First time thriller writer Michael Lawson got the attention of his agent, David Gernert, with his short pitch letter and the first sentence to his prologue. That first sentence was so sharp and poignant that the agent immediately picked up the phone and asked Michael to send him the rest of the manuscript. If his pitch letter hadn't been short, Gernert would not have read it. If the first sentence hadn't been extraordinary, he would never have asked Michael for the rest of his novel. But because they were, Gernert signed Lawson up as a client and soon had a two-book deal with Doubleday for The Inside Ring and a second book called Miss July. Foreign rights were soon sold to the U.K. and Holland with other countries also interested. As a result, Lawson took early retirement from a shipyard job to devote himself to writing fiction.
Unknown author Jennifer Weiner was turned down by 23 agents before finding one who thought a novel about a plus-size heroine would sell. Her book, Good in Bed, became a bestseller. The lesson? Don't take 23 agents word for it. Find the 24th that believes in you and your book.
Sylvia Plath, author of The Bell Jar, submitted 45 pieces to Seventeen magazine before her first story was published. All the other submissions were rejected.
New novelist Jane Guill, author of Nectar From a Stone, provides the following advice: “Getting short stories published in magazines eventually brought a call from Nat Sobel, a great literary agent.”
The larger publishers like to publish new authors and help break them out. As Warner Books publicist Susan Richman notes, “A discovery is what really makes this business exciting. We love publishing our big-name authors, but when a new writer breaks out of the pack, that's a special thrill — to spread the word to fans who are eager to read someone new and terrific.”
Putnam senior editor David Highfill notes, “Anything truly fresh can be catnip to reviewers and readers alike.”
Khaled Hosseini, author of the bestselling novel, The Kite Runner, almost never finished the novel. He started by writing a short story in 1999 after viewing a TV news report about his native Afghanistan. Then, as he reports, “The short story sat around for two years. Then I went back to it in March 2001. My wife had dug it up. I found her reading it, and she was kind of crying, and she said, ‘This is really a nice short story.’ She gave it to my father-in-law, and he loved it. He said, ‘I wish it had been longer.’ So then I said maybe there's something in the story that's really touching people. Maybe I should think about going back to it and see if there's a book in it.” The moral? Don't give up. Keep writing. You never know who you will touch with your story.
At the age of 40, journalist Melinda Haynes discovered her love for writing fiction. She would work late every night writing short stories and working on a novel. While she loved telling stories, she was not a salesperson. She just didn't get around to trying to sell her work (she suffers from panic disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome). So her husband Ray mailed out her first two short stories to a literary journal — where they were accepted immediately. He then secretly sent a literary agent the first 117 pages of the novel she was working on. The agent loved the book and within a few months sold the novel, Mother of Pearl, to Hyperion. Her novel was published in 1999 and soon became a bestseller, which allowed Melinda to become a full-time author. Even before they knew the book would be a bestseller, Ray quit his job to accompany her on her book tour. A year later, though, he returned to full time work so he could feel like he, too, was contributing to the family's fortunes.