“Congratulations! We’ve chosen your book to publish…” NOT!

by Debra Chappell

So, I’m standing in the elevator of a towering high-rise In New York City, ready to push the button that could change my life – I’m meeting my agent for the first time! I’m nervous as hell and asking myself “how did a small town California-turned-Nevada girl like you wind up on Madison Avenue?”  As the elevator starts passing floors by the 10’s, I realize the building is taller than some of the mountain peaks back home, and it gives me a few minutes to reflect. Though the past few weeks have been a whirlwind, the path here wasn’t entirely without its hiccups…

After writing my novel, it sat in my computer for two years untouched. To be honest, I think I was just afraid, I hadn’t even shared the fact that I was writing it with too many people. I wanted to write free from the worry of what others thought. As liberating and exhilarating as this would seem, there are consequences to such unbridled “free expression”. For some reason, the filter that monitors daily dialogue with family and friends doesn’t extend down to the fingertips. What is typed into the keyboard seems to be directly linked to the uncensored part of my brain that impulsively generates wisecracks, snarky remarks, and the occasional expletive. Since I’m acutely aware of this physiological phenomenon, you can understand my reluctance in subjecting my nearest and dearest to a preview!

So, when I ran into my friend Gail at a party this past summer, I was more than evasive when she asked about the book. Actually, I lied outright. I told her it was fun while it lasted but now that it was finished, I was “over it”. I had too many other important things to do – strip the bathroom cabinets, scrapbook my kids baby pictures (Baby pictures? Really?) and was thinking of applying for a part-time job at Pottery Barn. She offered to “proof-read” it for me, free of judgment and with total objectivity – “What could it hurt?” she asked. I politely declined and edged a little closer to the hors d’oeuvre table. But the next morning I thought about it – what COULD it hurt? It sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere languishing in the bowels of my “Saved Documents” file, now was it?

I sent her the first couple chapters. She called shortly thereafter and asked for more. She called again the next morning saying she’d stayed up half the night reading “the juicy bits” aloud to her husband, and could she have the rest of it! I was thrilled, no ecstatic, elated even. I’d actually put it out there and she didn’t hate it! I felt like Sally Fields in her notorious Academy Award moment -“she likes me, she really, really likes me!” Gail enthusiastically gave me the encouragement, motivation and kick in the butt I needed to haul the thing out of my hard drive, dust it off, and actually send it off to someone.

Being the impatient sort, I decided to bypass the agent thing altogether. In the big, fat writers directory I bought at our local Borders, (which has since closed – that should have been an omen,) I looked up publishing companies that would accept “un-agented” submissions. With great anticipation and a chirpy little howdy-doody letter, I sent off sample chapters – including one to an outfit in Utah. (Hey, if they’re ok with the drinking and carousing in the book, I’m ok with Utah.) I heard back from the Utah firm within a few days. You can imagine my reaction when I read the words, “Congratulations! We’ve chosen your book over hundreds of others to publish immediately…blah, blah blah…and will be sending you the necessary contract shortly,” or words to that effect.

EUREKA! HOORAY!! I could hardly contain myself! I rushed to my husband’s office to share the news in person! MY BOOK IS GETTING PUBLISHED!! When I finished jumping up and down in his parking lot, I kissed him several times, hugged him tight for good measure and happily headed for the lunch date I’d planned with a girlfriend. I repeated the jubilant routine at the restaurant (sans kissing) and we both jumped up and down some more and even ordered champagne!

Alas, my blissful ignorance lasted only slightly longer than the champagne buzz. By the time I returned home late in the afternoon, there was a message from my husband. When I had left his office earlier, he immediately Googled the Utah publishing company – what he found was NOT good news. There were several entries from dissatisfied authors who felt they’d been scammed, and worse, the publisher’s name appeared in the Writers Beware section on AbsoluteWrite.com. I was crushed. I felt deflated… used… like a cheap date cast aside in favor of the prom queen. For several days after, I walked around in a fog trying desperately to recover even a whisper of the wind that had previously filled my sails.

Now, I don’t normally subscribe to the “things happen for a reason” mantra, but I have to admit, the whole experience got me to thinkin’…maybe I do need an agent?