Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How My Book Deal Changed... Everything

You always hear about those amazing life-changing, quit-your-job and write kind of deals.

This story isn't about one of those.

This story is about my first book deal, and how it changed...everything.

Selling SWEET UNREST was a long time coming. Let me start by saying, I was not one of those people who have always wanted to be a write. People would hear that I was majoring in English and ask if I wanted to write books, and I would think about Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner and say, "hell no. I can't do that." Mostly I was scared. I never thought I could, so I didn't try.

Fast-forward to post-PhD, when my professional life was basically in the toilet. There were no jobs to be had for literature professors. Like NO jobs. So I moved to Birmingham, AL for my husband's job and decided to try my hand at writing.

SWEET UNREST was the second book I ever wrote. First I tried writing a Harlequin-style romance, and it got some hits with editors, but I had this other idea... I wrote SWEET UNREST back in the late fall of 2010, started querying in early 2011, and found my first agent who took it on submission in the summer of 2011. But the book didn't sell until May of 2013. That's a long haul for a book.

In that time, I wrote another book that my then-agent didn't even finish reading (but I still love), broke up with my agent, wrote yet another book, found a new agent, had the agent decide she didn't like the revisions on that second book enough, broke up with second agent, and found my awesome agent. Oh, yeah, I also up an moved across three state lines with two kids, started a new full-time job, and started a part-time editing job.

By the time I got the email that SWEET UNREST had an offer, I hadn't written anything new in more than 8 months. I was wondering if I'd ever write anything new, because honestly, I just felt like this:

I was tired, overwhelmed by all the jobs I was doing, and pretty convinced that I couldn't write anything marketable. I mean, I had high hopes for the new awesome agent who was taking my book on submission, but I tend to set the bar for high hopes pretty low.

I'm not exactly a sunshine-and-lollipop-and-everything-will-be-awesome kind of person. I'm more of a don't-expect-anything-and-be-pleasantly-surprised (instead of heart-breakingly crushed) kind of person.

So, yeah, I kind of felt like the window for selling SWEET UNREST had passed. And because I'd just started this very Real, very Full-Time kind of job, the book on submission felt like my last chance. (I already figured that SWEET UNREST was done.)

And then, out of the blue (or not really out of the blue, because I knew it was going to acquisitions, but see above for my positive outlook on life) I get this email that the book sold. In a two-book deal. After literally sitting in the "going to acquisitions" pile for almost a year.

It felt a little like this:

No, wait. Actually it felt like this:

Because I'd basically talked myself into taking a break (a.k.a. giving up).

So getting the news of my deal made me really, really consider my options--what I wanted to do. What I thought I could do.

I'd spent so long--grad school, jobless after grad school, YEARS--worrying about how to get a career started, how to make enough money so that my boys didn't notice we were constantly tight. I'd started writing because it was my last chance to make a life from literature (because the whole college professor thing hadn't worked out), and then I discovered I loved it.

And when the whole college professor thing did finally, kind of, work out, I kept on loving it.

But writing takes up a hella lot of time. It's time I spend away from my kids, occupied by the glow of my laptop screen instead of their adventures. It's time I spend pounding away at the keys for no guaranteed payday when maybe I could pick up a few more editing jobs to earn some extra money. In short, as much as I might have discovered this love for writing, I'm a mom and a professor and I have other responsibilities.

The deal for SWEET UNREST wasn't one of those 6-figure, change-your-life kind of deals, but it changed things anyway. Sure, it let me take my two kids for a surprise Disney vacation, but what it really did was let me feel okay with the time I was spending and the sacrifices my family was making for me to keep writing.

Selling my first book helped me decide that I wasn't ready to give up trying to be an author.

So I made some hard decisions. I (reluctantly) quit the editing job I loved, because balancing all three jobs just wasn't working. I stopped letting fear and guilt get in the way of the stories I wanted to tell. I pulled out my laptop and started writing again, for real.

And guess what?

While I was going through edits and waiting for my release, that third book I wrote--the one that got me my current agent of awesome--sold to Simon Pulse in a two-book pre-empt.

And I wrote another book--a little Middle Grade that's quirky and spooky and has goats in it that I absolutely love.

I never would have written that without the deal.

Or maybe I would have. Maybe in a few years, things would have calmed down, and my kids would have been old enough to have their own lives, and I would've gotten the itch again. I know I would have gotten the itch to write again... I can't seem to make myself stop.

It wasn't a life changing kind of deal... but then again, for me it was.


  1. Congratulations Lisa! Well deserved - thanks for sharing your story :)

  2. What a great story you've shared with us. Thanks!

  3. There are SOME people who, even though they are very happy for you, will miss your editing gig. *raises hand* So glad you had the moment that sent you where you want to go. You deserve it.

    1. :O) I miss it, too. Especially certain awesome authors I got to work with.