Friday, September 15, 2017

A God-thing

Arlene James here with the first post in a new Friday series. Ever wonder how a particular author sold her first book? My experience was purely a God-thing.

After my youngest son was born in 1978, I reluctantly agreed to a hysterectomy. Six miscarriages were enough for anyone. I wasn't happy about it. In fact, I was downright depressed, so my husband suggested I go back to college and finish my degree in creative writing. I was blessed with a professor who took my desire to write for publication seriously. He went so far as to contact a friend who wrote for a daily soap opera and ask him where I should start. That friend informed my professor that romance was a thriving part of the industry, always looking for new authors, and that Simon & Schuster was about to launch Silhouette Books in a bid to compete with Harlequin. I'd never read a Harlequin romance, but my professor brought several to me -- in a brown paper bag. LOL. I read them cover to cover and was hooked.

Nine months later, I had a manuscript that I was willing to submit. Having no clue how the publishing industry worked, I made two copies and mailed one to Harlequin and the other to Simon & Schuster. In the meantime, several things completely out of my control occurred.

A local Dallas-area author by the name of Parris Afton Bonds rang my doorbell. A neighbor of my sister's belonged to the same writers' group as Parris. My sister had mentioned my interest in writing romance, so Parris had taken it upon herself to make contact. She offered to hand my manuscript to her friend, Kate Duffy, who just happened to be the head editor at Silhouette Books. That didn't happen, but Parris did mention me to Ms. Duffy. Parris also introduced me to several other romance authors and suggested that I attend a writer's conference at the University of Houston.

Soon after Parris arrived on my doorstep, a New York literary agent came to Dallas, and my husband convinced me to seek an appointment. Frankly, he was rather condescending, but he took my manuscript, and the next day, to my shock, he called and offered to represent me. I think he was stunned when I turned him down, but I'd prayed about it, and I just didn't feel I could work with him. Besides, I'd gotten a letter from Harlequin that morning stating that they were considering my manuscript and would get back to me in a few more weeks.

With that hopeful missive in my back pocket, I queried several other agents then headed off to the writer's conference in Houston. Within moments of walking in the door, I met a Silhouette editor who informed me that Silhouette wanted to make me a formal offer! It was surreal. There, at that very conference, a group of romance authors, myself among them, got together and discussed forming what soon became the RWA (Romance Writers of America). I am a charter member.
Back home in the Dallas area, I continued my search for an agent, but no one seemed to connect, so when I talked to Silhouette, I had no representation and no clue what I was doing. When it was suggested that a 3-book deal might actually be offered, I balked. I didn't know if I could write a second book or if I could produce on deadline. I was honest enough to admit that Harlequin had also expressed interest -- and that's how I came to be Arlene James. Silhouette insisted that I take a pen name, which they owned. Before the second book was completed, I signed with an agent, who negotiated my personal ownership of the pen name AND my first multiple-book contract. I worked with him for the next 22 years. CITY GIRL came out in March of 1982. I never did finish my degree. But I have written nearly 100 novels. Definitely a God-thing.

14 comments:

  1. Wow, Arlene, what an amazing First Sale story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

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  2. What a great story of your first sale! Definitely a God thing. I loved seeing the cover of your first book. Sweet!

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  3. I love first sale stories! Yours is amazing. I laughed at the brown paper bag. I read many Silhouette Romances as a teenager...I also loved their First Love line for young women. I didn't realize you were a charter member of RWA. That's awesome!

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  4. What a wonderful story, Arlene. Many thanks to you and the other founding members of RWA. I joined @ 1983. I still have that old membership card.

    I love how God turned your sadness into something that has brought blessings to so many readers. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  5. thank you for sharing. Very obviously God worked mightily in your life.

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  6. Arlene, thanks for sharing your first sale story! Love your books. I enjoy hearing the stories of how God works in our lives.

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  7. Great story, Arlene! I love how God always seems to work things out for our best even when we feel clueless. Congratulations on nearly 100 novels!!!

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  8. Fabulous story, Arlene! I loved reading about it. :)

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  9. Thanks, ladies. I'm so grateful that God put me here. I can't imagine doing anything else while raising my family, especially as I had one seriously ill son for many years. Writing has always been the best of all worlds for me. I'm not the most ambitious author, but I love what I do.

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  10. Oh, how fun. I met Parris Afton Bonds at one of the early conferences I attended. And, sigh, I liked it when there was both Silhouette and Harlequin. I liked it even better when there was Loveswept.

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  11. wow! Looks like you had quite an adventure! Loved the story!

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  12. Great story! Thanks for sharing!

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  13. What an amazing story! I love that Parris sought you out. And it took a lot of bravery to turn down representation based on your prayers. Good for you!

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  14. Such an exciting and inspiring first sale story!! I didn't know you were a charter member of RWA. That's fabulous.

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