Posted On April 15, 2013 by Print This Post

Surviving the Ever-Changing Career of a Debut Author By Tracey Devlyn

One of our amazing co-founders is back today to candidly share her experience with the ups and downs as a debut author. Thanks Tracey!

Surviving the Ever-Changing Career of a Debut Author
By Tracey Devlyn

In the Beginning
Many of you know my story. Back in April 2010, I received the most Tracey Devlyn_088HighCloseCropincredible, career changing news. News every writer dreams about. Sourcebooks wanted to buy my manuscript, plus the next two stories in the series. Wow, right? Two days later, I received an offer of representation from my dream agent. Double wow.

I lived on that double high for weeks.

What I am about to share with you is for educational purposes only. It’s not to gripe or gossip. It’s to educate, to bring awareness. It’s to prepare you for how quickly this business can change, even while you’re floating on a high.

First up, I’m going to share with you a couple “rules” my journey shattered.
1. Your first manuscript won’t sell
2. Editors need to read the whole manuscript to know if you can pull it off
3. Agents are afraid to represent anything too outside the box

I have no doubt there are some writers who have faced these obstacles and did not overcome them. My only goal with this is to show you that nothing’s a certainty in this business. Don’t let the “rules” hold you back.

LadyRevenge_CVR.inddFast-forward a few years.

• April 2012 – My debut novel released
• June 2012 – I was moved to a new editor
• September 2012 – I switched agents
• February 2013 – Book 2 released
• April 2013 – No new contract—yet

Did your eyes bug out after reading the above list? Yeah, I hear ya. Let’s take these one at a time. Remember what I said above—the details I’m going to share below are not meant to be gossipy. RU’s a safe place and all about educating writers.

Debut and Book 2 Releases
Folks, there are no words to describe release week, month, year. It’s an endless time of well wishes and firsts (book signings, video interviews, live readings, etc.). It’s also a time of one repeated question—How’s your book doing?

For almost a year, I could not answer this question with anything concrete. My royalty statement in the fall indicated a good sell through, meaning enough books were sold to cover the advance I received. However, I had no way of comparing how my debut sold to other debut books.

To this day, I still don’t have a good answer to this question. I can tell you what my new editor told me last month–my debut had a rocky start, so booksellers ordered fewer of my second book. The good news is that Book 2 is doing much better (don’t have the figures). Because of this, my editor believes booksellers will order more of Book 3, which comes out in October.

Also, my new editor ended our conversation with a stern—ask me anything. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Part of my information gap was not being assertive enough. The other part had to do with the communication challenges with my former editor and agent. More on that in a sec.

New Editor
There are probably tons of reasons why an author moves to a new editor within the same publishing house. Here are mine:

My former editor used to be the only romance editor at Sourcebooks. At one point, I counted 80 authors on her annual Christmas shout-out blog. That’s a lot of authors, especially if they’re writing more than one book per year. At some point, Sourcebooks hired a new romance editor and the decision was made to move some of us over to her.

The move proved to be a good one. I love my former editor and will always be grateful to her for giving me my first break. She’s passionate about romance and really understands the genre. Because she understands what readers expect from their romance novels, she always wanted me to tone down the suspense in my books. Now that’s a hard thing for me to do. LOL The main challenge in our relationship was that our communication styles did not jibe well. Though I must say, with the help of my former agent, we had established a great process by the time I moved over to my new editor.

Speaking of my new editor—I couldn’t be happier. She’s savvy, knowledgeable, and likes to brainstorm. Now, I need to make sure I’m not squeamish about asking her questions.

New Agent
You’re probably scratching your head and asking, “Why would anyone give upCheckmate My Lord - FINAL-300 their dream agent, especially one deemed an ‘uber-agent’?” Believe me, it was NOT an easy decision. My former agent loves to dive into character and plot development, and I learned so much from him. The experience was invaluable and I will always be indebted to him. But here’s the thing…he’s an extremely busy guy.

As a debut author, I needed things from him that he simply didn’t have time to provide. I needed an advocate-agent—someone who would check on audio rights, foreign rights, request book blurbs, etc. Someone who would help promote me, get my name out. So, I made the very tough decision to sever the relationship. Can’t tell you how hard it was to pick up the phone and make the call, but by the time I made the decision, I knew it was the right one for my career.

Funny thing is…my former agent knew it too, so he offered a solution. He paired me up with a new agent in his agency. An agent who was actively trying to grow her author list and, more importantly, had time to do all the things I needed.

After explaining to her on the phone that I required an advocate-agent during this stage in my career and hearing the enthusiasm in her voice, I knew I had to give the relationship a chance. As with any new partnership, we had to work through a few kinks. We’ve figured it out, though, and are now working cohesively toward securing my next project. Speaking of which…

No New Contract…Yet
As I mentioned earlier, I spoke to my editor in March and learned Sourcebooks wasn’t interested in any more Nexus books, nor did the other two series concepts I pitched resonate with her.

