Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Darkest Hour & the Book Deal at the End of the Tunnel

So you guys wanna hear this book deal story or what?

I never know where to start or how much backstory to include.  What can I say? It’s a curse.

How about I’ll start in 2011?

Some of you may recall this post. I’d been on sub pretty much all of 2011 with a book that I loved and my agent loved, but it seemed we were the only two members of that manuscript’s fan club.

Did I mention that I also had a baby in 2011? Yeah. He’s super cute, but he was also a super bad sleeper. SUPER. BAD.

So I was dealing with this groaningly long, painful period of waiting and rejection when my mental and physical reserves were about at -459.67 degrees F. (That would be absolute zero, my friends.)

Not a bit fun.

Now, 2011 was not without a few promising moments. Literarily speaking, I mean. That kid’s sleeping didn’t improve one whit all year despite many, many offers of cash. 

Over the summer I did have a glimmer of hope. I got a revise and resubmit opportunity and I took it, but alas, in December, after having done this exclusive revision—and it was a major overhaul, too—the editor ultimately passed. That’s when I said, “No mas, por favor.”

I felt it was time to set the ms aside and move on. And so I did.

I had started working on the ms that would go on to sell in the fall of 2011, but I’d taken a break from it to do the revision for the editor, and of course, once that didn’t work out, I was kicking myself for having wasted my time. But what are you gonna do? 

Right after the holidays—this would be January 2012—I went into the cave and wrote my face off. The small baby person was still not sleeping well, and thus, neither was I. The extreme sleep deprivation meant that my brain was not at its best, but I kept working as much as I possibly could. I swear, there were days I’d look at my ms and think, “Did I write this? I don’t remember writing this. Hey! This isn’t half bad.”

(As a brief aside, this was around the time that I walked into my kitchen and thought, Oh, wow! Somebody did the dishes! That’s so nice! And then a second later I realized that, no, in fact I had done the dishes twenty minutes earlier, but I momentarily didn’t remember having done them. WTH, man? I was, like, having black outs. Crazy. But, hey, it was nice to imagine that I had a cleaning woman while it lasted.)

I’ll condense a lot here and just say that I finished Tabula Rasa at the end of February 2012 and sent it off to my readers. And, hey, even taking into account the sleep deprivation-writing, they liked it! I then sent it to my agent in March. And she liked it, too! And then it came time for submission again and on the eve of going back on sub I felt so, so proud of myself for having persevered through such a miserable and disappointing 2011. I was getting such great feedback on the story, and I was letting myself think strange and wondrous things like maybe this was finally it. Yes, maybe THIS WAS THE ONE.  

So at the end of May, the ms went out on sub! And I was so excited! I could not have been higher! The book was getting great initial feedback!


And then! 

*cue ominous music

One by one those editors … man, they shot out my heart like they were shooting skeet.

I hope this never happens to any of you, but I will tell you, there comes this moment when you’re out on sub when you realize that your book is not going to sell. And nobody wants to really say that, but it’s kind of like that moment when you’re at a party and you just sense, “You know, right now, right this minute, is the time to leave. Before things get ugly.” There’s just something in the air. Some palpable feeling that you can’t explain, but you know the cops are going to show up soon and start macing and tasing everyone. Except the thing is, you can't really leave. You can’t say, “OK, thank you and good night! It’s been great fun, but I gotta go!” No. You’re ON SUB, and you’ve got to be a professional and see it through until the bitter end.

And, bless my agent’s heart, she is a true believer.

She hung in there until the last round. Until not only the fat lady was singing, but the fat lady’s dog was howling along with her. Without dragging everyone through the misery of interminable waiting and neurotic Inbox-checking that was my June 2012, I will just say that we had gotten word that one final editor was still reading and would get back to us by the following week.

(Please note: The phrase “will get back to (you) by the end of next week” often means three weeks after NEVER. Just wanted to make that clear. Carry on.)

Anyway, the word finally came after a long, excruciating wait, and my agent had to give me the bad news that the editor had passed. Coincidentally, this was one of those weeks where it seemed everyone was blasting good news about book deals on Twitter, and I was so, so upset. So emotionally churned up. When I got that final "no," I actually felt sick to my stomach.

Oh, wait.

