When I got “The Email”
by Jessa Slade on January 5th, 2009

Currently working on: Clearing my office of mealworm beetles
Mood: Creeped out — emphasis on creep


Various lessons of questionable value you can take away from my limping, snowblind journey toward publication

The deadline for my RWA chapter contest was looming. Lesson 1: Embrace artificially imposed deadlines. They can stand in until you can proudly proclaim that you are “contractually obligated” to freak out under deadline pressure. So I put the polish to a partial on a paranormal I’d been working on for a couple months and sent it in because the final round judge was from NAL, a publisher that didn’t accept unagented submissions.

Lesson 2: Don’t be a contest slut; be a contest courtesan. A slut gets drunk on cheap words and enters any ol’ contest just ‘cuz. A contest courtesan wisely chooses her contests to further her education, enhance her allure, gain access to otherwise elite circles, and hopefully, eventually, land the perfect sugar daddy.

That was the summer of 2007. Finalists wouldn’t be announced until October, but I figured I better finish the book. You know, just in case. Lesson 3: Waiting is a bitch, and there’s a lot of waiting to be done in this business. Use the time. Finish stuff. Start new stuff. Whatever. As painful as waiting is, make every minute of it count. Sad fact: In case anybody told you different, staying busy does NOT make the time go quicker.

I finally got “An Email” from the contest coordinator telling me I finaled. I received my scores, and it turned out one of the three judges HATED my story. Hated as in gave me 3′s and 4′s out of 10. Lesson 4: Judges in contests — like reviewers, readers and my grandma — have their own ideas about what makes a good story. Their opinion can lift you up or dash you. Just remember the chair in front of your keyboard is pretty much always in exactly the same place, altitudinally speaking. Take what you can use of others’ feedback and move along.

Luckily, the point spread on my scores was wide enough to earn me a discrepancy judge who did like the story, and my manuscript was going to NAL! Not only that, I ended up being the grand prize winner! Yay me! Kermit dancing! My prize was a 24-karat gold-dipped American Beauty Rose! Where’s my tiara?!? (Not that I recommend Kermit dancing while wearing a tiara — corneas can get scratched that way.) I am a grand prize winner and I am soooo cooool!

Lesson 5: Nobody cares about grand prize winners. My query letters to agents — which included 24-karat gold petals ripped from the 24-karat gold-dipped American Beauty Rose — were rejected with all the cool alacrity of my earlier queries. Review Lesson 4.

A month later, the final round scores came back. The NAL editor placed my manuscript first and asked to see the complete.

How tragic I didn’t have the complete.

Lesson 6: Have the complete.

A few weeks later, I had the complete and off it went. Review Lesson 3. Then the editor sent me “Another Email” saying she kinda liked the story. Then she asked if I could make it better.

Lesson 7: The correct answer to any question asked by The Guardian to The Portal Leading to Your Soul’s Destiny is “How high?” Some people will say “Yeah, but what about your artistic integrity, your death grip on the story you nourished from a wee little brilliant idea that nobody else could possibly understand?” My answer is “How high? No, really, how high are you anyway that you’d even ask that question? Sheesh.”

After a nerve-wracking number of few more revisions to tighten the pacing, motivate the characters, up the stakes, explain the world, and get the romance out of my head and on the page, the editor said she really liked the story. I also — finally! — found an agent who saw the potential. Lesson 8: In the end, compelling is more important than perfect. I’m not saying my story is compelling (Obviously I think it is, but I’m not a credible witness) but I know damn well it wasn’t perfect, and this despite the fact I am a perfectionist by nature. Your story will never be perfect either, but if you make it compelling, no one will notice the hero and heroine never technically actually said I love you. (Yes, I fixed that! Review Lesson 7.)

5/15/2008: I got “The Email”: “I’m thrilled we’ll be publishing SEDUCED BY SHADOWS and the second book in the series.”

And that, as they say, is history. Or I guess, really, the future, since SEDUCED BY SHADOWS comes out October 2009. No doubt I will learn many lessons before then and more lessons thereafter. I’ll happily share them with you, but if you have any suggestions going forward (or revisions to my past lessons) feel free to comment now.

Leave a comment anytime this week for your chance to win Allison Chase’s prize.

18 comments to “When I got “The Email””

  1. 1

    I love your lessons. Oh how they ring so true. Good luck with everything.

  2. 2

    Hi Jessa,
    This is a great post. I’m collecting wisdom about contest and I wish I knew all these lessons before entering them. :)

  3. 3

    Loved the lessons. Thanks. I particularly relate to the contest thing advice and the need to just keep working while we wait.

  4. 4

    Excellent lessons, Jessa. Most of them apply not just to writing, but to the pursuit of any dream.

    And can I just say… Mealworm beetles?? Eww! Now that is truly horrifying! *shudders* I hope you get them all.

  5. 5

    Great lessons. Can’t imagine what it feels like to get “the call” or “the email.”

  6. 6

    [...] The lessons — and a chance to win Allison Chase’s DARK OBSESSION gift basket — continue at: http://www.silkandshadows.com/2009/01/05/when-i-got-the-email/ [...]

  7. 7

    Loved the lessons. This was a very interesting post. I had never thought of things the way you do. It must be a great feeling to get that call or e-mail. I am so happy for you that your books is being published.

  8. 8

    WOW!!! What a great post. Loved the lessons.

  9. 9

    One of my critique group partners summed it up nicely when she said getting “The Call” was great but none of it was quite real for her until she held the ARC (advanced reader copy — a bound but uncorrected version of the book). Then she cried.

    I am not (typically) a crier, so I am super interested to see whether I spring a leak at that point. Hmm, maybe I should start an office pool…

  10. 10

    Wonderful wisdom you’ve shared.

    I’ve coordinated contests and judged many entries, so know there is little rhyme or reason to winning and publication. All the stars have to align and the writer has to turn passion into work – work into passion.

    Get it complete, understand advice matters from those able to publish, pound away at the keyboard and promote the tough love scenario by sending your baby out the door.

    It’s all about the story.

  11. 11

    Mine was an email, too. And I was told it was coming by a jr. editor, so it was sorta anticlimatic (not really, LOL).

    Great advice, told in a compelling style! :D :lol:

  12. 12

    Congratulations..love the part about “do be a contest slut” :)

  13. 13

    Wonderful post, these are great lessons, thanks for sharing.

  14. 14

    Loved the lessons. Thanks for the contest.

  15. 15

    Great lessons. Let me know if you ever put together a booklet of “lessons I have learned”. Keep track of those lessons. You’ll need them for your acceptance speech at RWA.

  16. 16

    “Compelling” is the word my agent uses all the time when describing what she’s looking for.


  17. 17

    Great lessons. I enjoyed your “call” story.

  18. 18

    LOL! I’ve been reading all your stories today. I enjoyed Sharon’s deer-in-the-headlights, cried through Annette’s call story, and found yours wonderfully amusing, not to mention helpful with those lessons. Thanks!

    Wonderful post!

Leave a Comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>