My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Lauren Baratz-Logsted, the author of 27 books for adults, teens and children, including the recent comedic romance for adults, The Bro-Magnet. Lauren was an independent bookseller and buyer for 11 years before deciding to take a chance on herself as a novelist. While trying to sell her books, she worked variously as a Publishers Weekly reviewer, a freelance editor, a sort-of librarian, and a window washer. Her first novel, The Thin Pink Line, about a woman who fakes an entire pregnancy, was published by Red Dress Ink in 2003 as their first-ever hardcover and was published in 11 countries. She's since had more than 20 books published for adults (Vertigo), teens (The Twin's Daughter) and children (The Sisters 8 series, created with her husband and daughter). Visit her website: www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com.
My First Novel
I started writing my first novel just a little over 20 years ago on November 15, 1992. The day before, I’d quit my job of 11 years to do just that—write—so I figured I’d better get cracking. Two months later, I’d completed my first draft of Waiting for Dead Men's Shoes. Like many before me, my first book was a wish-fulfillment story. Having worked in an independent bookstore all those years, I wrote a comedic mystery about an underachieving independent bookstore clerk whose dreams come true when her beloved boss is murdered, leaving her to solve the crime and run the store.
One of my bookstore contacts was an editor who ping-ponged back and forth between Random House and Farrar, Straus and Giroux so I sent it to her. It wasn’t right for whichever house she was with at the time but she offered to show it to her sister, the publisher at a house that did publish comedic mysteries.
Not long afterward, the publisher called me up to say that it was the most hysterical book she’d ever read. She was laughing on every page and would be showing it to her team at a sales conference that weekend. I’d hear from her soon. I couldn’t believe it. But what did it mean? I called up Ms. RH/FSG, who said, “It means she wants to buy your book, you idiot!” I still couldn’t believe it. How lucky could you get?
Apparently, not as lucky as I thought.
Two weeks later, my phone rang and it was the publisher again. This time, she was no longer laughing as she told me in a very serious tone of voice that she couldn’t possibly buy my book. Then she hung up.
From the heights of the mountain to the depths of wherever I was, and in such a short time.
But such is the writing life. What else could I do? Brush myself off and keep going. So I did. I sent that book to countless agents and editors, many of whom had positive things to say about the humor. But still no takers.
Finally, one kind person explained to me that because my book championed independent bookstores while skewering chains as being no better than the devil’s spawn, no publisher would touch it with a ten-foot pool. Keep in mind that this was the early ’90s, when two major chains ruled the publishing land like King Kong and Godzilla. Apparently, no publisher wanted to bite the hand that was feeding it.
So what could I do? I wrote a second book. This book skewered the royal family. I might have gotten away with it, but then Princess Diana died and the book died with her. So I wrote a third book, about a disgruntled would-be novelist. This time, I skewered everyone in publishing: agents, editors, reviewers. If no one was going to publish my books anyway, I might as well insult everyone in the business! In a humorous way, of course.
Eventually, in time, I learned how to skewer more judiciously. At least, I stopped biting at once all the hands that might potentially feed me.
In the last nine years, I’ve had 26 books published. And today, there’s one more, making it 27. Over 20 years after I first started writing it, through the wonders of e-publishing, the revised and updated version of Waiting for Dead Men’s Shoes featuring my bookstore alter ego Mini Monroe has finally been published.
Am I still sorry it didn’t sell 20 years ago? Funny you should ask that. The truth is, I’m not. If I’d sold it back then, I might have spent my entire career writing comedic mysteries – not that there’s anything wrong with a career like that, but the way things played out, I got the chance to do a little bit of everything instead. And now this.