That wasn't it. I wasn’t sick to my stomach because I was upset. I came down with the FREAKING STOMACH FLU.

Yes, indeed. About three hours after the last nail had been banged into the coffin containing my poor, bedraggled dreams, I was tossing my cookies. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, at almost that exact moment when I realized, You know, I’m kinda not really feeling very well right now and started shoving people out of my way so I could get to the bathroom, Washington, D.C. got hit by this freak storm called a derecho, and all the power went out. So I spent the night hurling in the pitch, black swelter (because, of course, no power = no air conditioning) and then spent the next 48 hours flat on my back in 102 degree heat (still no power) with nothing to think about except my own rotten, sweaty miserable failure.

Well, what could I do? This was truly my darkest hour. After several long days of feeling like dog poop tartare, I did recover from the stomach bug. The disappointment, though…ugh, that took much, much longer. I'd been knocked down before plenty, but this was a massive face punch like nothing I'd ever felt. I spent the next few weeks trying to get my equilibrium back and regroup, but I just couldn’t seem to bounce back. I was sad. Not disappointed, not angry, just horribly sad. Sad like "episodic crying in the bathroom and then washing my face so my kids wouldn’t see and be worried about me." That kind of sad. That lasted about six weeks, I guess.

I tried not to jump to any conclusions about what to do or where to go but how could I not? This was my second time on sub and both times I’d come up short. I suppose you may be wondering if I thought about quitting writing at that point.

Unbelievably enough I did not.

And that was the weird bit.  

At some point in between those bouts of overwhelming sadness, I realized that I’m a writer, and success or failure—well, it was pretty much beside the point. It was just a fact of my existence. Come what may, I was a writer. 

Certainly I did think that I would very much like to quit trying to get published. I really felt like something snapped inside me during that time, and ultimately I decided it was a good thing that it did. The whole crushing experience made me realize that I was expecting publication to give me something that it couldn’t possibly give me. I had completely and utterly lost perspective, and I needed to tend to that.

And here’s where I’ll skip ahead again and just say that my agent and I had a long talk, and we decided to give it one more go. Because, yes, the feedback after the first sub round was pretty clear and consistent. I still felt like Tabula Rasa was a kick-ass story, and I didn’t want to give up on it because I knew I could make it even better.


Submission again.

As you can imagine, I wanted to go back out on sub like I wanted to put my eyeballs on skewers, roast them like marshmallows, and serve them up with chocolate on graham crackers. But there was nothing for it. I had to man up and move forward. 

We went back out on sub at a very non-optimum time of year—right after Thanksgiving. The holidays were bearing down on us, and we knew that there probably wouldn’t be much movement, possibly until the new year. But a week later, a certain editor at Egmont named Alison Weiss—who now has first dibs on my vital organs should she ever find herself in need of kidney or slightly-ill-used liver—was the first to say those magic words, “I love it!”

At this point I could go on and on and post a whole lotta GIFs of flailing Muppet arms to express how I felt when I got my official offer letter, but actually the real sense of triumph came upon me in a very quiet moment later that night, when I realized that as hard as it had been, as much as I'd suffered, as often as I had wished I could quit because I didn’t think I could take the disappointment for one more second—despite all that—I DID NOT EFFING GIVE UP. And that was a deeply satisfying thing to feel.

Here’s the last thing I’m going to say and I hope it helps, because really, what’s the point of a book deal story but to give you some hope? We all yearn for the same things, the sense of validation that we hope publication will bring. We all hope we’ll finally get to say, “I’m a writer” and not feel like some silly imposter. But, you know, I really, truly felt like a writer back when I was in the depths of my post-puking despair, and I still believed I had a story worth telling and hopefully a story worth reading.

So if you’re reading this and you’re having one of your down days, I will tell you this: You send your work out to be judged and evaluated, and that’s an act of bravery. That’s when you should feel proud. Agents and editors may read your stuff, and they may tell you where your manuscript stands, they may tell you what is or is not working. In other words, maybe they can tell you where you ARE in your publication journey. And that place might be, for now, “not quite there yet.” But nobody—NOBODY—can tell you where you’re going to go. Because no one knows what’s inside you except you. 

I’ve gone on too long. Sorry about that.

You just keep at it, and if you believe, deep down, that you've got a great story to tell, do not effing give up.