You write a book and it’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You don’t know if it will ever reach any shores. And there, you see, sometimes it falls into the hands of the right person. – Isabelle Allende
Everyone knows that going on submission is one of the most emotionally stressful experiences of a writer’s life. Questions abound: Will editors love it? Or will they hate it and use the pages of my manuscript for an effigy to burn in their weekly cathartic editorial ritual? If they do love it, how long will it take for them to read it? Why is my e-mail refreshing so slowly?
Everyone knows that the third trimester of pregnancy is one of the most emotionally stressful times of a woman’s life. Questions abound: Will the baby be healthy? Is the labor and lead-up to delivery going to suck? Will my epidural work?
I had experienced both of these trials (I almost wrote traumas) before, but never at the same time. So you’ll understand my trepidation when my book went on submission to editors in early September – when I was eight months pregnant. In preparation for a long, neurotic submission process, my husband, with admirable forethought, made a reservation for me in a local psychiatric ward. Just kidding.
I did everything I could to lower my expectations when NONE OF THE ABOVE went on submission, even though in my heart of hearts I really did believe that this manuscript was The One. I’d been on sub before, with my first novel, and I remember the heady anticipation/hope of the first few days…and how quickly it turned into worry and, ultimately, despair. This time around, I knew to my expectations low. I told myself that I would be happy just getting a revise-and-resubmit request. Yet, even as I settled myself in for the long haul, I couldn’t help my mind from wandering into the land of Hope… what if? What if?
I distracted myself by doing some heavy-duty research for my next project. I caught up on my back episodes of Breaking Bad. I considered taking a yoga class. I programmed my cell phone to notify me whenever I got an e-mail, just to put an end to my obsessive e-mail checking.
At the one week mark, I got my first pass (agents always call rejections ‘passes.’ Makes it sting less, I think). It ended up being surprisingly painless, and felt almost like a rite of passage. In what my neurotic self deemed an outstanding example of the power of positive thinking, I managed to be grateful that people were reading quickly (sometimes it takes months for editors to get around to submitted manuscripts).
Another week passed, and no word from my agent. Then the next week she e-mailed me to say that an editor wanted to know a bit about my inspiration for the project. My heart leaped… did that mean that the editor was interested? Did they want to know more about me to bring to marketing? I’ll be honest, and admit I was too afraid to approach my agent with these questions. I crafted a paragraph on my inspiration, then put my head down and went back to Breaking Bad.
For the next week, I didn’t hear anything else. My initial excitement about the early rejection faded. Clearly other editors (likely including the editor who had asked for my inspiration) weren’t that interested in reading my manuscript. Or, they had started reading it but couldn’t finish, which was EVEN WORSE. I had it in my head that “hot” books sold within a month. Clearly my book wasn’t that hot. Great. Another loser of a book. Better get cracking on that work-in-progress…
Throughout my eighth month of pregnancy, I’d been having strong Braxton-Hicks contractions. Once I even went in for preterm labor that they were able to stop, and I’d been on medications to control contractions since then. The Thursday of my third week on submission, I went in for my 38-week OB appointment and they basically told me I could blow at any minute, probably over the weekend.
The next day I went to work like usual. I had two operations scheduled for the afternoon, both elective, but the patients really, really wanted to have them done before my maternity leave. In the morning, I rounded in my plodding, nine-months-pregnant way, then went to start my office hours. At about 9am, I came out of my exam room to find that I had missed a call from an unfamiliar number. OMG, I thought. Could that be my agent? It wasn’t the number programmed in my phone, but maybe she was calling from a new line… My heartbeat probably looked like this as the phone rang when I called back:
But it turned out to be a medical device sales rep. Of course, I thought. My agent would’ve probably told me if an editor were interested. After waiting a second or two to confirm that my pulse had returned, I went back to seeing patients. Because it’d been almost forty-five minutes since I last ate something, I had a granola bar.
I had just done a prostate exam, and was waiting for my nurse to prepare another patient to look into her bladder, when my phone rang again. This time, it was my agent. But this time, my heart didn’t stop – it went into overdrive. Because there’s only one reason why your agent calls you when you’re on submission.
I took a deep breath, and casually walked out of my office, as if I were taking a social call instead of what could possibly be the most exciting phone all of my entire life. So I was sitting in the lobby of a medical building, watching the hospital volunteer direct patients to the correct office, when my lovely agent Jessica Regel said the marvelous words:
“Alessandra Balzer is taking NONE OF THE ABOVE to her editorial meeting today. She’d like to set up a call to speak with you.”
So, let’s rewind a bit. As I mentioned here, the reason I pitched Jessica in the first place was because of emily danforth’s MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. When I spoke to emily, she raved about how Jessica had matched her with the most outstanding editor, one Alessandra Balzer. I remember thinking at the time,”Oh, wouldn’t it be so great to have her as my editor, too,” in the same wistful way that a kid looks into an ice cream shop and thinks, “Oh, wouldn’t it be so great to have a double-fudge ice cream sundae for lunch, instead of a peanut-butter sandwich.”
In addition to working with emily, Alessandra had edited some of my favorite books, including Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny series, and two-time National Book Award Finalist Patricia McCormick’s NEVER FALL DOWN. She’s also worked with Ned Vizzini, Candace Bushnell and Eoin Colfer, Jonathan Stroud and Lane Smith, among others.
So, yeah, I was pretty excited by Alessandra’s interest. Also co-editing my book was associate editor, Sara Sargent, whom I’d seen speak at an SCBWI conference earlier that year. She’d been incredibly intelligent and insightful, and we loved many of the same books, as per her acquisition wish list here.
Jessica asked me when a good time to set up my call would be. My mind raced through my schedule, and I told her 3pm would probably good, unless the operating room was delayed. Then I took a deep, deep breath and went back to look into someone’s bladder. Needless to say, I presented a very cheery (if somewhat distracted) bedside manner that morning.
After lunchtime, I rushed over to the hospital to do my cases and found out that the operating room was delayed. As I waited around anxiously for things to just get started already, I checked my e-mail to find a message from Jessica saying that two other editors were interested and wanted to set up calls. And that a third editor was taking NONE OF THE ABOVE to acquisitions the next week.
[insert a good amount of squeeing over e-mail/text message, with said squeeing cut short by a call from the operating room saying that they were ready for me]
So, I did my two surgeries in a supremely efficient manner, finishing my second case at 2:50. After speaking with my patient’s family, I wandered around the hospital to find a private place to make my call, eventually landing in an empty family lounge. I had a wonderful conversation with Alessandra, who was as lovely and insightful and enthusiastic as I could’ve hoped. By 4:00 we had our offer. I was going to be published.
Five days later, we accepted Alessandra’s offer, but what happened the night after our call on Friday was probably just as interesting: That night, my husband and I went out for dinner with our daughter to celebrate in a non-alcoholic fashion. On our way to dinner, I’d started to time my contractions, which had gotten closer and closer. Just before midnight, I checked into Labor and Delivery at our local hospital. And the next morning at 9:40am, my son was born.
To add to the insane amount of goodness, the next day (Sunday) was our anniversary, which my husband and I celebrated in a hospital room, watching the Breaking Bad finale. In other words, next September I’ll be celebrating the anniversary of my book deal, my son’s birthday, and my wedding anniversary on three consecutive days.
A good time will be had by all.