Friday, October 24, 2008

Not That Exciting

Compared to everyone else's story, my story of how I found out my book was going to be published is quite boring. For me there was no "Call" and I didn't even have an agent at the time, so there was no one to really tell me what was going on or guide me through the process. I wrote "The Sakura Tree" one weekend after watching a wonderful documentary about picture brides on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.) When I was finally happy with the text and had revised it death, I printed out four copies and mailed them out to four different publishers. Three of the four publishers I sent my manuscript to were American, but the last one was sent to Red Deer Press, a small Canadian publisher. One by one the rejections came in. I tried not to let them upset me and I even tried to convince myself and others that I didn't care, but every time I opened a letter and read that another publisher was turning me down, my heart would sink.

Two months passed and I had heard back from everyone, except for Red Deer Press. Though I knew there was always a chance they might pick up the book, my heart and spirit were so low that I barely had the desire to write, let alone dream that one day I might be published. One afternoon, after I had gotten my youngest down for his nap, I went to my computer, sat down and began to seriously question my dream of becoming a writer. I decided that I was going to give myself a test. I would contact Red Deer Press and inquire about my manuscript. If they turned me down, then I would forget about writing and pursue something else. If they accepted it then I would know it was what I was meant to do.

Tentatively I wrote to Red Deer Press and asked about the status of my manuscript. I response. For the next three weeks I checked my email a dozen times a day...each time hoping to hear something positive. As each day passed with still no answer, I could feel my hope fading. I needed this to work out. I didn't want to have to walk away from my dream. Finally I heard back...and it is a day I will never forget. My "yes" came in the form of an email:

"After careful consideration we have decided that we would like to offer you a contract for publication."

I can remember getting up from my computer, walking over to the side of my bed and dropping to my knees to thank God for allowing this to happen. I'm not a religious person, but for some reason I felt the need to pray. "The Sakura Tree" was published in May 2007 and has been doing very well. It was nominated as Best Picture Book of the Year by the Alberta Book Publishers Association and was also recently listed in the CCBC's (Canadian Children's Book Centre's)2008 Best Books for Kids and Teens Guide. I am proud of this book and forever grateful that Red Deer was willing to take a chance on me.

It's all in the timing...

My experience is a little bit different than my fellow Girls.

See... I knew to the day when I would get THE CALL.
I just didn’t know if it would be the GOOD CALL or the BAD CALL.

Something which, in itself, can be pretty wrecking in the days leading up to...

You see, WONDROUS STRANGE was written on proposal, specifically for one particular editor at Harper Collins. I had the idea, my agent pitched it to my (now) editor and, at her request, I wrote the first five chapters and a plot synopsis. We sold the project based on that in a two-book deal. And, yes, that is still to this day something I have a hard time wrapping my brain around (in a giddy, pinch-me sort of way).

The upshot of this is that, as I said, I knew the day that my book would go to the Acquisitions Meeting, I just didn’t know the hour. Or the answer.

Neither did my mom, with whom I’d had a phone conversation the night before. Now, Mom lives on the West Coast. I live in the East. Mom was traveling out early the next day for a wedding and would be gone for the entire weekend. She figured I wouldn’t know until the end of the day whether or not I was going to be made an offer. I didn’t think I would either. Mom admonished me not to try and track her down over the weekend – she didn’t want to know what the verdict was until she got back home on Monday (just in case the verdict was “no”!) and so I would have to wait until then to call her! That was going to be agony for me – whatever the case! And Mom would have to spend the whole weekend on tenterhooks.

Well... apparently the early bird gets the novel in New York and my agent called me just after 11:00am to give me the good word. All the good words. The best words I’ve ever heard, in fact.

Thankfully, the office where I work was almost empty that day and I only had the opportunity to inflict myself on one poor astonished co-worker, whom I hugged and squealed at and danced a ridiculous jig for.

I called my boyfriend who told me he never doubted it for a second.

Then I called my mom. She was still at home.
In fact, because of the time difference, I kinda woke her up.
I said (grinning): “They bought it.”
She said (groggy): “That’s not funny.”

