we present today the remainder of our stories about getting THE CALL.
After 18 rejections of my manuscript in 16 months, I suspected why Erin was calling when she tracked me down at my daughter’s house on the afternoon of Sept. 28, 2009. But, I was talking with my son-in-law about his research on pandemics, which seemed urgent, given the rise of bird flu, 10,000 miles away. And, it was Yom Kippur (oops, I just admitted I wasn’t in synagogue), so I was hungry. And, who knows—maybe it was really her evil twin, who has an identical voice, calling to announce my 19th rejection in a personal phone call.
So, despite the glee in Erin’s voice, I prattled on to her about bird flu and fasting and my daughter and… Until she finally, said, “Um, Cynthia?” And, I took a breath and said, “Erin?” And, she said, “We have an offer.” From a wonderful publisher.
I sniffled. My son-in-law hurrah-ed. My daughter squealed. My granddaughter cried. (Why were these grown-ups acting so strange?) We blew off bird flu and broke our fast with a celebratory dinner at a chic French restaurant.
Within a week, Erin had solicited offers from two other wonderful publishers and took WE HAVE A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH to auction. Kathy Landwehr at Peachtree Publishers won—and, because of her devotion to the project and her skillful editing, so have I. But, more on that in later blogs.
Michelle: “Tears and a Field Trip”
When I think of “getting the call”, I think of standing in my classroom crying. I was mercifully not with students at the time and I wept and gasped and made my agent, Joan, repeat herself to be sure I’d hear correctly. A real publisher liked FALLING FOR HAMLET (though it had a different name then). My body went numb and I kept thinking, “No way.” I couldn’t tell you what I actually said and I couldn’t tell you what she said to me, but it was one of the best moments of my life. The only thing I can equate it to is childbirth . . . though the manuscript took a lot longer and the anguish was more prolonged.
Not only that, Joan told me there was another offer. The funniest thing about the auction was that part of it went on while I was on a field trip, so I was taking phone calls and trying to make decisions while on a school bus.
I guess the last thing I’ll mention is what actually came first: Joan telling me she loved my manuscript. I’d been rejected by agents for a year and a half, had given up multiple times and was convinced that I not only sucked as a writer but that my book was garbage, so my first thought was, “What’s wrong with Joan?” Happily, nothing. She’s fabulous and sold the book with far less drama than it took for me to get to her.
Natalie’s Call: It’s about darn time.
When I signed with Erin four years ago, I was sure a sale would be right around the corner. I mean, the amazing Erin Murphy loved my manuscript! It was a finalist for the SCBWI Kimberly Colen Grant! It received an honorable mention in a contest judged by Cynthia Leitich Smith, for cryin’ out loud. It wouldn’t be long now.
Once Erin emailed that the manuscript was out on submission, I could not stop grinning. I could not stop dreaming about the day when Erin would call me all the way from Arizona to Italy to tell me that we had an offer and then I would jump and whoop and cry tears of joy. I would call myself an author. Kids would read my book. My book!
Rejections started coming in. They said the story was lovely. They said the writing was strong and the characters well-developed.
They also said it was too quiet for today’s market. They said they would have acquired it five years ago. Ten years ago. But nowadays? Books need hooks. Mine, apparently, was hook-less.
After a year of hearing how Quiet my story was, Erin called me all the way from Arizona to Italy. We talked revisions. She told me she still believed in my story and in me as a writer. It was time to get back to work.
It would take me two years to revise (also known as “rewrite”–more on that in a future post). In the meantime, I went from stay-at-home mom back to teaching full-time. We moved from Italy back to the States. I wrote a young adult novel that won some contests but no contracts. I wrote a picture book manuscript that was loved by three editors, but never made it past acquistions because it was too…you know. That Q-word again.
One of those editors was Emily Mitchell of Charlesbridge. And it just so happened she was looking for multicultural, middle grade fiction. So in April of 2010, Erin sent my manuscript to Emily. In June, Emily asked for more time. Erin said yes. Erin was crossing her fingers. Me? I’d been down this road before. I just hoped the rejection would come quickly so I could move on.
Then nothing for three months, until the Hooks Email came. Emily was passing my mansucript along to her boss for “possible acquisition” because she loved “all its hooks…” She then proceeded to name four hooks, ending with “etc.”
Hooks!? My story has hooks?! My story has hooks! And she didn’t use the Q-word once.
Now I couldn’t squash hope–it floated, crossing its arms and refusing to leave. This was mid-September and Emily thought she should know something final by the beginning of October.
Then nothing. No word. Crickets.
Until November 10, when Erin emailed with the subject line: Call me! and only her phone number in the body of the email. (I would later find out that she’d left “Hey, Natalie! Call me!” messages on my cell and home phones, as well.
I read that email at school right before a group of 4th graders trooped through my door who had no idea how to use a dictionary. Sigh. I had planned a game for the kids that I hoped would make dictionary skills fun (an oxymoron to a 9-year-old, I assure you), and I could NOT contain my grin throughout the entire game. One student raised an accusing eyebrow and said, “Mrs. Lorenzi, you really like the dictionary, don’t you?”
As soon as I had the room to myself again, I picked up the phone. I called Erin all the way from Virginia to Arizona and I don’t remember what she said and I don’t remember what I said. I think I kept saying, “I can’t believe it. I really can’t believe it.”
It was not the jumping and whooping and tears of joy that I’d imagined four years earlier. It was relief. Utter relief. And smiles and phone calls and emails and hugs that were tighter and longer than usual.
And gratitude–heaps and heaps of that.
Erin later said, “You’ll never believe why it took so long to hear back at the end. Apparently, one the people who needed to sign off on the offer had been away on vacation–climbing Mount Everest.”
I think I know how he feels.