In Case of Emergency…by Deb Jess

I was practically rubbing my hands together with glee as I anticipated writing this post. Publishing emergencies…publishing emergencies?

Have I got some publishing emergencies for YOU!

Okay, it’s not so wild as all that. Before I signed a contract with my agent, I thought that every rejection was a publishing emergency. Eventually I realized that each rejection was like a little piece of disappointed gold, because though I badly wanted my efforts to result in a giant book advance, I also knew deep in the squishy cockles of my heart that my first attempt at a novel truly, madly, and deeply sucked. Also, every bit of agent advice scribbled in the margins of my returned queries ultimately fueled the development of Novel Number Two, now known as Driving Sideways. (Novel Number One? Currently undergoing major reconstructive surgery to have the clots of suckage removed and hoping to make an appearance at a bookstore near you in 2009.)

By now you’ve probably realized that I’m the kind of person who could turn a relaxing massage therapy appointment into a frenzied, adrenalin-drenched episode of panic. So despite being just twenty days from the release of my first novel (oh my, I can actually type that! In a public forum! And not be lying!), I’ll try to step back and tell you, with a little objective perspective, about the biggest publishing emergency I’ve met thus far.

We sold my novel in early December of 2005. Back when Richard Pryor, Wendy Wasserstein, and Don Knotts were still alive. Now, you may have heard that the average book sails down the production pipeline and appears in bookstores roughly one year after being sold. So, you may be wondering, what happened? Did I take a wrong turn near Albuquerque? Well, in the summer of 2006, I was nearly orphaned. My most excellent editor, which any writer would have a mad writerly crush on because she’s just that fantastic, left her position at my acquiring house, HarperCollins, for a new one at Random House.

Nearly two chaotic weeks ensued in which I waited to hear my fate. Every publishing-related ‘worst case scenario’ piece I’d read basically told me that if your editor leaves your publisher, you may as well make tiny book-shaped nooses and get some small shovels to have a teeny funeral in the backyard for your brilliant writing career. (Which, since it was too young to be baptized, may simply end up in limbo).

Much cheese and a raft of baked and fried goods were consumed. And wine. Wine consumption was definitely up that week. Lest you think I was celebrating my perilous predicament like it was a fundraiser for the local humane society, I should clarify that much of the cheese and wine consumption occurred while I was in my pajamas, unshowered, and possibly crying.

But the publishing fates smiled on me that month: I hadn’t yet truly entered the production pipeline at Harper (three cheers for extensive revisions!), so I got to do the paperwork shuffle and move with my editor to Random House. I hadn’t read about this happening in The Scary Publishing Story Books, so it was a little like discovering that your sneezes suddenly smelled of lavender and turned Kleenex into ten dollar bills.

Why would you want to stay with your acquiring editor? Because he or she was the first one in your publishing house to read and (hopefully) fall in love with your story. Your editor had enough enthusiasm for the book to convince the rest of the team to join your Book Parade, too. He or she will be your primary in-house advocate, lighting fires under posteriors, or putting them out as the case may be.

I was incredibly lucky to change houses so I could stay with my editor, and I continue to be relieved and grateful. I am also thrilled with the book, a real, final copy of which I got to hold in my hands for the first time this week. (Surreal squee!) Things could have turned out very differently; for example, had things not gone as I’d hoped, EVERY night at my house could have been Depressing Fundraiser Night. So upon hearing that my entire first print run will be missing the author photo (whoops!), I was like, Pshaw! You call that a publishing emergency? We are rolling with the punches here, people. And loving every second.

Deb Jess Riley

Driving Sideways by Jess Riley

10 Replies to “In Case of Emergency…by Deb Jess”

  1. I love this, Jess. These are the kinds of stories people outside the industry never hear and that people in the industry need to keep hearing. Getting a book, a real, live book, out onto the shelves in the store is a mammoth undertaking and fraught with all kinds of peril.

    I’d have been right there with you drinking the wine, though I never have thought of cheese as a comfort food. (Maybe on nachos…?) I’d have added some ice cream and many chocolate covered almonds. (Oh wait, then there’s cheese on pizza, mac-N-cheese, fried cheese…I’m wrong about the cheese-it’s an essential comfort food.)

    I can’t wait to see your beautiful book in the store. Your millions of readers will just have to wait for the second, third, fourth and fifth printings to get your photo. Or they can go to your site. Or our site. Either way, no problem.

  2. Thanks so much Danielle! You are the sweetest for saying such kind things. This is definitely a rollercoaster ride, but I feel so, so lucky to be on it.

    I should point out that here in Wisconsin, cheese is definitely a comfort food. Especially lukewarm, squeaky cheese curds just one hour after being made. (I know it sounds gross, but trust me on this.)

    Also, funny you should mention the website, because I just finished the copy for it last night–FINALLY! And wish me luck on my interview with MKE magazine today!! I hope I won’t come home and say, “You know? We should have a new topic: Author Interviews that Crash and Burn.”

  3. Ah the joys of publication. As one who also had the publication chute take longer than expected I so felt your pain on this one. I also shared your wine. I can’t wait for this to hit the shelves- people are going to love it.

  4. That happened to me, too! Except I got a (wonderful) new editor at the same publishing house. It taught me an awful lot about patience and rolling with the punches. All for the best!

  5. Rather than a roller-coaster ride, Jess, your journey to publication sounds as though you were riding sideways and hoping to avoid falling into ditches or over cliffs. 😉 May you travel a smooth super-highway from now on!

  6. You’ve been through a lot, Jess and you’re still smiling!As another writer who lost her editor (but didn’t get taken to the new house), I feel your pain. But I also feel your excitement at launch after a long, hard journey!

    And yes, Jess is right about cheese being a comfort food here in Wisconsin. They put cheese on and in EVERYTHING here! (Makes it a little hard for us vegans!).

  7. They even put cheese on their heads. Unlike the fans of the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team, that put hollowed out watermelons on their heads. Oh yes, it’s true. For brief shots of both, check out this Youtube montage.

    You will see the melonhead make an appearance at 0:30, more Rider fans at 1:22, a hilarious Leaf Jersey at 1:37, and a great shot of a Rider “Footballhead” at 3:06

    The Cheeseheads of Packer fame are also represented, at 2:20.

    Go Packers!

    Go Riders!!!*

    *2007 Grey Cup CFL Champions, Oh. Baby.

    Go Packers!

  8. OMG, Jess, it’s entirely FITTING that you picked Publishing Emergencies as a theme, as your headshot disappearance is indeed, a publishing crisis. But having weathered enough other crises so far, I guess that one paled in comparison. You know it seems as if the halls of New York publishing houses are truly littered with orphaned author–like it’s a rite of passage all authors must deal with, sort of like the inevitable crazy person at the book signing (or person asking for directions to the bathroom).
    Well, we’re so glad that you didn’t get published when you were slated to, because then you wouldn’t have been with the 2008 Debs and we wouldn’t have gotten to be great friends with you. Cannot believe it’s now only 29 days away!!!! Don your headgear, strap on your seatbelt, and get ready for the wild ride, girl!

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  10. Wow,

    Wait, your sneezes smell like lavender too?

    I’m so proud of you, and delighted that your year(s) of waiting are almost over. Driving Sideways is sure to be a smash. (No pun intended. Really.)

    Also, Richard Pryor is not dead. He commented right before I did…

    I’m chilling the champagne for you right now.



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