She honestly thought I was crank calling her. I love that. Of course, when I finally convinced her that I was, in fact, on the level, she was ecstatic. And then... she got to go to a lovely wedding, and drink champagne, and tell all my relatives that little Lesley was about to become a published author. Pretty good timing, if you ask me.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Auction and a Funeral

It was the second week in January 2008, and I was having a strange sort of week. My grandfather was in the hospital, which was, really, not all that strange at first. He was in his eighties and had been in and out of the hospital a lot the past few years. I talked with him on Sunday night, January 6th, when he was in his hospital room. Though I’ve never lived near my grandparents, I always talked to them every Sunday, no matter what. He assured me that he was fine, and then he asked me whether my book had sold yet – something he asked me every time I talked to him, since I’d told him about getting an agent back in the fall of 2006. Each time, including that night, I said no, and he said that he had faith in me, that he knew it was going to happen soon. He absolutely believed it would, despite the fact that I’d pretty much stopped believing.

On Wednesday morning, January 9th, I was feeling oddly giddy. The night before, my baby had slept through the night for the first time, and I’d gotten to sleep six hours in a row for the first time in months. My dad was also at my house, visiting for a few hours. He lives 3000 miles away, and I hardly ever get to see him, but he was on a business trip to Nevada, and he’d missed his connection in Phoenix the night before. I’d just put the baby in for a nap, and my dad was playing blocks with my older son, when the phone rang. I saw on the caller ID that it was a 212 number, and I knew immediately it was my agent.

See, in a way, I’d been expecting her to call with news, either good or bad. Back in September of 2007 an editor at HarperCollins had read my book and really liked it, but she thought the book needed more revision. I revised and my agent had sent it back to her in October. In the beginning of December my agent let me know that the editor was taking the revised book to her publisher and the editorial board in January.

Someone else may have seen that number on the caller ID and immediately thought that the book had sold, but I’d been through 15 months of rejection – most of it incredibly complimentary of the book – so I was expecting this to be yet another one. And I had this idea in my head that this was my last shot, that if this one didn’t work out, the book was probably going to end up in the trash can. As I picked up the phone, I felt like I was going to throw up.

My agent said hi, and she asked how I was doing. “Fine,” I said, barely breathing, waiting for the bad news. “How are you?”

She paused for a second and said, “I’m great, because we just got an offer.”

She told me all the details, but I couldn’t digest them (so luckily, she also e-mailed them to me!). After “offer” all I heard was “two-book deal,” and that she’d given the other publishers who were still considering the book until Friday to make offers. Then she said, “If that happens, we’ll have an auction.” I laughed at that part. Yeah right. 20 some rejection letters, 15 months of no’s, and we’d have an auction??

After we hung up, I screamed the news to my dad. It was so amazing and surreal that he was there, especially since he’d always been on my case not to give up on writing every time I insisted that I should. Then I called my husband at work and my mom back in Pennsylvania, and next I wanted to call my grandfather. But I couldn’t. When I called my mom she let me know that he’d been moved into intensive care so he could be watched more carefully, and he didn’t have a phone in his room.

As the week went on, two things became imminently clear: other publishers were going to make offers, so, unbelievably, the book was going to sell at auction, and my grandfather was not going to get better. On Friday, my agent let me know that we would know the details of two other offers on Monday. On Saturday morning, my grandfather died.

I spent the weekend alternating between these crazy feelings of jubilation and sadness. The words auction and funeral tumbled around aimlessly in my brain. Both seemed like incredulous happenings.

The funeral was on Monday, and I wasn’t able to get there because it was so quick and so far away. Everyone in my family told me to write something for someone to read instead. This is what happens, when you are seen as the writer in the family – people expect you know how to say things in words, even when you don’t. I’ve always hated it, and living in a sea of rejection for years, I’d felt like I wasn’t a real writer, anyway. But my grandfather had loved to brag to his friends that his granddaughter was a writer, and I could just picture him, bragging about this with a smile, that his granddaughter, whose book was going to sell at auction, wrote his eulogy. So I spent the weekend attempting to write something meaningful, something that would’ve made him proud.

