Getting the call, by Deb Katie

The week before I queried my agent, he had lunch with an editor who said, “Give me more supernatural YA!” She was, as you can imagine, one of the first people the manuscript went out to. And she loved it—but didn’t think she could sell it exactly as it was. She had suggestions for changes, which were all (in my opinion) very valid. I decided to go ahead and implement her changes before we did another round of submissions.

When the changes were made, the book went out to her and to a bunch of other editors. A couple of editors passed, and a couple we didn’t hear back from, which basically meant they hadn’t read it yet. But the first editor read the book promptly (in publishing, that means 3 weeks or so) and got back to my agent with the word that she was going to take it to her meetings.

Editors go to a lot of meetings. By the time a book sells, the editor and the book have been to more meetings than, in my humble opinion, a person or manuscript should ever have to go to.

So it goes… first one meeting, then another. The nerve-wracking part here is that you KNOW the meeting started at 10 a.m., so you KNOW exactly what time your book was being planted on a conference table and put in the lineup for discussion. Then the day wears on, and you start to think, “Sure those poor people can’t all still be in the meeting?” and you find out later that the editor had a lunch meeting (more meetings!) that she had to get to right away, and oh, yes, they did like the manuscript, so it’s on to the next meeting.

That’s how it goes, for what feels like a hundred years but is probably four days. Then the day comes that the editor tells your agent that the manuscript is going into The Meeting. You know, the big one. The “yes or no” meeting. And it’s tomorrow morning, and she’ll call right afterwards (because “yes or no” even trumps being ten minutes late for a lunch meeting).

So on the morning of The Meeting, I was up and getting ready for work (I’m three hours behind New York), and I knew The Meeting was happening even as I sipped my coffee and got my morning dose of lolcats. The husb was aware of this, too, so when I went to get in the shower, I said, “If Agent M calls, tell him I’ll call him back in a minute.”

Then I got in the shower, thinking to myself, Soon I’ll know. One way or another. Big yes or big no.

I got out of the shower and started putting on moisturizer, and the husb said, “Agent M called.” (For the record, we do not actually call him this, I just think it looks cool in blogs. His real name is Matthew Elblonk.)

I finished moisturizing and said, “Okay.” And I reached for the comb.

I didn’t run for the phone. I just stood there. Combing.

Because at this point, everything is still up in the air. There is no “no.” (There’s no “yes”, either. But definitely no “no”… well, except those other rejections. But those don’t count now.)

The husb started getting agitated. “Aren’t you going to call him back?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “As soon as I finish combing my hair.”

So I combed, and I looked into the eyes of the woman with no “no,” and then I said farewell to her and went to the office and dialed the phone. And that’s when Agent M broke the news that there was, in fact, no “no” at all.

There was a “yes”. An offer.

It was quite surreal. Agent M outlined the details, made a few comments based on his expertise, and suggested that we use our time to let other editors know there was an offer on the table. I said, “Sure, whatever you think,” and went back to combing my hair (well, I probably moved on to another grooming task at this point… I’m not Cousin It).

One of the other editors passed right away, and another one asked for a chance to read it. Agent M gave her 24 hours, and then I went on with my life as best I could. Fortunately, I was quite busy at work and didn’t have to sit around twiddling my thumbs all day, wondering what would happen.

The next morning, I was at work when my phone rang. I went out into the hallway to talk.

“Editor X from Other Publishing House called,” Agent M said.

And she passed, I thought.

“And she loved it!” he said.

Hold on, what?

“So here’s what happens now,” said Agent M, who is very good at being calm when I am about to lose my mind. “I’m calling the first editor to let her know. I’ll call you back.”

Okay, sure. Back to work. Sure. Toooootally easy to concentrate on dogs in this scenario.

A few minutes later, the phone rang. I didn’t even apologize, I just ran out into the hall.

“So First Editor is offering blankety blankety blank,” he said. [Code for ‘billions and billions of dollars’. No, I’m kidding. Ever heard the phrase, “Don’t quit your day job?” Welcome to publishing.]