Let’s just say, I had an Oh-Crap-Ola moment. I would normally say “Oh Shit” but I don’t want to go all unprofessional on you.

I left our meeting with a homework assignment—come up with 3-5 series concepts. Just a paragraph or two for each. Some of you might be thinking, “FIVE???” Well, facing unemployment can be very motivating.

After coming up with 5 different series concepts, I shot them to my critique partners and agent, who all gave me great feedback. Then I sent the ideas to my editor and nervously waited for her reply. What would I do if she didn’t care for any of them? See, fellow writers, the fear never goes away.

I’m happy to say that she liked several of the ideas, but one pushed to the top. I’ll start working on the proposal the moment I finish this blog.

The other really good news is that my agent loved the two series ideas I had pitched to my editor back in March. I’ve finished one proposal and sent it off to her and am working on the other (Update: will have to set this one aside to work on the new proposal for my editor!).

What does all this proposal stuff mean, exactly? Well, if I’m super lucky, another publisher will snap up either one, or both, of the other new series. Which means I could be writing for two publishers soon. Something I never thought I would/could do, but am now really excited by the prospect.

A Lady's Secret Weapon -300 - Jan 2013Believe In Yourself…No Matter What
Several times over the last couple years, I faced  some difficult situations. What got me through—and is getting me through—the tough times is the belief that I will get past them. As writers, we’ll always come up against some kind of fear. The important thing is – is how we scale it, so that we can continue moving forward. The answer will be different for all of us. As long as we conquer the fear and the anxiety and the multitude of other emotions that pummel us, we’ll come out on top. This, I believe with all my heart.

For more information about advocate-agent/author relationship, check out Addison Fox’s article in the April 2013 Romance Writers Report (RWR). Both my agent and I thought her article was spot on.


What obstacles have you had to overcome in recent years? How did you do it?

Join us Wednesday for how to survive and thrive in the slush pile with Shelly Ellis



Tracey Devlyn writes historical romantic thrillers (translation: a slightly more grievous journey Toward the heroine’s happy ending). She’s a co-founder of Romance University, a group blog dedicated to readers and writers of romance, and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, Chicagoland’s exciting new reading salon devoted to romantic fiction.

An Illinois native, Tracey spends her evenings harassing her once-in-a-lifetime husband and her weekends torturing her characters. For more information on Tracey, including her Internet haunts, contest updates, and details on her upcoming novels, please visit her website at:



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29 Responses to “Surviving the Ever-Changing Career of a Debut Author By Tracey Devlyn”

  1. Tracey,

    Bravo!! for sharing and for being alert and brave enough to make the changes in your career that needed to be made.

    It took me way too may years to make changes.When you have a personal relationship with an agent and editor and really respect and love them it’s hard to say, “I need to move on.”

    Who knows what I would be doing if I’d analyzed my situation as you did and made changes. Of course I’ve made changes but you’ve given me cause to ponder. I’m now doing Indie and though I know the advantages of working with an agent I’m not ready to go that route again.

    I applaud you for educating authors, new and old alike. In this business we never stop learning. It is learned more quickly by learning of the experiences of others.

    Thank you

    Posted by Dyanne Davis | April 15, 2013, 7:03 am
    • Aw, thanks, Dyanne! Yes, it IS hard to make changes when you really like the people involved. In my day job (HR), I’ve learned that addressing the problem early on is almost always the best course. Letting things fester rarely ends with a HEA. 😉

      Over the years, I’ve benefited from other writers sharing the experiences–I love paying it forward.


      Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 15, 2013, 10:39 am
  2. Hi Tracey,

    Quick recap of my career. Write in the wilderness for years, published, editor medical leave, repeated rejection, editor back, second release, new publisher, delayed release, excellent cover reveal. Love your books and looking forward to the next series.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | April 15, 2013, 7:05 am
  3. Tracey –

    You’re one of the bravest, most amazing writers I know. I love that you don’t let anything stop you. And I’m so glad you’re sharing your ups and downs with the RU readers.

    Do you think all this has made you a better writer? A better businesswoman?


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | April 15, 2013, 7:18 am
    • Hey Kels,

      I have a pretty wonderful and amazing support group to help me get through the tough spots. Muwah!

      The time I worked with my former editor and agent on A Lady’s Revenge definitely made me a better writer. They opened up a whole new world of perfecting craft to me.

      Last year’s challenges revealed to me that I’m stronger than I thought and, therefore, I guess made me a better businesswoman. I set my fears and anxiety aside to do what was best for me and my writing career. I’m just so darn happy things turned out the way the did.

      Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 15, 2013, 10:45 am
  4. Thanks for sharing the topic. It felt good to know that I wasn’t alone and that there is hope. The editor for my debut fantasy novel was good, the next one was great. And she also emphasized don’t be afraid to ask a question. And as your shared regarding sales, the sequel to my debut novel didn’t even come close. Both my published series are balanced on the knife’s edge between fantasy and romance genres so I can add one more change–shifting from one more imprint to another.

