Feature Article: Behind the Scenes: Right after The Call
Recommended Books for Other Writers
My Book Recommendation This Month
Behind the Scenes: Right After The Call
The Call – that call that features in every writer’s fantasies, the one that announces you’ve just sold your first book – came only three weeks after I’d finished my agent’s suggested revisions and shipped her the finished manuscript.
Only three weeks... Three weeks and four years and three manuscripts after I first decided I could write a book. Three weeks and four years of conferences, buying bags full of craft books, and enough editions of the Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents that I should have just made out my check to Jeff Herman’s mortgage company. Three weeks and four years and two agents and hundreds of rejection letters later. That’s really when The Call came.
We won’t talk about the crises of confidence, the tears, the moments of frustration so great I could only work it off by raking up four oak trees’ worth of fallen leaves in about fifteen seconds flat.
But The Call finally came. To me. On a brisk, gray early December day. (At three p.m., on December 3. Not that I’ve got it imprinted in memory.) I’d imagined the moment so many times. I’d screech. I’d blubber. I’d hit the ceiling.
Instead I sat down with a thump. Numb. And asked my agent, what should I be asking my agent? Fortunately, she knew both the questions and answers.
Of course, after that phone call, then I screeched, blubbered, and called everyone that I knew. The unreality of it all is still with me. It probably always will be. It’s quite a feeling to achieve a dream. Or, as I’m finding out, at least to take such a major step in the direction of that dream. Because the work doesn’t end there. Nor does the waiting, the frustration, the heady ups of achievement, and the dismal downs. It’s only just started.
Some people still labor under the delusion that the publishing industry is a cozy place, full of thoughtful elders: Editors concerned with nurturing the talent nestling under their wings. Publishers who ponder weighty literary concerns late into the night under the glow from their green-shaded lamps.
Hmm. While I'm sure editors would love to nurture, and that publishers do have weighty literary concerns, today’s publishers are more likely to be found with a balance sheet in hand. And editors barely have time to make a visit to the loo.
My first telephone conversation with my editor lasted exactly twenty-two minutes. In that time, she managed to welcome me, tell me how excited she was to sign me, enthuse over my book, explain my publisher’s promotion and distribution and artwork procedures and policies, briefly outline the revisions she’d want, and promise me a full revision letter before Christmas.
She’s not atypical. And she’s a wonderful, tremendous editor. And she talks very fast.
Before ink had dried on the contract – actually before I’d even seen the contract – I was hard at work over an emailed revision letter. “Please,” it said. “Add better transitions, increase description, write a longer beginning, put a new scene in here… and here… and here.” And, “Oh, make it sixty pages shorter.”
“Gulp,” I replied.
Meanwhile, the contract meandered from publisher to agent, from agent to agent’s lawyer, from agent’s lawyer back to agent, back to the publisher, and finally to me. Three days later, I had crossed eyes from the nine pages of fine print, and a list of questions. So, the contract went back to the agent, back to the publisher, then back to me. I signed. And almost five months after the sale, I held my first advance check in my hand.
The first of five that will pay out over the next two years. Advances aren’t typically given in one lump sum, but are issued at different steps in the process. Depending on the contract, it could be upon signing the contract, acceptance of Manuscript One, publishing of said manuscript, acceptance of a proposal for Manuscript Two… You get the picture – nobody gets rich right away. (And few get rich at all.) It will be a while before I have a pool in my backyard. And a pool man to go with it.
Even before the contract was signed, I’d returned my revised manuscript. And experienced a period of real psychosis. “She’ll love it,” I hoped. “She’ll hate it,” I wailed. “How can we stand much more of this?” my family and friends cried. And my editor said, “Maybe I can get to it this weekend… Or this weekend… Or this weekend. Hmm. Or maybe next month.” I returned the manuscript in February, received the revisions to the revisions in May, with a glowing letter indicating my editor was thrilled to pieces with what I’d done – and letting me know I had two weeks to complete the final clean-up.
But even as nail-biting became finger-chewing, a new problem cropped up. “We had a meeting,” my editor said. “We need a new title.”
And thus began my second psychotic episode…
COMING NEXT MONTH… “What a Catchy Title!” (Or “How to Start Babbling Like a Loon”)
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR OTHER WRITERS ON THIS SLIGHTLY CRAZED JOURNEY
There are tons of craft books, some good, some bad. Two that I highly recommend:
WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, by Donald Maass
STORY, by Robert McKee
For a book full of writerly advice, told with a sense of humor, I thoroughly enjoyed:
THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: AN EDITOR’S ADVICE TO WRITERS, By Betsy Lerner
For help in understanding contract negotiations:
HOW TO BE YOUR OWN LITERARY AGENT, by Richard Curtis
NEGOTIATING A BOOK CONTRACT, by Mark L. Levine
GREAT BOOK RECOMMENDATION(s):
COFFEE & KUNG FU, By Karen Brichoux
- Ah, to be able to write such wonderful prose... along with great characters, great story, great everything!
UNCOVERING SADIE'S SECRETS, By Libby Sternberg
- A young adult book that this not-so-young adult loved!
Fiction for and about women rediscovering themselves