I’ve told the story a few times now: How I dreamed up the first sentence of a book during a road trip in 2001, then spent the next thirteen years shaping that story into Eleanor, with some detours and heartaches along the way. I self-published the novel in June, and it became an Amazon bestseller in August, and started collecting wonderful reviews from readers.
All of that was big and huge and wonderful, but it wasn’t quite the extent of my dreams for Eleanor. It was a good book, it sold thousands of copies, people seemed to really connect with it. The novel is very special to me, as most novels are, and I really felt that it deserved to find the biggest audience that it could.
Until now I’ve been an independent author. I’ve used the word as currency; indie is cool, and indie fires something in readers who want to see underdogs succeed. And I’m very much an underdog, just a small fish in a very, very, very big sea. I’m grateful for every reader who has taken a chance on my books. It’s not an easy thing to do, and I am in the debt of everyone who bought the book, shared it, reviewed it, passed it along to friends, bought more copies for gifts, and raved about it online.
But Eleanor means an awful lot to me. I want nothing more than for this book to go as wide and far as possible, so that it finds readers who otherwise would never pick it up. I genuinely think it’s a special book, and that there are many readers who won’t ever know it exists.
So in the summer I signed with Seth Fishman, an unbelievably talented agent at The Gernert Company, and we immediately got to work on making Eleanor an even stronger novel than it already was. I don’t want to diminish the book that’s already been published; I’m exceedingly proud of it. But over the three months that followed, Seth and I and my freelance editor, David Gatewood, worked to sharpen the novel, and to bring out some of the less-explored themes. Both David and Seth hit on a few things that even I’d missed, and as we tugged on those threads, some very strong connections between characters became apparent. The end result is a modestly shorter novel — about ten thousand words or so — but one that’s better paced, more attentive to the characters, more tense. The payoff is stronger, too. At least, I think so. The damn thing kept making me cry.
In the meantime, Seth’s other clients were tearing it up. Ann Leckie won every science fiction prize ever created for Ancillary Justice. John Joseph Adams won the Hugo for his work on Lightspeed. Randall Munroe won the Hugo for What If? All of this was wonderfully exciting, and cemented my position as the small fish on the bench.
Soon enough, we finished editing Eleanor, and Seth cracked his knuckles and started sending it to editors. Eleanor is an interesting book — it has a literary sensibility to it, but there are deep veins of fantasy and sci-fi running through it. It could feasibly go to editors at traditional literary publishers just as easily as it could go to editors at genre publishers. We started with the literary editors, though, and Seth cautioned me that it could take some time. I immediately began trying to crush my own expectations, just so nobody else would do it to me. I’ve never really handled rejection as well as I’d like.
Three days in, Seth emailed me. “It’s that time. I’ve got an editor who wants to talk to you. Are you available this morning?” I freed up some time in my schedule for the next week, and we planned to use that time to chat with any publishers who might be interested in the book. On a Friday morning, I had a wonderful conversation with the first of them, and when we hung up, I told Seth that if nobody else was interested in the book, that was okay, because this first editor got me, got Eleanor, and I’d be thrilled to work with him.
The weekend wasn’t as agonizing as it could have been. Felicia and Squish and I traipsed around the Oregon countryside, looking at houses. We weren’t counting our chickens before they hatched; my mother-in-law will be moving in with us soon, which means we need a bit more room. We looked at some beautiful, secluded homes that are, frankly, probably way out of our price range. But they kept our mind off of the book and the publishers and all of that. And naturally we fell in love with a home that we probably can’t quite attain, this creaky, comfortable place on a few acres outside of Portland.
Monday a very long day of waiting, waiting. Give me five minutes of inactivity, and I’ll start to agonize over possibilities. What if nobody else is interested? What if the first publisher changes their mind and drops out? What if this new publisher wants to change the book too much?
Tuesday morning arrived. Seth called and said, “There’s been a development. We have a preemptive offer for the book. Are you ready? Steel yourself.”
I think that’s the first time in my life anybody’s told me to steel myself. I don’t know how to steel myself.
The number was ridiculous. I think I might have laughed out loud when Seth told me what the publisher’s offer was. When I told Felicia shortly after, I think I might have hyperventilated.
We said yes.
So: Crown Publishing, a division of Random House, is going to publish Eleanor. My new editor, Zack Wagman, has worked on a lot of books I love, including Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible and Chris Pavone’s The Ex-Pats. His cohorts at Crown and Random House did something similar with Andy Weir’s The Martian recently, and whatever they did, they did it pretty well. That book debuted high on the New York Times bestseller list, and Matt Damon’s starring in the film adaptation — all things that still feel fairly impossible to me. Zack said some wonderful things, and after our first conversation I knew I wanted to work with someone as enthusiastic about my book as he was. Their offer was serious — more serious than I ever could have expected -- and confirmed their belief that this book is something special, and still has many interesting places to go.
All of this means that the book will appear in bookstores, and has a chance to find its way into the hand of readers far and wide, as I’d always hoped. It also means that the self-published book will disappear very soon — in fact, it will disappear on Friday, October 17 — while Eleanor is prepared for her new debut. (Translation: Go get your hands on the indie paperback version as quickly as you can, because once these are gone, they’re gone forever!)