Debut author Dolen Perkins-Valdez sells historical fiction novel on first try

Don’t you just wonder how some people do it? After years and years of rejections, those of us who refuse to give up are still out there pushing our manuscripts under editors’ noses in the hopes they’ll just give us one chance. Just one chance, that's all we ask.

Oh, we’ll make it up to them…we’ll sell our books like there’s no tomorrow. We’ll make these publishing houses so rich they’ll be thankful we sent our manuscripts their way and they’ll come begging for more on bended knee.

But it all falls on deaf ears for quite a few of us. And then…there are the fortunate few who write a book and not only an agent accepts it but a big publishing house does, too.

Is it luck or pure talent?

In the case of historical fiction author Dolen Perkins-Valdez, talent definitely ranks right up there. Her book, Wench, has just been released by HarperCollins and is definitely a work of sheer talent.

Dolen has been writing seriously for about thirteen years. She finished her MFA in Creative Writing in ’98 and her thesis she had to write was actually picked up by an agent and went to auction. Unfortunately, the thesis did not sell, but it made her realize one day it could happen to her in a big way.

She went back to school studying for her Ph.D., when she found out she rather liked scholarly research. She accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and continued her research on race riots at the turn of the century. Afterwards, she landed a tenure-track job teaching African American Literature. Throughout those years, however, she continued to write fiction – short stories and two novels that never saw the light of day.

“I found that my scholarship and my fiction writing fed two different parts of my soul,” Dolen says. “I felt I needed both.”

In 2004, she took a chance and went after a Creative Writing professorial job. She had a rough draft of a novel manuscript and a couple of short stories. She got the job, and immediately began to refocus her energies on her Creative Writing.

“Being in the Creative Writing workshop with a phenomenally talented group of students was very invigorating for me,” she says. “As I read short stories and fiction, I was no longer peering through a scholarly lens. I studied character, voice, point-of-view, dialogue, and other fictional techniques. By that time, I was married with a child and a fifty-minute work commute. All of these demands forced me to organize my time wisely. Oddly enough, I write more when I have to fight for the time. For four years, I wrote and re-wrote the novel that would become Wench.”

In the spring of 2007, Dolen found an agent. She submitted the entire manuscript to her, and she accepted it.

“I did not believe it was done,” she says, “and I asked her to give me time to continue polishing. She was patient, but she called me every couple of months to inquire about my progress. That periodic call was good motivation. Each time, I gave her a date when I thought it would be ready, and then once the date arrived, I extended it. Finally, in December of that year, I sent her the newest draft of the manuscript. I felt that it was finished, but I was eager to hear her opinion. Within a couple of weeks, she called me and said she thought it was ready. We began with a publishing house that we both liked and respected: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins. The head of this imprint, Dawn Davis, had edited and published Edward P. Jones' The Known World. We decided to give her an exclusive. Within days, she wrote us back and said she was interested. We never submitted the manuscript anywhere else.

”Dawn Davis has been a phenomenal editor. Not only do I feel fortunate to have worked with her, but I also feel fortunate to know her. She is an inspiration to me. WENCH will be published in January 2010, almost two years after I sold it.”

To find out more about this phenomenal author, visit her website at or visit her official virtual book tour page here to find out where she will be appearing online throughout the month of January 2010.

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