I know it’s only been five minutes since I last mentioned it, but I got a book deal. In true Publishing “Hurry Up and Wait” Industry style, it happened in a flash after a couple of decades of waiting for it to. The offer from Corvus came just six days short of Mousetrapped‘s five year anniversary – I self-published Mousetrapped on Monday 29th March 2010; the offer was made on Monday 23rd March 2015 – and only five days passed between my agent sending my novel out to publishers and an offer coming back. (The moral of that story? Finish your damn book.) This was a good thing, because I did not take being on submission well…
DAY 1: Thursday 12th March 2015
I send the final, final, FINAL (for now) version of the book back to my agent’s in-house editor extraordinaire, Stephanie. Instantaneously I develop a host of flu-like symptoms, including but not limited to: headache, chills, sinus pressure, sore throat, cough, general feeling that death is imminent. I crawl into bed with Netflix and sleep for fifteen hours.
DAY 2: Friday 13th March 2015
I e-mail my agent, trying to be as breezy and casual as I possibly can be, trying to find out if I’m already out on submission or if that horror is ahead of me yet. In other words: should I have already assumed the foetal position on the floor alongside my phone, or can that wait until Monday?
Think Crocs with socks, in a tornado. I am that breezy and casual. “So,” I type, “just, like, whenever you have a chance – no rush! – could you, like, maybe possibly potentially just give me a quick update on what happens next? BUT LIKE I DON’T EVEN CARE. Laters.”
Day 3: Saturday 14th March 2015
No response. It’s the weekend.
Day 4: Sunday 15th March 2015
No response because it’s still the weekend.
Day 5: Monday 16th March 2015
I’ve been in bed for weeks, it feels like, because it’s difficult to fall asleep when you’re anywhere else and sleep is the only respite I have from wondering which way I will fall off this precipice: into my dreams (an offer!) or into disaster (thanks but no thanks).
It’s the day before Patrick’s Day – which is falling on a Tuesday this year – so in Ireland, it’s unofficially an extension of the weekend. No one is doing anything, including me. I decide not to leave my sick-on-submission bed for college, and sleep more instead.
Day 6: Tuesday 17th March 2015
News breaks of a colossal book deal that a female writer in the UK has signed, a female writer who I’m sure is lovely and talented and works harder than me, but who this morning I can feel nothing for except stone cold hatred and contempt, seasoned liberally with jealousy. But her book sounds really intriguing and I say so on Twitter. The publicist tweets me that it IS really intriguing and says he’ll send me a proof when it comes out. DOES THIS MEAN SOMETHING?
I venture outside, just to check it’s still there. I do this about half an hour before Dublin’s Patrick’s Day parade starts and therefore I encounter strings of tour buses and people from other countries wearing leprechaun hats. I go back inside.
I sit on the sofa, eying the bed.
I get back into bed.
Day 7: Wednesday 18th March 2015
I’ve made a doctor’s appointment for 9:00am so that I (a) might score some antibiotics and (b) am forced to get out of The Bed and keep going, further, until I’m out of the house.
It turns out to be a gorgeous sunny spring morning, fresh and warm with blue skies, and I am hemorrhaging positivity (that’s a thing, right?) as I skip down the street, light-headed from the oxygen. The doctor refuses to give me any drugs but that’s totally fine, because while I’m in the doctor’s surgery I forget for a whole twenty minutes about my Gmail account and when I remember it again – GASP! – there’s an e-mail from The Agent…
HEART BEAT HEART BEAT HEART BEAT HEART BEAT HEART BEAT
… that says sorry for the delay in replying, but all is well and she’ll be sending out a short description of The Book to a number of editors later today. Which means I’ve spent a whole week of my life fixating on something that wasn’t actually happening yet. But I have learned a valuable lesson.
Well, I’m sure I have. I’ll realize what it is eventually.
So now we’re back to:
Day 1 (for realsies, this time): Thursday 19th March 2015
Between finishing the book and then being horribly diseased, I feel like I haven’t been at college much lately. Even when I was there, my mind wasn’t really. Today is my first post-rewrite, post-post-rewrite-flu day back and I have a busy schedule of lectures and tutorials and catching up with college friends to do. It’s another gorgeous sunny day and as I sit in the sun off Dawson Street sipping a flat white, it occurs to me that I’m feeling great.
So great that I only check my phone, like, 3,051 times during business hours.
Day 2: Friday 20th March 2015
I have two essays due in 6 days, so I better start them, eh? I spend the solar eclipse in the library reading about the symbolism of curtains in Dubliners.
That evening I head out to Dun Laoghaire to the Mountains to Sea festival, to see crime writing stars SJ Watson and Paula Hawkins in conversation with Sinead Crowley (also a crime writer) with my friend Sheena (also a writer whose novel The Lake opens with the discovery of a dead body). Not the ideal way to take my mind off being on submission, it turns out.
