Monday, March 24, 2014

My First Book Deal—or How the Road To Being Published Isn't Always A Straight Line

Afterlife: The ResurrectionChronicles hit bookstore shelves in June, 2010. Published by HarperVoyager, it was my first science fiction novel. It was also my first published book.
But it wasn't my first book deal.

My first book deal was with Thomas Nelson publishers, almost 20 years prior. At that time, I was a graphic designer and illustrator, and had just completed a class at the Art Center in Pasadena. My final project was a handmade book called So Far From Eden and, as part of my final grade, I presented the book to the class as if they were the marketing committee of a publishing class. I got an A on the project and in the class.

I didn't have an agent, but I had done my research on Thomas Nelson and knew that they would be the perfect company to publish my little gift book. So, I packaged my little book in a handmade box, filled with handmade paper leaves—which tied in with the theme of the book—and sent it to an editor.

I didn't realize at the time that I was breaking all the rules. I only knew that I had a strong feeling about this project.
Three months later I got a call from the editor. She loved the book. In fact, she loved it so much she wanted me to make it into a series of four books. Ecstatic, I said, yes.

I signed the contract, then set off to write, design and illustrate all four books. They were turned in on time, I was paid (very handsomely). Then I waited. And I waited.

What I didn't know was that unexpected things were going on behind the scenes. Thomas Nelson Publishing was in the process of merging with Word Publishing. Right about the time that my little gift books should have been shown to book store managers so they could order them, I learned that my books would never be made.

The reason?

Apparently, I was a mid-list author and Thomas Nelson was dropping all of its mid-list authors.

It took me awhile to understand it all. Meanwhile, an agent came to me, asking if I wanted representation. Again, that never happens, right? Well, it did. I worried that I would have to return the money Thomas Nelson paid me, but my new agent assured me I wouldn't.

Surprisingly, she was right—my gift books never did get published, but I got to keep the money. In fact, I used to it stay home for two years and write. (You can see two of the projects I worked on during that time period, to the left, an illustrated novella written like it was Queen Esther's journal and, below, an illustrated children's book, told from the perspective of the unusual fish in the story of Jonah.)

This time was like an intensive creative writing program—over the following two years, I wrote a novel, an illustrated children's book, an illustrated novella and a baby book. Unfortunately, none of my other projects sold.

That was when I made the segue from graphic design to editing. I had worked in publishing for many years, but up until then, it had always been in the art department. My next job would be as the publisher for The Word For Today.

It may seem like a big leap, but I was surprisingly prepared for it. Since then I've worked as the editor for several national magazines including Victorian Homes, Vintage Gardens, Cottages & Bungalows, Zombies (yes, I love fantasy and science fiction as much as I love old homes!), Bedrooms & Baths, and Kitchens magazines. I've also co-authored a number of how-to draw books like How To Draw Zombies, How To Draw Vampires and How To Draw Grimm's Dark Tales....

But, for me, the best part of it all was when two of my novelsAfterlife and Feastwere published by HarperVoyager. That had been a dream of mine since I was a teenager. Later, I went on to self-publish my first YA fantasy, Fathom.

For me, it hasn’t been a straight line from book contract to published book and it definitely hasn’t been a short journey. But I've come to believe that the journey is really about the joy of writing. If I focus too much on the publishing aspect or the marketing aspect, or even the financial aspect, I can get discouraged.

If I stay focused on the pure joy of making something out of nothing—inventing people, building worlds, developing conflict and instilling hope—then I am satisfied.

How about you? What part of writing (or reading) do you find most worthwhile?

Merrie Destefano is represented by Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary AgencyMerrie’s published work includes Afterlife and Feast (both with HarperVoyager), Fathom, The Plague Carrier and Waiting For Midnight (with Ruby Slippers Press), and How To Draw Zombies (Walter Foster). She’s also the editor of Victorian Homes magazine and founding editor of Cottages and Bungalows magazine. She is the founder and owner of Ruby Slippers Media and Ruby Slippers Press, and her website is here.


  1. I agree 110%, Merrie - it's such a challenge to focus on the joy of writing, sometimes. But that's really the most worthwhile and wonderful part.

  2. Hi, Laura! It's so easy to get tangled up in all the other things—at least for me! I'm glad to hear that one of my fave writers (you!) believes that writing is the best part. Maybe this is one reason why your books are so amazing. =) [Pssst, blog readers, you must check out Laura's series that begins with The Hallowed Ones. Note: You may need to read this book WITH ALL THE LIGHTS ON!]