Agent M continued: “She also agreed to our demand for splinkety splinkety splink.” [–‘a chateau on the French Riviera.’]

All we had to do was accept, like, post-haste.

At this point, as an author, you realize that for the first time since you last hit “save,” the power is back in your paws, and naturally I asserted myself. “What do you think?” I asked.

“I think it sounds good,” Agent M said. “What do you think?”

“I think it sounds good,” I said, mostly because it did, but also because he thought so (and because I had worked with the editor when she gave me notes, and I really liked her).

So we accepted.

And that’s my story! My situation, I learned (an embarrassingly long amount of time) later, is called a “pre-empt.” It’s a pre-emptive offer made by an editor, designed to keep the situation from escalating into an auction.

(I find it somewhat hilarious and telling that my hideous distaste for talking on the phone even pervaded my publishing journey.)

Thanks for reading!
Deb Katie

10 thoughts on “Getting the call, by Deb Katie

  1. Katie, what a great story! I love how you just stood there and kept combing. My husb probably would have thrust the cordless phone into the shower. I think he was as anxious as I was at the time…

    I didn’t know the exact times of the various meetings at which my manuscript was being discussed, and it’s just as well…

    And definitely four days=100 years on “submission time.”

  2. Very funny, Katie! Isn’t it amazing how time can drag when you’re waiting for news? I just heard an interview with Phillip Zimbardo, an author who wrote The Time Paradox, and he talks about how our perception of time is so variable. I’m sure your launch party will be so much fun it’ll seem like it’s over in just seconds!

  3. How fortunate that you have long hair, Katie, since combing it must have have calmed you down. Also banishing the no “no” thought — in the mirror — was the way to go!

    And thank you for the simple explanation of the “pre-empt.” Several authors have mentioned it, but I never quite understood that deal until now.

  4. Kristina, yes, my husband couldn’t believe I wasn’t galloping for the phone. The truth is that I can be very patient when it serves my interest! Oh, and not knowing when the meetings were? A heaven I can only imagine!

    Meredith, that’s so true. Time flies… Especially for a nostalgia junkie like me! I’ll have to look up that book; it sounds interesting.

    Danielle, thanks! I’m thrilled, too. (Obviously!)

    Larramie, so funny you say that… this week, the hair comes off! It’s been getting shorter and shorter, but I’m finally going for the cut I’ve dreamed about for years. But especially back then, I had plenty of hair to comb! And you’re welcome for the pre-empt thing. Believe me when I say it was months after I should have known that I finally figured out what it meant!

  5. Just reading your story makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Again, I love success stories, and I can especially identify with your journey (The length of time it took to finish the dang thing).

    Oh man, I can’t even begin to imagine the absolute joy and excitement that you must have felt when your novel, YOUR novel, was actually picked up. It’s something that I yearn for most definitely. I’d love to pick your brain with a lengthy e-mail one of these days regarding the whole process and “behind the scenes” stuff, that is if you’ll have any spare time out of your fancy-pants, big-shot author schedule.

    Love your story. Love your zest for writing and books in general; it’s something that I regret I never really developed until maybe 5 years ago. And I look forward to seeing your new photo – sans long hair – on your blog asap (You’re not completely shaving it are you? ‘Cause that would frighten me deeply)

    It’s funny how we’re doing the opposite; you’ve finished your novel, it’s been published, and you’re cutting your hair. I’m trying to keep myself on task by growing out my beard (God help us) until I finish writing mine. Here’s to hair and the wacky things we tend to do with it!

    PS: You never did expand on your brunette-to-blonde story. Do tell.

  6. Jason, sure thing! Email away. Ha ha, maybe I can finally start a “FAQ” section on my website… I had one a long time ago, and my husband asked, “Are these really questions from other people, or questions you asked yourself?” and I took it down in a huff, LOL.

    The hair thing is funny. Except I’ve been dying to go short for years now and I bet you never felt a pull to be a mountain man. 😉 Whatever it takes! Finish that rewrite!

    Jenny, thank you. Oh, the lolcats. What I can say about the lolcats…

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