    But it was your last paragraph that resonated most as the upcoming years will be focused on finding a new publisher for a series in development and indie publishing my backlist. Am printing out your final advice and posting it above my computer.

    Well done. Helen

    PS – loved the harassing of characters in your bio.

    Posted by Helen Henderson | April 15, 2013, 8:04 am
    • Hi Helen,

      I’m so glad you found some inspiration and comfort in my post. I think it’s so easy for us to think we’re the only ones going through a particular situation. When, in reality, hundreds of other writers have probably trod down the same path.

      Hope you find a home for your new series soon and have fun publishing your backlist!

      Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 15, 2013, 10:48 am
  5. Morning Tracey!

    Wow….talk about a roller coaster ride! =) I’m glad you’re pulling through the other side, and hopefully things will be a bit smoother soon.

    Best of luck with your proposals! Get to writing! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 15, 2013, 8:44 am
  6. Tracey – whew! Thanks for sharing.

    What do you think was the number one thing you learned about yourself during this time and how did it get you through all the change?


    Posted by Robin Covington | April 15, 2013, 9:21 am
  7. Robin, thanks for sharing your space with me this week!

    Really good questions. I think the number one thing I learned about myself is that I deserve prompt communication. I know that sounds weird, but we always hear about how busy agents and editors are. Well, folks, I’m busy too. Very busy. So, if I don’t get a response back in a week, I nudge. 🙂

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 15, 2013, 10:55 am
  8. Hi, Tracey. Kudos to you for sharing such important lessons with writers. Having been lucky enough to have a ringside seat to your journey, I’m in awe at how beautifully you handled all your ups and downs.

    This publishing gig is not easy and it’s difficult to not to let our emotions take over. You’ve given writers a wonderful example to follow on how to treat people with respect and still come out getting what you need. 🙂 You’re so darned good at this!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | April 15, 2013, 12:15 pm
    • Hey Adrienne,

      As I mentioned to Kels, I have an awesome support group. 🙂

      Another key thing to remember is that sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. It’s important not to dwell on the wrong ones too long. We’re better off focusing on how to correct the situation rather beat ourselves up with guilt.

      Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 15, 2013, 1:30 pm
  9. Thanks, Tracey, for the lovely, honest post. One of the things I adore about RU is the education not only on the craft, but on the business. This is important for new authors to know.

    Best of luck with all your proposals!

    Posted by LynDee Walker | April 15, 2013, 2:00 pm
  10. Hi Tracey,

    No big surprise that this post was heartfelt, honest, and generous– things you’ve come to embody for me in this business (I love saying ‘in this business, btw:)).

    Thanks so much for always putting all you know out there for us to learn from. Your writing is beautiful, your network is vast, and your heart is courageous. I have no doubt there will be a new series announcement soon and many many sales.

    Hugs and lots of luck,


    Posted by Sonali Dev | April 15, 2013, 2:27 pm
  11. Hi Tracey!

    I’ve read your stuff, and I love that your stories overlap the boundaries of traditional historical romance. I’m certain your books will find a new home. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 15, 2013, 3:20 pm
  12. Tracey,
    This was a really good article. Thank you for being honest and sharing and having such an amazing attitude.

    Posted by Lori Ann Freeland | April 15, 2013, 5:12 pm
  13. What a great post! So informative for both newbies and those who’ve been around the block a few times. As people always say: it’s a business, not personal. Telling us about your journey and how you recognized your own needs gave us an excellent example of how to follow that motto as a writer. Kudos.

    Posted by Wendy Byrne | April 15, 2013, 6:37 pm
  14. Wendy, so nice to see you here! Yes, you’re absolutely right. This is a business and, unfortunately, it can feel very personal, can’t it? We just have to keep our eye on the goal–and that can be different for everyone.

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 15, 2013, 8:11 pm
  15. Great post, Tracey! It’s more than a little daunting to realize how much of a writer’s journey begins after the first book is sold. Thanks for sharing your roller-coaster journey with us!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 15, 2013, 10:20 pm
  16. Hey Becke,

    Yes, the journey definitely continues after contract, BUT it’s not all bad. I made some amazing, unforgettable memories last year, too.


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 16, 2013, 5:41 am
  17. Huge thanks to RU and everyone who stopped by to chat!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 16, 2013, 5:41 am
  18. Tracey,

    What a great post! As unpublished writers, we sometimes think that once you’ve been published, it’s all gravy. Thanks for sharing some of your ups and downs. Clearly the message here is that you need patience, perseverance, and talent to survive in this business — and you definitely have all three!!

    I’m rooting for you,


    Posted by Joanna Shupe | April 16, 2013, 6:17 am
  19. Grat article, totally what I needed.

    Posted by Tesha | January 3, 2015, 12:55 am

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