dark ages, the mid-Eighties. I was one of the first women I knew to keep her name. I hyphenated it to make life easier on my husband, and I actually really like my hyphenated name, makes me feel like I come from some old English family. :) But I'm always spelling it out, the teachers don't know whether to call me Mrs. King or Mrs. Procter-King (I hate being called Mrs. P-K -- I'm Cindy P-K, but if you insist on calling me Mrs., then call me Mrs. King, because I'm not married to my father AND my husband, heaven forbid!).

I personally don't think anyone has a right to be confused by different last names among family members. It's easily explainable to even young children. My sister has two children from two different husbands, so naturally the kids have different last names. It's never caused them a moment's angst. Her second husband is common-law, and she actually still uses her first husband's surname, so that she and oldest child share last name and youngest child and second husband share a last name.

As long as they kids know what *their* names are, I don't see the problem, and I personally don't think it's anyone's business but the woman who kept or hyphenated her name WHY she did it. (I guess you can tell this subject has come up a lot with me!)

Cindy
off for an early Christmas dinner.

 
At 7:48 PM, Anonymous bethany said...

Cindy,

I just got to a point where I forgot why I cared in the first place. Much easier for everyone to be throroughly confused than just a little confused! Jamie is right, being in a situation where no-one knows what to call me is totally typical of me.

My favorite thing was when my students would find that Lois Duncan book, Killing Mr. Griffin in the library and always come show it to me like I would be shocked, and I would say, oh my gosh I hope no-one kills my dad. That would really bewilder them.

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Cindy, Bethany was definitely kidding. Neither of us would ever do any face-rubbing. Not that there would be any call for it, if I ever did attend a reunion, which I NEVER WILL!!!!

I would not give anyone the satisfaction of thinking I cared enough to bother. Maybe I would be missing out on something or other, but oh well. I barely survived high school. I'm not going back to relive the horror.

 
At 7:56 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

And no Bethany, you'd better not start hyphenating my names! I can do much worse than that Six Inch Sirloin post, you know.

 
At 7:58 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Okay, and now I'm going to be picturing your dad every time I see that book Killing Mr. Griffin. LOL, adolescent kids are too funny. I love when they are trying to develop a sense of humor.

 
At 4:46 PM, Blogger Nalini Singh said...

That was a really cool story, Jamie, even though there was no call. I could just see you walking around in this semi-stunned daze all day.

 
At 9:54 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Hey Nalini, I just noticed in your signature line from a post on the Harlequin/Silhouette link that you've sold to Berkley? Congratulations!!! Is that a recent event? Any idea when the book will come out? What's the premise?

 
At 8:59 PM, Blogger Nalini Singh said...

Don't tell me you missed my AUCTION sale to Berkley?! Sorry, was that loud? ;) I still haven't gotten over it and it was in July.

It's a two book deal (paranormal). The first is about "a woman born into a race without emotions and her encounter with a group of sensual, passionate changelings". It's coming out late next year and you know, I kind of expect all my friends to buy it *g*

 
At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Theresa said...

The first is about "a woman born into a race without emotions and her encounter with a group of sensual, passionate changelings". It's coming out late next year and you know, I kind of expect all my friends to buy it *g*

Sounds like the Vulcan who met the Klingon.

Sorry, had a trekkie moment there. Won't happen again.

 
At 10:28 PM, Blogger Nalini Singh said...

I love Star Trek so I'll take that as a compliment *g* But alas no off-planet creatures in this book. It's set in an alternate Earth.

 
At 10:42 PM, Anonymous Theresa said...

I was just kidding Nalini, and it is meant as a compliment. I love alternate earth books, and supernatural angles always get me interested. I've read all of Kelley Armstrong's books and love them. I also read Charlaine Harris and Maryjanice Davidson.

But I must admit the vampire novels are getting a bit old since so many authors are writing them. So it's nice when someone comes up with a new angle.

I read a book years ago that sounds a little bit like yours. It was about a woman who found herself on a planet of people who all looked identical. They were gorgeous and she was a bit plain. But because she was different they found her very intriguing. That book dealt more with why differences on the surface matter, whereas it sounds like your deals more with emotions. At any rate, I'll look forward to reading it when it comes out.

 
At 11:19 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Nalini! An auction! How did I miss that?! Very exciting stuff. Oh, right, it was July, when my brain is always in a pre-conference frenzy/stupor.

I think the premise sounds awesome, and OF COURSE I WILL BUY IT! I love alternate Earth books too.

 
At 11:28 PM, Blogger Nalini Singh said...

Thanks for the support you guys :) Coming out in a different format is both exciting and scary at the same time!

Theresa - that book sounds really interesting. Do you remember the title?

 
At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Theresa said...

Theresa - that book sounds really interesting. Do you remember the title?

I don't, it's been many many years since I've read it. I'll try looking around and see if I can find it, but it's most likely been out of print a long time and I may not have any luck.

 
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