Friday, November 3, 2017

My First Sale - Truth more Astounding than Fiction by Jo Ann Brown

Now things move at the speed of cyberspace, but that wasn't always so. Sometimes they move much more slowly, and they turn out in ways we couldn't have imagined ahead of time.
Come with me back in time. Your choice: Doc Brown’s Delorean or Mr. Peabody’s Wayback machine or...if you are of a certain age, just think back through your personal memories to 1987. That was the year I made my first sale. Actually it was my first sales.
I’ll admit that I made a LOT of mistakes on my way to get published. The only published author I knew was the cousin of a friend’s brother-in-law. In on our one quick phone call, she mentioned words like “proposal” and “synopsis,” so I knew I had a lot to learn. Finding a list of agents, I contacted the first three alphabetically and the last three. Though the others said no thanks, one got back to me quickly and asked for a complete, even though I was still figuring out how to write a synopsis. That letter arrived the day I went to my first local Romance Writers of America meeting. How thrilled I was to meet others who shared my dream and who assured me that the agent interested in my work was a respected guy! (Only later, when he arranged for us to meet, did I discover he was also Arlene James's agent.)
That first book went out to plenty of places, but no offers. In the meantime, I continued writing and I sent what I thought was my new best work, a western historical entitled Nothing Wagered Nothing Gained, off to my agent. While he read that, I kept writing.
But one Friday at the end of March 1987, I got a call telling me that someone was interested in my “new” book. My agent would let me know early the following week if it was a go. So now I waited.
Then the storm hit. A big spring nor’easter in eastern Massachusetts. Power out, phones out and our fence now lying in the neighbor’s garden. My husband alerted my agent from work, where the phones were working. Still no call, so more waiting. I’d love to say I was patiently waiting, but I think I wore out a pair of shoes and our 100-year-old hardwood floors with my pacing on Monday and then Tuesday. Finally late on Tuesday, the phone rang for the first time since the storm started. It was my agent with the news that there definitely was going to be an offer, but he didn’t have all the details and I’d have to be patient a while longer.
More waiting and pacing and I didn’t even share the news with my writers’ group that evening because I wasn’t sure whether or not the deal was going to go through. Thursday I get a call with the request to come to New York to meet with my agents in a few weeks as well as the comment that it should be a contract “for at least two books.” Our family had a trip planned to Washington, DC the week mentioned, so I agreed. We’d take the train and I’d get off in New York and meet them in DC. My big worry was if I could hail a taxi to take me back to Penn Station after the meeting.
When I reached the publisher’s office, I was greeted warmly by my agent, his wife, and the editor Kate Duffy (who started so many romance writers’ careers, though I didn’t know it at the time) as well as the publisher. Tudor Publishing was a very new publishing house, so Kate and the publisher and a secretary constituted the full staff.
My agent and I went into Kate’s office to talk, and he informed me that the contract offer was for four books with options for fourteen more if we were happy with how the first four were published. I’m seldom speechless, but I don’t think I spoke coherently the whole time all of us went out for lunch. I felt so blessed to have this opportunity. That was thirty years and many books and hailed cabs ago, but I still remember those astounding weeks so well that I get goosebumps now just relating the events. It’s always a special day when dreams come true...and I got three of them over a period of several weeks.
And when I got home from our vacation to DC, my critique partners proudly presented me with a certificate they’d made. Not for my first sales, but for being able to get a New York City cab on my own for the first time! It’s hung on my wall since right next to the cover for that first book as proof that truth can be much more astounding than fiction.


  1. What an amazing story, Jo Ann. Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. What a fun first-sale story. I think I would have gone crazy waiting that long for the answer. Yep, my wood floors would have lost their varnish too. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Jo Ann, I never get tired of hearing first sale (sales) stories. Yours is one of the best. Congrats on that sale and many more in your storied career.


  4. WOW JoAnn! What a fantastic story. I love it. Having grown up in Massachusetts, I can relate to the storm portion of the story. And how cool that they rolled out the red carpet for you when you arrived in New York City. And you got lunch. I can only imagine how exciting it was. Blessings.

  5. Wonderful story, JoAnn. Kate was a neat person and editor.

  6. What an interesting call story! You got to go to New York and meet in person? That's almost like the movies!

  7. Jo, what an amazing story! How fun. Thanks for sharing.

  8. What an exciting first sale story!

  9. My mouth is open at the sheer number of optioned books. Wow, did you write all of them?

    1. Yes, I actually wrote them all, but only six were published by Tudor. Others were published by other publishers, and eventually all were published. Took 10 years though...LOL

  10. I love this story!!! And I'd have deserved the certificate for the cab thing, too, if I'd pulled it off!


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