Day 3: Saturday 21st March 2015
Turns out it’s near impossible to resist stalking editors on Twitter who you suspect have been contacted about your book. Wait, she says she’s reading something she’s enjoying? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Could it be my book? How much praise is “enjoying”? Is that like pre-empt enjoying, or thanks but no thanks enjoying? What if –
Oh, it was just a magazine article about Paris. Unless… Is that a clue that she really meant my book but can’t just come and say so because it’d be inappropriate at this tentative negotiation stage? Does “Paris” really mean “Catherine’s book”? Is it CODE? Is she trying to communicate with me over the medium of Twitter? Or –
Oh. She’s not even at work. She’s on maternity leave.
DAY 4: SUNDAY 22ND MARCH 2015
[Wakes up briefly]
DAY 5: MONDAY 23RD MARCH 2015
This morning, I have a stern talk with myself. I remind me that it could be weeks before I hear anything – my agent warned that it would be – and when I do, it could be less than amazing news. I need to move on.
Or at least I need to pretend that I’m moving on.
I get up early and do some work on one of the two essays that are due now in approximately 98 hours. My plan for the day is hectic compared to what I’ve been up to since I started suffering from On Submission Syndrome: I have a Romanticism lecture at 2pm and am meeting writing friends – Hazel and the aforementioned Sheena – at Le Petit Parisien at three. We’re meeting to celebrate the fact that Hazel won the Historical Fiction category at the RNA awards a few days before, and the publication of Sheena’s The Lake.
But at exactly one minute to one o’clock, Monday 23rd March 2015 becomes all about ME.
Lecture smecture. I can’t possibly go to that now. Instead, I text Hazel and Sheena to tell them that I am now AN ONGOING SITUATION and to meet me at the cafe ASAP because OMG stuff is happening and I’m like WTF with the all caps and the acronyms.
*THE* PHONE CALL: 12:59, MONDAY MARCH 23RD 2015
I was about fifteen minutes from walking out the door when my phone rang with a UK country code.
Instantly I know: it’s my agent, Jane. My heartbeat starts thundering in my ears but I’m pretty calm, cool and collected when I speak to her. I actually miss her call – I don’t get to the phone in time – and I call her straight back without listening to her voicemail which will later tell me that there is “terrifyingly good news”.
I think she is calling with a general update – what else could it be? The book went out on Wednesday – so I’m not prepared at all when she says, “We have an offer.” Two books from Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic, and an advance that means I can be a student for the next three years without having to live off of Aldi’s instant noodles. With this, I’ll be able to dine on McDonnell’s Super Noodles instead. Major brand noodles instead of own brand/generic.
Major brand noodles, people. Hooray!
One small thing: it’s a pre-empt and it has a 5pm deadline.
A pre-empt is basically an offer that says, “We want this book and we don’t want anyone else to have the chance to make an offer for it too. We want it off the FOR SALE shelf, now.” It is not the opening bid in a potential auction, because if you say no at deadline time, the offer doesn’t stand. It will definitely drop significantly – the Super Noodles would be gone and I’d be back to those mystery noodles in Tesco’s Everyday Value range that are so cheap (12c a pack! Whaaa….?) I’m not entirely convinced they can be a foodstuff – or it might go away altogether.
You know that sequence in 24 that plays on either side of a commercial break? The beep… beep … beep… of the ticking clock that speeds up until it’s more like beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep? That’s what my afternoon was like that day. As I said I skipped the lecture, heading straight for Le Petit Parisien, where Sheena had thankfully dashed to a bit early so we could sit drinking coffee and staring at my phone together, waiting for my agent to ring back. Hazel eventually arrived too.
We did this for three hours. I forget how many coffees I had.
Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep.
We waited while Jane got more information, which she called me at about a minute to five to relay. Everything she came back with sounded like good news.
The editor, Sara, seemed to be incredibly enthusiastic, as shown by her coming back with a pre-empt just five days after the book went out. (My agent said it was the fastest deal she’d ever done.) Now I’ve had a foot in the publishing industry for the last three years or so and knew way more than I needed to about it before that, and what I’ve learned is that enthusiasm is everything. It can be hard to maintain through the long process of a publishing contract – for both sides – and so if you don’t start with oodles of it, you’re destined to be short of it later on.
So, on Wicklow Street, standing outside the cafe with my phone to my ear smelling the lovely stuff on offer in L’Occitane next door, I told Jane to accept the offer.
I know I’m incredibly lucky to have to suffer through only five days of being on submission – and for it to end in a deal – but that’s just as well, because it turns out that five days of being on submission is about all I could take!
The featured image is a view from the famous promenade in Nice, France. I love it there, and have spent many an hour sitting on benches like the one pictured, sunning myself and reading great books. It makes me feel the opposite of how being on submission felt.