Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Author Patrice Sarath

Sometimes an author’s plans go awry, and things don’t turned out the way we planned. This is a new feature, dedicated to how our plans twist and turn in our hands. Today my guest, Author Patrice Sarath, talks about how things didn’t go exactly how she thought they would…

It never goes as planned, (or, The Writer’s Blues)

I had it all planned out. My road to publication was a series of steps that would eventually lead to world domination and/or the NYT Bestsellers List.

See, it was supposed to happen like this — cut my teeth on short stories, make a name for myself in the science fiction/fantasy literary world, and then when I marketed my novel, I would find a genre agent and editor who would have heard of me through my short story background.

And for a while, it all went as planned. I had some great sales, including pro markets, and my story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” that was originally published in Black Gate was republished in the 2003 Year’s Best Fantasy anthology.

I even had an agent call me on the basis of that story, because editor David Hartwell mentioned my name to her.

But she passed, along with dozens of other agents. I kept hearing the same thing: “You write well, but…” with the “but” being, “I can’t sell this.”

I gave myself a deadline; if after querying fifty agents this novel didn’t sell, I would put it aside and move on. I did not want to be that author who flogged the same book for years. I knew I needed to write more.

Then… the very last agent I queried picked me up. Non-genre — she knew nothing about my track record in the fantasy short story world. Then a few weeks later I got an offer from Ace. Sweet! That’s how Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge came to be published. You can read the rest of the story at my blog: Gordath Wood

But that’s not the end of this story. Because the unexpected part?

That was when my agent told me what my Ace editor said to her: “So who is this Patrice Sarath? I’ve never heard of her before.”

So much for making a name for myself.

Now, this is not to say that writing short stories wasn’t a necessary apprenticeship; it was, and I do appreciate all of the training I gave myself. However, it may be that it’s not necessary for novel publication. Indeed, as many writers can tell you, short story writing and novel writing are two very different skillsets, and there are many writers who do one well but are not as comfortable in writing the other.

Anyway, the best-laid plans, and all that. Publication is a strange and mysterious process; I don’t know who it goes smoothly for. It’s only looking back that we think it was easy. But when we’re in the thick of things, it’s hard to have that perspective.

Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy series, Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet. She has been published by Penguin in the US and Robert Hale Ltd. in the UK. You can read more of her work at

Buy the book that started it all: Gordath Wood


3 thoughts on “Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Author Patrice Sarath

  1. Thanks for the insight, Patrice. And congratulations on your sales, both long and short.

    This series of interviews is going to be very enlightening, methinks.

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