Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A First Contract Story - Susan Sleeman

Susan and I and Annalisa Daughtey all received our first contracts at the same time. Sooooo much happiness in one split second! Since then, as you will read, Susan has had some ups and downs, but the floodgates are wide open now. She's a lesson in perseverance and faithfulness.

Here's Susan Sleeman:

I received my first book contract at the 2008 ACFW contest in the biggest surprise of my life. A surprise I couldn’t have dreamed of if I was writing it in a book. One only God could have created for me. At the end of March of that year, I submitted a proposal for Heartsong Presents Mystery's line to editor Susan Downs for Nipped in the Bud, and within three days received a request for the full manuscript. Then within three weeks, I received a positive evaluation of the manuscript with a few suggested revisions. Susan was not able to contract new works until the fall, and she requested I returned the revised manuscript to her by August when she was in a position to make a decision. I was pumped. I’d  have to wait until August for any firm answer, but surely this was a good sign. Right?

I made the revision and sent the manuscript back in late July. I’d completed book two in the Garden Gate Mystery series and sent that proposal to Susan, as well. Now all I had to do was sit back and wait for her to call. She didn’t. No phone call. No email. Nothing. No response. And when I asked my agent about it, he was vague, encouraging me, yet at the same time saying nothing. I whined to my critique group, which at the time included three Heartsong Mystery authors. They tried to encourage me, but when August came and went, I was certain Susan had lost interest in my book.

In September, at the ACFW conference when Susan Downs took the stage to award a contract for the Heartsong Presents Mysteries imprint, I sat back and said, “Man, it’s too bad Susan didn’t like my book. It would be so cool to learn of your book contract in front of five hundred fellow writers.” Susan began describing the writer who would receive this contract. She started with vague clues and grew more specific. Imagine my surprise when I realized she was talking about me. I turned to my crit group sitting next to me and discovered that they knew about this. Some had known since April. Ditto for my agent, of course.

Yes, they were in on the surprise. They had to be. You see, I wasn’t planning on attending the conference. So they had to help Susan get me there. My first reaction was no fair. You knew for so long, and I stressed all this time. But then, I realized it was an honor to have Barbour publicly announce their affiliation with me. Today, the question I am asked most often is, was it worth waiting for months to learn of the contract this way. My answer is a resounding YES.

Now many of you know that the Heartsong Presents mysteries line where Nipped in the Bud was to be published folded. One month shy of my release date to be exact. I was brokenhearted. Even with Barbour’s commitment to publish all of the contracted books at a later day, this was to be my first book ever and I was crushed. I’d told my friends, my family and so on and now I had to say Nipped in the Bud was on hold. Plus I had two more books in my Garden Gate Mysteries series and no where for them to go.

I honestly didn’t know what to do. With the first book in the series contracted with Barbour it was unlikely other publishers would pick up the other two books. So what did I do? Did I give up? Whine? Complain? Pray? Yes. I did all of this and then I sat myself down and said, if you want to be a published author, you need to find a genre that is doing well and try to write in that genre.

I knew Love Inspired Suspense was actively looking for new authors, so I pulled out an old suspense novel I’d written in first person, rewrote it in third person, added a male point of view for a romantic suspense, and had my agent submit it to Love Inspired. Did the editor jump up and down, rave about High-Stakes Inheritance and say, yes, please write for us? No, she rejected it and explained in a very nice letter why the book was not right for their line. After being disappointed for a few hours, I asked my agent if he thought the editor would be open to me revising the book and resubmitting and he said to go for it. So I did. And she did. Contract it, that is.

So now, I had another book under contract to release in September of 2010. But I was wiser now. I knew even contracted books didn’t always get published. So I was cautiously happy and went about dealing with the edits and writing another romantic suspense book targeted at Love Inspired. And then, I got a big surprise. No, Love Inspired didn’t cancel the book, but I learned that Barbour was faithful to their promise, (Big cheer for Barbour) and in October of 2010, Nipped in the Bud was scheduled for release in the new Hometown Mysteries line as a single title book.

Yay, I mean big yay! I suddenly went from no books releasing to two books releasing back to back. How wonderful. Praise God. And when September and October rolled around, you could find me with a really big smile on my face. Not only for the release of these two books, but I’d also contracted Behind the Badge my second Love Inspired Suspense book that released in June.

Now, I have three published books, another book, The Christmas Witness, to release in December 2011 and the first two books contracted in a new miniseries with Love Inspired Suspense to release in 2012. God has blessed me so mightily. I could not be more thrilled.

So I guess, if you can take anything away from my story, take away that perseverance is a necessary trait to have in this crazy business. But not only perseverance. Remember when I mentioned the rejection from the Love Inspired Suspense editor. If I had not asked to rewrite and resubmit, but gave up as many of us writers want to do, I wouldn’t be actively writing for publication.

So keep at it. Don’t give up. Keep writing. Ask published authors for their publication stories. They will most likely be filled with many rejections and times they’ve felt like a failure. But honestly, when God’s timing is perfect, you too can have a career as a published author.

SUSAN SLEEMAN is a best-selling author of inspirational romantic suspense and mystery novels. She grew up in a small Wisconsin town where she spent her summers reading Nancy Drew and developing a love of mystery and suspense books. Today, she channels this enthusiasm into writing romantic suspense and mystery novels and hosting the popular internet website Susan currently lives in Florida, but has had the pleasure of living in nine states. Her husband is a church music director and they have two beautiful daughters, a very special son-in-law and an adorable grandson. To learn more about Susan visit her Facebook page  ,website   or follow her on Twitter .

Are you persevering in your writing? Have you had to overcome setbacks? What keeps you pressing on?


  1. Susan, I'm glad things worked out so well for you. I remember reading about the story of your BIG announcement at the conference that year and how so many people worked together to keep that ginormous secret. What a milestone event and a memorable way to start your career as a published author. And despite the bumps in the road, you're really going places now. =)

  2. God's timing is perfect! Amen.

    And I love the cover of Nipped. Too cute!
    ~ Wendy

  3. Love that cover! And I'm a big fan of God's timing. I know He's right. Well, most of the time I know it.

  4. Thanks so much Keli. It was so amazing that they all did keep the secret. And yes it was very memorable. I am so blessed in my writing career and praise God for all the opportunities had has put before me.

  5. Wendy and Heather, you are both so right. God's timing is perfect, but I'm with you Heather in that as I am going through the difficult time, I am not so sure that things will turn out for the best. I am working on it though. And thanks to both of you for the compliment on the cover. Barbour did such a great job on all of the Hometown Mystery covers.

  6. Love your story. It can be hard to remember that God has good plans for our future and knows best, when we're in the midst of hard times.

    Your cover looks inticing. Congrats!

  7. Thanks, Melissa. Your comment reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future..

  8. How inspiring, Susan! Thank you for sharing your journey with us. It's so easy to get discouraged, but you have the right idea--when we surround ourselves with the Lord, supportive writers, and trustworthy agents, we can do anything!


  9. Thanks for stopping by Jill. So true. We need to surround ourselves with God and His people.

  10. What an encouraging story, Susan! Thanks for sharing it. I have a good friend whose first contract was canceled when her publisher closed its doors. She was also saved a few months later when another house picked it up. I know how difficult that experience is from watching her, and I'm glad your story had a happy ending.