(Also read: Part One & Part Two)
The language of book publishing is the language of a heady, passionate love affair: Adore, real, emotional, open, honest, LOVE. Those were the words from the early rejections I clung to (blocking out “cancer is a tough sell” and “not for me” and “don’t feel the burning passion”) the entire trip from Wisconsin to Maine, like a woman who’s been dumped but keeps replaying the seduction.
By the time we reached the very quaint Inn at the end of the long country road in Maine and I discovered they didn’t have a business center (husband convinced me taking the laptop was risky and unnecessary) I felt heartsick and frantic. It was 7 p.m. and we hadn’t had any dinner, but I suggested we check out the Bowdoin campus sooner rather than later. Of course my idea was voted down and I spent the night tossing and turning, hoping and fearing, feeling loved and loathed in equal measure.
The next morning I was the first one up and I ushered us all down to breakfast and suggested we head to campus before the tour started, to check out the student center.
“It’s good to get a feel for where everyone hangs out,” I said as I dragged them out the door.
When I spotted the wall of computers, I headed towards them so eagerly, I nearly tripped over my own feet.
My daughter said, “Come on, Mom, do you really need to check your e-mail?”
“Yes, in fact, I do,” I said and waved them towards the bookstore and told them I’d meet up with them in a minute.
I logged on and read the forwarded letters from Larry very fast. The words: Powerful, funny, smart, poignant, honest,” sobered and clobbered by “nobody else in the office would read it,” and “hope you can overcome the prejudice against narratives dealing with cancer.” Of course Larry wrote, “Don’t worry.” But how could I not? I felt sick, paralyzed, utterly confused again about why I chose to write and try to sell this story, still so raw.
Interestingly, the language of college is also full of mixed messages. The colleges lure you in with you how passionate and committed they are to higher education, they have “world-class faculty” and “state-of-the-art labs,” professors who want nothing more than to discuss ideas with their brilliant students, only to be tempered by, “It’s never been a more competitive time to apply to college,” and “Do you know how many 4 point 0 National Merit Scholars we had to turn away last year?” As I watched my middle daughter’s face tense during the info session, I had flashbacks of our oldest daughter getting eaten up applying to college the year before last. She landed on her feet and ended up in a great place for her but it did a number on her self-esteem and exhausted all of us.
By the time we reached Burlington, it was gray and rumors of a big storm were brewing and I was feeling another haven’t-read-my-e-mail-all-day attack coming on. Before I followed everyone up to the room, I begged the desk clerk to let me use his enormous old computer to check my e-mail. He didn’t seem to want to, but I told him it was REALLY important and he agreed, and I wedged myself into the tiny space next to him. It took FOREVER to log on and maybe it would have been better not to log on at all because there were MORE rejections, one saying something like, this is the kind of book I’d want to read IF I were in her position, another involving pom-poms, something about how even though the book wasn’t quite right for her, she’d wave her pom-poms for me. Pom-poms? I was nearly hyper-ventilating at this point. I felt misunderstood and stigmatized. I had put myself out there as the woman who’d had breast cancer and needed strangers cheering me on? With pom-poms?
The next morning we toured UVM and we all really liked it and decided this would be a good back-up school and I focused on that, didn’t check my e-mail at all. Screw it, I thought. Checking isn’t going to make it happen. In fact maybe checking was making it NOT happen.
That afternoon, as we were leaving Burlington, my cell phone rang. It was Larry. Larry calling me?
Oh my god oh my god oh my god.
“Hello,” I said as if I always received cell phone calls from New York, as if another one might interrupt us any second.
“We have interest,” he said. My heart fluttered. And right away I pictured it all. The great big deal I’d been waiting for all these years.
“Is it a good offer?” I said.
“It isn’t an offer. It’s interest,” he said.
“But interest is good, right?” I said, embarrassed.
“She has to show it to others in the house. But yes, it’s good.”
“Fingers crossed,” I said, actually thinking, This is it. By the time we reach New York City, there’s going to be an auction. Press conference. Paparazzi. I couldn’t wait.
“We’re driving through the mountains to Middlebury, so cell phone connection might be spotty,” I said as I put my movie star sunglasses on.
