Last week, I told you all how I got my agent. Today I bring you part II of the Road to Publication Saga: how I got my book deal. (If you missed episode 1, click here!)
The day Rock Star Agent Holly offered me representation, she told me she’d already spent months secretly talking up my manuscript to an editor friend—we’ll call her Editor X—at a very large house. (I hope I sounded cool and professional on the phone when she told me this, because inside my head, I basically started setting off confetti cannons.) Since Editor X had been clamoring for the manuscript for months already, Holly suggested we give her an exclusive on it until Labor Day, which was three weeks away. Nothing really happens in publishing during the month of August anyway, so a wide submission that early seemed like a waste of our time.
I did some tiny revisions, and then Holly sent the manuscript off to Editor X, and the waiting game began again. I basically superglued my phone to my body so I would be reachable AT ALL TIMES, and every time it chimed to tell me I had a new email, I had a small heart attack. (Even now, six weeks post-sale, I still have the same panicked Pavlovian response to that chiming noise. I should probably think about changing my alert sound.) On the Friday before Labor Day, Holly told me Editor X loved the manuscript and had given it to her boss to read over the long weekend. I got excited. Was it possible we were going to sell this book on the FIRST TRY?
Nope. Editor X’s boss wasn’t crazy about it, and House X decided to pass. I was disappointed, but Holly told me everything was fine; this just meant she’d get to show off my book to lots more people. The next day, she sent me her submissions list, and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. These were big, impressive houses, and I’d be happy with every single one of them. It was hard to believe that my little book was winging off to play with the big kids. But off it went.
The next five weeks were among the most nerve-wracking of my life. I’m one of those people who likes to know everything that’s happening all the time, even when knowing doesn’t actually benefit me. To that end, I asked Holly to forward me ALL the news she received, as she received it. Rejections started coming in a week later. They were actually all very upbeat, and most of them said nice things about my writing—turns out editors are really nice people. But they were rejections nonetheless. Fortunately, Holly was there to help me absorb the blows; every time she gave me bad news, she softened it with a disclaimer about why it was totally fine that one house or another had passed. Rejection is never fun, but when you have an agent who believes in you, it feels more like being dropped onto a pile of gym mats over and over than being dropped onto a concrete floor. Each one still knocks the air out of you, but you don’t bruise.
Two weeks into the submissions process, Holly told me that an editor at House Y had taken my book into a fantastic editorial meeting and wanted to meet with me by phone. Editor Y and I chatted for half an hour, and I immediately adored her. When I gushed to Holly about the meeting afterward, she sounded cautiously optimistic, but she warned me that there was still a major hurdle to leap—Editor Y had to present my book at an acquisitions meeting with the sales and marketing teams at her house. If everyone wasn’t on board, things could fall apart.
Turns out I am TERRIBLE at cautious optimism; I am only good at FULL STEAM AHEAD optimism. Things seemed to be going really well, and there was just one little meeting between me and success. I spent a lot of time daydreaming and counting unhatched chickens. DO NOT DO THIS, people. It will come back to bite you.
On the Wednesday of the meeting, Holly called and told me that although it had gone faily well, some of the sales team hadn’t read enough of the book to discuss it properly, and there would be a second meeting on Friday. There was total radio silence on Friday and again on Monday. I figured this was a good sign; if they were going to reject me, they would have done it already.
And then on Tuesday, I got an email from Holly saying that the sales team at House Y just didn’t quite GET the book. They had shot down Editor Y in their final meeting, and House Y had decided to pass.
All at once, I understood why Holly had encouraged cautious optimism. I was absolutely heartbroken. I convinced my boss I was sick, then spent the entire rest of the day sniffling in my bed with a box of cookies, a box of tissues, and a distracting book. It was, in no uncertain terms, completely pathetic. I started wondering if maybe Holly was wrong about me. Just as I wondered that, I got an email from her that said, “I am not wrong about you.” Because she’s apparently kind of psychic.
Despite my wallowing, Holly was undaunted. Five other editors were getting second reads on the book, and she was confident we’d find a home for it. Over the next week, those five houses dwindled to four, then three, then two. It wasn’t my favorite week. One of the remaining two, Wendy Loggia at Delacorte, was the editor I’d thought from the beginning was least likely to make me an offer; I knew about the enormously successful projects she’d worked on, and she seemed like a huge stretch for me. I started planning what revisions I’d make before we sent the manuscript out on a second round of submissions. When Holly told me that Wendy had asked for a brief synopsis of the book I was working on next, I didn’t think much of it. I had pretty much convinced myself there was no way things would work out with Delacorte.
The next day, nine days after the Editor Y incident, I left work early to take my cat to the vet. As I was attempting to squish her into the cat carrier without getting mauled, my cell phone rang. I let it go to voice mail. When the kitty was safely stowed, I discovered that the message was from Holly, and she was giggling. “I have some delightful news for you,” she said. “Call me.”
I was completely unprepared for news, so I did what I usually do—I freaked out. Then I called the vet and pushed back my appointment. And then I took a deep breath and called Holly back, thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t have to make this call from work.
Holly told me that Wendy had offered us a two-book deal—the book we’d sent her, and the one I was working on now. I had no idea a two-book deal was even an OPTION, and I reacted by jumping around my apartment like a crazy person and screaming into Holly’s ear a lot. (Sorry, Holly!) Wendy had sent Holly an image that she thought would be perfect for my cover, and it was absolutely SPOT ON—it was obvious that Wendy was on the same wavelength as we were. After some brief negotiations, we accepted the offer. Saying I was over the freaking moon is a vast understatement.
While I was in the midst of it, my submissions process seemed impossibly long. But a couple months later, I can’t even believe how lucky I was. Five weeks is an insanely short time to be on sub, and it couldn’t possibly have worked out better. I got to meet Editor Wendy in person a few weeks ago, and I can’t wait to dive back into my manuscript with her and start making things better. I often wake up and think, “Someone wants to PAY ME to MAKE STUFF UP. How is that even POSSIBLE?”
For those of you who are on submission now, a few words of advice:
1) You don’t need to know everything the moment it happens. If I could go back and do it over, I would ask Holly to send me weekly updates rather than minute-to-minute ones. Being out of your mind with anxiety every second of every day is less than fun and totally unnecessary.
2) It’s okay to be optimistic, but be cautious. Seriously.
3) Since you can’t email your agent every day and beg for updates, find other people to absorb your crazy. It helps if they are other writers, especially those who have been through the process and can assure you that what you’re feeling is normal. To those of you who helped me through the wait, you know who you are, and I can’t thank you enough.
Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor. 🙂
Shannon Dittemore says
What a fun story! I love reading the how and why behind the book and I can't wait to read your debut. MUAH! Team Root, baby!
Elizabeth May says
Thank you so much for sharing this, Alison. It's such a good example of being on submission with all of its ups and downs — how even when editors LOVE a book, it's not always up to them. It's a very humbling process.