In the week after his funeral, I got to talk to all three editors who’d made offers. It was the oddest feeling, to know that more than one publisher wanted the book, after so many had said no. And all three of the editors were so lovely and seemed like they’d be absolutely terrific to work with. I was on the other side of things – I was the one in the position to say no, and, though, it was something I’d dreamed about, it was actually a rather terrifying place to be. I kept thinking that I wanted to get everything wrapped up quickly, to accept one of the offers before all three of them changed their minds.

I had several phone calls with my agent, discussing the different offers. I learned a lot about different rights and what all the terms of the three deals meant. It was a tough decision, with so many things to consider, but in the end, I chose the editor at HarperCollins who’d made the first offer. I loved the fact that she’d seen my book before it was in its “auction-able” state, and that she’d still seen its potential.

In the weeks and the months after, I still have these strange mornings where I wake up, and I think I can’t believe my book sold! And then immediately after, I think, I can’t believe my grandfather’s dead. I guess sometimes the universe puts it all out there at once, the elation and the sorrow, as if one is supposed to temper the other. Both things I knew for so long could happen, but I never really believed either one of them would. You get enough rejection letters, you come to expect only rejection, and when you watch a man survive cancer and chemotherapy and heart disease and vascular disease and losing a limb, it is hard to imagine that he won’t keep on surviving.

I hope that I will write many other books, that I will have many more sale calls. But this one, this first book, will always make me think about my grandfather.

And that’s exactly why I dedicated the book to him.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Will my 212-area-code-call EVER come in?

My call from the 212 area code seemed like an illusive dream at best. It’d thought about it, envisioned where I’d be and prayed for it for years. I say years because it took me many of those to finish the book. Since there was no deadline, my novel chartered its own schedule and took refuge in my drawer for months at a time. See, I was writing in my spare time. Aside from a full-time job, I raised my two young sons myself and free time was, and still is, a precious commodity. But I dared to dream anyway, and kept pushing toward the goal, little by little until I had a first draft, and a couple years after that a revision I was content to submit.

There were several times I wanted to give up. I thought, what’s the use, the odds are ridiculously slim and the reality of ever getting a 212-area-code-call are minute. It’s when my sister called me to say “Lisa Patton you may not, not finish this book!” that I knew I had no choice but to see it through to the end. Leslie said, “You’ve talked about it far too long and you are not a quitter! Think about the example you’re setting for the boys.” My boys had been my driving force all along. Michael and Will were the impetus for my end result, a finished novel I call Whistlin’ Dixie In A Nor’easter.

My agent had started the submission process in September, 2007. Right out of the gate, we had three big publishers interested. I’ll never ever forget, two days after she first sent out the manuscript, the email from her entitled “Somebody loves it.” I felt like I was floating on air. Then another one came in and still another, all in the same week. Euphoria filled my world. But it would only last a few weeks. Two of the editors couldn’t get the okay from their pub board meetings.

But the first one still wanted it! And her publisher had read it and she loved it too! Only one more hurdle and if that person agreed we could pop the champagne. Three months went by with no word. My agent finally got the news before Christmas. No.

My merry merry had become weary weary.

Ultimately, we had five more editors want the book but none of them had success at pub board. By now it was April, seven months later, and it was all I could do to keep my chin held high. I finally fell to my knees one night and surrendered it, self-publishing wasn't the end of the world.

On May 5, two of my best childhood friends and I had planned a trip to New York to celebrate our birthdays. I had pre-arranged a lunch with my agent - quite frankly I was terrified that she might be giving up on me and felt a face-to-face might buy me more time. So when she called me three days before we were to leave, I naturally assumed she was calling to confirm our lunch or worse, be calling to cancel. When I picked up, I said, “Holly, I was just getting ready to call you.”
“How come?" she asks.
“To talk about our lunch date on Monday.”
“I’m calling about something else. I’m about to make your day so much better.” (Maureen and I have the same agent.) Katie Gilligan at Thomas Dunne wants to buy your book.”

I started screaming. Everyone at work thought something terrible had happened until they came in my office and saw the joyful look on my face and tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. I don’t remember much of what Holly said after that. I do remember her saying “Don’t you want to know the details?”
“Details? Is there more?”
“Yes," she said, they want a sequel."