By the time we left Burlington, the blizzard was in full force, snow and sleet and fiercely gusting winds. The roads were narrow and slippery and the further we drove into the mountains, the less we could see. (The sunglasses didn’t help but I left them on anyway.)
I have a huge fear of driving through storms especially with the kids, so to distract myself, I obsessively checked to see if I had any service on my cell phone. I didn’t. Which was probably why Larry hadn’t called with the HUGE deal yet.
Hours and hours later we arrived in Middlebury, tired and hungry, but of course that didn’t stop me from locating the business center and logging on to read and reread the letter from the “interested” editor. She was ENTHRALLED. Enthralled? I liked that! Loved that! I was enthralled with her being enthralled with me.
Those next few days were a blur. Vermont, Connecticut. Middle daughter decided she didn’t like Middlebury or Connecticut College, loved Wesleyan. Another rejection or two or three. I lost track. Nothing more from ENTHRALLED. That didn’t seem good to me. I reasoned if she loved it so much, she’d have already made an offer. Isn’t that how it is when you love something? You can’t NOT have it? By the time we reached New York City, I was starting to lose hope. And now it was Easter weekend and the publishing world was shut down.
But we were in NYC. I love NYC. So we dragged the kids to the East Village to show them where we’d lived (something we do every time we’re in the city), ate a fabulous Brazilian meal, stumbled into an art opening in Soho, went window shopping (even though it was unseasonably cold) and that night we ordered Dreamgirls from the hotel movie channel and when Jennifer Hudson’s character got booted out of the Supremes and she sang, “What about me? What about what I want?” I wept. She deserved it make it. She was more talented than Diana Ross. She had soul. It wasn’t fair.
Back in Madison and there was more disappointment. ENTHRALLED couldn’t convince others that there was a big enough market for books about cancer. There were more no’s, more people who didn’t want to deal with the subject. And who could blame them? I was tweaking their anxiety about their own mortality. I didn’t want to deal with it either. And yet, I thought, isn’t that exactly why this story needs to be told? Isn’t that why I chose to write it? Yes, I was writing this so others didn’t feel so alone in their fear and despair. I was writing it to give others hope that if they had to face something dreadful, anything dreadful, they could make it through. Of course this didn’t stop me from losing hope about getting the story published. You know that sappy Seal song? Love’s Divine? I cried to that, too.
At the end of that week with no book deal, no auction, no reason to wear the movie star sunglasses and the words: “sorry no sorry no sorry no” haunting haunting HAUNTING me, I wrote Larry a long e-mail about Joan Didion and the popularity of Misery Lit in the UK and people’s fear of talking about sex and death and the pom-poms (I’m pretty sure I mentioned the pom-poms) and how I wanted to back up to that day BEFORE we went on submission, that delicious day when everything was possible… My husband said, don’t send it. But I did.
Monday morning I hadn’t heard back from Larry and I figured that was it, I’d revealed too much and convinced him I wasn’t worthy of being published and there wouldn’t be a book deal EVER. And what was I thinking anyway? I should go to law school. Do something real and solid with my life. Although I’m making it sound as if I wasn’t a complete and utter wreck. I was. And in that wrecked state, I called my friend Amy and she talked me off the ledge.
The next day, I received an e-mail from Larry saying he was sorry he hadn’t responded to my Friday e-mail (no mention of the insane rambling) and that we had some more interest. Interest! By now I knew that interest wasn’t an offer. But I also knew I was back in the ball game! Oh yeah, baby.
By mid-week we had more interest and by the end of the week we had two editors who wanted to speak to me on the phone! One had an offer on the table, the other really wanted to make an offer, but needed approval from the senior editor who was out of the country. But I spoke to both of them and love love, LOVED them. Mostly because they loved my voice and story and really “got” me. Monday morning the senior editor was back and said no, but we had our offer and I was thrilled. And THAT was the day I received THE CALL.
I’d like to end this here. My victory after years of toil. But there’s a little more to say. I see it in my husband’s eyes when people ask me the name of my book. The reminder that, as grateful as I am for my agent, my editor, my book soon to be published, as much as I’m loving this debut year, I had to live through and write the story of year that brought me to my knees, before I could have this love affair.
