My Call Story
“Call” stories are falling out of vogue, in part because the method of publishing, and the method of communication is changing.
It used to be the case that every author had a “call” story—the story about the first time that she received an actual, literal phone call telling her she would be published. This event was so momentous that people would never call it a call, but the call.
I debated whether I wanted to include this particular old-school event when I ported over to the new website, but ultimately, I decided to keep it...and not because it’s a fun relic of times past, but because it’s an instructive relic of times current.
So let me preface the below story with this: the wide-eyed innocent version I tell below is the truth, but it’s not the whole truth.
No call story every really starts at the beginning. They don't talk about the months spent writing, the sleepless nights spent revising (because unless you are independently wealthy, and I am not, you have a day job before you get published—and usually you have a day job afterwards, too), the myriad critique sessions that leave you tearing your hair out because there is so much left to be done, but you know your critique partners are right, too. They always start very near the end.
My call story starts—or begins to end, rather—with the roll of virtual dice. Sherry Thomas, now a decorated veteran of romance writing with numerous accolades to her name, was celebrating the release of her first book, Private Arrangements, with a Pay it Forward contest, where she offered to help the winner write a query letter. I cannot write query letters to save my life, so I entered. And luckily for me, I won.
Eventually, she realized that I not only could not write a query letter, I could not describe my book adequately to even make it so that she could write one for me. She asked to read pages. And she liked them and offered to recommend me to her agent, Kristin Nelson. Kristin told me to send her the full manuscript. I did. A week later, I had a conversation that I recall going something like this:
Woman with pleasant and chipper voice: Hi. Is this Courtney?
Woman: Well, this is Kristin Nelson, and I'm calling to say I love your book and want to represent you.
Me: <Dead silence.>
Kristin: Is this not a good time to talk?
Me: You read it already? Shouldn't it take you months for that?
Kristin: Oh, was I supposed to take longer? I can call back tomorrow.
Me (suspiciously): Are you sure you're really you?
Me: Because if you're not, it's okay.
I was only temporarily tongue-tied, not permanently stupid, so once I had my wits back about me I said yes, I would like you to represent me. After that, I did another round of revisions on my manuscript. Kristin sent it out. And then, before I could really get my head around the fact that actual editors might actually be reading my book, I got the following phone call:
Kristin: So, I have offers on PROOF BY SEDUCTION.
Me: What do you mean, offers?
Kristin: Editors want to buy it.
Me: Editors? But that word is a plural.
Me: Hm. How odd. What does all this signify?
Kristin: It means you are going to be published. But first, there will be an auction.
Me: ...Does not compute.
And lo and behold, there was an auction. The only notable point of the auction was that I had just gotten (as in the same day as the auction) a new puppy. And my brand-new puppy had never heard my cellphone ring until Kristin called on auction day. My ringtone surprised the puppy so much that he peed right where he was standing, which happened to be on the bed.
I am now revisiting this story in the year 2020, and every word of this is true, but it leaves a lot out.
First, and most importantly, the dog in question is named Pele, and he is (not to put it lightly) the greatest dog in the world, and when I first wrote this, I didn't include a single dog picture. Shame on me.
Second, I wrote this in 2008 or 2009, maybe. It was (and remains) true that I am not good at handling good news; I usually blank out on it.
But to just say that the first agent who read my book the first time I pitched it loved it, and then the first editors who read my book loved it... This is not the full story. It makes me sound like this enormously capable writer, and in retrospect, I don’t think my first book was actually that good.
At the time this was written, I had just become a law professor and had been advised by my mentors to...not tell anyone I was writing romance novels because it might impact tenure decisions. So I didn't talk about any of the other stuff that went into this story.
This is a story about the operation of privilege. When you pitch someone and can say, “Hi, I just finished a clerkship with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and I’m going to be a law professor,” things move more swiftly and you get the benefit of the doubt that many others do not get.
But the credential of SCOTUS clerk, nice as it is, overwhelmingly goes to the wealthy and privileged. I was one of the only (and possibly the only) clerks my term who had graduated from state schools and only state schools for my entire education (good ones—but state schools). I was probably one of the only ones who bore the lion’s share (>99%) of my educational costs on my own. Me not withstanding, Supreme Court clerks remain overwhelmingly rich, white, and male.
Judging from the clerks my term, there are more SCOTUS clerks who are outright white supremacists than there are decent romance novelists.
There’s no reason that this particular status should get you a boost in publishing. There are people out there who never get that speedy attention, despite extraordinary writing chops and not being white supremacists, who will never receive the benefit of any doubt.
We are now out of the era of actual phone calls. It’s time to rethink who gets attention, and why.
Anyway, all that being said, here are some dog pictures.