All I Want for Christmas is a Great First Novel

by Erin Brown

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

Now, is that really too much to ask? A fantastic, unputdownable, stays-with-me-long-after-the-final-page, full of memorable characters, sparkling dialogue, a unique premise, end all/be all novel. Either that or those diamond studs that I’ve been leaving pictures of all over my husband’s desk. Either one will do.

Truth be told, I did receive this “novel” present just last month in my freelance editorial world and that author now has a top notch, New York agent and is well on his way to making a splash on the bookshelves (whoo hoo!). But before I drink too much of Aunt Edna’s spiked eggnog, I want to tell you the heartwarming holiday tale of buying one of my favorite acquisitions of all time—two years ago, I received the ultimate Christmanukkah present: an incredible novel by a first-time author. As I sat in my drafty Flatiron building office, a beautiful, thick sheaf of papers came across my old, wooden desk and by page 10, I was in love.

My new favorite characters were Southern women born and bred—four best friends— complete with sassy witticisms, high-falootin’ ideas, and rip-roarin’ schemes. As I first read the manuscript, the plot twists kept me up late into the night (until my candle finally died a slow and appropriately dramatic death—yes, I thought it fitting to the setting of the Depression-era South that I forego my electric lights while reading the prose). The dialogue crackled, the era came to life, and the overall feeling of delight, intelligence, imagination, and feistiness had convinced me by the next morning that the Great Publishing God in the Sky had heard by fervent prayers. It truly was a season of blessings.

The next morning, I scurried into my office, stuffed my face with chocolates sent from agents (each editor literally gets about thirty pounds of sweets each season. Many of you have probably never heard of the high incidences of diabetic comas among editors this jolly time of year, but it is quickly becoming a national crisis), and began to summarize the plot and selling points of the novel for my boss, who would soon be in the office. A side note: during the summer and as the holidays draw near, publishers and editors-in-chiefs tend to work four-hour days, so you have to be wily to catch them.

Once I saw the man, the myth, the legend (in case he’s reading this) sidle by my humble doorway, I grabbed a copy of the first fifty pages of the tome, my cover memo, and ran behind him into his office. Before he could even sit down and sigh in annoyance at my impertinence, I had launched into the pitch about my new favorite, next bestselling author’s work of genius. I gushed, I smiled, I exaggerated for effect, and I think I even giggled. And with the spirit of the season, he smirked and said, “Leave it on my desk. I’ll take a look before lunch.”

All I could do was wait. I ate more chocolates. “Oh my God, there are other editors out there right now who are falling in love with this! I need to make an offer NOW! BEFORE! SOMEONE! ELSE! GETS! IT! Doesn’t he understand??? OK, breathe, breathe...” I ate more chocolate. Finally, after lunch, Mr. Legend yelled, “Brown! Get in here!” Ack. I run.

needed fifteen copies of the manuscript in an wait, make that thirty minutes...ok, fine, an hour, I compromised as I picked her up off the floor.

The next morning I heard back from everyone on my list, except for that one guy in publicity that never responded to know who you are, Publicity Guy!  Hhmph. Everyone was enthusiastic except one Scrooge who said it was “overwritten for her taste.” Well, who asked you anyway?

I make my way to my boss’s office after running the P&L (profit & loss) numbers. This involved estimating page count, price, sales, projected foreign sales, book club sales, and the cost of paper, ink, and the salaries of everyone in the company who will be working on the book (I kid you not) in order to come up with an advance that wouldn’t lose us money. My initial desire was to offer “whatever the brilliant author wanted,” but this was inexplicably shot down immediately. After a quick perusal of the numbers, which no one but the head of finance really understood anyway, Boss Man looked up and said, “Do it, make the offer.” I (mentally) skipped out of his office and called the agent. I told her I truly loved the book and calmly made the offer (it’s important to sound like you’re offering on a car or a house: you could really take it or leave it, but you know, whatever, let us know). The agent then called the first-time author, who was most probably yelling, “TAKE IT, TAKE IT!!!”, calmed her down, and called me back with a counter of $20,000 more than my initial bid. My boss laughed and said, “Hell no, but we’ll give them $7,500 more.” I called back and a deal was made.

Then the fun part began—I called the author personally and told her how much I adored her “baby” and how lucky I was to have found her and it. How this was going to be a fantastic partnership for both of us, and how incredibly happy we all were to have the book on the list. There was enough joy, compliments, and excitement to last all season, and when I finally hung up with my newest and most favorite author, I had a huge smile on my face. Then I felt the true spirit of the holidays and prayed, “Man, I hope she sends me a big box of chocolates.”



Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at

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