Four years ago I received an e-mail. From an editor at HarperCollins.
Let's just say I wasn't planning a trip to NYC. That prince from Nigeria never panned out, and let's not talk about the deposit I lost for that 5 bedroom house in San Francisco that was renting for $99 a month on Craigslist.
So yeah. Right. Editor from HarperCollins. Sure you can read my book when it's finished.
Turns out, this was an editor from HarperCollins. And, after a bit of hyperventilating, I e-mailed her back. I played it cool, like you do. Told her I was close to being finished. That I was tying up the loose ends of a revision and, yes, I would be happy to have her read it. Cool. Smooth. As you do.
She wrote back and told me to take my time--that she wouldn't forget the offer. I made grand plans to do nothing but write. I imagined walking into restaurants and casually saying, "Yeah, I just sold my novel to HarperCollins." I e-mailed every writerly person I knew. I called my mother. I told my wife. I dreamed.
And then I re-upped on World of Warcraft and began rolling a warrior dwarf. I dinged 50 before I decided I should probably get back to that revision, which turned out to be a little stickier than I expected. I worked on this book--The Legendary Days of My 17th Year--for another six months, polishing, dreaming. And when it was ready, I e-mailed the editor back and told her I was going to find an agent. Then I went about the business of querying.
Two weeks later--I had an agent. A fine agent. Michael Bourret. Many a writer shed tears of frustration that day, my friends. Two weeks. A blip. Nobody gets an agent in two weeks. People un-friend you on Facebook for such things, but only after telling you how excited they are about your success--double exclamation point.
But I saw it as providence. Proof that this e-mail, this editor, knew what she was doing. I, obviously, was on my way. My agent and I were going to sell this book and I was going to be famous, or at least published. But I really didn't care--as long as I could go into Borders (sigh) and find a copy of my book on the shelf.
And then we revised the book. Twice. I took out an entire subplot that dealt with professional wrestlers and Guatemalan baggers at a local grocery store. Six months later, the book was ready to go out to editors. Polished, perfect--ready for prom. Twelve editors would read it. I expected success.
But that book had some boomerang in it, and it came flying back to us with all sorts of praise and regrets. This is good, they said. But we won't be publishing it. I was rattled. I admit it. But I had something most didn't--a connection. An e-mail. The editor from HarperCollins! She was probably standing before an acquisitions committee right then--My eyes! This! Prophetic! Yes, my prose had rendered her incapable of anything more than single word communication.
She e-mailed my agent. She passed.
But she wasn't alone. New York was not ready for Bryan Bliss. So I wrote a new book! It had everything you could want in a novel. Words! A plot! I even resurrected that Guatemalan bagger and gave him a starring role. Almost two years after I received the initial e-mail, I found myself in New York City for a writing conference. My agent sent me a text--the editor wanted to meet me. We'd sit down in the bar, have a drink, and chat.
Of course she asked me what I was working on and I told her it was brilliant. She said she was excited and I left New York certain that it would happen. I worked on the book for five months, rewriting it twice, and finally sent it to my agent.
I waited as he read it, sure he'd e-mail me soon and tell me I had Achieved Something Great. That this book would sell, possibly for enough to let us both retire. Sometimes I imagined him closing the final page and whispering, "...brilliant."
Instead he called me and said, "It's not really working." Nothing major, just the entire plot--all 400 pages of it. I started drinking heavily and tried to figure out a way to fix the problems.
And that's when it happened. I was in Los Angeles, having drinks with my agent (my life is, in fact, this fabulous) when I said, "So, I don't want to write this book anymore. I want to write a book about religion."
We'll fast-forward here. He liked the idea. I wrote the book and we revised it. As I wrote it, the editor--from HarperCollins--caught wind of what I was working on and seemed to be excited. She told me she wanted to read it. Specifically, she said she'd cut my agent if she didn't get to.
I respected this.
I finished the book, a process that left me both hopeful and terrified. This was an important book for me to write, the first time where I felt as if I had something to say. But I knew the reality. I had just written a sad book about religion and the last time I checked, that wasn't topping most editors wish lists. I told myself--my writer friends--that it didn't matter if this book found an editor. It was something I needed to write. I was better for it. I was lying to everyone. Because if this book didn't sell?
Well, I wasn't thinking about that.
So I waited--two, three, four weeks. And then I got a call from my agent and he said, "Well, we've got an offer."
Molly O'Neill read my book. She wanted to buy my book. I called my wife, my mom--my writerly friends. And I told them, "I just sold my book to HarperCollins."
Molly wrote that e-mail almost three years before, telling me she liked what she had read about Legendary Days. She sat and listened to my failed idea for a book--encouraging me. We became friends via Twitter, talking semi-regularly. Creating a rapport.
And then she bought my book.
I don't know. I thought that was pretty cool.