I have not one, but two, of the strangest publishing tales in history.
It never happens like this. But it happened to me. Twice.
Which means, it could happen to you.
Here are my sale stories:
Bizarre Publishing Experience #1
My husband and I moved to Minneapolis after he finished grad school, and our young son was still miraculously taking 3 hour naps every day. I decided it would be fun to write a dating advice book in my spare time, and sell it online instead of going the traditional publishing route.
I did the math, and figured I’d make a lot more money if I published the book myself.
I never looked for an agent, I never submitted to a single publisher. I have an advertising background, and I knew art directors, I knew printers, I knew production people. I figured, how hard can it be? Besides, I planned to do all the marketing myself, and after 8 years of serving the advertising needs of corporate America, I thought I might like to call all the shots in my next creative endeavor. For a change.
So, I wrote my little dating book in about six weeks, set a pub date (Valentine’s Day, naturally) bought myself a block of ISBN numbers and found a good short run printer. I hired a book publicist to send out review copies ($5000, resulting in 7, count ’em, 7 media hits) and built a website.
When Oprah didn’t call immediately, I started to worry. When B&N national decided to pass, I started to freak. I woke up in the middle of the night, terrified that I’d spent $10,000 we didn’t really have. I decided that publicity, lots and lots of publicity, would be my only salvation. So every time I woke up with nightmares of being sucked into a quicksand-fast hole of debt, I cranked out a press release and faxed it to every media outlet I could think of.
I got booked on a local radio station. I got booked on the local TV station. B&Ns all over the country started placing individual orders for my book. My $5000 publicist managed to snag a quickie review in the New York Daily News (thank you, Alev Aktar).
The interview requests started to pick up, and I had the idea to pitch the book to the Ally McBeal show –it seemed like a good fit, one of the characters was always doing weird stuff to try to snag a man. I sent off my pitch and received a lovely form letter back stating that they could not look at my book and pitch unless they came from an agent.
Well, that was inconvenient. I didn’t have an agent. Fortunately, my $5000 publicist had a good friend who was an agent, and she was pretty certain her agent pal would be willing to slap a cover letter on my package for Ally McBeal.
I’d racked up about thirty interviews, the book started taking off, but I was spending a couple of hours a day in my garage. (in Minnesota, in February), packaging up books one and two at a time for individual stores who’d ordered, and re-ordered them.
I was spending most of my writing time billing stores (individually, gawd help me) and shipping out books.
Two days later, as I returned from my freezing cold garage/shipping center, I got a message from the agent on my answering machine. She said she’d read my book, she loved it, and to give her a call if I ever wanted to sell it to a major publisher.
Hmmm. Thrills and glory as a big-time author? Or two hours a day in the garage? Hmmm…what to do, what to do? As soon as my fingers started to thaw, I dialed the phone.
We talked for an hour, and I agreed to sign on with her. I worked on a proposal over the weekend and sent it and my contract off on Monday morning. On Tuesday I got a call from the Sally Jessy Raphael show. They wanted to book me for Thursday.
I called Lorraine, my newly-minted agent, who promptly set up meetings with as many editors as she could squeeze in before my return flight. Two days later, I was in NYC, sitting across from Sally Jessy, one of the nicest interviewers I’ve ever met. I had meetings with three editors, all at big houses, and had offers from all six major houses by the end of the week.
I signed with the brilliant and talented Trena Keating at Plume, who crashed my book (released it as fast as they could print it) and published it for May, just ten weeks after my original self-published version had been released.
Howard Stern booked me for his radio show, and STOP GETTING DUMPED! hit the Amazon.com bestseller list on the very first day it was released.
And Howard Stern, thank you, did not ask me to take off my shirt even once.
Bizarre Publishing Experience #2
So, STOP GETTING DUMPED! sold really well for several years, and I was busy having a child and moving (twice) so I didn’t have much time to think about my next book, but one day my editor and agent (see story #1) said, “Lisa, it’s time to write a new dating book.”
Trena and I agreed to have lunch at Book Expo while I was in NYC to chat about my next project. I told her about my idea for a new dating book, and she nodded and smiled and we talked about how it might work.
But I didn’t actually want to write another dating book just yet, I wanted to write a novel. I just kept talking myself out of telling anyone about it because I’d spent the last four years building this killer platform as the queen of dating and it seemed a waste to throw it all away and start all over again as a first-time novelist.
But she said something that made me pause. She mentioned a proposal for a novel she’d received — she said she’d thought of me when she read it.
Always the picture of coolness and self-restraint, I blurted out my idea for the novel, a book I’d been thinking about for the last four years, just as the meal was ending and the coffee was arriving. It was one of those great moments where you’re both leaning over the table, talking a mile a minute, energy buzzing between you, and she told me, “forget the dating book, you’ve got to write that novel.”
We stayed for another forty-five minutes, talking about the storyline, the characters (and one mutual acquaintance in particular who was the inspiration for the cheating husband) and how it could all work together.
I asked her how much of the book I needed to write in order for her to buy it, and she said, “about half.”
I had written approximately one page. (I was pretty sure the answer wasn’t going to be “one page” but hey, a girl can dream…)
I told her I would be back in New York in September (3 months away) with a proposal and half the book. Then, as soon as I returned home, we set a meeting and I booked a non-refundable plane ticket.
I worked on the proposal like a maniac, wrote all day and read NOVEL WRITING FOR COMPLETE MORONS and THE MARSHALL PLAN in the bathtub at night. A few weeks before my meeting was set, I locked myself in a hotel room for four days and pounded out another six chapters.
The night before my meeting I had ten chapters and a kickass proposal. Not half, but close enough. I flew to New York and met with Trena, who had just been promoted to Editor in Chief at Dutton, and my new editor-to-be Allison Dickens (who actually introduced herself as my new editor, always a good start to a pitch meeting). They loved the proposal, they wanted the book.
My agent and I went out for champagne to celebrate, and she dropped me at my hotel a few hours later.
I felt this amazing mix of happiness and triumph and chaotic energy. Then, I sat down on the bed, and cried my eyes out.
I had just sold a novel, and I had no idea if I knew how to write one.
I worried about that until I got to the end.
And that’s how it happened. Even though it never happens that way.