A former real estate agent in a small town near Nashville, D.B. (Debbie) Henson had dreamed of becoming an author since she was a girl. When she wrote her first novel, a murder mystery, her husband read the manuscript and assured her that it was good—but still, she hesitated. Was it good enough to send to literary agents? Instead, like many authors in today’s fast-changing book business, she decided to take a different route. That choice brought her surprising success in eBook sales, a call from a noted literary agent and a contract with a major publisher. In a guest post for The Book Case, Henson tells us how the non-traditional path she followed helped her achieve a lifelong goal of one day holding her very own book in her hands.
I completed my first novel, Deed to Death, in April of 2010. Like most aspiring authors, I had researched literary agents and made a list of those who represented books similar to mine. While searching the Internet for help in completing my query letter, I came across the blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, written by Joe Konrath. Joe, who writes the Jack Daniels mystery series originally published by Hyperion, wrote of the success he was having as a self-published author on Amazon.
Prior to reading the blog, I had never even considered self-publishing. However, the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I knew that it would likely take months to query all the agents on my list, and I might only end up with a pile of rejection letters. I wasn’t even sure my novel was good enough to submit.
I decided to upload the book on Amazon mostly as a test. I hoped to sell a few copies and get three or four reviews. At the time, that seemed the best way to find out what — if anything — readers liked about the book and what needed to be changed. I crossed my fingers and hit the publish button.
I was shocked when the novel landed on the Kindle bestsellers list and went on to sell more than 100,000 copies. Since it was selling so well, I decided to leave the book on Amazon and write and submit my second book to literary agents. I assumed that Deed to Death would exist only as a self-published eBook.
The day after Christmas, I received an email through my website from someone claiming to be literary agent Noah Lukeman. The email stated he had read my book and was interested in discussing representation. I was already well aware of Noah and his stellar reputation. In fact, the month prior, I had written a blog post recommending his book The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile. The day I wrote the post, I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to one day have an agent of his caliber.
Convinced the email was a prank, I laughed it off and didn’t reply. A couple of days later, I contacted my author friends asking which one had pretended to be Noah Lukeman. When they all denied sending the email, I decided to reply. I still didn’t believe it was really Noah who had sent the note. Why would an agent who had represented celebrities such as Gene Hackman, Fran Drescher and even His Holiness the Dalai Lama be contacting me?
The next day, my phone rang. When I saw Noah’s number on the caller ID, I nearly fainted. After I pulled myself up off the floor, we had a wonderful conversation about my book and my writing career.
I signed with Noah the first week of January 2011. Three weeks later, he sold Deed to Death to the Simon & Schuster imprint Touchstone. The novel I was too afraid to send out to agents would be published by one of the largest publishers in New York. To this day, even holding the book in my hands, I still have trouble believing it’s real.
When I met Noah for the first time in New York, I told him about the blog post I had written right before he contacted me, and how I found it bizarre that he was reading my book at the same time I was studying his.
I’ll never forget his next words. He said, “In life, there are no coincidences.”
I’m inclined to believe him.
Thanks, Debbie! We’re happy to report that Deed to Death is just as thrilling as the author’s personal success story. Readers who have already enjoyed it will be delighted to hear that she’s at work on her next book.