When Falling Under went out on submission I thought I was ready. Yes, I upped my email checking from, say, twenty times a day to, oh, two hundred. And of course I hovered by the phone and studied the submission list, ate more chocolate and drank more coffee than usual, took up and put down a few dozen projects–knitting, photo albums, muffin making, etc.
But I thought I was ready for the rejection, at least. After all, I’d been an actor and had my heart cracked open, chucked on the floor and stomped on not once but many times. So I was tough. I knew rejections were a guarantee, that this was a subjective business, that it only took one offer to sell the book, blah, blah, blah. And I knew I’d done my best getting the book written and polished and that my best wasn’t too bad, so I was at peace with the book itself.
When the first couple of rejections came my agent (the wonderful Emmanuelle Alspaugh) asked if I wanted her to forward them to me and I said yes. I read them. I was okay. A few days passed and another came and then another. “Do you really want to read these?” she asked again, and I said yes. A couple of the publishing houses had been long shots and most of the comments were positive, some of them even glowing–editors who loved the book but thought it was too dark for their line, that kind of thing–and I even wanted to see the negative stuff. As an actor, you rarely find out why you didn’t get cast so this little bit of extra information felt like power.
But then came a few days of silence and that’s when the rejections started getting to me. I found myself crying in the car, rereading the rejection letters, picking them apart, thinking about getting a job at Starbucks or writing erotica under a pseudonym like Anais Nin did with the material that became Delta of Venus (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
By the end of week three we’d still heard back from less than half of the editors but I was verging on despondent. Late Friday afternoon there was yet another “really nice” rejection in my inbox. I sent an upbeat thanks to Emmanuelle (“it just takes one, right?”) and then sat in front of my laptop and squeezed my eyes shut and pressed my lips together and thought: Oh God, it’s not going to happen.
And in that moment I knew I wasn’t so tough. Oh, I wouldn’t quit. I would write another book, and another, if that’s what it took, but I would never be tough enough to keep my heart safe. I hadn’t been as an actor and I was even less so as a writer. How could I be tougher when I wanted this so much more, had put so much more into it? I was a fool. After a painful first career, I’d chosen a second one that was worse.
I gulped and sighed and pulled myself together. I took my baby girl upstairs to get her ready for her evening bath. For the first time in three weeks when the phone rang I didn’t think: This is it! I just answered it.
Even when I heard Emmanuelle’s voice I didn’t think this was it. The little one peed on the carpet and I went about cleaning it up as the information slowly came in: she’d received a call from an editor who loved Falling Under, the editor had stayed up all night reading it and loved this and that about it….
Ah, I had friends who had been through this, I thought. Sometimes an editor calls to express interest before they make an offer. This is good news, finally, but sometimes even after expressing interest, the offer doesn’t come so it’s moderate good news but not THE news.
More pee on the carpet.
And at the same time: “and actually I have an offer in my hand, it’s a starting offer but…”
Me frowning, shaking my head to clear it, not cleaning up the pee…
“Wait a sec…wait a sec…did you just say there’s…”
“An offer, yes.”
“An offer? Wait, wait, wait…an offer? Like, an OFFER offer?
“Yes! We have an offer!”
“Ah! AH!! Oh! Oh wow! So…so this means…”
“This means we’re going to sell your book.”
At this point the conversation becomes a blur.* There was hyperventilating on my part, tears in my eyes, utter confusion really, about how to conduct myself at all and an awareness that screaming my head off might terrify and emotionally scar my sweet tiny girl for life which would be horrible…and horribly ironic since it was one of the best moments in mine.
So I didn’t scream. I listened to the rest of the details about the offer, interrupting every so often to confirm that I was going to be published, that nobody takes these offers back, that we had an offer, a real offer, and so on.
I hung up the phone, burst into tears and dialed my husband at work. In the millisecond when I was wailing into the phone before I said “It’s okay, everything’s okay!!” he had bolted out of his chair, grabbed his keys and was on the way to the door thinking something terrible had happened. And then I told him. I don’t remember the words I used–something along the line of “I’m going to be published, ah! aah! I’m going to be published! Ah! AHHHH! PUBLISHEDAHHHHH!” And I remember the weeping, the gratitude and joy, the relief and amazement, the soul-deep satisfaction of sharing this moment with the person who’d been with me through it all.
(After, of course there was still the carpet to clean, the bath to give, the dog to walk and so on–such a glamorous life.)
The following week we got calls of “serious interest” and then more offers came and on April 9, 2007 we sold the book in an “auction” to Plume/Penguin. I didn’t sleep the night after the first offer or for the three nights before the auction. I was a wreck. I thrilled and excited wreck, but a wreck nonetheless.
Turns out I’m not so tough, but I’m guessing that’s okay.
*And please know the quoted conversation is also an approximation–my memory of the precise words is imperfect!