Doppelganger was not, in fact, the first novel I wrote. That honor goes to an urban fantasy that may some day appear on the shelves; I like it quite a bit (especially since I completely rewrote it a couple of years later), and hope I can someday sell it (possibly after another rewrite; I have, after all, continued to learn my craft since then).
But Doppelganger and that urban fantasy novel were the first two really solid novel ideas I had. I’d come up with ideas before then, certainly, and even written large amounts on a few of them, but there was a palpable difference with these two. It’s probably not coincidence that I came up with both ideas during my senior year of high school, close enough together that I don’t recall which one came first. Something had changed inside my head.
That change was only the first of the necessary shifts. The second was the ability to sit my butt down until I actually finished one of them. (The third shift, of course, was to start sending things out.) The urban fantasy won the race to be the first one I completed, but the year that I was nineteen, I tackled Doppelganger for my second novel, and finished it just before I turned twenty. And lo, I did smile upon it, and think it Pretty Good, and polish it up, and send it out.
It got rejected.
Because this is how such things usually go.
I had some near misses along the way. An editor got interested in me — but not quite enough to buy anything. An agent said she liked it — but her client list was too full. Another editor got all the way to the stage of requesting and reading the entire manuscript, but ultimately didn’t like it quite enough. And four years later (yes, four years), I had pretty much exhausted all of the major SF/F publishing houses that would look at manuscripts from unagented authors.
I resolved to start looking at smaller, less established places, but before I did that, I decided to try one last thing.
A number of publishers (like, for example, Warner Aspect) say that they will not look at unagented manuscripts. You can, however, knock on the back door and see if they’ll let you in, by sending a query letter and maybe a synopsis of the novel. If they’re feeling friendly, they may — may — invite you to send more.
So I tried it. One place never responded. Another responded and told me that when they said they didn’t want unagented stuff, they meant it. At Warner Aspect, though, I struck pay dirt: the response came from an editor I’d spoken to at a convention several years before, when she’d been working for a different publisher. I’d lost track of her once she left that house, but here she was at Warner Aspect, and she remembered me, and she told me to send her the manuscript.
So I did.
And I finally broke through.