The 5-Year Overnight Success
It's true--I am an astounding overnight success. After five years of writing, and more rejection letters than I care to mention, I found myself with the opportunity to start at the bottom and work my way up to the dazzling mediocrity I have acheived today.
It has been brought to my attention that some people might actually enjoy hearing me ramble incessantly about this kind of thing. Melissa asked, specifically:
"I was kind of curious to hear some stories from you... like how did you react when you got the call and how did you celebrate? :-) And how different are your published novels that the rest of us read from the first version of the manuscript?"
Ah, The Call. That moment every writer dreams of, when their years of rejection and fruitless labor will finally be rewarded by hearing an editor say they want to buy your first book. My "The Call" story is pretty unconventional and anti-climactic (it wasn't even a phone call), actually, so I don't tell it often.
But here it is. I already had signed with my first agent a year earlier, and I'd gotten two extensive revision letters from an editor on two complete books I'd submitted to Harlequin. I revised the books but wasn't happy with the results and was sure I was going to get rejected ultimately. I figured that after 5 years of trying and failing, I didn't have a future with Harlequin and had moved on to working on an idea for a book that would suit some other publisher better.
I was living in Germany and had been emailing back and forth with my agent about my story idea, and then I get a reply from her one morning, seemingly about the story idea, since the message header was something like "Re: re: re: Story Idea."
I opened the message, fearful that this would be where my agent finally decided to be honest with me and tell me my idea sucked the big one. Instead, what I read was something along the lines of "I'm thrilled to tell you that Harlequin would like to buy your book, Catching Lucy! You've just made your first sale! More details to follow."
I was stunned. I didn't scream, didn't even react. I just sat there, closed the message, and looked at the other messages in my inbox. I even opened a few and read them. I let the news sink in. I even replied to a couple of messages (I did at least mention that I'd just sold my first book when replying). Then I opened the agent message again and re-read it a few times to make sure I wasn't mistaken.
Then I got up, went downstairs, and calmly told my grandmother (who was visiting at the time), that I'd just sold my first book. She squealed and got all excited. I remained kind of numb.
I didn't really celebrate my first sale right away. I don't know why. Life was just too busy, I guess, since I had a two-year-old I was about to throw a big party for, had my grandmother visiting from the US, and so on. I took her and my son to visit a castle that day, in some remote part of Germany.
I remember that day well, walking around the castle thinking, "I just sold my first book. Wow, I just sold my first book. I wonder why they didn't buy Pleasure for Pleasure too. Maybe they hated it. Maybe they didn't want to ruin my first sale news with a rejection at the same time. Maybe they're going to reject it tomorrow. Maybe I'll never make a second sale." And so on.
I also remember doing the dishes later that night and thinking, wow, I just sold my first book, and I still have to do the dishes today. This kind of sucks.
Of course, Pleasure for Pleasure did eventually sell a month or so later. My editor just hadn't read it yet. All my obsessing was for nothing.
Oh, but a few weeks after I learned that my book sold, some friends of mine threw a surprise "book signing" party for me, complete with a cake that looked like a book and silly mock-book-signing decorations. It was one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me, and I burst into tears when I walked into the restaurant and realized what was going on. That's when the sale started to feel real to me.
Since Melissa also asked about how different the final versions of my books are from the ones I turn in, I have to say, it depends! I've had a few books (like those first two) that were pretty extensively revised. But for me, that usually means adding depth, maybe adding a scene here and there. I'm a very short writer (not that you could tell from this post)--I usually leave things out rather than needing to cut things. So my revisions are usually about adding layers to the scenes and characters, strengthening motivation, adding a scene to show something that I'd only told in the first version. So they are still recognizably the same book in the end; they're just more fleshed out. That's how it is for me, anyway.
Oh, and the final versions have a lot fewer typos! Thank God for editors and copy editors.