In 1977 Contemporary Books published my first novel, She’s on First. I’ve published a lot of books since, but you need not fear that I’m going to write a blog about each of them. That would take me to something like “My Writing Life: 147,” and I suspect I would lose many (if not all!) of my readers en route.
I do, however, want to talk about my first novel because I think writers remember, for better or worse, their first published book. My experience happened to be good, and for that I’m grateful And there are some heartening things about my experience that other writers and readers may enjoy learning.
The first such heartening thing is that my agent sold She’s on First after something like thirty-five submissions. That’s a lot of submissions. And (heed this well) — she sold it to the same editor and publisher who had rejected it two or three years earlier!
I think the big difference was that when my agent first submitted She’s on First (then titled Bases Loaded), she was doing so during the very same year that a recently published novel about a woman hockey player failed to sell well. This made publishers wary of any books about women in sports. (Overreaction, I know, but that’s the way things go.)
However, the editor who submitted the book to the acquisitions committee still believed in it. We knew that. So, two or three years later, my editor submitted it again. This time things were different: the book was acquired almost immediately. And it’s possible that this happened because, slowly, changes were coming to Major League Baseball. For one thing, Pam Postema was an umpire in the AA leagues, soon to move to AAA, and there was talk that she would soon be the first female umpire in the Majors. In other words, what was going on in the real world probably helped sell my book.
One thing I learned from this experience was that a No sometimes means No not now. Having learned that, I was able to sell another of my other books in exactly the same way: I submitted it to the same editor who had rejected it five or six years earlier. That book was Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories, published by Houghton in 2005.
After She’s on First was published in hardback the publisher sold mass market paperback rights to a Canadian company, PaperJacks, which made the book their lead title of the month during one of the summer months of 1978. (I can’t remember if it was June or July.) As it so happened, Phil and I were treating my parents to a 20-day trip out west, and no matter which large or small town we were in, we saw copies of She’s on First on wire racks in discount stores and drugstores everywhere: Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas. As the author, I found that very exciting.
And while my publisher was selling mass market paperback rights of the novel, my agent sold foreign rights in Japan. That was also very exciting for me, and I still have my complimentary author copies from Japan.
The second heartening thing about my first novel is that now, thirty-five years later, the book is still in print. This is largely due to my agent, who secured a contract in which a clause stipulated that all rights reverted to me once my book had been out of print for six months. This was before the days of ebooks: such clauses are almost impossible to get these days, when publishers want to hold on to the rights of out-of-print books just in case a new technology comes along.
So all rights to She’s on First reverted to me maybe three years after its publication. I kept the reversion-of-rights letter in my file cabinet, where, in 2010, its existence assured me that I could enter the world of self-publishing confidently by reprinting my first novel. And although I love all the printings of She’s on First, I love this self-published one the best. And I especially love that I can keep my books both in print and in digital format because of the work my agent did.
You can read She’s on First in either ebook or print. Or, you can read it in Japanese if you can find a copy of that version.
2 responses to “My Writing Life: 6”
Barbara, most interesting and great advice. Selling it in Japan was genius! In the ’80s, I was postmaster at a remote U.S. military site in northern Japan. My Japanese employees started work at 7AM. However, that was after they’d practiced baseball in the wee hours of the morning. Thanks for sharing.
Sounds like a good day to me!
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