To wit: I received my first bad call on top of a mountain. I was on cross-country skis, sweating my way up an incline, and it was just starting to snow.
“Hello?” I screamed into my cell phone once I’d found it in the bottom of my backpack, ripped off my mittens, and dropped my poles in the powder. “Any news?”
There was–just not the good kind. “I’m so sorry, but I just don’t think this is going to work,” my agent said. “No one’s biting. I think I’ve gone as far as I can go with this project.” (Hint: This is secret-agent code-speak for “I’m dropping you. Thanks for the memories. Best of luck. Don’t keep in touch.”)
“What?” I screamed, unable to fathom that after a year and a half of work, this was the crappy result. “I can’t hear you! It’s starting to snow!” My agent repeated the news, and, unfortunately, it was still the same. Bad.
Flash forward a few years. I’ve had a couple of kids. I’ve moved (a bunch) and changed jobs, agents, and, for a while there, countries. I have a new novel. The phone rings. “Hi, it’s me,” my new agent says, and my heart starts hammering. This time I’m in the kitchen/playroom/dining room (somewhere domestic; it’s all a blur). “Um, can we talk for a minute?” he says.
Now, I KNOW you all know that phrase. It’s usually followed by the words: “It’s not you; it’s me.” And, just as I suspected, he was calling to say my second novel had not sold and did not look like it would sell in its current state. But he surprised me. He told me to rewrite it, rework it, and that we’d resubmit it.
“Can we do that?” I asked, feeling about five years old. “Is that even allowed?”
He cackled. “Sure.”
The next bad calls I got were emails. The book was still getting rejected. By then, I was so used to it, I barely even scanned the rejections anymore. I started thinking about a third book.
Then the phone rang. “Are you sitting down?” my agent asked, so I sank down on the steps and listened as he told me I was being offered a pre-empt.
Getting published is kind of like dating. You’re single for what seems like twelve decades, and then all of a sudden, your phone starts ringing off the hook. Soon, I was taking calls–GOOD calls–everywhere: Starbucks, the gas station, the car pool lane.
“Where are you?” my agent asked me one time as a loudspeaker blared in the background for a price check.
“Um, in the salsa aisle of the supermarket,” I confessed. “It’s taco night.”
And so here’s the thing I’m sure you already know. Success, when it finally comes, may not be what you’re expecting. For one thing, you’ll probably be somewhere like the car dealer or the dentist, and a receptionist or checkout clerk will be giving you the hairy eyeball for being on the phone. Life doesn’t stop just because your cell is jingling. Your children, when you ask them what your new job is, will blink at you and say, “Cooking dinner?”
And for another, the call, when you finally get it, will be bittersweet. You will remember skiing down the mountain with snow stinging your cheeks and the cold eating your bones, and the dark coming in, and you will be so thankful you’re not there anymore. But, of course, one day, you could be again. Getting your book accepted is just a first step. There are foreign rights to sell, film rights to sell, advances to earn out and second books to tackle. There will be a lot more calls, and this is a very scary thing.
In the end, I’m glad I made it down the mountain safely, but I’ve still got my skis strapped on, just in case.