So my lunch with Holly turned out to be a celebratory lunch with both she and Katie. Just four days after my “call” I was sitting at a precious little New York cafĂ© with my agent AND my new editor. My two dear friends, Wilda and Emily, joined us at the end of the lunch and the five of us drank sangrias and toasted our relationship to be. We also did something else really fun, we visited Holly’s office and met everyone in her agency!

Holly always told me that my book would end up with the right editor. One who loves it and is willing to fight for it. Right along with Holly, Katie Gilligan has been my champion at Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, and I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else. When she told me she wanted to "launch my career in the best way possible" I knew I was where I was suppose to be. She sees me a career novelist and that’s exactly what I’ve been dreaming about for fourteen years!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Book on Submission + Colicky Baby = A Writer on the Edge

"Your day is about to get a whole lot better."

Those were the words my agent said on Monday, December 3, 2007. I was at work, of course, with coworkers lingering outside my office, wondering why I was jumping up and down and pumping my fists into the air. I mean, did we just get a huge discount on our copier paper or something?

It was the end of a six month process that nearly shook my faith in my writing ability to its core.

See, I got my agent fairly quickly--I probably only sent out about 20-30 queries, and only for about a month, before I snagged Holly. After what she called, "Possibly the Shortest Edit Letter Ever," my baby was sent out into the universe in mid-June.

Immediately, we got several good reads, and my agent whispered "auction." Then...nothing. Everything fell through--the voice was too chick-lit, the voice was too young-sounding, one publisher backed out because another imprint at the same house was interested.

All that excitement and, by mid-July, we were left Thankfully, I had more than enough to distract me, since I was nine months pregnant. And through the sleepless nights right after my son was born and those first few weeks with a colicky baby, Holly kept right on submitting. And I kept the faith. Faith that my writing was worthy, that it was relevant, that writing was something I was MEANT to do.

Towards the end of my maternity leave, I started to panic, because I really, really wanted to stay home and write. And damn it, if someone would just BUY my damn book...

But, as we know, that never really works. So, we found a wonderful nanny and I went back to work in early November. And, after a couple of weeks, realized how much I enjoy my job and my coworkers. Now, I barely had time to wrap my mind around THAT revelation before my cell phone rang and heard the news that someone wanted to buy my book AND the sequel.

And so I went home, opened a bottle of wine (that I have since saved and put on display in my kitchen) and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, alternating between freaking out and jumping up and down.

As I sit here and write this post, I have the printed manuscript of my first YA book, sitting next to me on my desk. A book that I'm hoping my agent will love as much as I do. A book that I'm hoping will find a wonderful home, the same way my first two books did.

Because that's what it's all about right? Publishing has its highs and lows--the lows being so hard, they're absolutely soul-crushing. But those highs, MAN...there's nothing like it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

You've Made My Life

Ah. The first call. I’d waited so long for it to happen, I’d almost stopped believing it would. I even stopped writing for years at a time, but this had far more to do with real life stuff (moving across country—twice, having twins, etc.) than it had to do with not wanting to write. But I always went back to it, and I never lost complete hope that someday that call would come.

Before I get into the specifics of my call story, I want to backtrack just a little. In December of 2007, I became very ill and ended up in the hospital for several months. Long story, and not one I’m going to go into here, but it was a scary time and definitely made me take a second look at my life, as these sort of things are apt to do.

The day I came home from the hospital, it was to find a letter from RWA (Romance Writers of America) that stated my submission for their yearly unpublished contest was being disqualified because I hadn’t double spaced my synopsis. Rather than the intense disappointment I’d have normally felt at making such an error, I really didn’t care. I mean, living through something that could’ve killed me put a lot of things in perspective, this included.

But I was a little a sad. Because I’d had great results in smaller contests with this manuscript, I was proud of it, and I’d really wanted to see how it would hold up in such a large contest. Of course, that sadness didn’t last long, because I was finally home, with my family. And hey, I could always enter the following year.

Fast forward several months and I was mostly back in my swing health-wise, work-wise, and every-other-wise. One of my new goals after being out of commission for so long was to write every single day, no matter what. Even if it was only a paragraph. I was accomplishing this, and by the time May 1, 2008 rolled around, I was deeply engrossed in writing my first romantic suspense novel.