Don’t forget to read Deb Jenny’s backstory today!
23 Replies to “Year of the Sale Part Three (no more parts, I promise) by Deb Gail”
And your 3-part story of this meant-to-be debut is so compelling and I for one cannot wait to read it. The cancer part is a sidebar to the whole story, anyhow! Anyone can see that!
Gail, I love this–the fear, the angst, the worry, the hopes, the joy. All of it. And you’ll feel all of those things again when you walk into a store and see your book RIGHT THERE. Talk about falling to your knees. Thanks for sharing this and enjoy every single moment. (Just wait til you start hearing from the readers you’ve touched . . . talk about sobbing!)
Thank for saying that, Jenny!! Everyone go over and read Jenny’s backstory at Seize a Daisy today!
I’m glad you liked this, Judy. I was a little worried I’d shared too much…
That’s quite a story. I can’t wait to read it.
I love this story, Gail. And I’m all choked up and teary from that last paragraph. Wow.
Thanks for stopping by, John! Can’t wait to read your next book!
Thanks for saying that, Danielle. It choked my husband up when I showed it to him last night…
You brought me right back to that weekend. As certain as you were that your fairy tale ending might not come true, I was equally certain it would. You are among my most favorite writers — ever. Your prose is incendiary, I’ve burned my children’s meal reading your work. I’m thrilled the world will soon be able to share in it, too. You’re a magnificent writer, Gail.
Gail – what a great story and reminder that although the writing/books/agents/offers are important, they are not (nor should they be) the MOST important things in our lives. Thanks for sharing with us!
Wow, Amy… what can I say but thanks? Not nearly enough for all your support…
Thanks Joanne, for following along with my story here. I can’t wait until you sell YOUR book!
How honest, passionate and ultimately fulfilling was this journey? Thank you, Gail, your writing brings both goosebumps and tears…in other words, “magnificent” as Amy stated.
And, regarding publishing houses avoidance of books on cancer, does it cause anyone else to wonder how “committed” companies are in October? The retail market is flooded with “Pink” items’ for sale and yet not a book? Excuse my cynicism.
Very fulfilling, Larramie. And sharing it with all of you is also very fulfilling. Thanks for following along.
Gail, your writing takes my breath away. Your story will resonate with many, many readers…of this I am fully confident.
This was so beautiful I can’t even make my usual snarky jokes. I am so happy for you.
Jess!! How kind of you to say that!
No snarky comments? I LOVE your snarky comments, Eileen! But I also love this comment… thanks
Good grief — you’ve got me all teary-eyed and falling apart over here! What a beautiful, heart-y soulful story, Gail. Well told.
Goodness, it’s kind of exhausting reading the ups and downs of your story, I can’t even imagine having gone through it. But you did — yay, you! I’m so glad for your happy (it’s not an ending) beginning!
Gail–thank you for your honesty–it’s powerful and real. I have no doubt your book will be the same and I can’t wait to read it.
Thanks, Lisa! Good to see you here!
You’ve been a great help, Caroline!!
You’re welcome, Liz. I appreciate you saying that.
You have a very compelling story. Thanks for the glimpse into your life and holding nothing back!
Gail, thanks for sharing your heart in both your blog and in your upcoming book. I too have faced the heart wrenching rejections time and again. Finally, my story of surviving lupus was told through the eyes of a fictional character named Becca. The first negative response I received about it nearly broke my heart. “It’s too real…too painful. Who wants to read about so much pain?” These were just a few of the comments that were made about my book “The Bunko Babes”. Since, I already had a contract, I was forced to make some adjustments to the story and tone down the severity of the disease and what it was doing to “Becca” and her family. But now, the story is better and my book is on the shelf. I admit that I burst into tears the first time I held my actual book in my hand. I stood in my publisher’s office and sobbed. It had been an arduous journey through hell and back both physically and emotionally but the result was so worth it. So from one survivor to another, keep up the good work and I can’t wait to get my copy.
Leah Starr Baker
author of “The Bunko Babes”
I loved this post Gail — I cried, and mostly I thought about how glad I am to know you, and go through this process with you.
Cancer is a bitch, but you are a miracle.
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