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The Very First Published Novel

The revised cover and title.

I purchased a 1999 edition of the guide to literary agents, editors, and publishers. The book was about 320 pages and I sought out agents who represented my genre of women's fiction. I remember I wrote to thirty agents--sending each one a query letter enclosed with a self addressed stamped envelope. Every one of them rejected me. I still have their letters, keeping them as reminders that their rejection only served as motivation for me. I purchased books on self publishing, I even took a self-publishing course. I had a 264 page manuscript I started writing when I was a sophomore in college. Fast forward six years later in 2000, I discovered a print-on-demand publisher and uploaded my typed manuscript. They provided an ISBN (like a social security number for books) and a bar code. I was responsible for my editor and I drew the cover myself. At the time, most printers/publishers would print a minimum 1,000 copies. The print-on-demand publisher I worked with could print one copy or in my case, 50 copies. I thank my father for providing me with the check to get them printed. I remember the excitement I felt when I opened the box and saw all my books. It was surreal. I remember I kept staring at them amazed that I had books and everyone I knew was going to read them. So I thought.

Unlike authors with traditional publishing houses who have teams in place to market their books and send them on tours to major cities, independent authors are responsible for their own marketing and promotion. I can't tell you how many book signings I've had to schedule, where the number of attendees ranged in the low hundreds to as little as one. I found every opportunity to get the word out. I spoke at my high school and my alma mater during their career days. One time I even sold books during jury duty. It was a great opportunity because I met someone who happened to be a member of a book club. She and members of her club purchased my books and later hosted a meeting inviting me over for dinner to discuss it.

My first novel, I Laugh to Keep from Crying is the story of a woman whose marriage goes downhill the minute she says "I do." I was nineteen going on twenty when I started writing it late summer 1994. What did I know about marriage? I had never been in a serious relationship. Yet, I wrote partly inspired by situations I observed as a child growing up. During my coming-of-age in the late 80s early 90s, I saw the dissolution of marriage for many of my peer's parents. I often wondered was infidelity the culprit as it was in the case of my parents.

In 2003, I finally got an agent who got me a two-book deal with an imprint within a major publisher. The imprint's niche was urban stories, not necessarily my audience, but nonetheless, I went with it. The publisher changed my title from "I Laugh to Keep from Crying," to "Happily Never After." They changed the cover as well. Soon I'm in bookstores everywhere with my cover gracing the pages of magazines like Essence, Vibe, and Jet. The budget at an imprint isn't as lucrative as a publisher, so all promotion and marketing falls on my shoulders. It's a learning experience and unless I'm offered a major book deal ((millions)), I will continue to be an independent author.

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