I woke up late on this day, because I’d been up very late the night before. I had work to do, family stuff that needed my attention, and all sorts of other things on my list for the day. But I had a horrible headache, felt a bit groggy, and was way lazy. Seriously lazy. I took to the couch and watched a movie (which, weirdly, was about a fledgling NY editor trying to rise in the publishing business). When it was over, I forced myself to get to work.

So, I turned on the computer with every intention of getting right to the articles that needed to be written. Instead, a girlfriend sent me an IM and we chatted. We talked about our writing, the work we both needed to get done that day, how I’d stayed up the entire night working on my new manuscript. And then, we talked about A Taste of Magic, the same manuscript that had been disqualified from RWAs contest, had been with Dorchester Publishing for a little over eight months.

I didn’t have an agent yet (as discussed in my agent call story here at The Novel Girls), but another publisher had requested the full of A Taste of Magic, which I’d yet to send in. Because I was 1) waiting to hear from the few agents who still had it, and 2) waiting to hear from Senior Editor Chris Keeslar at Dorchester, whom I really felt the story belonged with.

Anyway, my girlfriend wanted to know if I’d sent the book to the “other” publisher yet. I ended up promising her I would print it out that day and that I’d send it out the following day. She asked me if I’d be happy if it sold to this other publisher, or if my heart was set on Dorchester. I replied the obvious – of course I’d be happy to see it sold! But I also told her I had a really strong belief that the book belonged with Dorchester and this specific editor.

My phone rang at the exact same time I finished typing that last sentence. I swear. I’m not making ANY of this up. So I flipped the phone over to look at the Caller ID, assuming it would be my car dealership (they’d been calling daily trying to get us to bring the car to them for an oil change). My eyes landed on the little window. It read “Dorchester Publishing,” and a 212 phone number blinked below it.

I instantly began to shake. My heart raced. I could NOT believe what I saw. So much so, that for a few seconds, I just stared at the phone, and then at my IM conversation with my girlfriend, wondering what to do first: answer the phone or type into the little IM window that Dorchester was calling. Of course, I answered!

On the phone was Chris Keeslar, the editor who had A Taste of Magic under submission. I barely remember the conversation, but he first apologized for taking so long to read my book. Then, he said the words that every aspiring author dreams of hearing:

“I’ve read it now and I’d like to buy it.”

Or something similar to that, if not those exact words. As I said, my memory is a little hazy. But I do remember blurting some crazy stuff. Things like, “I’m going to cry,” “You’ve made my life,” and “This is a dream come true.” Um. Okay. You’ve made my LIFE? What was I thinking? Well, that’s just it. I wasn’t. I was completely emotional, completely in tears, and totally, totally shocked. But he handled all of it very well, and never made me feel like a loon.

Somewhere in that phone call, he asked me if I had a pen and paper, so I could write the deal points down. Which, I did—inside the cover of a book I was reading at that time. Let’s just say that book will be on my keeper shelf forever. Maybe I should have it bronzed…

Suddenly, it occurred to me I’d completely forgotten about my IM conversation with my friend. I typed in, real quick, as Chris was talking, “Chris on phone now.” I don’t think she believed me at first, but after I typed in “YES,” she replied with “OMG.”

Luckily, my hand worked well enough, and I managed to actually write the stuff down that Chris told me. I then told him that a few agents had the material, and that I wanted to give them the chance to get back to me. We agreed I’d be in touch the following Monday, and said our goodbyes. I hung up the phone and immediately put my head down on my desk and cried. Not only because something I’d wanted to happen for so long had actually happened, but because after the year I’d had: the hospital stay, missing Christmas with my kids, fighting to get healthy again, it just was an incredibly emotional moment. I can’t really convey how emotional.

As I write this post, I’m thinking about my second book, as I’m racing toward my deadline for it now. I’m also thinking about the galleys of A Taste of Magic that are sitting in the other room, waiting for me to finish proofing them, and I’m staring at my very first cover flat, which is now framed and on my desk. The path so far has been amazing.

A Taste of Magic is, partly, about wishes coming true. And how apropos is that?