Pre-Contract Jitters

The day I first knew a book contract was likely imminent, I was too busy to celebrate. Of course that’s not how I envisioned such a day over the years when I wondered if I’d ever make it as an author. For starters, I didn’t know there would be so much conversation and negotiation before the contract was offered. I didn’t think it would fall out of the sky and into my lap, but I didn’t realize that everything in publishing is a process. A process that often feels so slow that I worry I might die before I get whatever answer I’m waiting on at the moment. Totally non-specific to any magazine or publishing house or agent— just a fact of the business.

When I read the email that was my 90% sure-this-is-gonna-happen email (although prone to anxious cynicism, I felt a bit more like 10%), I was in the windowless adjunct office of the local community college where I’ve taught for almost four years. I pecked at my iPhone 4, a relic by new standards, and begged its 3G network to speed up just this once. It did not. By the time the email came through, if I read it I risked being late to the Anatomy & Kinesiology lab. I read it anyway. It was good news, and I cried like the way annoying women cry in bad movies.

I had to quickly dry my face with my sleeve and put on my game face for the lab, so I didn’t really absorb what I’d just read. Life-changing. Maybe. Holy shit. I definitely had a few thoughts pinging around my skull as I made the rounds and answered questions about manual muscle testing and goniometry. It was hour two of a 10-hour workday (which, of course, was always more like an 11 or 12-hour workday), and I worried that I hadn’t brought enough food again.

When I got home at 9 p.m., I tried to be excited, but there was so much to do. I’d been right about not packing enough food for the long workday, and I needed to scramble some eggs before I fell down and turned to dust. I sat at the bar in my kitchen while the pan heated and checked my email on my five-year-old MacBook, wondering if the new hard drive my cousin had generously installed would get me through until the book was published. My book. It started to sink in, but in my email, I saw a notification that one of my essays had been accepted for publication, and then that was the thing to focus on, and then the egg pan started to smoke. I was too exhausted, worried, happy, and hopeful to understand what I felt.

That night, as I shifted in bed for the millionth painful time and cursed my bad back, I started thinking about what it would be like to be a published author of a book. Not just a published author of articles and essays, but of a book. I said my publishing house’s name over and over again in my mind and imagined referring to myself as one of their authors. I wanted to get up and bake a pan of brownies and run ten miles and order a pizza. When do I tell people, I wondered. And why does that matter?

Two weeks later, after a horrific bout with stomach flu, a common cold, and severe neck pain, I’d given up hope about the book contract coming through, because that’s what I do when my body hurts. I’d exchanged some wonderful emails with the publishing house’s Acquisitions Manager, but then he went silent for a few days and I visited emotional doomsday.

I knew that I was being completely irrational but that realization only made me more upset. I hadn’t been able to run or exercise hard in a couple weeks because of my health problems, so my capacity for rational coping was nonexistent. I tried not to compulsively check my email in hopes of a rainbow (book contract) arriving, but I couldn’t stop myself. So I leashed up my old beagle, took him around the neighborhood to smell the hydrants, and reminded myself that introspection can be toxic when it’s not productive.


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