How It Happened
By Elizabeth Heiter
On July 3, 2012, I got the first of two phone calls from my agent, telling me I’d sold my first five novels, in two different series. Fast forward to today: my sixth book just hit shelves, I’m contracted for four more in two genres, and I have three more in the proposal stage. But my first sale story wasn’t quick or easy; it was a story of perseverance, and of sticking to my vision of who I wanted to be as an author.
Let’s rewind nine years from that amazing July 3rd phone call. I had a completed manuscript (my first finished, ready-to-submit book I’d written on my own; technically, the first full novel I wrote was a YA with my critique partner back in high school). I had joined my local writers’ group and I was beginning to query agents.
My query was generating some interest, but I didn’t get stuck waiting. I kept writing, and in the next nine years, I completed five full manuscripts, and several more partials. I was a finalist in multiple unpublished writing contests. And then in 2005, I received my first offer of representation from an agent.
I jumped up and down (there may have been screeching involved). I called my critique partner. And my family. And my friends. And then I researched the agent some more (I’d done this when I queried, of course, but I’m nothing if not diligent). Everything looked good. I was excited. This was finally it!
And then I got the agent contract. I read it over and it just seemed … off. I talked to another published author, who said everything looked standard, but I didn’t like a clause in it. So, after a lot of agonizing (it had taken me two years to get here; would I get another offer?), I turned the agent down. Two years later, that agent began showing up on “beware” lists; I’m very glad I went with my gut, but it was a hard decision…especially when my next offer of representation took another three years.
I started the cycle again, of writing more books, working on my craft, and querying more agents. In 2008, I decided to participate in my writing group’s “Genre Critique Night” – unpublished writers read from their work-in-progress and published authors in their genre gave feedback. One of the published authors liked what I read enough that she offered to recommend me to her agent.
I sent Kevan Lyon (then of the Sandra Dijkstra Agency, now she’s with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency) my manuscript and I did some revisions for her, then she offered representation. I got on a call with her, talked about career goals and other important things, and I signed with her.
The manuscript went out on submission. And everything looked good. I was excited. This was finally it!
Except we kept getting the same response from publishers: they wanted the book, but… They didn’t know where to put it on shelves, because it was a genre-bender. Except for one big house, who was interested in the book, but asked me to make significant changes (essentially moving me into a different genre). I thought about it long and hard, but turned it down, because that’s not the career vision I had. Luckily, I had an agent who supported me, and we moved forward.
I started a new book, which would become HUNTED, my debut, which was a psychological suspense, and when I finished, it went on submission. While I waited, I signed up to go to a writers’ conference, where I had the opportunity to pitch to editors. Other authors told me I was crazy when I made an appointment with an editor (why bother, they said, when I had an agent to do that for me?). But I thought a face to face appointment was a good idea, so I asked my agent which editor to see, and she suggested Paula Eykelhof at MIRA Books.
I pitched to her, she asked me to have my agent send her the book, and I went home. Then, my agent heard from a different house. They wanted HUNTED, but they wanted me to cut 30,000 words and add more romance to the mystery. It was a good house, so I thought about it, but I really believed in the book and didn’t want to do that. Instead, I asked about submitting a proposal for what they were really looking for: a romantic suspense. The editor said they liked connected books, so I submitted a proposal for a trilogy of shorter romantic suspense, which would become my romantic suspense series, THE LAWMEN books. And we waited.
Soon, that editor called and said she wanted to buy THE LAWMEN books, but the official contract would come after approval from above her. So, again we waited.
Then, we got a call from MIRA. The editor wanted HUNTED, but it had to go through acquisitions (23 other people needed to want it, too!). So, we waited some more.
Finally, on July 3, nine years after I first started querying, my agent called. MIRA wanted HUNTED and an unwritten sequel. They’d also heard I had a pending offer from another house on THE LAWMEN and wanted the romance side of their publishing house, Harlequin Intrigue, to look at those books. A week and a half later, my agent called to say Intrigue wanted those books.
I made the decision to go with MIRA and Intrigue for the books (and turned down the other offer for THE LAWMEN books, which came through at the same time). And then I got back to writing, because only one of those five books was actually written – and I began a new cycle of writing, revisions, deadlines, and marketing, which has been a whole new adventure!
About ElizabethCritically acclaimed author Elizabeth Heiter likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range. Elizabeth graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. She’s a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. Fresh Fiction called the heroine of her Profiler series "one of the most amazing characters created in print" and the latest book in her Lawmen series won the RT Book Review award for Best Intrigue of 2015. http://www.elizabethheiter.com
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